Who Is Robert Eatinger?

I may sound like a bit of a Straussian here, but the absence of a name in this particularly pointed part of Senator Feinstein’s epic speech yesterday drew enormous attention to it. Money quote from DiFi:

There is no legitimate reason to allege to the Justice Department that Senate staff may have committed a crime. I view the acting abughraib.jpggeneral counsel’s referral as a potential effort to intimidate this staff—and I am not taking it lightly.

I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program.

From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.

The general counsel’s name is Robert Eatinger, a key figure in the authorization of torture in the US. As I noted yesterday, it’s a testament to how devoted the CIA is to its torture program that, long after it was disbanded, it promoted the lawyer who defended it and was an integral part of it to be the acting chief counsel for the entire agency (while Obama’s nominee for the job remains bottled up in the Senate). So who is this guy? Here’s one key fact:

Eatinger was one of two CIA lawyers who reportedly told the director of the CIA’s clandestine service in 2005 there were no legal Abu_Ghraib_56requirements for the agency to hold onto 92 videotapes that showed the abusive tactics used by its interrogators against Al-Qaeda prisoners. Although Eatinger and the other lawyer did not specifically sanction it, the CIA official, Jose Rodriguez, later ordered the tapes destroyed.

Rodriguez’s destruction of the tapes in late 2005 in an industrial-strength shredder came despite objections by the Bush administration’s White House counsel and the director of national intelligence. The CIA director at the time, Michael Hayden, assured senators that Rodriguez hadn’t destroyed evidence because there were still written cables describing what the videotapes showed, but Feinstein said Tuesday the cables downplayed the brutality of the program.

There was absolutely no rationale for the destruction of visual evidence apart from protecting the image of the CIA and the US in the world. What Rodriguez was terrified of was the images of obviously authorized and brutal torture being seen around the world like the torture and abuse sanctioned at Abu Ghraib prison. After all, it would have proven that what happened at Abu Ghraib was a picnic compared with what the higher-ups were doing in their black sites across the globe. So Eatinger gave Rodriguez the go-ahead. A man who helped the CIA conceal evidence of torture is not a man who should play any role in pushing back against a Senate investigation into it – let alone attempt to counter-sue the Senate as a way to intimidate them. Then this:

Eatinger has been a lawyer with the CIA since at least 1994, when he played a tangential role in the aftermath of the Iran-Contra affair, the political scandal involving the Reagan administration’s secret sale of arms to Iran to fund rebels fighting the leftist Nicaraguan government. …

Eatinger was among several CIA lawyers and officers chastised by a senior federal judge in 2009 for withholding critical information in court proceedings about the status of an agency operative who was accused of bugging a former federal narcotics agent’s home. Judge Royce C. Lamberth said that Eatinger, former CIA Director George Tenet and four other agency officials had provided him with erroneous information that led him to dismiss charges against the CIA operative. Lamberth said the officials had committed fraud in not providing him with proper information about the operative’s clandestine status.

In 2007, Eatinger’s name surfaced as part of the House Intelligence Committee’s probe of the destroyed videotapes. An independent prosecutor appointed by Attorney General Eric Holder also reviewed the case but decided in November 2010 not to file charges against any CIA officials.

A lawyer dogged by scandal, already deemed by a federal judge to have withheld evidence in order to protect a CIA agent from scrutiny, and deeply embedded in the torture program itself, should never in a million years have risen to the top legal post at the CIA. 128 pages of the Senate report are reportedly concerned with false CIA representations to the Office of Legal Counsel. I wonder how many times Eatinger appears in them. Yesterday, DiFi said it was 1600 times in the full report.

The conflict of interest is so massive and obvious here that one has to wonder if anyone at the White House knew what Eatinger’s past was, when he ascended to the job. But it sure seems obvious Brennan did. Which is why, yesterday, he seemed so unsettled. The gig may soon be up – unless the CIA manages to suppress the Senate report past the coming elections. Haste, Mr President. Haste.

(Photos from Abu Ghraib prison, documenting torture techniques authorized by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, as a mild and distant adjunct to the torture program legally defended by Robert Eatinger.)