Why Obama Should Roll Heads at the CIA

It’s one thing to let ‘patriots’ get away with torture. It’s another to condone the cover-ups.

Ron Fournier
Aug. 4, 2014, 5:54 a.m.

Heads should roll at the CIA, but not for the ob­vi­ous reas­ons. Let’s re­view the ca­co­phony of is­sues raised by the bru­tal post-911 in­ter­rog­a­tion pro­gram, in­clud­ing the CIA’s lies, cov­er-ups, and a Con­sti­tu­tion-bend­ing spy­ing op­er­a­tion against Sen­ate staffers.

1. An ex­haust­ive Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in­vest­ig­a­tion has de­term­ined bey­ond reas­on­able doubt that the CIA’s in­ter­rog­a­tion meth­ods amoun­ted to tor­ture. The re­port does not re­com­mend new pun­ish­ment or fur­ther crim­in­al in­quiry, which may be an ac­know­ledge­ment of the fact that CIA agents were car­ry­ing out or­ders of su­per­i­ors, and the su­per­i­ors were act­ing ur­gently, al­most des­per­ately, to pro­tect the coun­try from fol­low-up at­tacks.

2. Most Amer­ic­ans are likely to agree with Pres­id­ent Obama, who said Fri­day that the tac­tics went too far (“We tor­tured some folks”), but that those who ordered and com­mit­ted tor­ture did so out of dire pub­lic in­terest. He called them pat­ri­ots. “It’s im­port­ant for us not to feel too sanc­ti­mo­ni­ous in ret­ro­spect about the job that those folks had.”

3. The CIA it­self is torn. In a com­pre­hens­ive story out­lining the pending re­port, The Wash­ing­ton Post said there were in­stances of CIA headquar­ters de­mand­ing con­tin­ued use of severe in­ter­rog­a­tion tech­niques even after agents were con­vinced that sus­pects had no more in­form­a­tion. In one case, a CIA em­ploy­ee left one of the agency’s secret over­seas pris­ons in protest of in­ter­rog­a­tion tac­tics there.

4. The CIA misled the pub­lic and gov­ern­ment (in­clud­ing, pre­sum­ably, the pres­id­ent and Con­gress) about the pro­gram, The Post re­por­ted, “con­ceal­ing de­tails about the sever­ity of its meth­ods, over­stat­ing the sig­ni­fic­ance of plots and pris­on­ers, and tak­ing cred­it for crit­ic­al pieces of in­tel­li­gence that de­tain­ees had in fact sur­rendered be­fore they were sub­jec­ted to harsh tech­niques.” The Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee re­port con­cludes that the pro­gram had little, if any­thing, to do with find­ing and killing Osama bin Laden—or with dis­rupt­ing and in­vest­ig­at­ing oth­er acts of ter­ror­ism.

5. The minor­ity re­port writ­ten by Re­pub­lic­ans would “ab­so­lutely” doc­u­ment the in­tel­li­gence value of the con­tro­ver­sial tech­niques, said Sen. Saxby Cham­b­liss, R-Ga., the top Re­pub­lic­an on the Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee. That seems du­bi­ous. Everything I’ve heard from Re­pub­lic­ans as well as Demo­crats in­volved in re­view­ing the pro­gram tells me that the com­mit­tee’s main re­port is over­whelm­ingly con­vin­cing. But Cham­b­liss’s state­ment is an im­port­ant re­mind­er of why Obama must press for trans­par­ency. When the com­mit­tee is al­lowed to re­lease its find­ings, open-minded Amer­ic­ans will be able to judge for them­selves.

6. The CIA has ag­gress­ively fought the re­lease of even a sum­mary of the com­mit­tee’s con­clu­sions. The agency has de­man­ded and re­ceived au­thor­ity to edit the re­port. Who wouldn’t want to edit his own in­dict­ment? This feels like in­sti­tu­tion­al butt-cov­er­ing.

7. The CIA hacked in­to the com­puters used by Sen­ate in­vest­ig­at­ors to con­duct their wa­ter­shed re­port. Agency spies were ap­par­ently at­tempt­ing to re­trieve and de­lete a damning in­tern­al CIA doc­u­ment (the so-called Pan­etta re­view). This could be crim­in­al. It’s il­leg­al for the CIA to spy in­side the United States. The CIA is part of the ex­ec­ut­ive branch of gov­ern­ment. The Sen­ate is part of the le­gis­lat­ive branch, one of the few checks against the CIA’s ex­traordin­ary power.

8. CIA Dir­ect­or John Bren­nan had flatly denied that his agency was spy­ing on Sen­ate staffers. If Bren­nan know­ingly misled the pub­lic, he’s a li­ar. If he denied the charges be­fore check­ing them out, he’s care­less with the truth. Pick your pois­on. Bren­nan ordered an in­tern­al re­view after deny­ing the charges, then apo­lo­gized when the spy­ing was con­firmed.

9. “I have full con­fid­ence in John Bren­nan,” Obama said Fri­day. This is the where I strongly dis­agree with the pres­id­ent. It is one thing to give the CIA a pass for heat-of-the-mo­ment de­cisions to tor­ture sus­pects, es­pe­cially know­ing the pres­sure ap­plied from the Oval Of­fice un­der Pres­id­ent Bush and Vice Pres­id­ent Dick Cheney (Nos. 2-3 above). It’s an­oth­er to im­pli­citly con­done in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized de­cep­tion, lies, and cov­er-ups. (Nos. 4-8.)

10. Obama needs to hold high-rank­ing CIA of­fi­cials ac­count­able for mis­lead­ing the White House, Con­gress, and the people, and for spy­ing on Sen­ate in­vest­ig­at­ors. Pat­ri­ots may get away with tor­ture. Not with ly­ing about it.