Wednesday, March 18, 2009

CIA Director Panetta Skewered: "Plus Ça Change, Plus C'est La Meme Chose"

Melvin A. Goodman, senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, and an intelligence agency veteran, has written a withering review at The Public Record of the first months of Leon Panetta's tenure as Director of the CIA.

According to Goodman, Panetta compares to two previous poor managers of the CIA, Porter Goss and George Tenet. Panetta "ignored the Senate’s own investigation of CIA intelligence on Iraq that documented the misuse of intelligence... [while] guaranteeing to the Senate intelligence committee that he would make no leadership changes at the CIA, even though he was taking charge of a political culture that has been dominated by the cover-up of key intelligence failures."
As a result, Panetta has left in place the deputy director of the CIA, Stephen Kappes, who was a leading figure in the operations directorate when the program of extraordinary renditions went into full swing; the introduction of the use of torture and abuse even before a memorandum from the Department of Justice sanctioned such measures; and the establishment of the secret prisons or “black sites” that the CIA used to conduct so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

If President Obama and Leon Panetta were serious about stopping torture and abuse as well as extraordinary renditions that led to torture and abuse in third world countries, then why would they not adjust the chain of command to remove those high-ranking individuals responsible for these measure?
An excellent question, if you assume the predicate of the question, i.e., that Obama and Panetta are actually serious about stopping torture. In fact, decisions to utilize the Bagram prison for individuals rendered from anywhere, without recourse to judicial review, and to defend the Rumsfeld torture machinery against any exposure, while granting the administration the same claims to executive power under the post-9/11 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that Bush did, argues that the Panetta policy is consistent with Obama's new (old) national security policy.

The latest news concerns Panetta's announcement that he was appointing former U.S. senator Warren Rudman as a "Special Adviser" to the Senate Intelligence Committee's announced hearings on CIA "past practices in terrorist detention and interrogation."

Goodman has Rudman's number, too:
Panetta has established his own review group within the Agency but has prominently placed current members of the National Clandestine Service (NCS) in the group.

The NCS has been a major player in the culture of cover-up at the CIA, including the destruction of the 92 torture tapes that is currently being investigated by the FBI. Members of NCS would have a great interest in making sure that the Senate committee did not receive the worst of the evidence in this investigation. By placing Rudman as an intermediary between the review group and the Senate intelligence committee, Panetta has ensured himself that the most damaging information will never see the light of day. Rudman was the most active member of the Senate intelligence committee in trying to block CIA officials from testifying against the nomination of Robert Gates as CIA director in 1991.

Senator Rudman actually branded those few individuals willing to come forward as “McCarthyites” in an effort to marginalize their testimony and to make sure additional witnesses would not testify or submit written affidavits against Bob Gates.
The political maneuvering around the interrogations/torture/detentions issue is fierce. One could get whiplash from following all the twistings and turnings and gyrations of the actors involved. The latest participant is Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Bush administration Secretary of State Colin Powell. Wilkerson's article at The Washington Note is titled "Some Truths About Guantanamo Bay."

"Some" is right. While the article has some interesting insights into the internecine struggles within the Bush administration over legitimating its policy decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and how they disregarded evidence from the beginning that the vast majority of the prisoners they were harvesting were totally innocent, the real purpose of the article is to paint Colin Powell as an innocent. Nay, even a closet rebel holding down the worst excesses of the Bush administration. It's a nice fairy tale.
The third basically unknown dimension is how hard Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage labored to ameliorate the GITMO situation from almost day one.

For example, Ambassador Pierre Prosper, the U.S. envoy for war crimes issues, was under a barrage of questions and directions almost daily from Powell or Armitage to repatriate every detainee who could be repatriated.

This was quite a few of them, including Uighurs from China and, incredulously, citizens of the United Kingdom ("incredulously" because few doubted the capacity of the UK to detain and manage terrorists). Standing resolutely in Ambassador Prosper's path was Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld who would have none of it. Rumsfeld was staunchly backed by the Vice President of the United States, Richard Cheney....

But their ultimate cover was that the struggle in which they were involved was war and in war those detained could be kept for the duration. And this war, by their own pronouncements, had no end. For political purposes, they knew it certainly had no end within their allotted four to eight years. Moreover, its not having an end, properly exploited, would help ensure their eight rather than four years in office.
Hmm... I don't seem to remember Colin Powell denouncing the "war on terror" rhetoric anytime back in 2004, or even 2008 (despite his endorsement of Barack Obama, who also uses "war on terror" rhetoric on occasion). And wasn't Powell one of the "principals" at National Security Council meetings held in the White House that, according to an ABC report last year, "discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency", and in particular the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah in spring 2002? And was not this fact recently verified in a secret ICRC report linked to Mark Danner who published excerpts in the New York Review of Books just earlier this week? And weren't the following all present at these Principals meetings where torture was approved: "Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft"?

Of course this is all true, and Wilkerson's piece is a clever mea culpa for Powell, Armitage, and secondarily Rice, who all may be feeling the cold breath of indictments breathing down their necks. Cheney, it seems, has taken a different tack, brazenly lashing out in various interviews about the rightness of his administration's policies, and the dangers (supposedly) of following Obama's leadership changes. (Armageddon? again? -- And where is Donald Rumsfeld these days, anyway, last seen watching Oliver Stone's movie "W"?)

The cover-up of U.S. government torture continues apace. The problem is that too much is known. They are counting now on whitewash fake exposes, faux investigations, and time to take people's minds off what really happened. They are hoping that public rage towards AIG bonuses will siphon off the outrage energy, leaving little left for any concerted push for prosecutions and real government reform.

Their strategy may yet work, but it's up to the American people to stand them down. It will take as much fervor as we have got. The opposition is formidable, but our dedication is, too. And I am counting on the bedrock moral goodness of the American people. It is there. Do not doubt it. And it has not yet spoken its final word.

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