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The cadre of former CIA directors needs to get its act together on the torture issue. Current director John Brennan said recently that no future CIA director would carry out presidential orders to reconstitute a torture program. Brennan hasn't had any human rights epiphany. He was, after all, the deputy executive director of the CIA under George W. Bush, during which time he did absolutely nothing to stop torture. He said simply that no CIA officer would carry out such an order because the CIA "needs to endure," and public opinion may not favor such an action.
As pathetic and roundabout a way as Brennan got to the correct conclusion, there are still a few diehard former directors who insist that a torture program is in the national interest, that it's not a violation of U.S. and international law, and that it actually keeps Americans safe.
Even after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concluded, using primary source CIA documents, that torture did not work, that it did not produce any actionable intelligence, and that it did not save American lives (or anyone else's, frankly), some former CIA directors still cling to the fallacy that torture was a necessary program.
Porter Goss, one of George W. Bush's failed CIA directors, who served from 2004-2006, told NBC News that the torture program "saved hundreds, if not thousands of lives" and "produced intelligence that allowed the U.S., and its partners, to disrupt attacks, such as 9/11 type attacks planned for the U.S. west coast and Heathrow Airport." That was a lie.
Former CIA director Michael Hayden, a particularly ineffective leader whose tenure at the CIA was the subject of specific criticism in the report, chose to mock the Torture Report's writing style, rather than defend his own policies at the Agency. He told Politico, "I think the conclusions they drew were analytically offensive and almost street-like in their language and conclusions." That's not a very compelling defense of his own program.
George Tenet, who was the principle architect of the torture program and who came unhinged in a "60 Minutes" segment in 2007, insisting that the CIA had never tortured anybody, went so far as to publish a book along with former colleagues, attempting to justify his decision to authorize CIA officers to commit crimes against humanity. (Sales were anemic.)
Even Jim Woolsey, who was CIA director for the blink of an eye in the first half of the Clinton administration, somehow felt a need to jump into a debate in which he had absolutely no stake. He told the UK's BBC Radio 4 that if he had been CIA director after the September 11 attacks, he would have waterboarded terrorism suspects. "Would I waterboard again Khalid Sheikh Muhammad, the architect of the 9/11 killings and beheader of over 40 people? Would I waterboard him if I could have a good chance of saving thousands of Americans or, for that matter, other allied individuals? Yes."
All of these former CIA directors ignore the facts: that torture doesn't work, that it has not resulted in the collection of any actionable intelligence, and that it saved no American lives. But they also miss the most important point. A policy of torture, a policy of holding people incommunicado in secret prisons, a policy of rendering people to third countries to undergo even more brutal torture, does nothing but serve as a recruiting tool for terrorists.
There's no doubt that terrorism is real. It's a threat to every American. But it's high time that the CIA's directors, past and present, admit that their own policies are what are helping to fuel it. Torture doesn't prevent terrorism, it causes it.
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