Khalid Shaikh Mohammed after capture.
(Image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org), Author: Taken by U.S. forces when KSM was captured.) Details Source DMCA
The FBI throughout its history has had a lot of problems, from gunning down bank robbers like John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson without the benefit of trial to forcing the execution of Ethel Rosenberg to illegally spying on Americans through COINTELPRO to framing "domestic terrorists" to pad arrest and prosecution numbers in the post-9/11 era. But one thing the FBI has long been proud of is that it did not -- would not -- participate in the CIA's illegal and immoral torture program. That program, based at secret CIA prisons around the world after the 9/11 attacks, was so controversial inside the rarefied counterterrorism circles of the Intelligence Community that then-FBI Director Robert Mueller famously withdrew all FBI personnel from the country where the torture was taking place, lest his people be tainted with its stink. Mueller took the high road, he later told Congress. Unfortunately, though, that was a lie.
The New York Times reported last week that around the same time Mueller was saying that no FBI personnel would be permitted to remain in the same country where CIA torture was taking place, he was approving the "temporary transfer" of nine FBI agents to the CIA so that they could participate in the program, including in the interrogations that later became infamous for their brutality. This revelation is not speculation, rumor, or a wild accusation. It's a fact that was revealed in pre-trial proceedings in the Guantanamo death penalty case of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad (KSM), the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. One of the military prosecutors confirmed in open court that some of the interrogations carried out under torture were done by FBI agents, rather than CIA officers, and that they included torture. This is a very big problem for prosecutors.
KSM was captured in Pakistan in 2002. He was targeted because the CIA was certain that he conceived of and implemented the 9/11 attacks. Once he was captured, he was sent to a series of secret CIA prisons and forced to undergo torture, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, forced hypothermia, and regular beatings. He "confessed" to everything the CIA wanted him to confess to. He was almost certainly guilty. But the CIA and FBI's own criminal activity has put KSM's prosecution in jeopardy, at least theoretically. Nothing that KSM said under torture is admissible in the case against him and it can't be used against him, even while the CIA holds him indefinitely.
I'm certainly no fan of the FBI. But this revelation does damage not to just the Bureau, but to the country. As a nation, we now have to have the same conversation about the FBI that we had about the CIA after revelations in 2007 that the Agency was torturing its prisoners. Did the FBI's participation in the torture program go all the way up to Mueller? Who else knew about it? Did somebody at the White House approve the FBI's participation? Did the President? Where were the Congressional oversight committees in all this? Did they know? If not, why not? If they did, who on Capitol Hill approved the operation? How was it funded? If members of Congress weren't briefed, but found out about it later, why was nobody at the FBI disciplined?
At the risk of sounding even more cynical than perhaps I usually am, this seems like the final nail in the coffin of government national security accountability, to say nothing of transparency. Is there no one in government whom we can trust? Is there no one who can set an example for trustworthy representative government? And what about our elected officials? Are they all a part of the cover-up? Where is the accountability? Where is the outrage? Why did it take 19 years for this information to finally hit the press?
The final insult in this story is the fact that it was reported only by the New York Times and Yahoo News. The Washington Post was silent, as were CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News. Apparently, the story wasn't important enough for them to cover it more broadly. And even in the vaunted Times, is was worthy only of an appearance on page 11. That's where we find ourselves 20 years after the 9/11 attacks. Developments barely warrant a mention.
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