CIA wanted repeated reassurances that their torturing was official policy

Apologists for the torture program authorized by the Bush-Cheney regime, that was carried out in Guantanamo and at US prison sites around the world as well as in the various ‘black sites’, have argued that these practices were perfectly lawful, going directly in the face of accepted knowledge that such acts were indeed torture.

Now Dan Froomkin at The Intercept reveals that the CIA operatives who were actually doing the torturing were worried that they may later be made the fall guys for committing acts that were illegal. What worried them was the fact that the Bush administration’s public protestations that they were not committing torture was a sign that they may later disavow the actions done by the torturers and claim that they were unaware of what was going on and that a ‘few bad apples’ (who seem to be everywhere these days) went against policy.

The Bush administration was so adamant in its public statements against torture that CIA officials repeatedly sought reassurances that the White House officials who had given them permission to torture in the first place hadn’t changed their minds.

In a July 29, 2003, White House meeting that included Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, CIA Director George Tenet went so far as to ask the White House “to cease stating that US Government practices were ‘humane.’” He was assured they would.

The documents also illustrate how CIA officials, just like journalists and members of the public, had to decide whether to take the White House’s disavowals of torture at face value. Apparently the CIA, like many others, couldn’t believe the White House was flat-out lying.

According to another memo, at a previous White House meeting in January 2003, Muller had “pointed out … that there was an arguable inconsistency between what the CIA was authorized to do and what at least some in the international community might expect in light of the Administration’s public statements.” The memo says that “[e]veryone in the room” — including Rice, Cheney (by video conference), Secretary of State Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “evinced understanding of the issue. CIA’s past and ongoing use of enhanced techniques was reaffirmed and in no way drawn into question.”

These people are such cynical liars. Normally what they did would be described as unbelievable except for the fact that we know that there is no level that is so low that they will not be willing to sink to it in order to get their way.


  1. says

    With the CIA, it’s bad apples all the way to the bottom of the barrel.

    And nobody should believe the bullshit. If they were really so heart-wrenched, there would have been a mass exodus of employees quitting rather than participating. Doing a torture program involves a lot more than just the guys holding the electrodes. There are the people who sourced the materials, who assembled the rooms, who cleaned up afterward, who changed the video tapes in the cameras, who wrote up and redacted the interrogation reports, and who forwarded them up the chain of command.

    Humanity has heard (and swallowed) this kind of bullshit before. It was not Pol Pot who pulled the trigger personally -- there were thousands of people herding thousands more, and they knew what was going on. It was not just the SS guards at the death camps, it was ‘ordinary’ bricklayers who built ovens for incinerating corpses. The guy driving the train to the camp knew the train-cars were full of humans going to slaughter and not cattle. It was not just 2 evil psychiatrists that ran the CIA’s interrogation program -- there was a whole infrastructure that enabled payments to them, that oversaw the program, that convinced themselves that it was OK. Well, it wasn’t.

  2. says

    It’s like the scene in the 2001 movie “Conspiracy”, where one official says he was “given assurance by the Fuhrer” that something wouldn’t happen. A second says, “And you will continue to be given assurances”, the implication being that it would happen anyway. It was all about denial, control and forced participation, all in contradiction to their verbal promises and policy.

  3. says

    “Conspiracy” is a lousy title hiding a brilliant movie. Really got under my skin. Highly recommended.

  4. says

    Not to harp too much on my own point: “Conspiracy” shows exactly the kind of thing I was talking about in my comment, earlier. There were waiters, drivers, notes-takers, low-level officers at the meeting. It’s not just the leaders of a conspiracy that are guilty. Expecting us to believe that a “few bad apples” were behind torture at the CIA is utter nonsense; there were probably hundreds of people who could have leaked the interrogation videos to the press. There are probably still a few people there who have personal copies. Feast your mind on that thought for a moment. It’s not a “few bad apples” it’s an entire barrel of bad apples.

  5. lorn says

    Marcus Ranum @1:
    “There are the people who sourced the materials, who assembled the rooms, who cleaned up afterward, who changed the video tapes in the cameras, who wrote up and redacted the interrogation reports, and who forwarded them up the chain of command.”

    Where does responsibility and culpability start and stop? Are you saying, the argument taken to its logical conclusion, is that civilian laborers in WW2 were justifiable targets for war. That fire-bombing and nuclear weapons are all okay because it was the entire Japanese society that made what they did in China possible, that, similarly that German atrocities in Russia and death camps justify Dresden and Hamburg.

    I’m neither for nor against that.

    I’m just wondering if there is a sliding scale of blame and what sort of calculus is made for responsibility and blame. Can an entire nation be blamed? Or is it just individuals? Are indirect linkages included, as you seem to say, or is it a matter of only those directly instrumental to an action? How do you account for the variable of those winning versus those losing a war? Do you grant exceptions or mitigation for good conscience efforts or are outcomes always the deciding factor?


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