Obama Picks a Conscience for the CIA
long last. Change we can believe in.
choosing Leon Panetta to take charge of the CIA, President-elect Barak Obama
has shown he is determined to put an abrupt end to the lawlessness and deceit
with which the administration of George W. Bush has corrupted intelligence
operations and analysis.
and foremost, the appointment gives hope that torture and “rendition” (a
euphemism for kidnapping people for delivery to foreign torture chambers) is over
— or will be in less than two weeks.
counts. And so does integrity.
those qualities, and the backing of a new President, Panetta is equipped to
lead the CIA out of the wilderness into which it was driven by sycophantic
directors with very flexible attitudes toward truth, honesty and the law —
directors who deemed it their duty to do the President’s bidding — legal or
illegal; honest or dishonest. In a city
in which lapel-flags have been seen as adequate substitutes for the
Constitution, Panetta will bring a rigid adherence to the rule of law.
Panetta this is no battlefield conversion. On torture, for example, this is
what he wrote a year ago:
simply suspend [American ideals of human rights] in the name of national security.
Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain
select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either
believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of
cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground.
“We cannot and
we must not use torture under any circumstances. We are better than that.”
tell those of your friends who rely solely on the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) that torture is a crime — not only under
international law, but also under the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441) passed by
a Republican-dominated Congress in 1996. And besides that, torture can never be
counted upon to yield trustworthy intelligence—never.
for integrity, this is nothing new for Leon Panetta. As head of President
Richard Nixon's Office of Civil Rights, he insisted on enforcing laws to
protect minorities even under pressure from Nixon to get in line with the
Republican "southern strategy" of neglecting civil rights. Rather
than buckle to these demands, Panetta resigned and later became a Democrat.
Did We Get Here?
courage -- like that demonstrated by Panetta as a young man -- was what was
lacking as the Bush administration turned America's principled repudiation of
torture inside out, from the top down.
for President Bush, he cannot feign ignorance of this process, since the White
House itself has released a Memorandum for the President dated Jan. 25. 2002,
in which his lawyers apprised him of the seriousness of the War Crimes Act and even
noted, “punishments for violations of Section 2441 include the death penalty.”
memorandum, signed by then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (but drafted by
Vice President Dick Cheney’s lawyer, David Addington) warned specifically of
“prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue
unwarranted charges based on Section 2441.”
then told Bush not to worry; that all he needed to do was to make a
“determination that the GPW [Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War] does not
apply.” They added cheerily, “Your determination would create a reasonable
basis in law that Section 2441 does not apply, which would provide a solid
defense to any future prosecution.”
is a safe bet that Bush now wishes he had gotten a second opinion. Instead, he went ahead and signed an
executive memorandum on Feb. 7, 2002, incorporating the Mafia-style advice of
his lawyers. He then sent it to Vice
President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief of Staff to the
President Andrew Card, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Assistant
to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice, and Joint
Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.
seems strangely appropriate that it bore the Orwellian title: Humane Treatment of al-Qaeda and Taliban
Detainees. In the memorandum, Bush
lifts language verbatim from the Gonzales/Addington memo of Jan. 25 and makes
it his own. He claims, for example, “the war against terrorism ushers in a new
paradigm [that] requires new thinking in the law of war.”
then attempts to square a circle, directing (twice in the two-page memo) that
“detainees be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent
with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.”
by the Senate
Dec. 11, 2008, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, of
the Senate Armed Services Committee released a report on the abuse of detainees
— a report 18 months in the making and approved by the committee by voice vote
surprisingly, every organ of the Fawning Corporate Media
draped a smokescreen around President Bush’s own role, by blaming everyone’s
favorite bête noire, former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. [For a non-FCM
approach, see Consortiumnews.com's "Torture Trail Seen Starting with
was not as though the President’s own fingerprints were missing. The first
subhead was: Presidential Order Opens Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques,
and the first words of the first sentence of the first paragraph were, “On Feb.
7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating…” Later in that same paragraph the committee
report again refers to “the President’s order,” adding that “the decision to
replace well-established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the
Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment
1” of the Senate Armed Services Committee report states:
President’s determination [of Feb. 7, 2002], techniques such as waterboarding,
nudity, and stress positions … were authorized for use in interrogations of
detainees in U.S. custody.”
in detainee interrogations understood that the basis for the harsh tactics
stemmed from policies approved by Bush.
to a report by a panel headed by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger on
the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in
Iraq, instituted a “dozen interrogation methods beyond” the Army’s standard
practice under the Geneva Convention.
Sanchez explained that he based his decision on “the President's
memorandum,” which he said allowed for "additional, tougher measures"
against detainees, the Schlesinger report said.
addition, an FBI e-mail of May 22, 2004 from a senior FBI agent in Iraq stated
that President Bush had signed an Executive Order approving the use of military
dogs, sleep deprivation, and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.
the e-mail, the FBI official sought guidance in confronting an unwelcome
dilemma. He asked if FBI personnel in Iraq were required to report the U.S.
military’s harsh interrogation of detainees when such treatment violated FBI
standards but fit within the guidelines of a presidential Executive Order.
what happened in many of the jail cells and interrogation chambers stemmed
directly from of Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo and other presidential and vice
doubt it has long since occurred to Bush that he was mistaken to have put his
fate in the dubious hands of his sadistic lawyers; foolish to sign his name to
an executive order clearly in violation of international law as well as the
U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996; and foolish in the extreme to continue to let
Gonzales roam the White House without adult supervision.
abound. In June 2004, after the obscene photos surfaced from Abu Ghraib,
Gonzales screwed up again — royally.
about to show that the President never authorized torture, Gonzales came up
with the bright idea of adducing the Feb. 7, 2002, executive order as proof!
No, I’m not kidding.
apparently thought no one would read beyond the overly clever, first-word
adjectival euphemism in the memo’s title: Humane
Treatment of al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.
on June 22, 2004, the White House had the Feb 7, 2002, memorandum, together
with other memos, declassified and released. At a press conference that day,
Gonzales said the release was motivated by a desire to address “confusion” over
whether the torture techniques on display in the Abu Ghraib photos had been
approved by higher-ups.
explained that the government felt that the confusion “was harmful to this
country, in terms of the notion that perhaps we may be engaging in torture.
That's contrary to the values of this President and this administration. And we
felt that was harmful, also.”
in more ways than one. It appears that the chickens may now be coming home to
roost, as those who are informed by alternative media, including many
supporters of President-elect Obama, are demanding accountability for Bush’s
torture policies and are objecting strongly to any appointments tainted by
complicity in those policies.
sentiment led Obama to look for a CIA director outside the usual list of
intelligence professionals who had carefully positioned themselves – and their
careers – so as not to offend the Bush administration the past eight years.
managerial skills and personal integrity over direct intelligence experience,
Obama made the surprise choice of Leon Panetta, who followed up his resignation
from the Nixon administration with a varied career as a congressman, federal
budget director, White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton, and a
member of the Iraq Study Group.
was no surprise that the current and former intelligence officials on the Washington Post’s contact list have been
upset at the naming of Panetta and the imminent cleaning and disinfecting of
the Augean stables in Langley. A lot of
horse___ and bull___ is to be found on the ground there, and Panetta will need
heavy equipment—and some time—to clean it up.
flagship of the FCM, the Post seldom
checks with us in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, so let me
simply state that those in our movement are virtually unanimous in welcoming
the naming of Panetta.
clean-up is likely to begin before the end of the month, and the Post will be losing many of its inside
sources, since they will no longer be in the swing of things. Those tightly
tied to torture will be gone. And good riddance.
the importance for change, Tyler Drumheller, former chief of the European
Division in the operations directorate, has warned that “the problem with the
agency is that people will be defending what they’ve done” in the realm of
interrogations and detentions.
who was not directly involved in those activities, said he thinks Panetta will
make a fine director. Still, by force of habit, he used the collective “we” in
stating matter-of-factly: “We did what we did because we were told to by the
is clearly the case. It is also the case that Nuremburg put the kibosh on the
we-were-only-following-orders defense. People
shall have to be reminded of that. And I mean people on “both sides of the
house,” as the CIA saying goes — analysis as well as operations.
“justify” Bush’s Iraq War, CIA Director George Tenet – along with his deputy
John McLaughlin and the malleable managers in the CIA’s analysis directorate –
supervised the “fixing” of intelligence.
The head of State Department intelligence at the time, Carl Ford, later
said, “They should have been shot” for the way they served up “fundamentally
dishonest” intelligence to please the White House.
at the Washington Post’s editorial
section, however, the big worry is that the CIA (and, gosh, maybe even the Post) will be held to account for complicity
in, and minimizing the significance of, the many misdeeds.
of the Post’s neoconservative
columnists, David Ignatius, has pleaded for someone to “protect the agency and
help rebuild it after a traumatic eight years under George Bush, when it became
a kind of national pincushion.” Sorry,
David. Under the direction of Cheney and Bush, the CIA became more like a kind
of Gestapo than pincushion, doing the White House’s bidding – while the
co-opted leaders of the House and Senate “overlook committees” sat by silently.
It is high time your editorial page commented on that sorry story.
Take From Torture
of the high ironies in all this is the fact that, as Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, head of Army intelligence, put it publicly
on Sept. 6, 2006:
intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us
that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells
if it’s inaccurate “intelligence” you’re after – to “justify” a preordained
policy like invading Iraq – well, that’s another story. Then, torturing
captives on your own or rendering them to countries skilled in torture
practices can be quite effective indeed.
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, for example, who was captured and rendered to Egyptian
intelligence. And, wouldn’t you know, he “confessed” to knowing that Iraq was
training al-Qaeda members in the use of terror techniques and illicit weapons,
just the "evidence" the Bush administration was looking for. Al-Libi became a poster child for the
Cheney/Bush propaganda machine — that is, until he publicly recanted and
explained that he only told his interrogators what he knew they wanted to hear,
in order to stop the torture.
proper congressional oversight -- or a strong ethos among intelligence
professionals -- a rogue President and brown-nose director can use the CIA at
will—all of this enabled by an ill-starred sentence that was inserted into the
National Security Act of 1947 to find a home for “covert action.”
inserted language charged the CIA director with performing “such other
functions and duties related to intelligence” as the President might assign.
on this after he left office, President Harry Truman, in a Washington Post op-ed on Dec. 22, 1963, publicly bemoaned that the
CIA had been “diverted from its original assignment … from its intended
role.” Mincing few words, Truman argued
that the CIA’s “operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere.”
was a good idea in 1963. And today, 45
years later, it is still a good idea.
or not President-elect Obama decides to curtail or move the covert action
functions of the agency, it is a truly encouraging thought that the country
will soon have a President well versed in the Constitution and respect for the
law, a President whose most recent appointments also spell the end of a
corrupted Department of Justice.
warning: Obama can expect little if any help from the co-opted chairpersons of
the intelligence overlook committees in the House and Senate — Silvestre Reyes
and Dianne Feinstein, respectively. Obama and Panetta will have to do it
incoming President has his work cut out for him, but he has an excellent model
in the late Barbara Jordan, an African-American educator and member of Congress
from Texas. Jordan made an extremely valuable contribution on the House
Judiciary Committee during the hearings on impeaching President Nixon—at a time
when that committee was not the lamentable laughingstock it has now become.
will not soon forget Jordan’s words on July 25, 1974, two days before articles
of impeachment of Nixon were approved and sent to the full House:
“My faith in
the Constitution is whole, it is complete, it is total. I am not going to sit
here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the
destruction of the Constitution… [As was said at] the North Carolina ratification convention, ‘No one need be
afraid that [government] officers who commit oppression will pass with
and Panetta will have to devote attention to repair work on the CIA at first.
But part of that process, sooner or later, will have to include holding
accountable those guilty of war crimes as well as corrupting both the analysis
and operations functions of U.S. intelligence.
works with Tell
the Word, the publishing arm of the
ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. As a CIA analyst for
27 years, he worked under nine directors, several of them at close remove. He
is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
appeared originally on Consortiumnews.com.