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Excusing Torture, Again

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But the CIA's promotion of al-Libi's information ignored the well-founded suspicions voiced by the Defense Intelligence Agency. "He lacks specific details" about the supposed training, the DIA observed. "It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers."

The CIA's doubts proved prescient. In January 2004, al-Libi recanted his statements and claimed that he had lied because of both actual and anticipated abuse. In September 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee criticized the CIA for accepting al-Libi's claims as credible. "No postwar information has been found that indicates CBW training occurred and the detainee who provided the key prewar reporting about this training recanted his claims after the war," the committee report said.

Al-Libi ended up in a Libyan prison during the period when Col. Muammar Gaddafi was cooperating with the U.S. in hunting down "terrorists." Al-Libi "committed suicide" just two weeks after being visited in the Libyan prison by a team from Human Rights Watch in April 2009.

"No Good Intelligence"

The al-Libi case demonstrated one of the practical risks of coercing a witness to talk. To avoid pain, people often make stuff up, an obvious point that other truth-tellers also have noted. On Sept. 6, 2006, for example, Gen. John Kimmons, then head of Army intelligence told reporters at the Pentagon, in unmistakable language:

"No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that."

Gen. Kimmons is a rare species -- a general officer with guts, not to mention an intelligence career focusing mostly on interrogation practices. He was well aware that President George W. Bush had decided to claim publicly, just two hours later, that the "alternative set of procedures" for interrogation -- methods that Bush had approved, like waterboarding -- were effective.

So the real experts say one cannot acquire "good intelligence" from torture, i.e., an empirical reality upon which to base sound policy. But what about bad intelligence, especially preferred bad intelligence? If your goal in 2002 and 2003 was to make a case showing operational ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq -- when none existed -- well, then, torture works like a charm.

Yet, Jose Rodriguez now seeks to rewrite this sordid chapter in the CIA's history and put his own complicity in a more favorable light.

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One could say his first major move in this cover-up came in 2005 when he ordered the destruction of videotaped evidence of these "enhanced interrogation techniques." Surely, it is easier to soft-pedal the cruel reality of waterboarding and other abusive tactics if people can't actually see the human suffering.

And, the Washington Post, which once basked in the glory of its investigation of the Watergate cover-up, now gives generous space for a practitioner of both waterboarding and destruction of evidence to make excuses without challenge.

Just think how Official Washington's attitude toward respect for the law has degraded over the past three decades or so. Not even President Richard Nixon dared to destroy the incriminating tapes of Watergate, even though he knew only too well that the evidence on them would be his undoing.

Yet, Rodriguez never faced criminal charges for destroying 92 videotapes recording hundreds of hours worth of CIA black-site interrogation footage. Rodriguez ordered the tapes destroyed at precisely the time when Congress and the courts were intensifying their scrutiny of the CIA interrogation program. Yet -- surprise, surprise -- nowhere in Sunday's Post is there mention of that felony fact.

Indeed, as Rodriguez and his torture-friendly colleagues seek to use the occasion of the new Hollywood blockbuster to burnish their image, they are getting a helping hand from neocon newspapers like the Washington Post.

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It's reminiscent of several years ago when Tenet and other complicit figures got to go on national television and insist that "we do not torture," as Tenet told Scott Pelley of "60 Minutes" in five consecutive sentences on May 1, 2007.

A Failed Investigation

Some will remember, too, that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder in 2009 declared the principle that "no one is above the law" but then made very clear that some people are very much above the law, including the likes of Rodriguez.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 

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