John Brennan Is Still Lying


I watched the CIA Director’s speech today, in which he actually described the CIA as an agency “speaking truth to power.” He got that the wrong way round. There is no organization in the US government that exercises the kind of power the CIA does – over the presidency, and the Congress, and the media. It is unimaginable that any other agency in government could commit war crimes, torture innocents, murder people, wreck this country’s moral standing … and yet escape any consequences for their actions. There is no other government agency that launches elaborate public relations campaigns to discredit and undermine its Senate oversight committee. There is no other organization whose head can tell blatant lies about spying on its overseers and receive the president’s wholehearted support. There is no other agency where you can murder someone already in your captivity and get away with it. That is incredible power – and there is no greater power than the power to torture.

As for the truth part, Brennan has to concede what the CIA has already conceded: that they lied to the president and to the Congress many, many times on the efficacy of torture. But Brennan describes these lies, as the CIA did in its formal response to the report, as “imprecision”. It was therefore merely “imprecise” that, to take one of many examples, the “Second Wave” attack was discovered thanks to torture. But either something was procured through torture, or it wasn’t. That’s not imprecise; it’s an either/or. And it was presented by the CIA as a categorical product of torture – which played a part in devising the legal memos that gave these crimes a patina of temporary formal legality. That is not imprecision; it is misrepresentation.

Here’s the most we’ll ever get from our dark side overlord:

CIA officers’ actions that did comport with the law and policy should neither be criticized nor conflated with the actions of the few who did not follow the guidance issued. At the same time, none of these lapses should be excused, downplayed or denied. In some instances, we simply failed to live up to the standards that we set for ourselves, that the American people expect of us.

Translation: the bulk of the torture was perfectly acceptable; a small part of it wasn’t. Have there been any consequences for those who committed the war crimes outside those allowed for by the spurious legal memos? Nope. Has anyone been fired? Not that we know. Are most of the people involved in these war crimes still walking the halls at Langley? You bet they are. And Brennan admitted today that he knew full well what was going on as the torture program was constructed.

Now this weird circumlocution on a central question:

I have already stated that our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives. But let me be clear: We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them. The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.

So we are now in Rumsfeld’s post-modern universe. What Brennan has repeatedly said was that we got intelligence from those in the program, but now he is saying that the intelligence was not provably a result of the torture. What he is trying to insinuate is that long after being tortured, some suspects may have given intelligence under legal and humane interrogation that helped. All I can say is that the report meticulously demonstrates that this is not the case. Or let me allow Dianne Feinstein to put it succinctly:

This is a simple matter: before or after? In the coming days, the Dish is going to go through critical cases in the report to show that Brennan is still lying about this, seeking refuge in bullshit notions of “unknowability” because what we do know from the CIA’s own documents absolutely refutes his case.

And notice the only reason Brennan objects to torture:

I believe effective, non-coercive methods are available to elicit such information; methods that do not have a counterproductive impact on our national security and on our international standing.

Brennan goes on to lie again that torture helped us find Osama bin Laden. This is disproved – not challenged or questioned, but disproved – in the report. And continuing to suggest – against the evidence – that torture may have helped get that monster is an invitation for such an evil to be imported back into the the US in the future. And, indeed, Brennan concedes that it is perfectly possible that torture will return:

I defer to the policymakers in future times when there is going to be the need to be able to ensure that this country stays safe if we face a similar type of crisis.

We have a CIA whose head believes in the efficacy of torture, and that the only reason to refrain from it is that it hurts our national security and international standing. We have a CIA head who will not rule out the use of torture in the future. We have a CIA head who believes that much of the torture conducted in the Bush-Cheney years was legal. And we have a CIA head prepared to argue in public that the facts and documented evidence in a summary of the CIA’s own documents are untrue. Because he says so.

And he wants us to end this debate and move. He has to be kidding.

(Photo: Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan talks with the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper  before US President Barack Obama spoke about the National Security Agency and intelligence agencies surveillance techniques at the US Department of Justice on January 17, 2014. By Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.)

Quote For The Day II

“For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas. I never had any thought that when I set up the CIA that it would be injected into peacetime cloak and dagger operations. Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue—and a subject for cold war enemy propaganda.

With all the nonsense put out by Communist propaganda about “Yankee imperialism,” “exploitive capitalism,” “war-mongering,” “monopolists,” in their name-calling assault on the West, the last thing we needed was for the CIA to be seized upon as something akin to a subverting influence in the affairs of other people… I, therefore, would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President, and that whatever else it can properly perform in that special field—and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere,” – Harry Truman, December 22, 1963.

My take on the CIA as an increasing malignant cancer on our democracy is here.

We Tortured. It Was Wrong. Never Mind.

I’ve wondered for quite a while what Barack Obama thinks about torture. We now know a little more:

Even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong.  We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.  We did some things that were contrary to our values.

torturefoia_page3_full.gifI understand why it happened.  I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this.  And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had.  And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.

But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong.  And that’s what that report reflects.  And that’s the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.

And my hope is, is that this report reminds us once again that the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.  And when we engaged in some of these enhanced interrogation techniques, techniques that I believe and I think any fair-minded person would believe were torture, we crossed a line.  And that needs to be — that needs to be understood and accepted.  And we have to, as a country, take responsibility for that so that, hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.

What to make of this?

I don’t think it’s that big a deal that he used the English language to describe what was done, in any fair-minded person’s judgment. He’s said that before now. And his general position hasn’t changed. Let me paraphrase: We tortured. It was wrong. Never mind. So he tells the most basic version of the truth – that the US government authorized and conducted war crimes – and hedges it with an important caveat: We must understand the terribly fearful circumstances in which this evil was authorized. But equally, he argues that the caveat does not excuse the crime: “the character of our country has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.”

This latter point is integral to the laws against torture – but completely guts his first point. As I noted with the UN Convention, the prohibition is absolute:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Cheney, Bush, Tenet, and Rumsfeld all knew this from the get-go. That’s why they got their supine OLC to provide specious justifications for the legally prohibited. That’s why they won’t use the word “torture,” instead inventing an Orwellian euphemism. And, of course, the president’s excuse for them – that “in the immediate aftermath of 9/11,” we did wrong things – is deeply misleading. This went on for years abughraibleash.jpgacross every theater of combat. What about what Abu Ghraib revealed about the scope of torture in the battlefield much later on? What about 2005 when they secretly re-booted the torture program? This was a carefully orchestrated criminal conspiracy at the heart of the government by people who knew full well they were breaking the law. It cannot be legally or morally excused by any contingency. It cannot be treated as if all we require is an apology they will never provide.

Yet that’s what the president’s acts – as opposed to his words – imply. And that’s what unsettles me. It is not as if the entire country has come to the conclusion that these war crimes must never happen again. The GOP ran a pro-torture candidate in 2012; they may well run a pro-torture candidate in 2016. This evil – which destroys the truth as surely as it destroys the human soul – is still with us. And all Obama recommends for trying to prevent it happening again is a wistful aspiration: “hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.” Hopefully?

Then there’s the not-so-small matter of the rule of law.

Call me crazy but I do not believe that the executive branch can simply allow heinous crimes to go unpunished just because they were committed … by the executive branch. It seems to me, to paraphrase the president on agabuse.jpgFriday, that the rule of law “has to be measured in part not by what we do when things are easy, but what we do when things are hard.” How many times does the United States government preach about international law and Western values? On what conceivable grounds can we do so when our own government can commit torture on a grand and brutal scale for years on end – and get away with it completely?

Either the rule of law applies to the CIA or it doesn’t. And it’s now absolutely clear that it doesn’t. The agency can lie to the public; it can spy on the Senate; it can destroy the evidence of its war crimes; it can lie to its superiors about its torture techniques; it can lie about the results of those techniques. No one will ever be held to account. It is inconceivable that the United States would take this permissive position on torture with any other country or regime. Inconceivable. And so the giant and massive hypocrisy of this country on core human rights is now exposed for good and all. The Bush administration set the precedent for the authorization of torture. The Obama administration has set the precedent for its complete impunity.

America has killed the Geneva Conventions just as surely as America made them.

(Photo: a page on enhanced interrogation techniques via a FOIA request.)