Monday, December 10, 2007
Tortures, Tapes, and Lies
by Jacob G. Hornberger
CIA Director Michael Hayden is saying that the reason that the CIA destroyed the videotapes of the CIA’s harsh interrogation of suspected terrorists was because he wanted to protect the identity of CIA agents from possible retaliation from al-Qaeda.
That almost certainly has to be a lie. The more likely reason is that Hayden was trying to avoid a repeat of the Abu Ghraib scandal, where the CIA’s and U.S. military’s torture and sex abuse of Iraqi detainees was captured on videotape and, thus, could not be denied by the CIA and the Pentagon.
With the destruction of the CIA’s videotapes, CIA officials are now free to repeat President Bush’s mantra “We don’t torture” and then claim that detainees are lying when they begin describing the torture and sex abuse to which they have been subjected. In the years ahead, as revelations of what the CIA and the Pentagon actually did to people begin to see the light of day, the CIA’s and Pentagon’s favorite mantra will undoubtedly be “Who are you going to believe — a U.S. official or a suspected terrorist,” knowing that the average American would never believe that a U.S. official would lie.
What will happen now? I suspect that Congress will ask the CIA will be asked to conduct its own investigation of the matter, just as the U.S. military was asked to conduct its own investigation into the Abu Ghraib scandal. The result will be the same as it was after those 10 or so army investigations into Abu Ghraib — whitewash and cover-up.
Don’t forget that it was the Congress that enacted the Military Commission Act, which granted President Bush’s request for immunity for all U.S. officials who had tortured people after 9/11, even as President Bush was telling the world “We don’t torture and we’re against torture.”
At the risk of belaboring the obvious, if your people are not torturing anyone and if you’re against torture, why would you seek immunity from criminal prosecution for tortuous acts committed by your minions?
What all too many Americans don’t want to confront is the virtual certainty that President Bush himself has been lying to the American people and the world. The extreme likelihood is that Bush has known about the torture and sex abuse from the beginning but has felt that he must act like he doesn’t really know about it and that he must act like he opposes it. My hunch is that Bush was up to his neck in the planning of those infamous torture memos, which in my opinion were nothing more than legal opinions designed to give legal cover to the president and his subordinates.
After all, Bush knows that he won’t be in office forever and he knows what has happened to rulers who have committed criminal acts, after they have left office. Even today, the Peruvian people are prosecuting former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori for criminal acts allegedly committed while he was in office. And former Chilean President Augusto Pinochet was hounded by prosecutors for crimes he allegedly committed in office until the day he died.
If President Bush truly opposed torture and sex abuse, his attitude would have been totally different than it has been every time there has been a new revelation of torture and sex abuse committed by U.S. personnel or a new revelation of rendition to a foreign country for the purpose of torture and sex abuse. Heads would have rolled. Any attorney in his office who gave him a legal opinion countenancing torture or sex abuse would have been immediately fired. The same would have been done with higher-ups in the CIA and military who were in the chain of command in which the torture and sex abuse took place.
Such actions would have sent a message that torture and sex abuse would not be countenanced. The CIA and the Pentagon would have gotten the message.
Instead, throughout the torture-and-sex-abuse scandals, Bush has taken the passive approach, simply mouthing and re-mouthing his favorite mantra “We don’t torture” every time a new revelation of torture has occurred. It is a mantra that Bush’s subordinates have obviously been cued to repeat whenever their subordinates are caught in a new round of torture and sex abuse. Bush’s passive approach has sent a subtle but important message to U.S. personnel: “Do it, deny it, and continue doing it. You’ll be protected.”
Given the ever-growing magnitude of the torture-and-sex-abuse scandal, what Congress ought to do is repeal the Military Commission Act, including its grant of torture immunity, and then appoint an independent counsel with the mandate to investigate and prosecute anyone, no matter how powerful, involved in the torture and sex abuse of prisoners and detainees.
Don’t hold your breath, however. Given the fact that Congress is more terrified of the CIA and the military than they are of President Bush’s calling them “soft on terrorism,” the likelihood of that happening is, unfortunately, extremely unlikely. After all, don’t forget that it was Congress that let the Pentagon get away with its 10 or so investigatory whitewashes and cover-ups of the Abu Ghraib torture-and-sex-abuse scandal.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.