‘Maintaining secrecy around a defunct torture program is the real liability as doing so denies us the right to debate what happened and make sure it is never repeated.’
With a summary of what is expected to be a scathing report on the Bush administration’s CIA torture program scheduled for release this week, current Republican lawmakers have teamed up with former CIA and Bush-era officials to discredit the report and defend the brutal treatment inflicted on individuals in the years following the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Conducted by a special investigative team empowered by Democratic members of Senate Intelligence Committee, the report is expected to detail torture methods that go beyond what has previously been described and will also charge that CIA agents and officials repeatedly misinformed the White House and lawmakers charged with oversight about the scope and key details of the program.
However, after an investigation that has lasted more than six years and a prolonged approval process to make certain portions of it available to the public (albeit in redacted form), now that the report’s summary is about to be released, Republicans and defenders of the CIA (including top officials at the agency and Bush himself) appear to be circling the wagons to insulate those at the center of the behavior which one Democratic member of the Senate Committee said will make the American people “disgusted” with what the agency did in the name of the American people.
As the New York Times reports on Monday:
Former intelligence officials, seeking allies against the potentially damaging report, have privately reassured the Bush team in recent days that they did not deceive them and have lobbied the former president’s advisers to speak out publicly on their behalf. The defense of the program has been organized by former C.I.A. leaders like George J. Tenet and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, two former directors, and John E. McLaughlin, a former deputy C.I.A. director who also served as acting director.
“Once the release occurs, we’ll have things to say and will be making some documents available that bear on the case,” Mr. McLaughlin said Sunday. Although he could not discuss details because of a nondisclosure agreement, in general he said the report “uses information selectively, often distorts to make its points, and as I recall contains no recommendations.”
General Hayden added that the former C.I.A. team objected to the Senate’s characterization of their efforts. “We’re not here to defend torture,” he said by email on Sunday. “We’re here to defend history.”
And the proof of this campaign was readily available on the Sunday news shows.
On Sunday, former president George W. Bush himself appeared on CNN and defended the CIA behavior during his two terms in office.
“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” Bush said. “These are patriots. Whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contribution to our country, it is way off base. I knew the directors, I knew the deputy directors, I knew a lot of the operators. These are good people, really good people, and we’re lucky as a nation to have them.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Mike Rogers, a Republican congressman from Michigan and chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, also went on CNN and charged that the report would fuel anti-American violence abroad.
“I think this is a terrible idea,” Rogers said of report’s expected release. “Our foreign partners are telling us this will cause violence and deaths … Foreign leaders have approached the government and said, ‘You do this, this will cause violence and deaths.’ Our own intelligence community has assessed that this will cause violence and deaths.”
Also on Sunday, Hayden appeared on CBS’ Face The Nation where he was given unchallenged latitude by host Bob Scheiffer to defend the CIA’s torture of men in its custody. Hayden pushed back against how the Senate’s investigation was conducted and made an argument made by others that releasing the information about CIA torture would put lives overseas at risk because of the outrage the details of the human rights abuses would likely cause.
“First of all, the CIA workforce will feel as if it has been tried and convicted in absentia since the Senate Democrats and their staff didn’t talk to anyone actively involved in the program. Second, this will be used by our enemies to motivate people to attack Americans and American facilities overseas,” Hayden said.
It was reported on Friday that Secretary of State John Kerry had called Sen. Diane Feinstein, chair of the Intelligence Committee, and made similar warnings about the impact the report’s findings will have in places like North Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan and Pakistan. Feinstein did not speak publicly about the report over the weekend.
Speaking to the Times, however, Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch, called that argument a “red herring” and said “possible negative repercussions for national security” are not reason to keep this look at the torture program in the dark any longer. “Maintaining secrecy around a defunct torture program is the real liability,” Margon said, “as doing so denies us the right to debate what happened and make sure it is never repeated.”
In an interview with Esquire magazine published on Friday, Senate Mark Udall (D-Colorado) said the American people will “be disgusted” when they read the report’s summary and repeated his commitment to do “everything in his power” to make the findings of the investigation public if he is unhappy about the way the report is ultimately released.
“The people who conducted these activities in the name of the CIA, in the name of the American people, have a right to be processed,” Udall said. “They don’t have a right to [pause] push under the rug what happened.”
He concluded, “When this report is declassified, people will abhor what they read. They’re gonna be disgusted. They’re gonna be appalled. They’re gonna be shocked at what we did. But it will lay a foundation whereby we don’t do this in the future. That’s been my goal. That’s been my mission.”