Panetta: Obama Furious Over Senate Torture Investigation

I somehow missed this in the McClatchy report about the Senate torture report and the fact that it didn’t look at all at the culpability of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and other administration officials. Leon Panetta’s new memoir says that Obama was furious that the CIA had cooperated at all with the investigation.

Along with being handicapped by the political considerations, the panel confronted two prior Justice Department investigations that declined to assign criminal liability to any officials involved in the program. One probe was conducted under the Bush administration and the second under President Barack Obama.

Moreover, Obama opposed any further inquiry. Although he signed an executive order banning waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques soon after taking office, he also ruled out future prosecutions of those who participated in the program.

The extent of the Obama’s fury over the panel’s study was revealed in a memoir by former CIA Director Leon Panetta that was released this month. The president, he wrote, was livid that the CIA agreed in 2009 to give the committee access to millions of the agency’s highly classified documents.

“The president wants to know who the f— authorized this release to the committees,” Panetta recalled then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel shouting at him. “I have a president with his hair on fire and I want to know what the f— you did to f— this up so bad!”

Obama has clearly and repeatedly worked to prevent any serious investigation into the Bush torture regime, much less any actual consequences for those who engaged in it, but this is different and worse than what we previously knew. The Senate has oversight over the CIA and other intelligence services and to try to prevent the agency from cooperating with the committee that has that oversight is worse, in my view, than stonewalling a DOJ investigation (though that’s plenty bad). As Andrew Sullivan put it:

We don’t have merely passive indifference to the CIA’s record on torture, we have active opposition to the entire inquiry from the very beginning of Obama’s term in office. If you want to know why we are still waiting for the report almost two years since it was finished, and if you want to know why the White House refused to provide mountains of internal documents that would have added to the report’s factual inquiries, just absorb the anecdote above. And if you want to know why the White House did nothing to discipline the CIA after it hacked into the Senate Committee’s own computers, ditto. It’s impossible not to conclude that Obama wants as little of this material made public as possible. His pledge for the most transparent administration in history ends, it seems, at Langley.

Clearly so.

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  • colnago80

    I have a suspicion that the CIA and particularly its director have some dirt on Obama that they have probably hinted they will release unless he toes the line. Nothing new about this, J. Edgar Himmler blackmailed several presidents, including Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson into letting him run the FBI any damn way he wanted to. This is the vice of setting up secret organizations that are effectively accountable to no one. Harry Truman said in his memoirs that his biggest mistake he made as president was to set up the CIA.

  • eric

    @1 – I think you’re making excuses for him. Everything points to the President wanting to keep US agency actions secret. Its fully consistent with his other behavior. There is no evidence of him wanting to reveal this info but being blackmailed into not doing so.


    I understand the political desire to not reveal embarassing or damaging information. A full reveal should rationally impugn Bush, but its very likely that Obama’s credibility with the public would suffer more than Bush’s, because he’s the guy in office when the reveal happens. Moreover, I doubt either party wants to start a tit-for-tat war where Democratic presidents reveal all the immoral, illegal, or questionable acts of their Republican predecessors, then after the next election the reverse happens. But at the same time, even if you’re in strict “cover America’s ass, don’t rock the boat” mode, nothing should prevent you from slapping a “do not reveal until 2030” label on this info. It should come out now, but if we accept for the moment that realpolitik considerations are going to prevent that from happening, there is still no good reason for the sitting President to oppose it coming out as a matter of historical record.

    Secondly, I continue to be amazed at the self-inflicted weakness of the legislative branch. You’ve got the power of the purse and the pen, after all. If the executive tries to hide information from you that you rightly and legally get access to, slap him down hard. Drop the CIA budget to 50% of its current, and cut off all black projcet funding, until they cooperate. Or write a legislative act pulling back all CIA agents in the field, to go into effect on December 31st unless the President releases full documentation on events before that. Use the branch’s power to compel executive cooperation and obeyance with the law. But no, we have a legislative branch where the President’s party doesn’t dare to act against him, and an opposition party that is so obstructionist about every trivial thing that that any threat they make to get more obstructionist is not credible.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Perhaps the Senate Committee should have called it an investigation into whistleblowers. He’d have gone along with anything to shut one of them down.

  • blf

    Edgar Himmler blackmailed several presidents…

    J. Edgar Hoover. President Truman and others did think he’d turned the FBI into a secret police force, and it remains a something of a mystery why he wasn’t fired (albeit probably having more to due with politics then threats).

  • colnago80

    Re eric @ #2

    My hypothesis was in no way, shape, form, or regard meant to whitewash the president. If it is accurate, caving into blackmail doesn’t make him look good. My point was that such a hypothesis is consistent with history, particularly with the late and unlamented J. Edgar Hoover. I have little doubt that presidents subsequent to Johnson have also been subject to this sort of blackmail by FBI directors and CIA directors. It goes beyond Obama as I have little doubt that his successor will be subject to the same pressures.

    The problem with your suggestions is that members of the legislature are subject to the same types of pressures. In particular, if the Congress went ahead and implemented them and overrode a presidential veto, and there was a terrorist attack, the Congresscritters would be blamed for “handcuffing” the CIA and the FBI.

  • colnago80

    Re blf @ #4

    They couldn’t fire him. He had too much dirt on them which would come out if he were removed. For all practical purposes, he was invulnerable. He kept secret files that were removed shortly after his death by his deputy and lover Clyde Tolson.

  • Modusoperandi

    The Senate Torture Investigation was the name of my jazz fusion band. Most of our songs were incoherent, on account of the redactions.*


    * The Redactions was the band we opened for.

  • blf

    colnagao80@6, Hoover’s files were found in the office of the then-director Clarence Kelley many years after he died, and (broadly) fail to support the claim that he had incriminating evidence, only that he claimed to have same. Truman, for one, didn’t believe his threats, and is know to have stated “[The FBI] are dabbling in sex-life scandals and plain blackmail. J Edgar Hoover would give his right eye to take over, and all congressmen and senators are afraid of him”.

    And evidence that Hoover was gay, or that Tolson was a lover, is conspicuously lacking.

    None of which is to suggest he wasn’t an appalling, and very probably racist, loony, blackmailer, fraud, criminal, and possibly traitor, and the archetypal goon.

  • matty1

    I’m curious why, is Obama allowing torture to continue or planning to reinstate it, does he just want to keep that option open, or is he simply pushing the principle that the executive branch should be above the law?

  • eric

    @5: so in response to me calling your idea paranoid, is to dip deeper into the paranoia well and claim the CIA is blackmailing all of Congress?

    I think you’ve gone off the deep end. Well, let me rephrase. I think you’ve expanded your ‘gone off the deep endedness’ to subjects beyond middle-east politics and Hitler.

  • colnago80

    Re blf @ #8

    Tolson didn’t remove all the files, just the ones with the dirt that Hoover used to pressure various presidents and Congresscritters. This was evidently for the purpose of protecting Hoover’s reputation. It is my information that he shredded them. This was reported on at the time as Tolson was seen entering Hoover’s private office and leaving carrying a suitcase shortly after the latter’s death.

    As for Hoover being gay, back in the 1960s, there was a Congressman named Cornelius Gallagher from New Jersey who was being investigated by the FBI for corruption (he was indeed corrupt). Gallagher told Hoover confident Roy Cohn that if Hoover didn’t cease and desist, he, Gallagher, would make a speech on the House floor every afternoon detailing Hoover’s homosexual proclivities, which were well known to many observers in Washington. Gallagher’s threat evidently worked as the investigation was summarily halted. However, like OJ Simpson, Gallagher wouldn’t stand prosperity and was caught up in the ABSCAM scandal 10 years later and ended up in the slammer.

  • colnago80

    Re blf @ #10

    They don’t have to blackmail all 535 Congresscritters, just a few who have access to classified CIA and FBI files. Perhaps blackmail is a little strong. Let’s say apply pressure.

  • colnago80

    Re #12

    Correction, eric @ #10.

  • John Pieret

    I wouldn’t put it past Rahm Emanuel to exaggerate Obama’s anger in furtherance of Emanuel’s internal White House politics.

  • colnago80

    Re John Pieret @ #14

    Mayor Emanuel is well known for being a perpetually angry man.