The Shame of the Jesuits

Exclusive: A spotlight has fallen on a shameful chapter in the history of Georgetown University’s Jesuits, the 1838 sale of 272 African-Americans into Deep South slavery, but moral lapses didn’t end there, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

Anti-war prophet Rev. Daniel Berrigan, S.J., was onto something with his “hunch” – in his 1987 autobiography, To Dwell in Peace – that “the fall of a great enterprise,” the Jesuit university, would end up “among those structures whose moral decline and political servitude signalize a larger falling away of the culture itself.”

Berrigan, a Jesuit himself, lamented “highly placed” churchmen and their approval of war, “uttered … with sublime confidence, from on high, from highly placed friendships, and White House connections. Thus compromised, the Christian tradition of nonviolence, as well as the secular boast of disinterested pursuit of truth — these are reduced to bombast, hauled out for formal occasions, believed by no one, practiced by no one.”

But that “moral decline” among Jesuit institutions of higher learning may have had deeper roots than even Berrigan understood. One of those deep roots is drawing national attention, an 1838 decision by the Jesuit leaders of the Jesuits’ Maryland Province and Georgetown College to improve the school’s financial health by selling 272 African-American men, women and children as slaves into the Deep South.

As New York Times writer Rachel L. Swarns described the scene in Sunday’s editions, “The human cargo was loaded on ships at a bustling wharf in the nation’s capital, destined for the plantations of the Deep South. Some slaves pleaded for rosaries as they were rounded up, praying for deliverance. But on this day, in the fall of 1838, no one was spared: not the 2-month-old baby and her mother, not the field hands, not the shoemaker and not Cornelius Hawkins, who was about 13 years old when he was forced onboard.”

Rev. Thomas Mulledy, S.J., the Provincial (head) of the Maryland Jesuits, sold the 272 enslaved African-Americans to Henry Johnson, the former governor of Louisiana, and Louisiana landowner Jesse Batey for $115,000, the equivalent of $3.3 million in today’s dollars, according to the Times account.

Documents show that $90,000 went to support the “formation” of Jesuits (the preparation of candidates spiritually, academically and practically for the ministries that they will be called on to offer the Church and the world); $17,000 to Georgetown College; and $8,000 to a pension fund for the archbishop of Baltimore.

There is now a campaign among Georgetown professors, students, alumni and genealogists to discover what happened to those 272 human beings and whether Georgetown can do anything to compensate their descendants.

An Earlier Alert

But there is also a sad back story to this telling slice of Jesuit history, in which I became personally involved after I first learned of this scandal two decades ago from Edward F. Beckett, a young Jesuit who had the courage to speak out and summon his superiors to conscience. Beckett published his research in “Listening to Our History: Inculturation and Jesuit Slaveholding” in the journal Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits (28/5, November 1996).

Beckett and I became friends while working at the Fr. Horace McKenna Center where I volunteered at the overnight shelter for homeless men in the basement of St. Aloysius Church in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. The Jesuits were quick to exult Rev. Horace McKenna, S.J., as “Apostle of the Poor” after he died, but – while alive – not so much. Fr. McKenna was known for being something of a pain; he once even wrote a letter to the Vatican complaining – using a sports analogy – that his superiors were “not throwing enough forward passes to the poor.”

During the Great Depression, Fr. McKenna set up a food distribution system and other assistance to struggling farmers, and advocated vigorously for racial integration in churches and schools. He expressed “passionate impatience” toward go-slow approaches which were favored by some of his fellow Jesuits and priests.

After I got to know Beckett as we worked nights with the men in the St. Aloysius Church shelter, he gave me a copy of his booklet relating the history of how – in the 1800s – the Maryland Jesuits rebuffed ethical calls from other religious leaders who were pushing for the abolition of slavery. Instead, the Jesuits were more interested in how much money they could get for selling slaves.

It was, you see, an economic issue since the Jesuits no longer needed the proceeds from slave labor on their plantations in southern Maryland because they had received permission from Rome to reverse their longstanding tradition of free education and start charging tuition to the wealthy sons of plantation owners to attend Georgetown.

So, no longer needing the slaves to work the fields, the Jesuits decided to sell them into the Deep South to turn a tidy profit and invest the money in the “moral education” of young Jesuits while also providing a pension to the Baltimore archbishop.

A Chance to Repent

After learning of this history two decades ago, I joined with a small group of activists to ask Maryland Provincial Rev. James R. Stormes, S.J., in effect, to seize a unique opportunity to confess and repent.

We thought our initiative was particularly well timed since President Bill Clinton had announced the appointment of a seven-member advisory board for his initiative on race to promote “a national dialogue on controversial issues surrounding race; to increase our understanding of the history of race relations and the common future people of all races share; to recruit leadership at all levels to help bridge racial divides, and to propose actions to address critical areas such as education, economic opportunity, housing, health care, crime and the administration of justice.”

John Hope Franklin, an eminent historian and educator, whose writings included the 1946 landmark study From Slavery to Freedom, was appointed chair, and Judith A. Winston was named Executive Director of this “One America Initiative,” with a senior staff of national civil rights leaders as senior staff.

As the initiative was getting off the ground, our small, diverse group met with Ms. Winston, herself a graduate of Georgetown University Law School, who was clearly delighted with what we proposed. We told her that we were not about blaming, but rather about acknowledging, apologizing, and reconciling, and said we were approaching then-Georgetown President Rev. Leo O’Donovan, S.J. and Maryland Provincial Stormes as follows:

“We have a vision of Georgetown’s most prominent alumnus standing up before the cameras at Georgetown University this spring (1998) and being able to say, in all sincerity, that he has never been prouder of his alma mater and the Jesuits who run it. He might tell a bit of the story of Georgetown’s origins and then, jointly with Fr. Stormes and Fr. O’Donovan, announce the establishment of a foundation to promote the education of the descendants of the Jesuits’ slaves.  President Clinton could then cite this as precisely the kind of action he had hoped would spring forth from his Initiative on Race, and could call upon others to follow the courageous example of the Maryland Jesuits. We think this could be a welcome boost for the President’s Initiative.”

But our optimism was misplaced. Even though many of us had learned at Jesuit hands about acting in a just way and doing recompense for injustice, we were told that we had no “standing,” as what the Jesuits call “externs” or outsiders who have no right to hold them accountable. We still cannot figure out exactly why the Jesuit leaders were so offended by our initiative and they wouldn’t tell us. We were denied an audience with Stormes – and without Stormes’s nihil obstat, there was no hope for support from O’Donovan.

The final nail in the coffin for our own initiative (as well as Bill Clinton’s) came in early 1998 as his trysts with Monica Lewinsky and his lies about them deprived him of any pretense to moral leadership. The whole Initiative died an inconsequential death.

By chance I found myself sitting next to Judith Winston on a plane a few years ago. She saw my name, recognized me, and recalled our ill-fated common effort. Neither of us could do much more than simply shake our heads.

Jesuit Universities

Perhaps even more sadly, the behavior of those Jesuit leaders in 1838 was not entirely an aberration. As Fr. Berrigan noted in this autobiography, Jesuit institutions have often traded ethics for clout, preferring to hobnob with the great and powerful rather than act as moral critics of social wrongs, such as slavery, war and — in recent times — even assassinations and torture.

Among its graduates, Georgetown University churned out CIA Director George Tenet, who offered “slam dunk” deceptions to justify the invasion of Iraq, and Vice President Dick Cheney’s torture-excusing lawyer David Addington, who graduated summa cum laude.

Nor is Georgetown alone as a Jesuit institution in this dubious position of training people to engage in jesuitical arguments to justify the unjustifiable. My alma mater, Fordham, which has forever been trying to be “just like Georgetown,” produced CIA Director John Brennan, an ardent, public supporter of the kidnapping/”rendering” of suspected terrorists to “friendly” Arab intelligence services for interrogation.

Brennan also defended the use of U.S. secret prisons abroad, as well as “enhanced interrogation techniques” (also known as torture).

But Brennan was a big shot in the White House and Fordham’s Trustees were susceptible to the “celebrity virus.” So, Fordham President, Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., invited Brennan to give the university commencement address on May 19, 2012, and to be awarded — of all things — a Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa.

Several graduating seniors, who were aware of and cared about what Brennan represents, did their best, in vain, to get him dis-invited. They saw scandal in the reality that the violent policies Brennan advocated remain in stark contrast to the principles that Fordham University was supposed to stand for as a Catholic Jesuit University.

Controversy on campus grew, catalyzed by two protest petitions created by Fordham students and multiple articles in the school newspaper, The Ram. Eventually, Fordham senior and organizer, Scott McDonald, requested a meeting with university president McShane to discuss why Fordham’s trustees could not be trusted to invite someone more representative of Fordham’s core values.

McDonald met with McShane, Vice President Jeffrey Gray and university secretary Margaret Ball, but McShane dismissed Scott’s qualms about torture: “We don’t live in a black and white world; we live in a gray world.”

Then McShane announced that what was said at the meeting was “off the record…not to leave this room.” But McDonald had not agreed to that. He left the meeting wondering if the moral theologians at Fordham would agree that torture had now become a “gray area.”

We who attended Jesuit institutions decades ago were taught that there was a moral category called “intrinsic evil” – actions that were always wrong, such as torture, rape and slavery. At Fordham, at least, torture seems to have slipped out of that category.

Now that the issue of the 272 slaves has again surfaced, Georgetown University needs to acknowledge its institutional guilt, apologize and find some way to make restitution to the descendants of those African-Americans.

Though clearly whatever is done will fall into the category of way-too-little and way-too-late, confession of this earlier sin might finally put the brakes on the steady moral decline of what once was an important social as well as religious institution – the Jesuit university.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington.  He graduated from Fordham Prep (just 41 years after Horace McKenna did), earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Fordham University, and finds it difficult to un-learn what he learned there.

How an Iran War Was Averted

Exclusive: A decade ago, the Bush administration was eager to bomb Iran but U.S. intelligence analysts challenged the casus belli by finding that Iran was not building a nuclear bomb, recalls ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

On a recent TV appearance, I was asked about whistleblowing, but the experience brought back to mind a crystal-clear example of how, before the Iraq War, CIA careerists were assigned “two bosses” – CIA Director George Tenet and John Bolton, the Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, the arch-neocon who had been thrust on an obedient Secretary of State Colin Powell.

CIA “analyst” Frederick Fleitz took the instructions quite literally, bragging about being allowed to serve, simultaneously, “two bosses” — and becoming Bolton’s “enforcer.” Fleitz famously chided a senior intelligence analyst at State for not understanding that it was the prerogative of policymakers like Bolton – not intelligence analysts – to “interpret” intelligence data.

In an email from Fleitz in early 2002, at the time when one of his bosses, the pliable George Tenet, was “fixing” the intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq, Fleitz outlined the remarkable new intelligence ethos imposed by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their subordinates who were reshaping the U.S. Intelligence Community.

Apparently, senior State Department intelligence analyst, Christian Westermann, “had not gotten the memo” on how things had changed. Rather, he was performing his duties like a professional analyst under the old rules. Westermann had the temerity to block coordination on a speech in which Bolton wanted to make the spurious assertion that Cuba had a developing biological weapons program.

On Feb. 12, 2002, after a personal run-in with Westermann, Fleitz sent Bolton this email: “I explained to Christian [Westermann] that it was a political judgment as to how to interpret this data and the I.C. [Intelligence Community] should do as we asked.” Fleitz informed Bolton that Westermann still “strongly disagrees with us.”

At this point, Bolton became so dyspeptic that he summoned Westermann to his office for a tongue-lashing and then asked top officials of the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) to fire him. Instead, they defended him, and this was not the only time intelligence managers at State – virtually alone in the Intelligence Community – gave the Bush-43 White House and political hacks like Bolton the clear message not to count on managers and analysts at INR to acquiesce in the politicization of intelligence.

Exaggerating Iran Threat

Later, Fleitz went on to bigger and better things. In 2006, he became “senior adviser” to House Intelligence Committee chair Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan. Bowing to desires of the White House to portray Iran as a strategic threat, Hoekstra had Fleitz draft an almost comically alarmist paper titled “Recognizing Iran as Strategic Threat: An Intelligence Challenge for the United States.” Fleitz was told not to coordinate his paper with the Intelligence Community.

The objective was to pre-empt a formal National Intelligence Estimate on Iran’s nuclear weapons program – an NIE that the Senate had just commissioned. Fleitz and Hoekstra feared the NIE might come to unwelcome conclusions, contradicting the kinds of stark warnings about Iran’s nuclear program that the White House wanted to use to stir up fear and justify action against Iran. Iraq deja vu.

The Fleitz-Hoekstra gambit failed. Their over-the-top paper made them the subject of ridicule in professional intelligence circles.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence Thomas Fingar was named to manage the formal NIE on Iran, and, mirable dictu, he was not only a seasoned professional but also a practitioner of the old-time ethos of objective, non-politicized intelligence.

Worse still for Bush, Cheney and their sycophants, the NIE of November 2007, endorsed by all 16 agencies of the Intelligence Community began: “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.”

That Estimate holds the distinction of being the only NIE of which I am aware that demonstrably played a key role in preventing an unnecessary war – the war on Iran that Cheney and Bush were planning for 2008. Bush pretty much admits this in his memoir Decision Points, which includes a highly instructive section that he must have written himself.

Indeed, nowhere in his memoir is Bush’s bizarre relationship to truth so manifest as when he describes his dismay at learning that the Intelligence Community had redeemed itself for its lies about Iraq by preparing an honest NIE that stuck a rod in the wheels of the juggernaut rolling toward war with Iran.

Bush complains bitterly that the “eye-popping” NIE “tied my hands on the military side,” adding that the “NIE’s conclusion was so stunning that I felt it would immediately leak to the press.” He writes that he authorized declassification of the key findings “so that we could shape the news stories with the facts.” Facts?

A disappointed Bush writes, “The backlash was immediate. [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad hailed the NIE as a ‘great victory.’” Bush’s apparent “logic” here is to use the widespread disdain for Ahmadinejad to discredit the NIE through association, i.e. whatever Ahmadinejad praises must be false.

An Embarrassment

How embarrassing it must have been for Bush and Cheney! Here before the world were the key judgments of an NIE, the most authoritative genre of intelligence report, unanimously approved “with high confidence” by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies and signed by the Director of National Intelligence, saying, in effect, that Bush and Cheney were lying about the “Iranian nuclear threat.” Just a month before the Estimate was issued, Bush was claiming that the threat from Iran could lead to “World War III.”

In his memoir, Bush laments: “I don’t know why the NIE was written the way it was. … Whatever the explanation, the NIE had a big impact — and not a good one.” Spelling out how the NIE had tied his hands “on the military side,” Bush included this kicker:

“But after the NIE, how could I possible explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons program?”

Yet, that didn’t stop neocon warmongers from trying. The NIE was subject to virulent criticism by those disappointed that it did not provide justification for a “preventive” attack on Iran.

Former CIA Director James Woolsey, who has proudly described himself as the “anchor of the Presbyterian wing of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA),” called the Iran NIE “deceptive.” Hoekstra called it “a piece of trash.”

Greg Thielmann, a former State Department official who had managed strategic intelligence analysis but quit before the intelligence debacle on Iraq, could not resist commenting on this bizarre set of circumstances from his new position as a senior fellow at the Arms Control Association: “There is some considerable irony in hearing such criticism from those intimately familiar with the inner workings of the intelligence community, who seemed to have sleep-walked through the serious professional lapses of the 2002 NIE on Iraq WMD.”

But the neocons were deprived of the Iran war for which they had been lusting (just as, six years later, they were deprived of the war on Syria, into which they almost mouse-trapped President Barack Obama).

Still, you need not worry about any negative consequences for the compliant Bush-Cheney “analysts” who were willing to “fix” more intelligence around war policies. As usually happens in Official Washington, they landed on their feet. For instance, Fleitz is now Senior Vice President for Policy and Programs with the Center for Security Policy, a think tank founded by Frank Gaffney, Jr., an archdeacon of neocondom, who is still its president.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. A former Army officer and CIA analyst, McGovern co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003, in an attempt to expose the corruption of intelligence under the Cheney-Bush regime.

US Intel Vets Decry CIA’s Use of Torture

Torture defenders are back on the offensive publishing a book by ex-CIA leaders rebutting a Senate report that denounced the brutal tactics as illegal, inhumane and ineffective. Now, in a memo to President Obama, other U.S. intelligence veterans are siding with the Senate findings and repudiating the torture apologists.


FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

SUBJECT: Veteran Intelligence Professionals Challenge CIA’s “Rebuttal” on Torture

Former CIA leaders responsible for allowing torture to become part of the 21st Century legacy of the CIA are trying to rehabilitate their tarnished reputations with the release of a new book, Rebuttal: The CIA Responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of Its Detention and Interrogation Program. They are pushing the lie that the only allegations against them are from a partisan report issued by Democrats from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

We recall the answer of General John Kimmons, the former Deputy Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who was asked if good intelligence could be obtained from abusive practices. He replied: “I am absolutely convinced the answer to your first question is no. No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tell us that.”

But the allegation that the CIA leaders were negligent and guilty was not the work of an isolated group of partisan Democrat Senators. The Senate Intelligence report on torture enjoyed bipartisan support. Senator John McCain, for example, whose own encounter with torture in North Vietnamese prisons scarred him physically and emotionally, embraced and endorsed the work of Senator Feinstein. It was only a small group of intransigent Republicans, led by Saxby Chambliss, who obstructed the work of the Senate Intel Committee.

Indeed, some of us witnessed firsthand during the administration of President George W. Bush that the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence were virtually paralyzed from conducting any meaningful oversight of the CIA and the U.S. Intelligence Community by the Republican members of these committees. Instead, they pursued the clear objective of protecting the Bush administration from any criticism for engaging in torture during the “War on Terror.”

It is curious that our former colleagues stridently denounce the work of the Senate Intelligence Committee but are mute with respect to an equally damning report from the CIA’s own inspector general, John Helgerson, in 2004.

Helgerson’s report, “Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001-October 2003),” was published on May 7, 2004, and classified Top Secret. That report alone is damning of the CIA leadership and it is important to remind all about the specifics of those conclusions. According to the CIA’s own Inspector General:

–The Agency’s detention and interrogation of terrorists has provided intelligence that has enabled the identification and apprehension of other terrorists and warned of terrorist plots planned in the United States and around the world. . . . The effectiveness of particular interrogation techniques in eliciting information that might not otherwise have been obtained cannot be so easily measured however.

–In addition, some Agency officials are aware of interrogation activities that were outside or beyond the scope of the written DOJ opinion. Officers are concerned that future public revelation of the CTC Program is inevitable and will seriously damage Agency officers’ personal reputations, as well as the reputation and effectiveness of the Agency itself.

–By distinction the Agency-especially in the early months of the Program-failed to provide adequate staffing, guidance, and support to those involved with the detention and interrogation of detainees . . .

–The Agency failed to issue in a timely manner comprehensive written guidelines for detention and interrogation activities. . . .Such written guidance as does exist . . . is inadequate.

–During the interrogation of two detainees, the waterboard was used in a manner inconsistent with the written DOJ legal opinion of 1 August 2002.

–Agency officers report that reliance on analytical assessments that were unsupported by credible intelligence may have resulted in the application of EITs without justification.

The CIA’s Inspector General makes it very clear that there was a failure by the CIA leaders, who include Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence John McLaughlin, Counter Terrorism Center Chief Cofer Black, Counter Terrorism Center Chief Jose Rodriguez and the Director Directorate of Operations James L. Pavitt. Lack of proper guidance and oversight created fertile soil for subsequent abuses and these men were guilty of failing to properly do their jobs.

We do not have to rely solely on the report of the CIA’s Inspector General. In addition, the Report by the Senate Armed Services Committee on Detainee Treatment reached the same conclusions about the origins, evils, harm to U.S. policy and intelligence collection of “enhanced interrogation,” a euphemism for “torture” first used by Nazi Germany during World War II.

Indeed, all independent analyses of the enhanced interrogation program have concluded it constituted torture, was ineffective, and contrary to all American laws, ideals, and intelligence practices. We also have the testimony and record of Ali Soufan, an Arabic-speaking FBI Agent, who was involved with several interrogations before torture was used and who achieved substantive results without violating international law.

The sworn testimony of FBI Agent Ali Soufan, who is the only U.S. Government employee to testify under oath on these matters, completely contradicts the authors of Rebuttal:

“In the middle of my interrogation of the high-ranking terrorist Abu Zubaydah at a black-site prison 12 years ago, my intelligence work wasn’t just cut short for so-called enhanced interrogation techniques to begin. After I left the black site, those who took over left, too for 47 days. For personal time and to ‘confer with headquarters’.

“For nearly the entire summer of 2002, Abu Zubaydah was kept in isolation. That was valuable lost time, and that doesn’t square with claims about the ‘ticking bomb scenarios’ that were the basis for America’s enhanced interrogation program, or with the commitment to getting life-saving, actionable intelligence from valuable detainees. The techniques were justified by those who said Zubaydah ‘stopped all cooperation’ around the time my fellow FBI agent and I left. If Zubaydah was in isolation the whole time, that’s not really a surprise.

“One of the hardest things we struggled to make sense of, back then, was why U.S. officials were authorizing harsh techniques when our interrogations were working and their harsh techniques weren’t. The answer, as the long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee Report now makes clear, is that the architects of the program were taking credit for our success, from the unmasking of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as the mastermind of 9/11 to the uncovering of the ‘dirty bomber’ Jose Padilla. The claims made by government officials for years about the efficacy of ‘enhanced interrogation’, in secret memos and in public, are false. ‘Enhanced interrogation’ doesn’t work.”

The former CIA officers who have collaborated on this latest attempt to whitewash the historical record that they embraced and facilitated torture by Americans, are counting on the laziness of the press and the American public. As long as no one takes time to actually read the extensively footnoted and documented report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, then it is easy to buy into the fantasy that the CIA officers are simply victims of a political vendetta.

These officers are also counting on a segment of the American people repeatedly identified in polling results that continues to believe torture works. Such people have no proof that it works (because there is none that it works consistently and effectively), they simply believe it instinctively or because of people such as this book’s authors’ arguments to that effect.

That is why it is so important that the truth be told and this book and its arguments be debunked. Americans must learn the realities of torture that it rarely if ever works, that it dehumanizes the torturer as well as the tortured, that it increases the numbers and hostility of our opponents while providing no benefit, and that it seriously diminishes America’s reputation in the world and thus its power.  Torture is wrong and the men who wrote this book are wrong.

The book, Rebuttal, is a new incarnation of the lie extolling the efficacy of torture. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, a time of perceived crisis and palpable fear, the leaders of the CIA decided to ignore international and domestic law. They chose to discard the moral foundations of our Republic and, using the same justifications that authoritarian regimes have employed for attacking enemies, and embarked willingly on a course of action that embraced practices that in earlier times the United States had condemned and punished as a violation of U.S. laws and fundamental human rights.

As former intelligence officers, we are compelled by conscience to denounce the actions and words of our former colleagues. In their minds they have found a way to rationalize and justify torture. We say there is no excuse; there is no justification. The heart of good intelligence work, whether collection or analysis, is based in the pursuit of truth, not the fabrication of a lie.

It is to this end that we reiterate that no threat, no matter how grave, should serve to justify inhuman behavior and immoral conduct or torture conducted by Americans.

For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

Fulton Armstrong, National Intelligence Officer for Latin America (ret.)

William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

Tony Camerino, former Air Force and Air Force Reserves, a senior interrogator in Iraq and author of How to Break a Terrorist under pseudonym Matthew Alexander

Glenn L. Carle, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, CIA (ret.)

Thomas Drake, former Senior Executive, NSA

Daniel Ellsberg, former State Department and Defense Department Official (VIPS Associate)

Philip Giraldi, CIA, Operations Officer (ret.)

Matthew Hoh, former Capt., USMC, Iraq & Foreign Service Officer, Afghanistan (associate VIPS)

Larry C Johnson, CIA & State Department (ret.)

Michael S. Kearns, Captain, USAF Intelligence Agency (Retired), ex Master SERE Instructor

John Kiriakou, Former CIA Counterterrorism Officer

Karen Kwiatkowski, Lt. Col., US Air Force (ret.)

Edward Loomis, NSA, Cryptologic Computer Scientist (ret.)

David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council (ret.)

James Marcinkowski, Attorney, former CIA Operations Officer

Ray McGovern, former US Army infantry/intelligence officer & CIA analyst (ret.)

Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East,CIA (ret.)

Todd Pierce, MAJ, US Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

Scott Ritter, former Maj., USMC, former UN Weapon Inspector, Iraq

Diane Roark, former professional staff, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Coleen Rowley, Division Counsel & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)

Ali Soufan, former FBI Special Agent

Robert David Steele, former CIA Operations Officer

Greg Thielmann, U.S. Foreign Service Officer (ret.) and former Senate Intelligence Committee

Peter Van Buren, U.S. Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.) (associate VIPS)

Lawrence Wilkerson, Colonel (USA, ret.), Distinguished Visiting Professor, College of William and Mary

Valerie Plame Wilson, CIA Operations Officer (ret.)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Reserve Colonel (ret) and former U.S. Diplomat

The Phony ‘Bad Intel’ Defense on Iraq

Exclusive: Jeb Bush’s stumbling start to his presidential bid has refocused attention on Official Washington’s favorite excuse for the illegal, aggressive and disastrous war in Iraq that it was just a case of “bad intelligence.” But that isn’t what the real history shows, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern recalls.

By Ray McGovern

Presidential aspirant Jeb Bush this week may have damaged his chances by flubbing the answer to an entirely predictable question about his big brother’s decision to attack Iraq.

On Monday, Fox’s Megyn Kelly asked the former Florida governor: “Knowing what we know now, would you have authorized the invasion?” Jeb Bush answered, “I would’ve. And so would’ve Hillary Clinton, just to remind everybody, and so would’ve almost everybody who was confronted with the intelligence they got.”

Kelly: “You don’t think it was a mistake.”

Bush: “In retrospect, the intelligence that everyone saw — that the world saw, not just the United States — was faulty.”

After some backfilling and additional foundering on Tuesday and Wednesday, Bush apparently memorized the “correct” answer. So on Thursday, he proceeded to ask the question himself: “If we’re all supposed to answer hypothetical questions: Knowing what we now know, what would you have done? I would not have engaged. I would not have gone into Iraq.”

It is a safe bet that, by Thursday, Iraq War champion Paul Wolfowitz, now a senior adviser to Jeb Bush, had taken him to the woodshed, admonishing him along these lines: “Jeb, you remembered to emphasize the mistaken nature of pre-war intelligence; that’s the key point; that’s good. But then you need to say that if you knew how mistaken the intelligence was, you would not have attacked Iraq. Got it?”

It was then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — together with his boss Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney and a string of neocon advisers — who exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to make war on Iraq, which they had been itching for since the 1990s. They tried mightily (and transparently) to link Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the Sept. 11 attacks. Following their lead, the fawning corporate media played up this bum rap with such success that, before the attack on Iraq, polls showed that almost 70 percent of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein played some kind of role in 9/11.

Not so, said honest intelligence analysts who, try as they might, could find no persuasive evidence for Hussein’s guilt other than the synthetic kind in Wolfowitz’s purposively twisted imagination. Yet the pressure on the analysts to conform was intense. CIA’s ombudsman commented publicly that never in his 32-year career with the agency had he encountered such “hammering” on CIA analysts to reconsider their judgments and state that there were operational ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

The pressure was reflected in pronouncements at the highest levels. A year after 9/11, President Bush was still saying, “You cannot distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld was more direct, claiming that the evidence tying Iraq to al-Qaeda was “bulletproof.”

But Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor to President George H.W. Bush and Chairman of George W. Bush’s President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, supported honest analysts in CIA and elsewhere, stating publicly that evidence of any such connection was “scant.”

There was the looming danger of a principled leak, or possibly even an insurrection of some kind on the part of those opposed to creating pretexts for war. And so the administration chose to focus first and foremost on “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD).

It would be an easier and scarier sell a claim that Iraq had chemical, biological and perhaps nuclear weapons and that the Iraqis could give them to “terrorists” for another attack on the “homeland” (introducing a term that both the Nazis and the Soviets used to good effect in whipping up nationalistic fervor in wartime).

Brimming with WMD

Unable to get honest intelligence analysts to go along with the carefully nurtured “noble lie” that Iraq played a role in 9/11, or even that operational ties existed between Iraq and al-Qaeda, the administration ordered up a separate but related genre of faux intelligence WMD. This PR offensive was something of a challenge, for in the months before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had insisted publicly that Saddam Hussein posed no security threat. You don’t remember?

On Feb. 24, 2001, Powell had said, “Saddam Hussein has not developed any significant capability with respect to weapons of mass destruction. He is unable to project conventional power against his neighbors.”

And just six weeks before 9/11, Condoleezza Rice told CNN: “let’s remember that his [Saddam’s] country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep his arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.” Obligingly, the compliant U.S. media pressed the delete button on those telling statements.

How many times have we heard that, after 9/11, “everything changed.” Well, we were soon to observe a major attempt to apply this adage to Saddam’s inventory of WMD that Rice and Powell had said did not exist. The world was being asked to believe that, almost immediately, hundreds of stealth WMD had wafted down like manna from the heavens for a soft landing on the sands of Iraq.

Just days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld began promoting the notion that Iraq might have weapons of mass destruction and that “within a week, or a month, Saddam could give his WMD to al-Qaeda.” This was an early articulation of the bogus “conjunction of terrorism and WMD,” now immortalized in what is the most damning, first-hand, documentary evidence of U.S./U.K. collusion in launching a war of aggression on false pretenses and how it was to be “justified.”

This evidence was contained in the “Downing Street Memorandum,” written on July 23, 2002, though not published until May 1, 2005, by The London Times (discussed in more detail below). The goal was to systematically conflate Iraq’s supposed stockpiles of WMD with al-Qaeda and 9/11, as a kind of subliminal fear/revenge message to the American public.

It was not long before the agile Rice did a demi-pirouette of 180 degrees, claiming that Saddam had suddenly become “a danger in the region where the 9/11 threat emerged.” By the summer of 2002, the basic decision for war having been taken, something persuasive had to be conjured up to get Congress to authorize it. Weapons of mass deception, as one wag called them, together with warnings about “mushroom clouds” were just what the Doctor Rice ordered.


Sadly, CIA’s malleable director George Tenet followed orders to conjure up WMD in a deceitful National Intelligence Estimate issued on Oct. 1, 2002. The NIE’s main purpose was to deceive Congress into authorizing war on Iraq, which Congress did just ten days later.

Amid the media din about WMD, and with Rep. Barbara Lee, D-California, the sole exception, no legislator proved willing to risk being seen as “weak on terrorism” as the mid-term elections approached in November, the disinformation operation was well, you might say a “cakewalk.” Tenet and his deputy John McLaughlin satisfied President Bush they could fashion the evidence into a “slam dunk,” and then fed the cooked intelligence to Secretary of State Colin Powell to use at the U.N.

Riding High, Wolfowitz Slips

Basking in the glory of “Mission Accomplished” after Baghdad fell in April 2003, Wolfowitz succumbed to a brief bout of hubris-induced honesty. He openly admitted that the Bush administration had focused on weapons of mass destruction to justify war on Iraq “for bureaucratic reasons.” It was, he explained, “the one reason everyone could agree on” meaning, of course, the one that could successfully sell the war to Congress and the American people.

As for the real reasons, Wolfowitz again let his guard drop at about the same time. When asked in May 2003 why North Korean WMD were being treated differently from those claimed to exist in Iraq, he responded, “Let’s look at it simply. … [Iraq] swims on a sea of oil.”

Other usually circumspect senior officials have had unguarded moments of candor. In another moment of unusual frankness this one before the war Philip Zelikow, a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board from 2001 to 2003, spilled the other key reason.  Discounting any real danger to the U.S. from Iraq, Zelikow pointed rather to the threat he said Iraq posed to Israel as “the unstated threat.” It was a threat, he added, that dared not speak its name because it was so politically sensitive.

Are you getting the picture why the Bush administration didn’t want to level with the American people who might have viewed the war very differently if the real motives and the nagging doubts had been expressed frankly and bluntly?

The force with which CIA analysts were pressed to manufacture intelligence to serve the cause of war was unprecedented in CIA history and included personal visits by Vice President Cheney to make sure the intelligence analysts knew what was wanted. That many of my former colleagues in the Analysis Directorate took willing part in this unconscionable charade was hard to believe. But they did.

At about this time, an anonymous White House official believed to be George W. Bush’s political adviser Karl Rove reportedly boasted, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality, judiciously, as you will, we’ll act again, creating other new realities.”

As exemplified by Jeb Bush’ memorized lines this past week, there continues to be a huge premium among disciples of Rovian historiography, to “create new reality,” blaming “mistaken intelligence” for the debacle in Iraq and the ensuing chaos throughout the region. The intelligence was wrong; but it was not mistaken; it was out-and-out fraud.

This had become so clear, yet so little known, that ten years ago this month I was finishing a draft for a chapter I called “Sham Dunk: Cooking Intelligence for the President” to appear in Neo-CONNED Again! Hypocrisy, Lawlessness, and the Rape of Iraq.

I was just finishing the draft when a deus ex machina arrived in the form of a major leak to the London Times of official minutes of a briefing of then British Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing Street on July 23, 2002, eight months before the war on Iraq, and three days after visiting CIA Director George Tenet to confirm for Blair exactly what Bush and Cheney were planning. The Downing Street document destroyed the argument, already being promoted in 2005 by those responsible for the fraud, that intelligence mistakes were to blame for the war in Iraq.

The Downing Street Memorandum

I would like to draw from the first couple of paragraphs of the chapter, since, sadly, they seem relevant today as the historical rewrite about “intelligence errors” is recurring now at the start of Campaign 2016. But first, here is the text of the most damaging part of the Downing Street Memo as “C” — Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence reported on recent talks in Washington:

“There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. The NSC had no patience with the UN route, and no enthusiasm for publishing material on the Iraqi regime’s record. There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.” (emphasis added)

Following is the introduction to my chapter:

“Let’s review. It was bad intelligence that forced an unwitting president to invade Iraq, right? The sad fact that so many Americans believe this myth is eloquent testimony to the effectiveness of the White House spin machine. The intelligence was indeed bad — shaped that way by an administration determined to find a pretext to effect ‘regime change’ in Iraq.

“Senior administration officials — first and foremost Vice President Dick Cheney — played a strong role in ensuring that the intelligence analysis was corrupt enough to justify, ex post facto, the decision to make war on Iraq. It is not altogether clear how witting President George W. Bush was of all this, but there is strong evidence that he knew chapter and verse. Had he been mousetrapped into this ‘preemptive’ war, one would expect some heads to roll. None have. And where is it, after all, that the buck is supposed to stop?

“The intelligence-made-me-do-it myth has helped the Bush administration attenuate the acute embarrassment it experienced early last year [2004] when the casus belli became a casus belly laugh. When U.S. inspector David Kay, after a painstaking search to which almost a billion dollars and many lives were given, reported that there had been no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since 1991, someone had to take the fall.

“Elected was CIA director George Tenet, the backslapping fellow from Queens always eager to do whatever might be necessary to play with the bigger kids. For those of you just in from Mars, the grave danger posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was what President Bush cited as the casus belli for invading Iraq. It was only after Kay had the courage to tell the truth publicly that Bush fell back on the default rationale for the war; namely, the need to export democracy, about which we are hearing so much lately.

“Not surprisingly, the usual suspects in the mainstream media that played cheerleader for the war are now helping the president (and the media) escape blame. Flawed intelligence that led the United States to invade Iraq was the fault of the US intelligence community, explained the Washington Times last July 10 [2004], after regime loyalist Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, released his committee’s findings.


“Nine months later, after publication of similar findings by a commission handpicked by the president, the Washington Post’s lead headline was ‘Data on Iraqi Arms Flawed, Panel Says.’ The date was, appropriately, April Fools Day, 2005. In a word, they are playing us for fools. The remarkable thing is that most folks don’t seem able, or willing, to recognize that or even to mind.

“On May 1, 2005, a highly sensitive document published by The Sunday Times of London provided the smoking gun showing that President Bush had decided to make war on Iraq long before the National Intelligence Estimate was produced to conjure up ‘weapons of mass destruction’ there and mislead Congress into granting authorization for war.

“The British document is classified ‘SECRET AND STRICTLY PERSONAL U.K. EYES ONLY.’ And small wonder. It contains an official account of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s meeting with top advisers on July 23, 2002, at which Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6 (the U.K. equivalent to the CIA), simply ‘C’ in the written document, reported on talks he had just held in Washington with top U.S. officials. Blair has now acknowledged the authenticity of the document.

“As related in the document, Dearlove told Blair and the others that President Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein through military action, that this ‘was seen as inevitable,’ and that the attack would be ‘justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD.’ He continued: ‘… but the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.’

“Dearlove tacked on yet another telling comment: ‘There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.’ British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw concurred that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, but noted that finding justification would be challenging, for ‘the case was thin.’ Straw pointed out that Saddam was not threatening his neighbors, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea, or Iran.

“As head of MI6, Dearlove was CIA Director George Tenet’s British counterpart. We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) have been saying since January 2003 that the two intelligence chiefs’ marching orders were to ‘fix’ the intelligence around the policy. It was a no-brainer.

“Seldom, however, does one acquire documentary evidence that this the unforgivable sin in intelligence analysis was used by the most senior U.S. government leaders as a way to ‘justify’ a prior decision for war. There is no word to describe our reaction to the fact that the two intelligence chiefs quietly acquiesced in the corruption of our profession on a matter of such consequence. ‘Outrage’ doesn’t even come close.”

Challenging Rumsfeld

A year later in Atlanta, I had an unusual chance to publicly challenge then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld no stranger to the dissembling about WMD about his earlier claims saying he knew were the WMD were in Iraq, and knew of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. My question grew into a mini-debate of four minutes, during which he lied, demonstrably, on both issues. As luck would have it, May 4, 2006 was a very slow news day, and our mini-debate took place in early afternoon, enabling serious journalists like Keith Olbermann to perform a “fact-check.”

Finally, on June 5, 2008, then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Jay Rockefeller made some remarkable comments that got sparse attention in U.S. media. Announcing the findings of a bipartisan report of a five-year study on misstatements on prewar intelligence on Iraq, Rockefeller said:

“In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent. As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”


Anyone know what “non-existent” intelligence looks like?

What has become painfully clear since the trauma of 9/11 is that most of our fellow citizens have felt an overriding need to believe that administration leaders are telling them the truth and to ignore all evidence to the contrary. Many Americans seem impervious to data showing that it was the administration that misled the country into this unprovoked war and that the “intelligence” was conjured up well after the White House decided to effect “regime change” in Iraq (or introduce democracy, if you favor the default rationale) by force of arms.

I have been asking myself why so many Americans find it so painful to delve deeper. Why do they resist letting their judgment be influenced by the abundance of evidence, much of it documentary, exposing how little or no evidence there was to support what was a most consequential fraud? Perhaps it is because they know that responsible citizenship means asking what might seem to be “impertinent” questions, ferreting out plausible answers, and then, when necessary, holding people accountable, rectifying the situation, and ensuring it does not happen again.

Resistance, however, remains strong. At work in all of us to some degree is the same convenient denial mechanism that immobilized so many otherwise conscientious German citizens during the 1930s, enabling Germany to launch its own unprovoked wars and curtail civil liberties at home. Taking action, or just finding one’s voice, entails risk; denial is the more instinctive, easier course.

But it is too late for denial. We might take to heart Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s warning: “… there is such a thing as being too late. … Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: ‘Too late.’”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served for 27 years in CIA’s Analysis Directorate, coming “out of retirement” when he saw his former profession being corrupted to “justify” a war of aggression.  At that point he joined with others to create Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in an attempt to hold former colleagues accountable.

CIA Wants Its Reputation Back

The CIA doesn’t like to be portrayed as the gang that couldn’t shoot straight, so it has been using the leak trial of ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling to insist that it really can shoot straight and indeed is brilliantly protecting America’s national security, writes Norman Solomon.

By Norman Solomon

Six days of testimony at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling have proven the agency’s obsession with proclaiming its competence. Many of the two-dozen witnesses from the Central Intelligence Agency conveyed smoldering resentment that a whistleblower or journalist might depict the institution as a bungling outfit unworthy of its middle name.

Some witnesses seemed to put Sterling and journalist James Risen roughly in the same nefarious category, Sterling for allegedly leaking classified information that put the CIA in a bad light, and Risen for reporting it. Muffled CIA anger was audible, coming from the witness stand, a seat filled by people claiming to view any aspersions on the CIA to be baseless calumnies.

Other than court employees, attorneys and jurors, only a few people sat through virtually the entire trial. As one of them, I can say that the transcript of USA v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling should be mined for countless slick and clumsy maneuvers by government witnesses to obscure an emerging picture of CIA recklessness, dishonesty and ineptitude.

Consider, for example, the testimony of David Shedd, who was chief of operations for the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division when Sterling was a case officer at the turn of the century. On the stand, Shedd presented himself as superbly savvy about Operation Merlin. He’d met with the head prosecutor three times to prepare for testifying. Yet, as a witness, Shedd turned out to be stunningly ignorant about the only CIA operation at issue in the trial.

Like other CIA witnesses, Shedd testified in no uncertain terms that Operation Merlin, executed to give a flawed nuclear weapon design to the Iranian government, was expertly planned and then well implemented in 2000. But his testimony included a key statement that was a fundamentally incorrect version of what happened.

In reality, as Risen reported in his book State of War, and as all other accounts affirmed in the courtroom, the Russian scientist working for the CIA carried the nuclear diagram to Vienna, and left it in a mailbox at the Iranian mission office without ever speaking with anyone there. But Shedd flatly testified that the scientist had met with someone in Iran when delivering the diagram.

Shedd’s authoritative demeanor about Operation Merlin was matched by the incongruous immensity of his error. He had preened himself on the stand as someone who had been the ultra-adept overseer of Operation Merlin, as the direct supervisor of the man (“Bob S,” who testified behind a screen) in charge of that CIA program, touted in court as one of the most vitally important in the agency’s modern era.

As much as anything else, the CIA witnesses at the trial seemed offended by Risen’s characterization of Operation Merlin as ill-conceived, poorly executed and reckless. Along with the usual abhorrence of classified leaks (at least the ones unapproved by the agency’s leaders), the testifying CIA officials and case officers were in firm denial that the Merlin operation was screwed up. I got the impression that most would much rather be considered ruthless or even cruel than incompetent.

The subject of competence is a sore spot for career CIA employees proud of their hard-boiled affects. From their vantage points, it can’t be expunged by dismissing critics as impractical idealists and bleeding hearts merely concerned with the morality of drones, torture or renditions.

Jeffrey Sterling has continued to deny the charges that he was a source for Risen’s book. But no one disputes that Sterling went through channels in 2003 to alert the Senate Intelligence Committee staff to his concerns about Operation Merlin.

The first full day of jury deliberations in this historic leak trial is set for Friday. If Sterling goes to prison, a major reason will be that the CIA leadership is angry about being portrayed as an intelligence gang that can’t shoot straight. The government cannot imprison Risen the journalist, but it may be on the verge of imprisoning Sterling the whistleblower.

Based on the evidence, it would be delusional to think of the CIA as a place run by straight shooters.

Norman Solomon is the executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and the author of War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is a co-founder of [This article originally appeared at]

‘Justice’ Hidden Behind a Screen

Exclusive: Behind a physical (and perhaps metaphorical) screen, the U.S. government is putting on its case to pin ten felony charges on ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling for allegedly leaking secrets to a U.S. journalist about a risky and convoluted covert op against Iran, as ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern reports.

By Ray McGovern

The federal government claims it is prosecuting former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling for leaking information to a journalist about a risky covert operation in which the spy agency funneled flawed nuclear-bomb schematics to Iran. But the opening days of the trial suggest that the government may be using the case more to overcome its reputation for shoddy intelligence work.

In opening statements and testimony on Wednesday, prosecutors seemed more concerned about refuting journalist/author James Risen’s assessment of the CIA’s scheme as botched and dangerous than in connecting Risen to Sterling. Eliciting testimony from a nuclear engineer testifying behind a screen, prosecutors sought to portray the phony-blueprint gambit as meticulous and careful.

The dispute seems to center on whether the Russian operative code-named “Merlin,” who was assigned to deliver the documents to Iranian representatives, easily detected the flaws, as Risen wrote in his 2006 book, State of War, or simply noticed that some pages were missing. An internal team of CIA experts when asked to examine the schematics spotted about 25 percent of the errors, but there is a clash of opinions over whether that showed how easy it was to unmask the fraud or how difficult it was to spot the flaws.

None of that, however, relates to whether Sterling was or was not a source for Risen regarding the “Merlin” operation, proof that may prove difficult for U.S. prosecutors to establish because Risen, a New York Times’ national security reporter, has an array of sources within the intelligence community from whom to draw. Since the Justice Department has dropped attempts to force Risen to identify his sources, prosecutors may find it hard to substantiate that Sterling was one of the sources for the “Merlin” disclosures.

But the real subtext of the Sterling case is how the politicization of the CIA’s analytical division over the past several decades has contributed to multiple intelligence failures, especially efforts to “prove” that targeted regimes in the Middle East were amassing weapons of mass destruction.

The false Iraq-WMD case provided the key rationale for a war that has spread devastation not only across Iraq but has prompted terrorism and other violence throughout the Middle East and into Europe. “Operation Merlin” hatched during the Clinton administration was part of a similar effort to show that Iran was engaged in an active program for building a nuclear bomb and thus would have interest in the flawed schematics that the CIA was peddling.

Yet, in the Sterling case, federal prosecutors seem to want to have it both ways. They want to broaden the case to burnish the CIA’s reputation regarding its covert-op skills but then to narrow the case if defense attorneys try to show the jury the broader context in which the “Merlin” disclosures were made in 2006 how President George W. Bush’s administration was trying to build a case for war with Iran over its nuclear program much as it did over Iraq’s non-existent WMDs in 2002-2003.

Judge Leonie Brinkema appears to be bending to the U.S. government’s wishes, allowing the prosecutors to polish up the “Merlin” gambit but then slip back to insisting on narrow relevance if defense attorneys try to broaden the frame to include the reasons why Risen considered it important to publish the story in the first place. Then, the case is just about the narrow question of whether Sterling gave classified information to Risen.

But the two issues the bogus Iraq-WMD intelligence and the pressure to create another casus belli on Iran are inextricably linked, as Risen himself explained in his affidavit submitted in connection with the Sterling case.

Risen wrote, “I believe I performed a vitally important public service by exposing the reckless and badly mismanaged nature of intelligence on Iran’s efforts to obtain weapons of mass destruction, so that the nation would not go to war once again based on flawed intelligence, as it had in Iraq.”

Behind the Screen

In the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia, there was a huge screen between those of us from the public and the proceedings, to permit a number of the witnesses to testify without their identities being revealed. Some witnesses even used partial or fake names.

The 12-foot-tall screen seemed like a metaphor for all the smoke and mirrors that we could hear but not see during the first “public” day of Sterling’s trial on ten felony charges. Another scheduled witness was Bush’s national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who famously helped sell the Iraq WMD claims by warning that she didn’t want “the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Another phrase from that era “not authentic” kept going through my mind, the words that Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, applied to forged documents supposedly proving that Iraq was hard at work on a nuclear-weapons program.

Those forged documents purportedly showed that Iraq was seeking “yellow-cake” (very low refined) uranium from the African country of Niger, a claim that President Bush referenced in his 2003 State of the Union Address as he sought to seal the deal on his Iraq invasion two months later.

No wonder the U.S. government wanted ElBaradei out as IAEA chief and a more pliable bureaucrat inserted to replace him. Then, the IAEA could be used to hype allegations about Iran’s alleged nuclear-weapons program to justify ratcheting up U.S. sanctions and even possibly a bombing campaign. That is where leaked cables from Pvt. Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning to Wikileaks come in.

According to leaked U.S. embassy cables from Vienna, Austria, the site of IAEA’s headquarters, American diplomats in 2009 were cheering how they had replaced ElBaradei with Japanese diplomat Yukiya Amano who had agreed to push U.S. interests on Iran in ways that ElBaradei wouldn’t. After thanking the Americans for getting him his job, Amano put his hand out for more U.S. money to his office. [See’s “America’s Debt to Bradley Manning.”]

But ElBaradei’s phrase “not authentic” could have been applied much more broadly to what was passing for an intelligence product during those years. For me, “not authentic” brought a horrid flashback to those embarrassing days before the attack on Iraq, when my profession of intelligence analysis was corrupted by Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and eager-to-please CIA Director George Tenet.

Commenting on the 2008 findings of a five-year bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation of the pre-Iraq War intelligence, then-Chairman Jay Rockefeller described much of it as “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

UN weapons inspector Hans Blix put it this way: “I found it peculiar that those who wanted to take military action could with 100 percent certainty know that the weapons existed and turn out to have zero knowledge of where they were.” (I had a rare opportunity to raise that issue with Rumsfeld in May 2006 at a public session in Atlanta, Georgia.)

The Iran Group Think

It was within the context of another “group think” the Inside-the-Beltway certainty that Iran was rushing to build a nuclear bomb that the CIA’s eager-beaver practitioners of covert action adopted an overly clever way to sabotage the equally ephemeral nuclear weapons program of Iran. It was a scarcely believable story of over-imaginative sophomores with lots of money plotting to set back a “program” that, in all probability, did not exist.

The most definitive study of a post-Iraq “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent” nuclear weapons program, this time in Iran, is presented in Gareth Porter’s Manufactured Crisis published a year ago (and viewed as untouchable by reviewers in the fawning corporate media).  Porter brings together the results of his many years of research into the issue, including numerous interviews with former insiders.

He shows that the origins of the Iran nuclear “crisis” were not in an Iranian urge to obtain nuclear weapons but, rather, in a sustained effort by the United States and its allies to deny Iran its right, as guaranteed in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to have any nuclear program at all.

The book highlights the impact that the U.S. alliance with Israel had on Washington’s belligerent policy toward Iran and sheds new light on the U.S. strategy of turning the IAEA into a tool of that policy, especially the mysterious intelligence from a laptop computer that supposedly “proved” Iranian duplicity but that has since been traced to a possible Israeli covert op to plant “not authentic” evidence.

Here’s how Hans Blix describes the disclosures in Porter’s book: “National intelligence presented or peddled is often problematic as evidence. In the case of Iraq, defective intelligence contributed to a war against weapons of mass destruction that did not exist. Could unreliable or cooked intelligence one day lead to an attack on Iranian intentions that may not exist?

“I feel grateful to Gareth Porter for his intrusive and critical examination of intelligence material passed to the IAEA. When security organizations do not shy away from assassinating nuclear scientists we can take it for certain that they do not for a moment hesitate to circulate false evidence.”

The allusion to the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, killings widely ascribed to Israeli intelligence services, is clear enough. And that is only a small part of the essential role played by Israel in building a case to “bomb-bomb-bomb” Iran. To his credit, Porter pulls no punches in exposing chapter and verse of this story.

So, the trial against Jeffrey Sterling seems to have multiple purposes beyond simply proving that Sterling leaked some secrets to James Risen. It is a chance for the CIA to contest the widespread impression that is some bumbling intelligence agency that comes up with harebrained schemes. It is also an opportunity to intimidate any other potential whistleblowers who would dare expose to the public more evidence that the CIA is just such a bumbling intelligence agency.

And, it would provide some protection for the next time the U.S. government needs some made-to-order “intelligence” to justify another conflict like the Iraq War. In that way, the prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling is a deterrent to future officials, who might be tempted to commit the unpardonable sin of putting loyalty to their conscience and the Constitution ahead of the non-disclosure contract they signed earlier as a condition of employment.

As Lord Acton, the Nineteenth Century English politician and historian, once said, “Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.”

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was a CIA analyst for 27 years, and now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Giving the Torturers a Pass

During Watergate, senior U.S. officials went to jail for lying and obstructing justice. Many politicians have gone to prison for taking bribes and for corruption. But it’s somehow unthinkable to prosecute Bush administration officials implicated in torture and murder, an attitude that Marjorie Cohn rejects.

By Marjorie Cohn

Reading the 499-page torture report just released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence was a disgusting experience. Even after many years of writing books and articles about the Bush torture policy, I was unprepared for the atrocious pattern of crimes our government committed against other human beings in our name.

One of the most hideous techniques the CIA plied on detainees was called “rectal rehydration” or “rectal feeding” without medical necessity – a sanitized description of rape by a foreign object. A concoction of pureed “hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts and raisins” was forced into the rectum of one detainee. Another was subjected to “rectal rehydration” to establish the interrogator’s “total control over the detainee.” This constitutes illegal, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a humiliating outrage upon personal dignity.

Several detainees were waterboarded, a technique whereby water is poured into the nose and mouth to cause the victim to think he’s drowning. One detainee in CIA custody was tortured on the waterboard 183 times; another was waterboarded 83 times. Waterboarding has long been considered torture, which is a war crime. Indeed, the United States hanged Japanese military leaders for the war crime of torture after World War II.

Other “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT) included being slammed into walls, hung from the ceiling, kept in total darkness, deprived of sleep – sometimes with forced standing – for up to seven and one-half days, forced to stand on broken limbs for hours on end, threatened with mock execution, confined in a coffin-like box for 11 days, bathed in ice water, dressed in diapers. One detainee “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

The executive summary of the torture report was made public, but the 6,700-page report remains classified. The summary depicts the CIA at best, as keystone cops, at worst, as pathological, lying, sadistic war criminals. The CIA lied repeatedly about the effectiveness of the torture and cruel treatment. Interrogations of detainees were much more brutal than the CIA represented to government officials and the American public.

Bush’s CIA directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden should be charged with crimes, along with their minions who carried out the torture.

Obama Violates Constitutional Duty

In light of the gruesome revelations in the torture report, it is high time President Barack Obama fulfilled his constitutional duty to enforce the law. The U.S. Constitution states the president “shall take care that the laws are faithfully executed.” Yet Obama refuses to sanction prosecutions of those responsible for the torture.

The report documents torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, all of which violate U.S. and international law. The War Crimes Act punishes torture as a war crime. The Torture Statute (Statute) provides that whoever “outside the United States” commits or attempts to commit torture shall be imprisoned for not more than 20 years “and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.”

The statute defines torture as an “act intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering upon another person within his custody or physical control.”

When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Geneva Conventions, we promised to prosecute or extradite those who commit or are complicit in the commission of torture. A ratified treaty is part of U.S. law under the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. Yet the Obama administration persists in its refusal to bring the culprits to justice.

On Jan. 11, 2009, nine days before Obama was sworn into office, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News confronted the newly elected president with the “most popular question on your own website,“- whether Obama would investigate torture by members of the Bush administration. Obama responded:

“I don’t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward, as opposed to looking backward. . . . At the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got to spend all their time looking over their shoulders, lawyering up.”

Now we know that many of those people at the CIA were using their extraordinary talents to devise new and more horrific ways to torture, humiliate, degrade and mistreat the people under their control.

To his credit, shortly after he was inaugurated, Obama signed an executive order banning torture. But hunger strikers at Guantánamo are still force-fed, a practice that violates the Torture Convention, according to the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT).

In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder ordered an investigation headed by veteran prosecutor Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham. But, two years later, Holder announced that his office would investigate only the deaths of Gul Rahman and Manadel al-Jamadi, who died while in CIA custody. Holder said that the Justice Department had “determined that an expanded criminal investigation of the remaining matters is not warranted.” With that decision, Holder made clear that no one would be held accountable for the torture and abuse except possibly for the deaths of Rahman and al-Jamadi.

Ultimately, the Obama administration gave a free pass to those responsible for the two deaths. Rahman froze to death in 2002, after being stripped and shackled to a cold cement floor in the secret Afghan prison known as the Salt Pit. Al-Jamadi died after he was suspended from the ceiling by his wrists, which were bound behind his back. Military police officer Tony Diaz, who was present during al-Jamadi’s torture, said that blood gushed from his mouth like “a faucet had turned on” when he was lowered to the ground. A military autopsy determined that al-Jamadi’s death was a homicide.

Nevertheless, Holder said that “based on the fully developed factual record concerning the two deaths, the department has declined prosecution because the admissible evidence would not be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Torture is Who They Are

After the report was made public, the White House issued a statement calling the CIA interrogation program “harsh” and the treatment “troubling” – a study in understatement. Obama said that torture “is contrary to who we are.”

But torture is who President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are. Under the well-established doctrine of command responsibility, commanders are liable for war crimes if they knew, or should have known, their subordinates would commit them and they did nothing to stop or prevent it.

In 2008, ABC News reported that the National Security Council Principals Committee consisting of Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Tenet and Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture of terrorism suspects by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. Bush admitted in his 2010 memoir that he authorized waterboarding. Cheney, Rice and Justice Department legal adviser John Yoo have made similar admissions.

Indeed, Cheney recently admitted on Fox News that Bush “was in fact an integral part of the interrogation program, and he had to approve it.” Cheney added, “We did discuss the techniques. There was no effort on our part to keep him from that.” Karl Rove told Fox News that Bush was “intimately involved in the decision” to use the EIT. Rove said Bush “was presented, I believe, 12 techniques, he authorized the use of 10 of them, including waterboarding.”

Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice should be prosecuted for their crimes.

The Senate report contains example after example of why “the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of obtaining accurate information or gaining detainee cooperation.” It says: “Multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence . . . on critical intelligence issues including the terrorist threats which the CIA identified as its highest priorities.” Yet the CIA continually lied that the EIT “saved lives.”

Legal Mercenaries Should Be Prosecuted

The report says the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) relied on the CIA’s numerous misrepresentations when crafting OLC memos authorizing the techniques. But the report gives OLC lawyers, including Deputy Assistant U.S. Attorney General John Yoo (now a law professor at Berkeley) and Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee (now a federal appellate court judge), free passes by failing to connect the dots leading to their criminal responsibility as war criminals.

The OLC’s infamous “torture memos” contain twisted legal reasoning that purported to define torture more narrowly than U.S. law allows. The memos advised high Bush officials how to avoid criminal liability under the War Crimes Act.

Yoo, Bybee and company knew very well that the techniques the CIA sought to employ were illegal. Their Aug. 1, 2002, memo advised that attention grasp, walling, facial hold, facial slap (insult slap), cramped confinement box and the waterboard passed legal muster under the act. They knew these techniques constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, in violation of the Torture Statute, and the Torture Convention.

The Torture Convention is unequivocal: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” In light of that clear prohibition, the OLC lawyers knew that “necessity” and “self-defense” are not defenses to torture. Whether the CIA was being forthright about the necessity for, or effectiveness of, the techniques was irrelevant to the faulty legal analysis in the torture memos.

Moreover, after the report was released, Cheney told The New York Times: “The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”

Bush’s attorneys general, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft and Michael Mukasey, who oversaw the Justice Department, should be criminally charged, together with the OLC’s legal mercenaries.

The report also fails to connect the dots to the Pentagon. In December 2002, Rumsfeld approved interrogation techniques that included the use of dogs, hooding, stress positions, isolation for up to 30 days, 20-hour interrogations, deprivation of light and sound, using scenarios to convince the detainee that death or severely painful consequences are imminent for him and/or his family, and using a wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation.

And the report gives short shrift to the extraordinary rendition program, where detainees were illegally sent to other countries to be tortured. The report refers to “renditions,” which are conducted with judicial process. But detainees were rendered to black sites in Syria, Libya and Egypt in order to avoid legal accountability.

No Impunity

“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in [the Senate] report must be brought to justice and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” according to Ben Emmerson, the UN Special Rapporteur on Counter Terrorism and Human Rights. And the UN’s CAT said the Obama administration has failed to investigate the commission of torture and punish those responsible, including “persons in positions of command and those who provided legal cover to torture.”

A special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate those from the CIA, the DOJ, and the high officials of the Bush administration who violated, or aided and abetted the violation of, our laws banning torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. The full 6,700-page Senate report should be declassified.

But Obama said, “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong – in the past.” Yes, these crimes were committed in the past. Crimes are always prosecuted after they are committed. Obama should be reminded of his constitutional duty to enforce the law.

If we don’t bring the offenders to justice, they could eventually get their due when other countries prosecute them under “universal jurisdiction.” Some crimes are so atrocious that countries can punish foreign nationals, the way Israel tried, convicted and executed Adolph Eichmann for his crimes during the Holocaust, even though they had no direct connection to Israel.

Emmerson also said, “Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction. The perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to.”

The following grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions constitute war crimes punishable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), when committed as part of a plan or policy: torture, willful killing, inhuman treatment, and willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.

The Senate report documented instances of willful killing (death); great suffering (hysterical, asking to die, attempts at self harm); and serious injuries (placed on life support, hallucinations) caused by the EIT. Yoo admitted in his 2006 book that the denial of Geneva protections and coercive interrogation “policies were part of a common, unifying approach to the war on terrorism.”

Although the United States is not a party to the ICC, other countries could prosecute U.S. nationals under universal jurisdiction for the core crimes in the Rome Statute.

Obama declared, “Hopefully, we don’t do it again.” But Obama’s hopeful sentiments won’t do the trick. The only way to prevent others from using torture and cruel treatment in the future is to bring those responsible to justice. We must send a message to would-be torturers that they will not enjoy impunity for their crimes. Torture has no statute of limitations.

In light of the torture report, the responsibility for the U.S. targeted killing program – by drones and manned bombers – should be removed from the CIA, which cannot be trusted with such awesome responsibility.

Indeed, the entire targeted killing program should be the subject of the next congressional report. Anticipating the imminent release of the torture report, Obama stated, “We did a whole lot of things that were right,” after September 11, “but we tortured some folks.”

The Bush administration did torture some folks. But we are still doing other things that are not right. The Obama administration has avoided adding detainees to the Guantánamo roster by illegally assassinating them without judicial process. For this, members of Team Obama should also find themselves as criminal defendants someday.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, a former president of the National Lawyers Guild, and deputy secretary general for scientific work of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. Her books include The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and AbuseCowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law; and Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. She testified twice before Congress about the Bush administration torture policy. Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

The CIA’s Bureaucracy of Torture

Bureaucratic inertia the CIA’s desire for bigger budgets and then its fear of negative consequences helped drive the torture program from its frantic start to its belated finish, as Gareth Porter explains.

By Gareth Porter

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s 500-page “executive summary” of the 6,700-page full report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program has completely shattered the official myth that the torture of al-Qaeda detainees – which the CIA calls “enhanced interrogation techniques” – somehow helped to thwart further terrorist attacks.

After examining six million pages of official CIA documents, the committee staff refuted every one of the CIA’s claims that its torture program generated the crucial intelligence that led to the disruption of plots and the apprehension of terrorist suspects.

The committee’s case is documented in such mind-numbing detail, based on the CIA’s own internal documents, that the CIA was compelled to acknowledge in its responses in June 2013 to each specific case analyzed that it had repeatedly “mischaracterized” the relationship between its detention and interrogation program and the disruption or failure of various proposed terrorist actions.

But the committee report leaves little doubt that the CIA was not simply mistaken about the issues involved; it had for years been systematically lying about virtually every aspect of the torture program.

The report revealed that senior CIA officials decided in 2005 to destroy the videotapes of interrogations carried out under the program when the idea of an independent investigation of the program was first broached. The destruction was clearly carried out in order to ensure that the evidence could not be used to prosecute those responsible.

The report’s complete demolition of the rationale for the torture program raises an obvious question: if the CIA knew that it was not really getting information that would help prevent terrorist attacks, why did the program continue until 2008? Why not cut the agency’s losses years earlier?

The answer to that question lies not in the normal human reasoning but in the fundamental logic of all bureaucratic organizations. By their nature, bureaucracies seek to expand and defend their power, prominence and resources, and the CIA is no exception. The agency’s detention and torture program is a perfect example of how national security institutions pursue their organizational interests at the expense of even the most obvious interests of the nation they are supposed to serve.

What created the opportunity for the program, as CIA Director George Tenet recalled later, was the fact that Pakistani counter-terrorism officials rounded up more than two dozen al-Qaeda operatives simultaneously in March 2002. This quickly led to the capture of Abu Zubaydah, the highest-ranking al-Qaeda operative at that time – although his actual status in the hierarchy was apparently not very high.

The prospect of extracting crucial intelligence from Zubaydah and other “high-value detainees” prompted Tenet and his associates to begin developing the idea for a whole new program that would go well beyond existing legal and ethical boundaries for interrogation. The CIA detention and interrogation program, based on hitherto forbidden abuses of detainees, was born.

The powerful appeal of such a program to the CIA’s counter-terrorism officials lay in the huge enlargement of the CIA role in U.S. national security policy. The currency by which senior CIA officials measure the agency’s bureaucratic power is what they referred to as their “authorities”  –  their freedom to undertake various activities.

By taking on a new role in detention and interrogation of terrorist suspects, the CIA clearly stood to make unprecedented gains in this kind of power. Tenet hints in his memoirs that: “We were asking for and we would be given as many authorities as the CIA ever had.” The most important such “authority,” of course, was the legal assurance that what had previously been considered illegal and “torture” would now be redefined as something else.

What was arguably equally or even more important to senior CIA officials working on terrorism was the opportunity to occupy center stage in what appeared to be the most compelling drama of the post 9/11 era. CIA officials certainly imagined themselves as extracting “actionable intelligence” from high-level detainees with their tough new approach to interrogation and being given credit for preventing the new attacks that they were certain were being hatched.

It was such dreams of basking in the glory of being responsible for saving the country from future terrorist attacks that gave the CIA torture project such bureaucratic momentum.

What animates national security bureaucracies to push for major new programs is the desperate need to be important – to be a major “player” in big issue of the era. James Risen recounts in his new book, Pay Any Price, how the CIA’s Directorate of Science swallowed a fraudulent claim by a shady contractor in 2003 that they had a digital technology that could decode al-Qaeda terrorism instructions embedded in Al-Jazeera broadcasts – all because the directorate was afraid it had lost its importance in the previous several years.

The same need prompted the CIA to sign a deal up two contract psychologists who pushed an equally fraudulent theory of interrogation they called “learned helplessness,” which held that the way to get prisoners to spill all their secrets is to break their will.

Just as the Directorate of Science was taken in because of its dreams of a new status, the CIA bought into the false interrogation theory because it played into the heroic fantasy of breaking the will of the evil-doers and stopping the terrorists from striking again. It may not be accidental that the notion that torture would work on the bad guys surfaced in the wake of the enormously popular TV series “24” in which Jack Bauer showed millions of Americans how it could be done  – albeit without the elaborate machinery of abuse that the CIA would create.

But the CIA’s efforts to extract actionable intelligence by breaking the will of the detainees turned out to be an unrealistic fantasy, as the Senate committee report documents. The detainees, who had often been cooperative prior to the application of torture tactics, simply told the torturers what they wanted to hear, as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had warned before refusing to be associated with the CIA tactics.

Senior CIA officials had pushed false information about how successful the program had been from the very beginning, claiming credit for disruptions and captures that had nothing to do with the torture program. Yet by 2005, it was evident to many in the CIA that the experiment had been a failure. CIA officials involved in the program recognized that negative messages about the program were beginning to seep out – so they had to become even more aggressive in lying about the program.

The Senate report quotes the deputy director of the CIA’s Counter-terrorism Center in a message to a colleague in 2005 as saying: “We either get out and sell it or we get hammered.” If Congress sees negative media coverage of the program, he warned, “it cuts our authorities, messes up our budget. [T]here is no middle ground.”

So the program didn’t end when it became clear that it didn’t work the way it was supposed to for the simple reason that the officials involved had too much to lose.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and historian writing on US national security policy.  His latest book, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, was published in February 2014. [The story was originally published by Middle East Eye with a disclaimer that the views expressed were those of the author and did not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

What’s the Next Step to Stop Torture?

Exclusive: The grim details about the CIA’s torture techniques from waterboarding to “rectal rehydration” have overwhelmed the final defenses of the torture apologists. Now the question is what to do with this evidence and how to make sure this behavior doesn’t happen again, says ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern.

By Ray McGovern

“I want you to listen to me,” said George Tenet lunging forward from his chair, his index finger outstretched and pointed menacingly at CBS’ Scott Pelley, “We don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people!”

Appearing on “60 Minutes” on April 29, 2007, to hawk his memoir At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director Tenet was imperiously definitive on the issue of CIA and torture. Could he have thought that repeating his denial five times, with the appropriate theatrics, would compel credulity? Is this the kind of assertion over reality that worked at CIA Headquarters during his disastrous tenure?

The frequently pliant Pelley seemed unmoved this time since the basic facts about the CIA’s waterboarding and other torture of “war on terror” detainees were well known by then. You would have had to be deaf and dumb to be unaware that Tenet had eagerly embraced the role of overseer in the Bush/Cheney “dark side” torture centers after 9/11.

In the memoir a kind of apologia sans apology Tenet was less self-confident and pugnacious than on “60 Minutes.” While emphasizing the importance of detaining and interrogating al-Qaeda operatives around the world, he betrayed some worry that the chickens might some day come home to roost. Enter the feathered fowl this week with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture and all the mind-numbing details about lengthy sleep deprivations, painful stress positions, waterboarding and “rectal rehydration.”

One remaining question now is whether egg on Tenet’s face will be allowed to suffice as his only punishment, or whether he and his deputy-in-crime John McLaughlin will end up in prison where they, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and several other senior officials properly belong.

The usual suspects are already crying foul over an extraordinarily professional investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers and committee chair, Dianne Feinstein, who refused to chicken out and abandon her investigators despite political pressure to do so.

Possibly dreading this day, Tenet wrote in his memoir: “We raised the importance of being able to detain unilaterally al-Qa’ida operatives around the world. … We were going to pursue al-Qa’ida terrorists in ninety-two countries. … With the right authorities, policy determination, and great officers, we were confident we could get it done. …

“Sure, it was a risky proposition when you looked at it from a policy maker’s point of view. We were asking for and we would be given as many authorities as CIA ever had. Things could blow up. People, me among them, could end up spending some of the worst days of our lives justifying before congressional overseers our new freedom to act.” (At the Center of the Storm, p. 177-178.)

Note, however, that Tenet didn’t anticipate “spending some of the worst days of our lives” in a federal prison.

Now Squirming

Former CIA leaders are now squirming. And while they still enjoy the dubious services of a gruff and aging PR specialist named Dick Cheney, cries are again mounting that the lot of them, together with other former senior officials, be finally held to account in some palpable way.

Many will recall that Cheney champion of the “dark side” techniques was the first senior official to express public approval for waterboarding. On Oct. 24, 2006, he was asked by a friendly interviewer, “Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?”

“It’s a no brainer for me,” answered Cheney, “but for a while there I was criticized as being the Vice President for Torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”

Cheney followed up in January 2009, telling AP that he had no qualms about the reliability of intelligence obtained through waterboarding: “It’s been used with great discrimination by people who know what they’re doing and has produced a lot of valuable information and intelligence,” he said.

Thus, it was very much in character for Cheney, on Monday, to protest press reports about torture being a “rogue operation” by the CIA, calling that “all a bunch of hooey” and saying: “The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”

Yet, the trouble with Cheney’s defense is that one can no more “authorize” torture than rape or slavery. Torture inhabits that same moral category, which ethicists label intrinsic evil, always wrong whether it “works” or not.

In other words, torture is not wrong because there are U.S. laws and a UN Convention prohibiting it. It’s the other way around. The legal prohibitions were put in place because it is or used to be, at least widely recognized that humans simply must not do such things to other humans. For instance, after World War II, Japanese commanders were tried for war crimes because they used waterboarding on captured U.S. soldiers.

Sadly though, virtually all of the public discussion on torture focuses on its possible efficacy, even though all but the most sadistic of people have long recognized that torture would be wrong even if it “works”  and it often doesn’t “work” because it induces those being tortured to fabricate answers that they think the torturers want to hear.

The Senate report is simply the latest study showing torture does not produce reliable information. It is, after all, common sense. One need only be aware that almost anyone will say anything true or false to stop being tortured.

It would, I think, be difficult to come up with anyone more authoritative on this issue than Gen. John Kimmons, the head of Army intelligence in 2006, whose long career dealt largely with interrogation. After the cat was out of the bag on CIA torture and the Bush administration’s wordsmiths were working on innocent-sounding euphemisms such as an “alternative set of procedures” or “enhanced interrogation techniques” Kimmons seized the “bull” by the horns by arranging his own press conference.

Sounding the death knell for utilitarian arguments, Kimmons warned: “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”

Then Why Torture?

Kimmons stated definitively that abusive techniques do not yield “good intelligence.” But if it’s bad intelligence you’re after, torture works like a charm. If, for example, you wish to “prove,” post 9/11, that “evil dictator” Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda and might arm the terrorists with WMD, bring on the torturers.

It is a highly cynical and extremely sad story, but many Bush administration policymakers wanted to invade Iraq before 9/11 and thus were determined to connect Saddam Hussein to those attacks. The PR push began in September 2002 or as Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card put it, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

By March 2003 after months of relentless “marketing” almost 70 percent of Americans had been persuaded that Saddam Hussein was involved in some way with the attacks of 9/11.

The case of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, a low-level al-Qaeda operative, is illustrative of how this process worked. Born in Libya in 1963, al-Libi ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2000. He was detained in Pakistan on Nov. 11, 2001, and then sent to a U.S. detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was deemed a prize catch, since it was thought he would know of any Iraqi training of al-Qaeda.

The CIA successfully fought off the FBI for first rights to interrogate al-Libi. FBI’s Dan Coleman, who “lost” al-Libi to the CIA (at whose orders, I wonder?), said, “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links” between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

CIA interrogators elicited some “cooperation” from al-Libi through a combination of rough treatment and threats that he would be turned over to Egyptian intelligence with even greater experience in the torture business.

By June 2002, al-Libi had told the CIA that Iraq had “provided” unspecified chemical and biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda operatives, an allegation that soon found its way into other U.S. intelligence reports. Al-Libi’s treatment improved as he expanded on his tales about collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iraq, adding that three al-Qaeda operatives had gone to Iraq “to learn about nuclear weapons.”

Al-Libi’s claim was well received at the White House even though the Defense Intelligence Agency was suspicious.

“He lacks specific details” about the supposed training, the DIA observed. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”

Meanwhile, at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist sent there in summer 2002, told the Senate, “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

Just What the Doctor Ordered

President Bush relied on al-Libi’s false Iraq allegation for a major speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, just a few days before Congress voted on the Iraq War resolution. Bush declared, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”

And Colin Powell relied on it for his famous speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, declaring: “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.”

Al-Libi’s “evidence” helped Powell as he sought support for what he ended up calling a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda, in the general effort to justify invading Iraq.

For a while, al-Libi was practically the poster boy for the success of the Cheney/Bush torture regime; that is, until he publicly recanted and explained that he only told his interrogators what he thought would stop the torture.

You see, despite his cooperation, al-Libi was still shipped to Egypt where he underwent more abuse, according to a declassified CIA cable from early 2004 when al-Libi recanted his earlier statements. The cable reported that al-Libi said Egyptian interrogators wanted information about al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq, a subject “about which [al-Libi] said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.”

According to the CIA cable, al-Libi said his interrogators did not like his responses and “placed him in a small box” for about 17 hours. After he was let out of the box, al-Libi was given a last chance to “tell the truth.” When his answers still did not satisfy, al-Libi says he “was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and fell on his back” and then was “punched for 15 minutes.”

After Al-Libi recanted, the CIA recalled all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the 9/11 Commission. By then, however, the Bush administration had gotten its way regarding the invasion of Iraq and the disastrous U.S. occupation was well underway.

In At the Center of the Storm, Tenet sought to defend the CIA’s use of al-Libi’s claims in the run-up to the Iraq war, suggesting that al-Libi’s later recantation may not have been genuine.

“He clearly lied,” Tenet writes in his book. “We just don’t know when. Did he lie when he first said that Al Qaeda members received training in Iraq or did he lie when he said they did not? In my mind, either case might still be true.”

Really, that’s what Tenet writes despite the fact that intensive investigations into these allegations after the U.S. military had conquered Iraq failed to turn up any credible evidence to corroborate these allegations. What we do know is that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were bitter enemies, with al-Qaeda considering the secular Hussein an apostate to Islam.

Al-Libi, who ended up in prison in Libya, reportedly committed suicide shortly after he was discovered there by a human rights organization. Thus, the world never got to hear his own account of the torture that he experienced and the story that he presented and then recanted.

Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American and a prominent critic of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime at the time of al-Libi’s death, explained to Newsweek, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.”

He added that, throughout Gaddafi’s 40-year rule, there had been several instances in which political prisoners were reported to have committed suicide, but that “then the families get the bodies back and discover the prisoners had been shot in the back or tortured to death.”

As Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, once put it during a Senate hearing on torture, with an apparently unintentional hat-tip to the Inquisition, “One of the reasons these techniques have been used for about 500 years is that they work.” Well, they work if what you want is a false confirmation of your false assumption.

The question now is what does the United States do next.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer and then as a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, and is now a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Torture Report Exposes Sadism and Lies

The stunning Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture and other sadistic treatment meted out to “war on terror” detainees has shredded the credibility of CIA apologists who claimed the “enhance interrogations” were carefully calibrated and humane, as ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman explains.

By Melvin A. Goodman

CIA Director John Brennan, having failed to block the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture and abuse, is now abetting the efforts of former CIA directors and deputy directors to rebut the report’s conclusions that the interrogation techniques amounted to sadism and that senior CIA officials lied to the White House, the Congress, and the Department of Justice about the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation program.

Former CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden and deputy directors John McLaughlin and Steve Kappes, who were guilty of past deceit on sensitive issues, have threatened to make documents available to undermine the findings of the Senate committee. The senior operations officer who ran the CIA’s torture and abuse program, Jose Rodriquez, has been permitted to write a book and a long essay in the Washington Post that argue the interrogation techniques were legal and effective. Their charges are completely spurious and their credibility is non-existent.

CIA directors Tenet and Hayden, who signed off on the enhanced interrogation program, were involved in numerous efforts to politicize the work of the CIA. In addition to deceiving the White House on the efficacy of the torture program, Tenet provided misinformation to the White House on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. His role on Iraqi WMD has been comprehensively and authoritatively documented in the reports of the Robb-Silberman Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

In response to President George W. Bush’s demand for intelligence to make the case for war in Iraq, Tenet responded that it would be a “slam dunk” to do so. He resigned from the CIA in 2004 in order to avoid testifying to a series of congressional committees about his perfidy.

General Hayden’s record is similarly flawed. Even before taking over the CIA in 2006, Hayden was the director of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program that began after 9/11. This program violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that prohibits unlawful seizures and searches.

At the CIA, Hayden named John Rizzo as the Agency’s general counsel although he knew that Rizzo had been the CIA’s leading lawyer in pursuing legal justification for torture and abuse of terrorist suspects.  Fortunately, Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, who led the way in making sure that the CIA could not redact key aspects of the torture report, blocked the confirmation of Rizzo, who eventually withdrew his nomination.

Hayden also weakened the Office of the Inspector General, which had been critical of the CIA’s renditions and interrogations programs, and even targeted the IG himself, John Helgerson, who had recommended accountability boards for CIA officers involved in the 9/11 intelligence failure, torture and abuse, and illegal renditions.

Deputy directors McLaughlin and Kappes also misled senior U.S. officials on key intelligence issues. McLaughlin, who actually delivered the “slam dunk” briefing to President Bush that CIA Director Tenet had promised, misled Secretary of State Colin Powell on the intelligence that became part of Powell’s speech to the United Nations in February 2003 to make the case for war in Iraq.

In addition to perverting the intelligence process, McLaughlin tried to silence the chief of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, who found no evidence of Iraqi WMD. McLaughlin was also a key advocate for the notorious “Curveball,” whose phony intelligence on mobile biological laboratories ended up in Powell’s speech to the UN. Earlier in his career, McLaughlin had a key role in covering up the efforts of CIA deputy Robert Gates to politicize key intelligence in the 1980s.

Kappes may not have been involved in all of the decisions on torture and abuse and the secret prisons where the sadistic activity took place, but he was totally witting of the program. The Senate report cites the efforts of senior CIA leaders to impede the work of the Office of the Inspector General, and Kappes was a key part of this effort.

Kappes‘s career eventually suffered from briefing the White House on a Jordanian agent who was going to lead the CIA to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri; the agent turned out to be a suicide bomber who decimated the leadership of the most sensitive CIA facility in Afghanistan in 2009.

Jose Rodriquez, like Kappes, was particularly hostile to the statutory IG, John Helgerson, and the work of the OIG on the enhanced interrogation techniques.  Rodriquez, who destroyed 92 torture tapes over the objections of the White House, contends that the interrogation techniques were “blessed by the highest legal authorities in the land, conducted by trained professionals, and applied to only a handful of the most important terrorists on the planet.” The Senate report puts the lie to all of these contentions.

It is unfortunate that the Obama administration did not appoint a special prosecutor in order to get some accountability for the heinous crimes that were committed by senior CIA officials or the kind of truth and reconciliation committee that has proved useful in East Europe or South Africa where terrible crimes have been committed.  Nevertheless, the Senate’s authoritative report gives a full description of the unconscionable activities that took place in the name of the United States and offers sufficient evidence to block the outrageous efforts of former CIA directors and deputy directors to deceive the American people.

Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  He is the author of The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism and the forthcoming The Path to Dissent: The Story of a CIA Whistleblower (City Lights Publishers, 2015).