CIA Director Leon Panetta says he is not going to penalize agents who tortured prisoners if they “were doing their duty,” explaining, “If you have a President who exercises bad judgment, the C.I.A. pays the price.”
In an interview published in the June 22nd issue of The New Yorker magazine, Panetta acknowledged to reporter Jane Mayer the CIA may still employ some people tainted by the torture program. Nevertheless, Panetta said, “I really respect the people who say we shouldn’t have gotten involved in the interrogation business but we had to do our jobs.”
This defense, of course, recalls the one used by Nazi Adolf Eichmann, the Holocaust architect responsible for sending countless European Jews to extermination camps. Eichmann said he was just following orders and Panetta implies CIA agents that tortured were just following orders from the Bush White House. Eichmann was found hiding in Argentina and taken to Israel, where he was tried, convicted, and hanged in 1962.
Not only is Panetta excusing CIA criminals but Mayer writes, “Panetta, for his part, has been persuaded that renditions are a tool worth keeping…Panetta told me, ‘The worst part of rendition was rendition to a black site. That will not be the case anymore. If we render someone, it will be to a country with jurisdiction over that individual.’”
“The Obama Administration,” Panetta says, will take precautions to insure that rendered suspects are treated humanely, as the law requires,” Mayer writes. She quotes Panetta as saying, “I’ve talked to the State Department, and our people have to make very sure that people won’t be mistreated. Some places, obviously, it’s more difficult to do. But we’re going to have to press to make sure it doesn’t happen, because it would fly in the face of everything the President has said we stand for.”
To which Mayer adds, “The Bush Administration professed to be taking similar precautions.” Mayer notes during the Bush years, “some of the most horrific allegations of abuse were made by detainees rendered not to black sites but to Egypt, Syria, and Morocco.”
Panetta seems to ignore that rendition on its face is a violation of Article 3 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, ratified by the U.S. in 1994. As Wikipedia notes, “Rendered suspects are denied due process because they are arrested without charges and deprived of legal counsel.”
Panetta told The New Yorker, “I’m going to give people the benefit of the doubt…If they do the job that they’re paid to do, I can’t ask for a hell of a lot more.” Mayer points out, “His words echo those of President Obama, who on April 16th promised immunity from prosecution to any C.I.A. officer who relied on the advice of legal counsel during the Bush years.”
Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel pointed out that this is a low standard, given that “what the Justice Department approved was outrageous.”
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