I’m told we could finally have the definitive account (so far) of the Bush-Cheney torture program as soon as early next week. The Senators eventually had to cave to the Obama administration’s insistence on rendering large parts of the report unintelligible through redactions – or risk having the report buried for ever. That’s how hardball Obama was in protecting the war criminals he still employs. As a result, it will be very hard to follow how various CIA officials crafted, spun and lied about this barbarism over time. The result, ironically, is that the entire CIA is tarred with this brush, when so many in that agency did what they could to stop this brutal betrayal of this country’s core alleged values. But that is what Obama wanted: no actual accountability for any actual human being. When it comes to the gravest crimes, no perpetrator must be named, let alone punished. If you want one sign of how the CIA is a law unto itself, more powerful than any president, ponder Obama’s inaction over the last six years.
Dan Froomkin has a helpful guide today of what to look for in the report. I’d emphasize the following points.
It’s amazing that we managed even to get this. Obama has been determined, we now know, to protect the perpetrators of torture from the get-go, and to ensure that there was minimal transparency on such a vital issue. The Justice Department’s own investigation of some of the more astonishing acts of barbarity was, accordingly, a farce. The Durham report never interviewed a single victim of the torture, while finding that we should all move on, nothing to see here, etc. In fact, the only reason we have any transparency at all is because CIA honcho Jose Rodriguez destroyed the tapes of the waterboarding sessions in a brazen act of destroying potentially criminal evidence. When challenged on this, the CIA insisted that there was other evidence proving that the torture sessions were not, in fact, torture at all. And that’s how the Senate Committee started pulling at the threads.
We owe John McCain and Lindsay Graham some sincere thanks. I’ve had plenty to say about their unreconstructed neocon view of foreign policy, but on this core question of the rule of law and basic American principles, they have not wavered. They will give this report the bipartisan cover it needs, and which much of the GOP wants to deny it.
The report is very limited. What it details is drawn entirely from internal CIA documents, and nothing else. No one was interviewed – either torture victims or torturers or their enablers. GTMO is not in the report; the broader military is not in the report; only the CIA’s torture sessions in its own black sites are in the report – a tiny fraction of the vast apparatus of prisoner abuse that was set in motion by president Bush’s early and fateful decision to waive Geneva protections for terror suspects. So what we will read was just one small aspect of the barbarism this country inflicted on so many in its custody.
The report doesn’t assign any blame either. It does not prove who in the political branch authorized this or who should be held responsible for it. It will therefore disappoint many who want to see proof of, say, Cheney’s or Addington’s direct responsibility – or any form of actual accountability. What it will show, rather, is far more shocking evidence of far worse torture than we have previously been aware of (so I am told), and proof that the CIA knew that the program was ineffective.
This is what will have to do the work: the internal deliberations of the war criminals, in their own notes and documents, about both the scale of the barbarity and the astonishing deception about it that the CIA kept perpetrating. That deception was not only of the public, but also, it appears, of the political branch. We may well find out that Bush and Cheney didn’t fully know what was going on, either because Bush did not want to know or because they were consistently misled about it. In other words, it might even exonerate the political branch in some limited ways.
We must not fall victim to the drip-drip-drip nature of the revelations over the last decade of the torture program. It can inure us to the shock we once felt after Abu Ghraib first revealed the nature of the abuse. Here, for example, is what NRO’s Jonah Goldberg said in the wake of the Abu Ghraib revelations:
The damage this does to the image of America is huge. How do we look when we denounce Saddam’s torture chambers now? How many more American soldiers will be shot because of the ill will and outrage this generates? How do we claim to be champions of the rule of law?
Well, there is one way. This needs to be investigated and prosecuted. If there’s more to the story — whatever that could conceivably be — let’s find out. But if the story is as it appears, there has to be accountability, punishment and disclosure. Indeed, even if this turned out to be a prank, too much damage has already been done and someone needs to be punished. Under Saddam torturers were rewarded and promoted. In America they must be held to account.
But no one has been held to account, except, shamefully, for a few powerless individuals at the very bottom of the chain of command as scapegoats. If what we now know is far worse than Abu Ghraib, then it will be interesting to see what Jonah’s response will be.
The Dish, of course, will throw every resource we have at explicating the report. So stay tuned.
(Photo: The CIA symbol is shown on the floor of CIA Headquarters, July 9, 2004 at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. By Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)