There is some horse-trading going on between the Central Intelligence Agency and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the packaging of the committee’s now notorious 6,300-page report on the CIA interrogation program.
It is generally agreed that only the 500-page summary of the report will actually see the light of day—and even that will be heavily redacted—but the discussions that are taking place relate to the accompanying statement that will be issued by the committee when the CIA finishes its review and agrees to the partial release of the document to the public.
The agency wants the committee to concede that even though there were admittedly lapses, the CIA was generally acting legally and in accordance with established guidelines when the interrogation program was running and there were successes derived from it.
While it may seem that such a statement would be some kind of “fog of war” guarantee that no legal action will be taken against the CIA officers who carried out the torture, as well as those who approved it, that is not the case. Neither the committee nor the Obama administration has any interest in prosecuting CIA personnel, even if it can be clearly demonstrated that they committed war crimes.
The statement is instead intended to avoid the labeling of the agency as a rogue organization, either directly or by implication, as that would have serious consequences relating to organizational morale and public support for the intelligence community.
At CIA, where attempts to shift towards conventional spying and away from drones are proceeding very poorly, morale is reported to be very low and sinking. Few within the agency are assuaged by clear indications that Republicans on the committee will attempt to minimize any possible consequences deriving from the report’s conclusions.
The problem for the committee is that any statement excusing or trying to mitigate the agency’s procedures is not supported by the report itself. Depending on what is finally released and how it is packaged, the public could well learn that torture was far more widespread and brutal in agency black sites than has been conceded until now, that particular cases of physical abuse were deliberately carried out illegally and “off the record” to avoid oversight and accountability, that information obtained was deliberately misrepresented and that there were a number of deaths from torture that were processed as “John Does” and secretly disposed of to conceal what had been done. Widespread instances of collusion in torture as part of the rendition program might also be revealed.
The reality is that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” regime far exceeded the permissive John Yoo Justice Department guideline that defined torture as any procedure that brought about organ failure or worse, the assumption being that physical abuse as part of the interrogation process would be unlikely to go beyond that point. Either Yoo guessed wrong regarding how far an interrogator might actually go if given legal cover or he did not appreciate that the widely publicized White House pledge to “take the gloves off” against the terrorists might actually have real-life repercussions.
Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer, is executive director of the Council for the National Interest.