The last drop of whitewash

The last drop of whitewash

If the CIA’s torture doesn’t bother you, its crimes against our nation should.

We have known for years that the CIA tortured people in the name of the United States. The new report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence reveals how heinous and unnecessary that torture was. Yet even those disclosures aren’t why this report is truly shocking. What it uncovers is the origin of the CIA’s past decade of lawlessness - the systematic deceptions that eventually escalated into a series of crimes that included destruction of evidence, perjury, leaking of classified documents, and hacking (which the government considers an act of war). This Senate report uses polite language to shout one thing: the CIA is brazenly committing crimes against the American nation.

The Senate report calls the CIA “inaccurate” 283 times, as in “The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information.”  It calls CIA statements “incongruous” 42 times, as in "The testimony [of CIA Director Michael Hayden] is incongruent with CIA records."  It uses words like “incorrect” and “omitted,” along with phrases like “factually incorrect,” “false impression”, and “wrong in fundamental respects”. The report makes it very clear that the CIA deliberately duped Congress, the Department of Justice, and possibly even the White House. Thankfully, we don’t need to be as polite as the long-suffering staffers of the Senate committee. We can call the CIA’s statements what they are: inexcusable, self-serving lies.

The CIA wasn’t supposed to kidnap innocent people, but it did. More than 1 in 5 of its secret prisoners were innocent. “Of the 119 known detainees, at least 26 were wrongfully held.”  These weren’t all mistakes. At least two of these innocent men were deliberately imprisoned to be used as leverage against other people. One of them was even mentally handicapped.  Many of the remainder, who were found innocent after being imprisoned, continued to be held indefinitely. “Detainees often remained in custody for months after the CIA determined that they did not meet the [detention] standard.”  The CIA tried to hide these needless crimes. The Senate Intelligence Committee found that “the CIA kept increasingly less-detailed records” and concluded that “A full accounting of CIA detentions and interrogations may be impossible, as records in some cases are non-existent, and, in many other cases, are sparse and insufficient.”

The CIA wasn’t supposed to use sodomy as a form of torture, but it did. “Rectal exams” were considered “standard operating procedure.” Later, “rectal feeding” was adopted as a particularly effective torture technique. CIA medical officers even described how it was done: “you get a tube up as far as you can, then open the IV wide. …we used the largest Ewal [sic] tube we had.”  Some prisoners were sodomized so forcefully that it likely permanently damaged their ability to defecate. One prisoner was diagnosed with “chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure, and symptomatic rectal prolapse.”  The CIA Director lied about this under oath, saying “Threats of acts of sodomy … have never been and would never be authorized.”

The CIA wasn’t supposed to torture anyone without explicit approval, but it did. In fact, it tortured a man named Gul Rahman to death without being authorized to torture him at all. After being stripped naked and beaten, Rahman was chained against a wall wearing only a sweatshirt and apparently died of hypothermia.  The CIA Director lied about this under oath. When asked “Did anybody die?” he replied “No. … No one.”

The list goes on – the Committee’s report is a jaw-dropping compilation of lies. The CIA lied about the value of its prisoners, claiming they were more important than they were.  It lied about how it escalated the torture only as necessary ("Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an "an open, non-threatening approach," or that interrogations began with the "least coercive technique possible" and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary"). It lied about the severity of the torture, saying it was no worse than the U.S. Army's SERE school (in a secret memo the CIA described one detainee's 183 water-boardings as a "series of near drownings"). The CIA both falsified and “consistently omitted” evidence about the effectiveness of torture in extracting information. It claimed it had gained intelligence that "disrupted" plots that had never actually existed.  The CIA even “provided inaccurate information” to the Department of Justice when it first requested a legal authorization for torture, meaning that the torture program was based on lies from the very beginning.

Torture is illegal under both U.S. and international law. The CIA claims it can’t be held accountable for the thousands of acts of torture it committed, because it was authorized to do so. Even if that were true, the CIA didn’t stop at torture. After realizing that it had gone too far, the CIA committed an astonishing series of escalating crimes intended to cover up the truth:

  • November 9, 2005 – Destruction of evidence (felony): The CIA destroyed 92 tapes of torture interrogations with hundreds of hours of footage. The Obama administration acknowledged this in 2009.  The man who inappropriately issued the order to destroy the tapes, Jose Rodriguez, is reported to have said “the heat from destroying is nothing compared to what it would be if the tapes ever got into public domain.”
  • April 12, 2007 – Perjury (felony): Michael Hayden, the Director of the CIA, testified about the torture program to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The Committee’s new report dedicates 38 pages to contradicting his testimony, describing at least 33 of his statements as being "not supported by CIA records," "incongruent with CIA records," "inconsistent" or "inaccurate". In other words, he brazenly lied to Congress.
  • Late April, 2007 – Release of classified information (felony): In a deliberate effort to manipulate public opinion, the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs released classified information to reporters about its Detention and Interrogation Program, as well as giving false examples of plots the program had supposedly foiled. These actions were justified by top-level CIA staff, one of whom said, “we either get out and sell, or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media.”  Both the Bush and Obama administrations have prosecuted Americans under the Espionage Act for releasing classified information to the media, and Secretary of State John Kerry has called a similar act the work of a “traitor.”
  • 11 March 2014 – Computer hacking (felony; act of war): The chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly “accused the CIA of ­secretly removing documents, searching computers used by the committee and attempting to intimidate congressional investigators by requesting an FBI inquiry of their conduct.”  This came as the Committee was preparing to publish its report on the CIA’s torture program, meaning that the CIA had strong motive to access the report in advance, and delete critical supporting documentation. The new CIA Director, John Brennan, accused the Senate of making “spurious allegations about CIA actions that are wholly unsupported by the facts.”  Brennan even had the nerve to scold Congress for doing “a disservice to the important relationship that needs to be maintained between intelligence officials and congressional overseers”. Then an Inspector General investigation in July revealed that the Senate was correct – the CIA had extensively hacked the Committee’s computers. Notably, both the White House and the Pentagon have said that a cyber attack constitutes an act of war.  Brennan was forced to apologize to the Committee for lying, but refused to resign.

Many Americans claim they aren’t bothered by the CIA’s acts of sodomy and manslaughter. They aren’t taken aback by the fact that the CIA deliberately kidnapped innocent people to use them as leverage, and refused to release other prisoners it discovered were innocent. Maybe these Americans truly don’t understand that the CIA is generating far more terrorist sentiment than it is quashing. But even a fool can understand the danger of a dog that attacks its own master. Regardless of our beliefs about the morality and efficacy of torture, we should be able to agree that if the CIA is committing crimes against our government, it must be stopped.

There is an obvious parallel between the CIA's actions and the NSA’s lawlessness and deceit since 9/11. In fact, John Brennan already did so in September while speaking at a conference “where he was joined by his colleagues at the helms of the National Security Agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency”. He said, “I certainly believe having the public’s trust makes all of our jobs much easier.”  He is certainly right.  Imagine how much easier things would be for the CIA and the NSA if the American public had no clue that these secretive agencies were consistently breaking the law, lying, destroying evidence, torturing innocent people from abroad, and spying on everyone at home.

Thanks to the momentous efforts of whistleblowers like Edward Snowden and overseers like the Senate Intelligence Committee, the American nation is now aware that the United States intelligence community is out of control.  We can either keep whitewashing reality, or we can speak in plain terms and fix the problem.  The more whitewash we use now, the darker our future will be.