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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, April 09, 2014

 
The legacy and the torture report

by digby

The LA Times published a scorching editorial today about the CIA and the torture report they're trying to hide from public scrutiny. It's not anything that people who read blogs like this don't already know but it might come as a surprise to a few people who only casually follow these issues. Here's a piece of it:

Thanks to news reports and a report by the CIA's inspector general, Americans long have been aware of both the broad outlines and some abhorrent details of the Bush administration's mistreatment of suspected terrorists after 9/11. We know that suspects were transported for questioning to "black sites" abroad, and that two suspected Al Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, were subjected to waterboarding. And we have read the memos in which Bush administration lawyers used contorted reasoning to justify torture.

But the Intelligence Committee's 6,200-word report, based on a review of millions of pages of documents, contains additional accounts of abuse, including (according to a Washington Post report) the alleged repeated dunking of a terrorism suspect in tanks of ice water at a site in Afghanistan. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Intelligence Committee chairwoman who aggressively has sought its declassification, said the report "exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation."
More important, those who have read the report say it concludes that waterboarding and other "enhanced interrogation techniques" yielded little valuable intelligence that couldn't have been obtained by other means. Of course, torture wouldn't be justifiable even if it "worked"; but if there is evidence that the use of inhumane methods was ineffective as well as immoral, that constitutes another indictment of a policy former Vice President Dick Cheney described as operating on "the dark side."

Last week the committee voted to declassify the report's 480-page executive summary along with 20 findings and conclusions, but that represents only the beginning of the disclosure process. The executive branch will now determine which portions of the document must be redacted to protect sensitive national security information.

That brings up the next problem and it's a big one. The CIA thinks it should be the one to do the redacting. Feinstein, for obvious reasons, thinks that's a bad idea. She sent a letter to the White House requesting that it not turn that duty over to the CIA:

"I request that you declassify these documents, and that you do so quickly and with minimal redactions," Feinstein, D-Calif., said in the letter dated April 7. ""I respectfully request that the White House take the lead in the declassification process."

I think this is a major test for the Obama administration. After running in 2008 as an opponent of the Bush administration's policies in these matters they came into office and were immediately cowed by the intelligence community (as all presidents seem to be.) Aside from making an ostentatious declaration that the United States "does not torture" they pretty much let the matter lie. As far as we know, they did end many of the torture practices (although what actually constitutes torture has still never been addressed) and the culture of the agencies has changed to some degree. But that vow to not look in "the rear view mirror" showed a willingness to let sleeping torturers lie and arguably led to this attitude that the congress should not have investigated nor should it be allowed to release a report that tells a story about what happened.

I'd be surprised if President Obama wants his legacy tainted by a torture cover-up but perhaps that's just being optimistic. After all, he's worked closely with the agency on drone assassinations and other very high level clandestine programs so perhaps he's come to respect their work and thinks that the "enhanced interrogation" torture regime was no big deal. But if he doesn't he needs to be very, very thoughtful about what comes next here. If he fails to ensure that the public is fully informed of what their representatives have found out about the past, his reputation will be forever sullied as an accessory to torture. The reason, obviously, is that this report will find its way into the public domain one way or another. They always do.


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