Why the CIA Never Disciplines Those Who Torture

Even as CIA Director John Brennan has been working overtime to undermine the legitimacy of the Senate torture report, primarily by lying through his teeth as he has done for more than a decade now, he has been forced to admit that some CIA agents used unapproved torture techniques. Note this statement from his press conference after the report was released:

“Over the years, internal agency reviews, including numerous investigations by our Office of the Inspector General, found fault in CIA’s running of the program,” he said. “We have acknowledged many of these mistakes in our response to the study last year and I will touch on some of them today… in a limited number of instances, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all. And we fell short when it came to holding some officers accountable for their mistakes. It is vitally important to recognize, however, that the overwhelming majority of officers involved in the program at CIA carried out their responsibilities faithfully and in accordance with the legal and policy guidance they were provided. They did what they were asked to do…”

Gosh, we didn’t accept that excuse at Nuremberg, did we? Conor Friedersdorf has the perfect response and explanation:

So why not punish them now?

If CIA officers did abhorrent things that even their waterboarding colleagues managed to avoid, exceeding the orders and legal strictures they were given, why haven’t they been prosecuted for torture as a duly ratified treaty compels the U.S. to do? Why hasn’t Brennan ever remedied the failure to hold those men accountable? Why has he allowed people even he regards as criminals to remain at the CIA?

The reason is that he does not believe the rule of law should apply to the CIA.

Dick Cheney, Michael Hayden, and Brennan make a big show of invoking the legal cover given by John Yoo and others, as if they respect the rule of law. But beneath the posturing, they oppose jailing CIA officers no matter what, perhaps because those officers know things that could put them in prison.

It’s important to note here that there is only one CIA agent who has been punished for torture — and he’s in prison for blowing the whistle on it, not for carrying it out. The CIA is above the law, as it has always been. It’s why the time is long past due to simply abolish the agency.

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  • John Pieret

    The CIA is above the law

    No, no! The CIA is the law!

  • grumpyoldfart

    The CIA is above the law

    I can’t imagine the American hoi-poloi are too interested in hearing about the crimes of their government. They’d rather let the CIA get away with murder than to contemplate the idea that they no longer live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

  • Loqi

    Why the CIA Never Disciplines Those Who Torture

    Torture is the reason the CIA *hires,* not fires.

  • D. C. Sessions

    No, no! The CIA is the law!

    Sorry, John, but Ed was right to begin with. “Above” as in, “giving order to.” As we know, countries all over the world are governed only as allowed by the CIA. Why do you think that they would settle for constraints such as law (even if it’s theirs)?

  • A Masked Avenger

    I have a psychologist friend who has no connections to the CIA, but has lots of connections to the US military, and has talked to ex-military-intelligence who applied to work at the CIA. Based on their unscientific observations of mostly the rejects, they concluded tentatively that sociopathy is a job requirement for the CIA.

    E.g., an interview was terminated after discussing a hypothetical in which the candidate kills a child to protect “the mission.” As near as my friend could tell, the job was lost when the candidate demonstrated scruples about killing innocent third parties.

  • Al Dente

    Befehl ist Befehl was not a successful defense at the Nuremberg Trials.

  • felidae

    Not only are the CIA folks sociopaths, they are a bunch of fuckups–just look at their record on the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Shah, 9/11 and the strength of ISIS, along with numerous fuckups going back over 65 years

  • Michael Heath

    felidae writes:

    Not only are the CIA folks sociopaths, they are a bunch of fuckups–just look at their record on the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Shah, 9/11 and the strength of ISIS, along with numerous fuckups going back over 65 years

    Your framing has you failing miserably to make your case. You need to compare these failures to the CIA’s successes (along with all their other failures that go unmentioned here). You also need to weight the importance of their successes and failures while also coming up with some criteria to compare costs and benefits.

    All you do here is reveal your own bias towards the CIA. You provide no information necessary for a reasonable person to make a conclusion on whether the CIAs just a bunch of “fuckups”. But hey, Ed’s concluding sentence the CIA should be abolished is based on even weaker criteria.

  • lorn

    Law? What law. The Bush administration, primarily operating out of Cheney’s office, were very thorough about making sure that torture was legally redefined so that there is enough legal smoke to preclude any risk of prosecution.

  • jameshanley

    Michael Heath is right. The problem is, many of the CIA’s successes are never publicly revealed, as to do so would reveal sources of information. Revealing sources gets human sources killed and makes it harder to recruit new human sources.

    I support eliminating the CIA’s paramilitary operations, but the country does need information agencies. I say that with great reluctance, given my political leanings, and my awareness of how overboard we go on spying on even our allies, but nevertheless I think it’s true.

  • colnago80

    Re James Hanley @ #10

    I agree that the CIA should never have been assigned the department of dirty tricks and should have been restricted to intelligence gathering, counterintelligence, and analysis. However, unfortunately, on occasion dirty tricks are in order so there should be a separate agency for that activity, which should have much greater oversight from the Congress and the judiciary.

    Re felidear @ #7

    Actually, the failure on 9/11 was not due to the CIA as the Bush Administration ignored warnings about a possible attack from Richard Clarke. Those assholes in New Hampshire and Florida who voted for Nader have much to answer for.