National Commentary

CIA’s Torture Orders Came From the Top

nfbenton-mugThe Senate Intelligence Committee’s already famous report on CIA interrogation methods, read eloquently and boldly into the record by Sen. Diane Feinstein Tuesday, presented graphic and indisputable accounts of unbelievably sadistic torture perpetrated by CIA officers and its contract entities that are, truly, stranger than fiction.

The day after the report’s release, the all-news and talk show airwaves are choked with pro-CIA “experts” challenging the report, attempting to create a smoke screen of obfuscation and disorientation by arguing, essentially, that black-is-white and similar logical absurdities.

At the end of the momentous day of the report’s release, however, the greatest clarity was provided by CNN’s senior legal expert Jeffrey Toobin, appearing on the Anderson Cooper show, who gave the report the significance and gravitas it deserves.

“There has never been a day like this in American history,” he said, “We didn’t treat the Nazis or the Viet Cong like this.”

But the most damning element is the revelation that all this must have come from the top of the agency, if not even higher. The role of the Bush White House is “peculiar,” Toobin said. President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney weren’t told about the torture until 2006, four years after it began, it was reported. However, a year later Bush is on record still saying, “This country does not engage in torture.”

While keeping the president out of the intelligence loop on such matters was standard “plausible deniability” procedure, the CIA’s bald-faced lying to Congress and the American people during that entire period constitutes, next to the torture practices themselves, the gravest violation.

One e-mail quoted justified the withholding of this kind of information from then Secretary of State Colin Powell because it was thought that Powell would “blow his stack” if he learned of it.

It is chilling to hear the reaction to the report, even from those duly mortified, because it reflects a sad degree of conditioning to the idea that an entire agency of the government can collectively go “rogue,” in defiant indifference to the institutions of our democracy, without consequence.

This operation is orders of magnitude more serious than the Iran-Contra affair in the late 1980s, when heads rolled under the scathing scrutiny of congressional hearings.

But the CIA officers in this case are called “patriots” and “good people” by Bush. So what constitutes a patriot, if it is someone who thumbs his nose at the rule of law, becomes a chronic liar to elected officials, and subjects the entire nation to the consequences of torture tactics that are inhumane, ineffective and constitute a license for our enemies to respond in kind on a mass scale? This is a twisted, veritably pathological, notion of patriotism, indeed.

What the long-overdue release of this report has accomplished, besides its documentation of particulars that should be used to indict many CIA officers and their patrons in world, if not USA, courts of law, is an opportunity for those like Feinstein and Republican Sen. John McCain, who defended the report on the Senate floor Tuesday after Feinstein’s remarks, to remind us all of America’s core moral values.

For McCain, a former POW himself, his remarks Tuesday represented a rare occasion for this writer to agree with him. But the subject of torture is obviously something that goes far deeper than partisanship for him, as are the core notions of national purpose and humanistic moral standing that accompanied it.

This nation cannot be represented to the world by the likes of the sadistic criminals who disregarded all notions of purpose and morality to devise forms of torture beyond the imagination, and who didn’t care if they failed to produce meaningful results.

Moreover, we cannot lose sight of the fact that it was higher commands that had to have authorized this whole policy, commands that reach to the highest corridors of power in the U.S. For them, this report reveals a level of cynicism and amorality that is shocking to see as exhibited in the details of this report.

This practice was not authorized on some kind of low level. It came right from the top.