Conflicts over the release of a long-delayed US Senate investigation reportinto the Central Intelligence Agency’s torture program have produced a deepening crisis for the Obama administration. Under conditions where the expanding repressive apparatus of the American state—from the CIA and the NSA down to local police departments—is increasingly viewed as illegitimate, there are growing concerns in ruling circles about the international and domestic consequences of the public release of a report exposing systematic criminality at the highest levels.
It emerged on Friday that Secretary of State John Kerry took the unprecedented step of contacting Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein directly to urge her to “consider” further delaying the release of the report. Feinstein, a Democrat from California, chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, which was responsible for producing the report. According to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, Kerry made the call “because a lot is going on in the world, and he wanted to make sure that foreign policy implications were being appropriately factored into timing.”
The implications for American imperialist foreign policy are obvious. The government of the United States asserts the power to invade, bomb and carry out “humanitarian intervention” and “regime-change” anywhere in the world in the name of protecting “human rights.” Meanwhile, top military, civilian and intelligence officials of that same country are implicated in the gravest violations of human rights, as well as in conspiracies to cover up those crimes—and nobody has been held accountable.
Just as concerning for the ruling class, however, are the report’s domestic consequences—further exposing a state apparatus that is already deeply unpopular in the eyes of the vast majority of the population.
The record of CIA torture and the subsequent investigations into it are a story of crime topped upon crime. The CIA torture program, which was launched in 2002 with the direct involvement of top officials in the Bush administration, was apparently more brutal even than has been publicly acknowledged so far. “This was real torture,” a confidential source told the Telegraph earlier this year, calling the methods “medieval.” It goes without saying that torture is an illegal act, violating both international law as well as the US Constitution.
However, the Senate report is not limited to the torture itself. It also documents the CIA’s systematic and criminal campaign over subsequent years to cover up the program. For example, in November 2005, the CIA destroyed tapes that it had made of torture at a secret “black site” in Thailand. (The Obama administration, under its doctrine of “looking forward not backward,” refused to prosecute the CIA officials involved in destroying this key evidence.)
The Senate Intelligence Committee investigation began in 2009, and the report was completed in December 2012. Kerry’s phone call is only the latest in a long series of efforts by the Obama administration and the CIA to obstruct the report’s release. Earlier this year, Feinstein revealed that the CIA had broken into the computers of staff working for the Senate Intelligence Committee and had attempted to erase evidence of CIA crimes. Subsequently, the CIA wiped out additional files in order to conceal evidence of the electronic break-in from a congressional sergeant-at-arms investigation.
One possibility is that the Obama administration hopes to delay the release of the report until control of Congress changes into the hands of the Republican Party, after which it will be easier to justify burying it altogether. Even so, the Senate Intelligence Committee does not intend to release the full 6,200-page report to the public. Instead, only a roughly 500-page “executive summary” will ever see the light of day. The CIA has been permitted to make redactions, which, according to media reports, account for roughly 15 percent of the text.
While Feinstein has postured as a critic of the CIA torture program, she and the rest of the congressional Democrats are just as complicit in the program as the Republicans. In an opinion piece in the Washington Post on Friday, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr.—the CIA official who was responsible for the destruction of the torture videos in 2005—pointed out that “leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees and of both parties in Congress were briefed on the program more than 40 times between 2002 and 2009.” Rodriguez added, “Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tried to deny that she was told in 2002 that detainees had been waterboarded. That is simply not true. I was among those who briefed her.”
Whatever tactical differences exist among the various factions of the ruling class, the bitterness of the mutual recriminations—and Kerry’s extraordinary phone call—point to a mood of panic behind closed doors. Internationally as well as domestically, the lies and pretenses of the American state are being discredited in the eyes of millions.
There is a profound connection between criminality abroad and criminality at home. The so-called “war on terror” and military aggression abroad are linked to repression within the United States. As the WSWS has warned, the drive by the American ruling class to build up the infrastructure of a police state is in preparation for the inevitable confrontation with the working class. This is what lies behind the unprecedented levels of domestic spying, the assault on basic democratic rights, the CIA’s trampling on legality and the Constitution, the militarization of law enforcement and the ongoing police rampage against working class youth.
While Dianne Feinstein has postured as a critic of the CIA torture program, she and the rest of the congressional Democrats are just as complicit in the program as the Republicans.
The ongoing behind-the-scenes conflict over the CIA torture report comes as the American political establishment is rattled by nationwide protests over multiple cases where police officers were not held accountable for serious crimes, including the killings of Eric Garner in New York and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In the working class, conclusions are being drawn.
Just as there are no consequences for top government officials who authorize torture and assassination abroad, there are no consequences for police officers who commit murder at home. Nor are there any consequences, for that matter, for financial aristocrats whose illegal and speculative investments crashed the economy in 2008. Instead, war criminals continue to occupy top posts in the government, killer cops are placed on paid administrative leave or allowed a comfortable retirement, and billionaire financial criminals are rewarded with free cash in the form of bailouts from the public treasury.
A picture is emerging of a political and social system that is essentially a criminal conspiracy to intimidate, deceive and rob the population, involving Democrats, Republicans and all the auxiliary political agents of the ruling class (including naturally the mass media). Under these conditions, “restoring legitimacy” is a top priority in ruling circles. On Thursday, Obama—employing a hefty dose of identity politics aimed at obscuring the basic class issues—spoke of “strengthening relationships” between “law enforcement” and minority “communities,” and of “restoring a sense of common purpose.”
“I am absolutely committed,” he added, “as president of the United States, to making sure that we have a country in which everyone believes [Obama emphasized this word] in the core principle that we are equal under the law.” He stressed that the police could “do their jobs effectively” only if “everyone has confidence in the system.”
On the contrary, workers in the United States and internationally must draw exactly those conclusions that frighten Obama and the rest of the political establishment the most: that the system is precisely the problem.
No confidence can be placed in efforts to “reform” this or that criminal practice under conditions where the entire social system is closing ranks for an assault against the interests of the vast majority of the population. To fight back, the working class must orient itself towards socialism—that is, towards the overthrow and replacement of the outmoded world capitalist system, which is the essential cause of social inequality, war, violence and dictatorship.
Tom Carter is a writer for wsws.org, organ of the Social Equality Party.
The Senate intelligence committee is poised to release a landmark inquiry into torture as early as Tuesday, even as the Obama administration has made a last-ditch effort to suppress a report that has plunged relations between the CIA and its Senate overseer to a historic low point.
The release of the torture report will represent the third major airing of faulty CIA intelligence in 15 years, following official commissions into the 9/11 plot and Saddam Hussein’s defunct illicit weapons programs.
Despite months of negotiation over how much of the 6,000-page report will be declassified, most of its findings will never see the light of the day. But even a partial release of the report will yield a furious response from the CIA and its allies.
On Sunday, George W Bush made a show of support for CIA operatives who had participated in torture, calling them “patriots”.
“We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the CIA serving on our behalf,” he told CNN. “These are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.”
The Senate report is likely to attract global attention, owing to the CIA’s network of unacknowledged prisons in places like Poland, Thailand and Afghanistan.
Human-rights investigators have found 54 countries cooperated in various ways with the CIA’s renditions, detentions and interrogations, but the commitee is unlikely to reveal the agency’s foreign torture partners.
On Friday, secretary of state John Kerry called Senator Dianne Feinstein – the California Democrat who spearheaded the inquiry – to urge consideration of what spokeswoman Jen Psaki called the “foreign policy implications” of the report’s timing, suggesting it could inflame anti-American outrage worldwide.
Bloomberg first reported that the committee understood Kerry to be arguing for suppressing the report, though the State Department denies it.
Congressman Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee said on Sunday that US allies have warned that the release of the report could provoke “violence and deaths”.
“I think this is a terrible idea,” Rogers told CNN. “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.”
But the handwritten notes obtained exclusively by Truthout drafted two decades ago by Dr. John Bruce Jessen, the psychologist who was under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of the government’s top-secret torture program, tell a dramatically different story about the reasons detainees were brutalized and it was not just about obtaining intelligence. Rather, as Jessen’s notes explain,torture was used to “exploit” detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to “collaborate” with government authorities. Jessen’s notes emphasize how a “detainer” uses the stresses of detention to produce the appearance of compliance in a prisoner.
Several foreign governments, including the UK and Poland, are fearful of identification by the Senate and have added to the pressure on the committee.
Some of the CIA’s major allies included dictators whom Barack Obama relinquished US support for or even went to war to depose, such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad.
Jose Rodriguez, a former senior CIA official who has ardently defended torture, has already published an op-ed accusing Feinstein and her committee allies ofbreaking faith with a CIA it once wanted to do its utmost to stop terrorism. Several former CIA directors and Bush officials intend to argue that the Senate investigation is itself misleading.
Rodriguez, writing in the Washington Post, said that the committee’s conclusion that torture “brought no intelligence value is an egregious falsehood” and termed the report “a dishonest attempt to rewrite history”.
The report’s fundamental conclusions have been well-trailed. Senate investigators determined that the CIA’s embrace of mock-drowning, sleep deprivation, “stress positions”, sensory and dietary manipulation and other torture techniques were ineffective, and the CIA covered up that ineffectiveness by misrepresenting its results to Bush officials, Congress and the public.
Its executive summary examines 20 such instances during the 2002-2006 height of what the CIA prefers to call “enhanced interrogation techniques”.
After the committee voted in April to declassify sections of the report, Feinstein called the CIA’s actions a “stain on our history”.
Feinstein hoped the committee would finish its declassification negotiations with the administration within 30 days. Yet the White House placed the CIA in charge of censoring a report into its own conduct and discussions have stretched into their 10th month. In August, Feinstein and other leading Senate Democratsrejected proposed administration redactions, saying they would leave the committee’s findings incomprehensible. The agency has rejected even the use of pseudonyms for its operatives on the grounds they could reveal classified identities.
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Feinstein conceded that she had been obliged to give in on some of her demands for transparency: “We have to get this report out.”
“We will find another way to make known some of the problems,” she said.
The drawn-out process has prompted speculation that the administration wants to outlast Feinstein’s tenure as chairwoman and prefers for committee Republicans, who consider the inquiry a wasteful witch hunt, to preside over its partial release come January. Two committee Democrats, Ron Wyden of Oregonand Mark Udall of Colorado, have publicly flirted with using parliamentary procedure to force disclosure, considered to be an attempt at exerting pressure on the administration.
Human rights campaigners have pressured the White House for months to release a maximally declassified report so as to hold the CIA accountable. It is unlikely to lead to any legal consequence for CIA officials, particularly after a special Justice Department inquiry into torture declined to indict anyone for abuses in the CIA program. The report’s greatest legal impact may be on the military tribunal for the accused 9/11 co-conspirators, whose lawyers wish to introduce the report into evidence that their clients were tortured into delivering inadmissible statements implicating themselves.
Hostility to the report is not restricted to the right wing. Human rights groups have criticized Senate investigators for not looking into the Bush administration architects of the program in a concession to committee Republicans, and for declining to attempt a definitive legal analysis of torture. While the CIA has criticized the inquiry for not interviewing its operatives, lawyers for CIA torture victims have said Senate investigators did not seek to interview their clients, either.
Beyond questions of accountability, a lingering effect of the report is likely to be damage between the CIA and the secret Senate committee that oversees the powerful intelligence agency.
Director John Brennan had to apologize in July after the CIA inspector general determined that agency officials surreptitiously accessed committee work product and email on a firewalled shared network. Brennan had initially denied wrongdoing that Feinstein stated had provoked a constitutional crisis. Udall and others have called on Brennan – himself a senior CIA official during the time of the inquiry’s focus – to resign.
Comment: Looks like the Marines are also preparing for the report release fallout:
Thousands of Marines have been put on a higher state of alert around the world in advance of the anticipated release of a Senate report on coercive interrogation techniques as a precaution, a U.S. defense official tells CNN.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest at the briefing Monday said the Senate committee has told them they will release the enhanced interrogation report Tuesday.
The Marines are all part of contingency response forces positioned in key areas to respond to a crisis. The alert status means the units are put on a shorter readiness time to be available and capable of deploying to a crisis such as an embassy or U.S. base coming under threat. Those exact warning times remain classified, but the Marines can be able of deploying within just a few hours of being notified.
The Marines on alert include approximately:
– 2,000 Marines which make up a contingency response force for Africa. They are stationed routinely in Sigonella, Italy and Morón, Spain.
– 2,000 Marines stationed in the Middle East as a response force for that region. Some are already on duty in Iraq and Kuwait.
– 2,200 Marines as part of an at-sea Marine expeditionary force currently on several ships in the Arabian Sea and Gulf of Aden.
– Three teams of about 50 Marines each in Spain, Bahrain and Japan that are trained to reinforce U.S. embassies under threat.
The orders for a higher alert status have come from the commanders of the Central Command and Africa Command following an order late last week from the Pentagon that all force protection standards be reviewed by combatant commanders around the globe.
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