Moving Forward Without Looking Backwards
By | June 15, 2009 12:54 pm

Hopefully you didn’t miss Jane Mayer’s latest article in The New Yorker, dated June 22, 2009 (next Monday).

In an interview with Mayer, CIA Director Leon Panetta revealed that when he first took the reins of the CIA, he had asked then-CIA Inspector General John Helgerson to conduct a review to make sure that there was nobody left at the CIA that should be prosecuted for torture or related crimes.  Helgerson was the author of the 2004 classified report questioning the legality and effectiveness of the agency’s secret detention and brutal interrogation program.  Panetta says that Helgerson, who retired in May, assured him that there were no officers currently with the CIA that had violated the legal guidelines established during the Bush years.  He did, however, tell Panetta that ”continuing work was being done.”

But that doesn’t mean Panetta has managed to extricate himself from involvement with high-level officials who are connected with the torture program.  Many of his top deputies “worked closely” with former CIA Director George Tenet.  Even Panetta’s number 2, Stephen Kappes, was part of the torture regime.  Ironically, Kappes’ continued stay at the CIA was demanded by Democrats who refused to support Panetta’s nomination otherwise.  Mayer explains that:

During the first term of the Bush Administration, Kappes was a top official in the Directorate of Operations. This group oversaw the agency’s Counterterrorist Center, which, in turn, managed the secret detention-and-interrogation program. Few doubt that he was aware that the C.I.A. was engaging in brutality. One former officer recalls that Kappes voiced qualms, warning that the program amounted to “torture.” According to the former officer, once Kappes was overruled he went along; Kappes was “the brains” of the directorate, the former officer says. (Kappes, through a spokesman, denied having had a direct role in the interrogation program, or having called its tactics torture.) Another former C.I.A. operative says, “It would be hard to say someone so involved could be robustly objective” in advising Panetta.

Another torture holdover is Jonathan Fredman, the former Chief Counsel to the Counterterrorist Center, who famously proclaimed that “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”  His former boss, CIA Acting General Counsel John Rizzo, was the man many of the Justice Department’s torture memos were addressed to.  Rizzo remains at the agency while the search for a replacement continues.  The current head of the Counterterrorist Center, an undercover officer, ran the torture program during Bush’s second term.  Mayer also says that “[s]everal current station chiefs and division chiefs were also deeply involved in brutal interrogations, as were pilots, logistical experts, medical personnel, and others.”

And don’t forget former Tenet’s former chief of staff John Brennan, who is now advising President Obama as a senior official on the National Security Council.

Mayer notes that with all of these former Bush-officials still involved in top-level decision-making, no CIA officer has been charged with criminal acts relating to torture.  This, despite the fact that at least three prisoners have died as a result of enhanced interrogation:

In the first case, an unnamed detainee under C.I.A. supervision in Afghanistan froze to death after having been chained, naked, to a concrete floor overnight. The body was buried in an unmarked grave. In the second case, an Iraqi prisoner named Manadel al-Jamadi died on November 4, 2003, while being interrogated by the C.I.A. at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad. A forensic examiner found that he had essentially been crucified; he died from asphyxiation after having been hung by his arms, in a hood, and suffering broken ribs. Military pathologists classified the case a homicide. A third prisoner died after an interrogation in which a C.I.A. officer participated, though the officer evidently did not cause the death

The program was so out of line that German car salesman Khaled el-Masri was tortured for 149 days due to a case of mistaken identity by the CIA… oops.  The officer responsible for Masri’s suffering has received two promotions since then.

So what news did Mayer have to offer?  For one:

Helgerson, the former inspector general, forwarded the crucifixion case, along with an estimated half-dozen other incidents, to the Justice Department, for possible prosecution. But the case files have languished. An official familiar with the cases told me that the agency has deflected inquiries by the Senate Intelligence Committee seeking information about any internal disciplinary action. (Helgerson told me, “Some individuals have been disciplined. And others no longer work at the agency.”)

Regarding the closed-door investigation into the torture program by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Panetta told Mayer that some 10 million documents had been found.

While there’s little chance that CIA officials will be prosecuted, some remain hopeful that some of the private contractors involved will be held accountable.

In April, Panetta fired all the C.I.A.’s contract interrogators, including the former military psychologists who appear to have designed the most brutal interrogation techniques: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. The two men, who ran a consulting company, Mitchell, Jessen & Associates, had recommended that interrogators apply to detainees theories of “learned helplessness” that were based on experiments with abused dogs. The firm’s principals reportedly billed the agency a thousand dollars a day for their services. “We saved some money in the deal, too!” Panetta said. (Remarkably, a month after Obama took office the C.I.A. had signed a fresh contract with the firm.)

According to ProPublica, the investigative reporting group, Mitchell and Jessen’s firm, which in 2007 had a hundred and twenty people on its staff, recently closed its offices, in Spokane, Washington.

Pressure is also coming through less talked about avenues.

A grand jury is currently considering an indictment of CIA officials for destroying 92 video tapes documenting interrogations of detainees, including Abu Zubaydah.  There is also reason to believe that the inquiry may extend to determining if the interrogations occurred before the authorization was given.  In Italy, two dozen CIA officials are being tried in absentia for a rendition that occurred in 2003.  Spain has opened an investigation of high-level Bush officials that authorized torture.  And Binyam Mohammed is still using the British courts to try to get information about his rendition.  Other lawsuits are also working their way through the United States court system.

Mayer also notes that earlier this month, “Philip Mudd, Obama’s nominee for a top Homeland Security post, withdrew from consideration after it became clear that his Senate confirmation would turn into a fight over his previous role in the C.I.A.’s interrogation program.”

It looks like the Obama administration will have to confront this problem sooner rather than later.

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