I finally took the time on Christmas Day to sit and watch Amazon's new film The Report, written and directed by Scott Z. Burns, on Senate Intelligence Committee investigator Daniel Jones and his investigation of the CIA's torture program. In the interest of transparency, I was a script consultant on the film, although I never saw the final script and I had no idea how it would turn out until I saw it on television like everybody else.
The Report is "don't miss" television. I experienced the events depicted in it first-hand in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC) and as the CIA's chief of counterterrorist operations in Pakistan. In mid-2002 I became the daily briefer for Jim Pavitt, the CIA's deputy director for operations. I worked directly under the notorious CTC director Jose Rodriguez and the equally notorious Gina Haspel. I knew these people well. Scott Burns captures them perfectly. You will come to realize only minutes into this film that our intelligence services and the White House are run by sociopaths -- people with no capacity for remorse or regret, people for whom human rights, civil rights, civil liberties, and the rule of law mean literally nothing. You will see, too, that the CIA will crush anyone it deems a threat to its own dominance of the government narrative.
In the end, The Report is a tale of cowardice. Certainly Dan Jones is a hero, both in the film and in real life. The guy singlehandedly took on the CIA and, regardless of what was good for his career or his personal life, dug deeper and deeper into the CIA's crimes to the point that Obama's CIA director, John Brennan, tried to have him arrested.
The cowardice, though, is on display everywhere else, from the CIA to the White House to the Justice Department to Capitol Hill. And it was not limited to the cartoon characters who made up the Bush administration. It extended deep into the Obama White House, with Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough reminding us repeatedly that Obama had sold himself to the American public as "the first post-partisan president." What a joke. That narrative doesn't play here. The cowardice is on display on Capitol Hill, where nearly every Republican senator on the Intelligence Committee voted against even investigating the torture program. Why? Just because.
Burns takes us methodically from the captures of Abu Zubaydah in March 2002 and Khalid Shaikh Muhammad in August 2002 to the creation of the torture program in the minds of unqualified contract psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, reminding us that their PhD dissertations were not on issues surrounding torture, but on nutrition and family counseling respectively. (And he tells Feinstain in one scene that the CIA has paid them $80 million for their "services.") Burns shows us how Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee practically stood on their heads to justify and "legalize" a torture program that was unjustifiable and illegal. He shows us how US Attorney John Durham, now the great hope of liberals who think he's going to prosecute John Brennan for his role in the "Russiagate" investigation, ignored Dan Jones's repeated entreaties to share information, only to then close the case on CIA torture and say that it was not prosecutable.
Burns shows us the psychopathy of CIA officials like Rodriguez, Haspel, Pavitt, George Tenet, and ultimately John Brennan, the boogeyman in the film, even though he represented that post-partisan "progressive" president, all of whom continued to defend and promote the torture program even after it was conclusively proven to be a failure. Rodriguez's cable to CIA field operatives, telling them to "stop putting objections (to torture) in writing," shows him as the real monster in those early days. Haspel's order to the CIA chief at the secret torture site to destroy videotaped evidence of the torture doesn't make her look so good either.
None of this was new, however. The real revelation in the film was the fact that so many post-torture program officials and Democrats were co-conspirators in this whole mess. Former CIA director Michael Hayden, who headed the organization after the torture program had ended, went on the Sunday morning talk shows after the killing of Osama bin Laden along with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, also a post-torture appointee, to perpetuate the lie that torture led the CIA to bin Laden's location. That position had been conclusively proven false. But that false narrative was also endorsed by members of the Obama National Security Council, including John Brennan.
Another important data point that was "new" to most Americans was how the CIA cooperated with Hollywood film studios on movies such as Zero Dark Thirty and television series like "24" to continue to perpetuate the lie that torture worked and led to bin Laden. At one point in The Report, Senator Dianne Feinstein's chief of staff tells Jones upon the release of Zero Dark Thirty, "The CIA just got the president re-elected."
Even John Kerry, that self-proclaimed hero of peace and the left, comes out in opposition to Feinstein's decision to release a heavily-redacted version of the Torture Report's Executive Summary, saying that its release would cause the coalition against ISIS to collapse. Ridiculous. (I was John Kerry's intelligence advisor and senior investigator on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when he chaired it. The American people have no idea just how conservative he is.)
In the end, Jones gives us his bottom line when he says, "They said the Enhanced Interrogation Techniques saved lives. But all they did was make it impossible to prosecute." He's absolutely right.
When I moved from analysis to operations at the CIA in 1998, I was told very clearly, "The ultimate mission is to protect the Agency." Every officer knew that if he got into trouble, he would be abandoned, at least bureaucratically. The Agency didn't care about you. But, by God, you'd better care about the Agency. The same was true at the White House. "The mission is to protect the president." The Report shows us why these are the most dangerous mission statements in the world.
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