Emails Of The Day

A reader writes:

From early 2006 to late 2009, I was a part of the post-9/11 corporate-security state serving as an intelligence analyst. This is not a fact in which I take much pride. When the Abu Ghraib scandal became augmented with the information that CACI contractors were involved – CACI being known where I’m from primarily as a tech services contractor – I started to question the incentives and structure of the intelligence contracting field in which I’d become enmeshed.

Over those years I followed the torture and spying revelations closely and I took the same position then that I do now: this is plainly illegal, immoral, and the result of caustic fear, overreaction, and hysteria. Though I was not involved with anything remotely connected to torture, one of the best days of my life was the last time I walked out of that office.

I’m attaching an image that’s been making the rounds on my Facebook feed and receiving aTortureTerrorists sobering amount of likes. The reason I’m sending it along is because the people posting it are my former coworkers, people who, as far as I know, are still involved in intelligence analysis work either through some contracting company or for the government directly.

It’s important to understand how, at least where I worked, the atmosphere was one of an assumed political stance – that 9/11 was an existential threat and perhaps the greatest faced ever in the country’s history, and that we were involved in this apocalyptic battle as foot soldiers. The views of many of my coworkers at the time were, to my mind, rather extreme.

I can see now that this hasn’t changed for many of them, despite all the evidence put forth this week. Yet unlike the rest of the American public, these are people doing the work for the government. They are the people down in the trenches, generating analysis and reports. They work for companies under contracts whose primary incentive is to get bigger, longer, more expensive contracts, and one way to do this is to constantly remind people how terrified we should all be.

And here’s the kicker: many of them came into this kind of work directly out of college and were paid pretty well for it. Their entire adult lives have been based on this type of work. They’ve known nothing else. One can’t expect that such a situation wouldn’t have an effect on their political views. A subset of an entire generation has been profoundly affected in ways we don’t discuss enough. To get a full understanding of this period of torture, surveillance, and bungled wars, one must consider the contracting aspect of it and the people for whom such work created the prosperous upper-middle class life that many Americans have come to expect but which fewer and fewer can achieve.

Another insider perspective:

In my personal assessment, the reason Brennan and Obama have fought this report is to protect the promise of legal protection for lawful actions upon which every employee depends. I believe my assessment has some value, as I work at the CIA.

I can tell you that the recently-remodeled exercise facility OHB is closed for cleaning from 10 to 11.   I can tell you that the Dunkin’ Donuts is more popular than the Starbucks.  I can tell you that for weeks after the portrait of Tenet was unveiled, his ashtray and cigar were left untouched.

What I cannot tell you about is the torture program, because I do not know anything more about this program than an other American.  And by revealing this information I reveal little of my identity because this characteristic of me is shared by the vast majority of the “blue badged” and “green badged” individuals who work here.

The CIA is composed of four directorates, which each consists of many offices, divisions, and branches.  The people who work here all do very different things. This includes everything from keeping worldwide, secure, communication-systems working, to digging through old copies of Iranian technical journals, to developing tiny chemical sensors, to writing hundreds of briefings for policy makers.  The opinions of those I work with regarding the torture program probably reflect that of the general American public.  Many, like me, are horrified.  Many think folks got what they had coming.

What everyone does understand, though, is the fundamental importance of legal protection. They have been assured that if they, in good faith, seek and receive legal guidance from the Inspector General that what they are doing is legal, they can rest assured that they will not be help responsible even if this legal ruling is incorrect.

Call this the Nuremberg defense if one wishes. However, it is the same legal protection that military snipers rely upon when they squeeze the trigger.  And a key aspect of this protection is the protection of identity. A person legally authorized to do things is protected from the vengeance of those who might not agree.

My assessment is that upholding this promise to leave no man on the battlefield is so crucial to the bond of trust upon which all those who have sworn an oath to the government that it is worth fighting for.

The Torture Doctors

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Michael Daly introduces us to the amateur goons who ran the torture freak show:

James Elmer Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen are not the first Americans to employ waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” against our enemies. But they are almost certainly the only ones to get rich doing it.

They did so by employing what is widely dismissed as “voodoo science” based on misapplied principles in a program that CIA records suggest produced little, if any, intelligence of significant value. And they might have gotten even richer. The Senate Intelligence Committee report says they secured a contract with the CIA in 2006 valued “in excess of $180 million.” The CIA canceled the deal three years later, but by then the duo had received $81 million.

This is one reason I remain befuddled by the pro-torture right’s response to the facts in the report. If you are in favor of torture, you should be horrified that the CIA contacted it out to goons with no relevant experience or interrogation training. If you care about wasting government money, you should be appalled by this instance of total incompetence, rewarded by tax-payers. But the Republicans’ rank partisanship precludes them from being internally consistent and coherent. They’re just backing their own team – even as that team clearly betrayed any confidence the torture-supporters might have expected.

Then there is the question of whether qualified psychologists or doctors were implicated in these war crimes. Roy Eidelson and Trudy Bond question whether the American Psychological Association was involved:

Responding to the new Senate report, the American Psychological Association (APA) was quick to issue a press release distancing itself from Mitchell and Jessen. The statement emphasized that the two psychologists are not APA members – although Mitchell was a member until 2006 – and that they are therefore “outside the reach of the association’s ethics adjudication process.” But there is much more to this story.

After years of stonewalling and denials, last month the APA Board appointed an investigator to examine allegations that the APA colluded with the CIA and Pentagon in supporting the Bush Administration’s abusive “war on terror” detention and interrogation practices.

The latest evidence of that collusion comes from the publication earlier this fall of James Risen’s Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless WarWith access to hundreds of previously undisclosed emails involving senior APA staff, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter concludes that the APA “worked assiduously to protect the psychologists…involved in the torture program.” The book also provides several new details pointing to the likelihood that Mitchell and Jessen were not so far removed from the APA after all.

Jefferson M. Fish also cites Risen’s book:

In the book, Risen documented the extensive contacts between APA and the U.S. government, both leading to and following the change in ethical Standard 1.02. Risen wrote:

Perhaps the most important change was a new ethics guideline: if a psychologist faced a conflict between APA’s ethics code and a lawful order or regulation, the psychologist could follow the law or “governing legal authority.” In other words, a psychologist could engage in activities that the U.S. government said were legal—such as harsh interrogations—even if they violated APA’s ethical standards. This change introduced the Nuremberg defense into American psychology—following lawful orders was an acceptable reason to violate professional ethics. The change in the APA’s ethics code was essential to the Bush administration’s ability to use enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees. (Pp. 194-195)

In December 2008, following a presidential election in which both Barak Obama and John McCain condemned torture, the APA proposed removing the offending sentence and replacing it with, “Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.” This change, which was subsequently implemented, would seem to imply that the sentence had been created for just the purpose described by Risen.

Relatedly, Steven Miles, author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctorstalked to Julie Beck about the role of doctors in torture. Beck asks, “Why would people use medical knowledge and expertise learned to heal people for the opposite purpose?” Miles responds:

It’s pretty interesting, I’m writing a book on just that question. The docs who get involved in this, number one, are careerists. They get involved for rank and career, and the regimes never coerce them, or extremely rarely coerce them. Instead what happens is the regimes treat them as some kind of elite. The docs are generally not sadists. This is not the stuff of Saw, for example. They go along with the dominant political theme of the prison: “These are our enemies and we gotta squeeze them for the information.” The thing that’s so interesting is that there is research showing that force of interrogation does not work, that it’s counterproductive. These docs seem to be entirely unaware, not only of the ethics codes, but also of the ineffectiveness of these interrogation strategies, that they never mount a protest.

The banality of evil.

(Image via ABC News)

What Did Congress Know?

David Ignatius believes that the torture report “should have addressed Congress’s own failure to oversee these activities more effectively”:

A CIA review of “contemporaneous records” shows that [a 2002] briefing to Sens. Bob Graham and Richard Shelby and Reps. Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi included “a history of the Zubaydah interrogation, an overview of the material acquired, the resistance techniques Zubaydah had employed, and the reason for deciding to use the enhanced measures,” along with a description of “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.”

Did the members of Congress push back hard, as we now realize they should have? Did they demand more information and set stricter limits? Did they question details about the interrogation techniques that were being used? It appears that, with rare exceptions, they did not.

I agree with David that the role of the Congress in acquiescing to torture needs far more attention. But, again, secrecy makes that very hard. I’d like to ask Pelosi on the record what she was actually told. When you absorb the full report and see the CIA’s relentless campaign of deceit about the program, it’s an open question whether they were lying to the Senators as well. There are euphemisms for torture techniques that do not convey the reality. That doesn’t excuse the Senators one bit. But maybe they did ask for more details. Maybe they wanted to stop it. But what options did they actually have? PM Carpenter asks:

The CIA’s “covert” torture program was by definition top secret. Had, for instance, Nancy Pelosi strenuously objected to the gruesome details she was hearing in the CIA’s briefings, just what, precisely, could she have done about it? She possessed no legal authority to go to the press and certainly none to effectively commit treason by blaring her horrified knowledge from the floor of the House–and taking complaints to the war-criminal Bush administration would have been like exposing unsavory extortion rackets to the Gambino family.

And it’s hard to imagine Congress g0t a complete briefing when even top CIA officials claim they were unaware of some of these abuses:

Working from CIA documents, the report said detainees were made to stand on broken limbs, or forced to take in food or water rectally. But Jose Rodriguez, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the time, said the newly revealed abuses caught him off-guard, too. “I have no knowledge of people forced to stand with broken bones,” Rodriguez said in an interview the day after the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats, led by Chairman Dianne Feinstein, released its report after five years of delays.

Nor was he aware of detainees being given water or food via their rectum. “Rectal hydration thing sounds like a medical procedure, but it was not part of the approved and sanctioned techniques that were given to us by our guys and approved” by the Justice Department, he said. (Former CIA Director Michael Hayden made similar remarks Wednesday on CNN, saying that he hadn’t heard of the practice, but that it sounded like a medical procedure.)

And the beat goes on.

The Torture Program’s Black Site At GTMO


Dish readers know of the three alleged “suicides” that occurred in a facility at GTMO kept firmly off the books. Scott Horton’s story on the deaths – given the National Magazine Award – has been dismissed by the usual suspects in the military and CIA as preposterous. But given what we have now learned of what happened at other black sites, is it so outrageous to suspect those deaths were actually a result of an experimental torture technique – stuffing prisoners’ throats with rags to induce the same suffocation experienced during waterboarding? At this point, let me just say, I believe nothing that the CIA says that cannot be backed up by its own records. They have long since forfeited any public trust.

The report has some new details on that facility – sometimes known as “Camp No” or “Camp 7”. It confirms for the first time that the camp was indeed run independently by the CIA under its torture program:

The release of 524 pages of the 6,700-page Senate Intelligence Committee report confirms for the first time that the CIA used Guantánamo as a black site — and continued to run the prison that held the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and 13 other men even as the Pentagon was charged to prosecute them … The report shows that Guantánamo had two of those secret CIA black sites — code named Maroon and Indigo — from September 2003 to April 2004 that held at least five detainees.

And this was kept secret from those supposed to oversee the torture program:

The report suggests all of Congress was kept in the dark about the dark site: “Because the Committee was not informed of the CIA detention site at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, no member of the Committee was aware that the U.S. Supreme Court decision to grant certiorari in the case of Rasul v. Bush, which related to the habeas corpus rights of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, resulted in the transfer of CIA detainees from the CIA detention facility at Guantánamo Bay to other CIA detention facilities.” The CIA’s spokesman, Dean Boyd, also declined to say when — if ever — the agency relinquished control of Guantánamo’s most secretive prison.

Which means to say we do not know if the CIA is still in charge of that facility. This is the facility where paddy wagons came and went, whence screams could be heard during “aggressive questioning”, and whence three corpses are believed to have emerged in June 2006. Another nugget:

A footnote in the Senate report says that in early December 2006, three months after the CIA brought its prisoners back to Cuba, then-Director Michael Hayden visited Guantánamo’s “High-Value Detainee Detention Facility” — something not reflected in the prison’s official list of dignitary visits.

What was he doing there? Why was his visit kept off the official list of visitors?

The Torture Regime’s Attack On Religious Freedom

Michael Peppard searches for religion-themed abuses in the torture report:

My own research on torture in U.S. detention facilities has emphasized the religious aspects of abuse (“The Secret Weapon” and “Disgrace“). And though today’s report does not contain as much along these lines as did the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report in 2009, it does analyze assertions made by CIA Director Hayden in 2007 about the role of religion in “enhanced interrogation.” … The new report does not describe the many techniques of religiously-themed abuse that I compiled from ex-detainee memoirs and interviews in 2007-08, nor does it extend our knowledge from the 2009 report, which admitted techniques such as forced prostration before an idol shrine to generate “religious disgrace.”

But what Hayden’s comments do show is that using religion as a weapon in prolonged psychological warfare was an actual “policy” – not a result of agents gone rogue. The goal was to create a burden so great that a person’s religious faith would be destroyed. Nothing could be further from our country’s founding principle.

And yet white evangelicals in America are the most supportive of this grotesque attack on the principle of religious freedom and conscience. Dreher is disturbed by these findings:

[T]o take a captured prisoner, even one we can reasonably be certain has done evil things from religious motivation, and compel him to desecrate his religion, is to my Christian mind one of the most evil things that one human being can do to another. That the history of the Church shows Muslims have done this to Christians again and again and again does not make it right. It is always and everywhere a manifestation of utter barbarism.

No Christian can believe otherwise. And the core Christian point here is that even the worst terrorist remains a human being. He can be fought, brought to justice, jailed and even killed in lawful combat. But he cannot be reduced to a sub-human level. No one can. And to treat another human being as an object to be violated even when under your total control dehumanizes the torturer as surely as the tortured. It is total power. The entire agency of a human being is taken from him or her. And that is what American did to countless of human beings – and even now it is hard to find any tone of actual remorse among those responsible.

The War Crimes The CIA Has Admitted


Yesterday, Brennan acknowledged that, “in a limited number of instances, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.” Friedersdorf asks why those officers are going unpunished:

If CIA officers did abhorrent things that even their waterboarding colleagues managed to avoid, exceeding the orders and legal strictures they were given, why haven’t they been prosecuted for torture as a duly ratified treaty compels the U.S. to do? Why hasn’t Brennan ever remedied the failure to hold those men accountable? Why has he allowed people even he regards as criminals to remain at the CIA?

The reason is that he does not believe the rule of law should apply to the CIA.

Dick Cheney, Michael Hayden, and Brennan make a big show of invoking the legal cover given by John Yoo and others, as if they respect the rule of law. But beneath the posturing, they oppose jailing CIA officers no matter what, perhaps because those officers know things that could put them in prison. Among torturers, there can be only one code: Stop Snitchin’. Do you think that I exaggerate? As The Week notes, the only person in jail over CIA torture is a man who tried to expose it.

The CIA is above the law. It can do anything because it can also hide anything. It took years of extraordinary hard work and political struggle to get the Senate Report out – and the CIA did all it could to derail it. It was delayed for two years as the CIA objected and objected and redacted and redacted. The president, through John Kerry, tried to kill it at the last minute. And when it is revealed that 26 human beings were tortured – because of mistaken identity – no one is disciplined. No one. When someone is tortured to death, the officer in charge of the torture camp is promoted. There is simply no other institution that exists that has this level of utter impunity under the law. And that puts the CIA in a more powerful position even than the president. If the president breaks the law, he can be prosecuted and even impeached. If the CIA does, it can hide that fact, and even if it is exposed, can escape any consequences.

What I simply don’t understand is how conservatives – those most skeptical of the power and reach of big government – are not appalled by this state of affairs. It is the biggest threat to our liberty and constitution around. And yet they defend it. And find excuses for it. And even celebrate it.

(Photo: CIA director John Brennan speaks during a press conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, December 11, 2014. By Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

America’s History Of Torture


Beinart wants us to face it:

In the 19th century, American slavery relied on torture. At the turn of the 20th, when America began assembling its empire overseas, the U.S. army waterboarded Filipinos during the Spanish-American War. As part of the Phoenix Program, an effort to gain intelligence during the Vietnam War, CIA-trained interrogators delivered electric shocks to the genitals of some Vietnamese communists, and raped, starved, and beat others.

He argues that “when you claim that the United States is intrinsically moral, and torture therefore represents an aberration, you undermine the fight against such practices”:

Being a successful American politician today requires declaring that America is different, blessed, exceptional. Thus, when other countries torture, it reflects their basic character. When we torture, it violates ours. But the wisest American thinkers have found a way to reconcile this need to feel special with the recognition that, as human beings, Americans are just as fallen as everyone else. In the mid-20th century, men like Schlesinger and Reinhold Niebuhr argued that, paradoxically, the more Americans recognized their sinfulness, and restrained it within systems of law, the more America would prove its superiority over those totalitarian systems that refused such restraints.

(Caption from The New Yorker: “A picture of a “water detail,” reportedly taken in May, 1901, in Sual, the Philippines. “It is a terrible torture,” one soldier wrote. Credit attributed to Corporal George J. Vennage/Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library)