Torture of Prometheus By Jean-Louis-Cesar Lair (1781-1828)
Torture of Prometheus byJean-Louis-Cesar Lair, 1781-1828

Methinks they protest too much

| The long-awaited and much-debated report by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the CIA torture program in the wake of 9/11 was finally released yesterday.

The report really didn't tell us anything that wasn't known before, at least in general terms, but the report filled in all the gruesome and disgusting details. Predictably there has been wailing and gnashing of teeth, mostly in Washington. As expected former Bush officials are protesting loudly that the Senate report is unfair and got it all wrong.

Michael Hayden, CIA director, 2006-2009
Michael Hayden, Director of the CIA, 2006-2009

Although the torture program began long before his tenure as director of the CIA, Michael Hayden has put himself front and center of the brouhaha that has erupted following publication of the report. His many statements are at variance with the facts as determined by the committee, detailed at length in the report. So to a great degree he is defending his honor. And, I think, taking one for the Bush-Cheney team.

His responses have taken two tacks. First he denies that he has been untruthful, despite evidence from the CIA's own records to the contrary. Second, he essentially invokes the we-were-just-following-orders defense. He is claiming that everything was "legal" and "approved" therefore OK. He even told Brian Williams on the NBC Evening News that "As bad as some people think CIA behavior was, with regard to these 100-or-so detainees, if everyone on the planet used CIA behavior as the model, the overall treatment of detainees on earth would actually improve," Wow! Just wow.

And of course, Dick Cheney has wasted no time contradicting and disparaging: "What I keep hearing out there is they portray this as a rogue operation and the agency was way out of bounds and then they lied about it," Cheney told the NY Times. “I think that's all a bunch of hooey. The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program." And by the way, the idea that the CIA misled the White House is "just a crock."

As for the torture program being "legal" we cannot forget that lackeys in the Justice Department were tasked with coming up with a legal justification, which they obligingly did. And that the justification has since been withdrawn!

John Brennan, CIA director
CIA Director John Brennan giving a press conference Thursday Dec 11, 2014

In a televised press conference on Thursday, John Brennan, director of the CIA, gave the CIA official rebuttal to the report. What everyone should have paid very close attention to was Brennan's very careful parsing of words around the question of effectivness. At three different points, Brennan repeated essentially this formulation:

So I think the – what the agency’s point has been consistently, and what certainly my view is after having reviewed the documents, is that there was useful intelligence – very useful, valuable intelligence that was obtained from individuals who had been at some point subjected to the EITs. Whether that could have been obtained without the use of those EITs is something, again, that is unknowable.


This very carefully-crafted declaration avoids saying that the torture produced the "useful intelligence" while also very carefully leaving exactly that impression. Similarly, he sidesteps around the question of whether that "useful intelligence" was already known before it came from the tortured, the allegation in the Senate report, by reframing it as a hypothetical: "could have been obtained."

It's obvious that Brennan will never win the Mr Personality award, but I suppose that's the kind of person you want heading up the CIA. But the press conference proved above all that he is one slippery guy. 

I rarely agree with John McCain, but he got it just right in a speech on the Senate floor:

I know, too, that bad things happen in war. I know in war good people can feel obliged for good reasons to do things they would normally object to and recoil from.

I understand the reasons that governed the decision to resort to these interrogation methods, and I know that those who approved them and those who used them were dedicated to securing justice for the victims of terrorist attacks and to protecting Americans from further harm. I know their responsibilities were grave and urgent, and the strain of their duty was onerous.

I respect their dedication and appreciate their dilemma. But I dispute wholeheartedly that it was right for them to use these methods, which this report makes clear were neither in the best interests of justice nor our security nor the ideals we have sacrificed so much blood and treasure to defend.

Floor statement

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For those who haven't read the Senate report, here is an excellent summary of 20 key findings compiled by the Washington Post

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018



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