Thursday, January 29, 2009

Frank Naif Rocks


This week, Frank Naif recently wrote about torture investigations/prosecutions in the Huffington Post. He echoes The Washington Monthly's Charles Homans' suggestion that interrogators receive immunity from the government, presumably in exchange for cooperation and testimony. And he denounces the high-level officials, including those in the CIA, for their role in implementing Bush policy. Again, this WSJ chart is illuminating.

From Naif:

"Outside of the halls of government, the public and opinion makers are also
clamoring for truth and reconciliation. On Obama's web site, the most often-asked citizen question (22,000 or so!) was whether the new president intends to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture and warrantless wiretaps.
Observers as disparate as Thomas Ricks and Arianna Huffington have called for some form of truth and reconciliation commission, not unlike those set up in South Africa after apartheid and in Chile after Pinochet.

Presumably, such a commission would be independently empowered to elicit testimony and could offer amnesty to anyone who testifies before it. Therein lies the Obama administration's opportunity to lead, and not merely follow or get out of the way of investigations and commissions.

The Obama administration ought to make at least one meaningful and practical gesture of leadership regardless of what form an inquiry assumes. That action would be to emulate past truth and reconciliation commissions by granting amnesty or some form of legal immunity for the mid- and junior-level personnel who were on the front lines of these odious Bush-era policies.

Such a move will be absolutely vital to getting to the bottom of the program of abuses of the past eight years. Failing to protect from prosecution or civil actions the ground-level national security drones who carried out these policies will:
--Destroy morale in the national security workforce;
--Force the people who can least afford it to 'lawyer up;' and
--Probably bury forever any chance of understanding what happened at Guantanamo and countless foreign and US-run detention facilities worldwide.

Flag-level military officers (admirals and generals), senior executive service civilians, c-level contractor executives, political appointees, and elected officials, however, are the rightful targets of investigation into alleged intelligence and detention misdeeds. These are the individuals whose implicit responsibility was to not only carry out executive branch policies, but also to professionally guide policy in accordance with US law, applicable international law pertaining to warfare, and accepted norms of human rights.

In other words, these are the senior officials who chose not to fall on their metaphorical swords when they were asked to break the law, forgo human decency, and expose their Lieutenants and Sergeants and Petty Officers and GS-13 civil servants and junior contractors to future prosecution and litigation.

These senior officials didn't resign or protest in '02 or '03 or '04, and they should now come forward to explain themselves, and if necessary, take the fall for subordinates who didn't have the prerogative or power to thwart policies that are against American honor and tradition.

To be sure, Obama faces enough of an uphill battle in taking an inventory of the national security wrongs of the Bush years. Perhaps the biggest showdown looms between the White House and Capitol Hill: Senior Democrats in the House and Senate were aware of torture and domestic surveillance programs. Jane Mayer, who delved into Bush-era intelligence abuses in her book The Dark Side, said via a Washington Post online chat last July that legislators 'in both parties would find it
very hard at this point to point the finger at the [Bush] White House, without
also implicating themselves.'

The Obama administration will have its hands full with its own Democratic colleagues -- and lots of other adversaries -- if the badly needed cataloging of Bush-era national security blunders manages to get underway. Making sure that ordinary national security drones aren't vilified or set up to take the fall for their bosses today will strengthen tomorrow's national security."

Too often, the dynamic involvement of our intelligence services in the torture regime is dismissed out of hand - Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein's comments are a great example: "They (the CIA) carry out orders and the orders come from the (National Security Council) and the White House, so there's not a lot of policy debate that goes on there," continuing "We're going to continue our looking into the situation and I think that is up to the administration and the director." That is extremely misleading from someone who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee. For example, it was policy that extraordinary renditions be approved by several levels of CIA command, but not approved by the White House (Chicago Tribune) although it has been suggested that the White House was informed of these renditions. So knowledge is divorced from policy - the CIA undoubtedly has masses of information to share with us. That's one of the reasons we need their involvement in any sort of fact-finding commission or investigation. For example, from Der Spiegel, ex-CIA Europe chief Tyler Drumheller:

"I once had to brief Condoleezza Rice on a rendition operation, and her chief
concern was not whether it was the right thing to do, but what the president
would think about it. I would have expected a big meeting, a debate about
whether to proceed with the plan, a couple of hours of consideration of the pros
and cons. We should have been talking about the value of the target, whether the
threat he presented warranted such a potentially controversial intervention.
This is no way to run a covert policy. If the White House wants to take
extraordinary measures to win, it can't just let things go through without any
discussion about their value and morality."

Yet the way it sounds, the total irresponsibility of the White House didn't stop the CIA from conducting the rendition. In Mayer's "The Dark Side," it is suggested that Tenet agreed to hosting a detention program because he was simply too eager to please. So the CIA runs the risks, the executive branch is clueless, and they bend over backwards anyway? Surely someone could've said, hey, this is a really dumb idea? In representing the executive branch's desires more than reality (in terms of operational strategy and intelligence), the CIA has made itself very much part of the problem.

Naif is also eloquent in establishing what I have written about as "The Broader CIA Critique." Really, it's simple - the concept of command responsibility. What did the top 5 people (including John Brennan) at the CIA know about Bush's attempts to make them torture? What did they know and how did they act?

Those questions are simple, and could be addressed in a fact-finding commission. But it's embarrassing that even as former CIA staff fight legal battles over renditions in Italy, now ex-CIA chief Hayden parades around, asking "If the techniques used are said to be legal, should they not be used?" It's clear that many, including our current President, do not think those techniques are legal, and that justice systems around the world are prepared to challenge the legality of our torture operations, and relabel them criminal. If a technique is said to be legal, but flies completely in the face of international law, you better double-check. If the CIA kicked that legal process to the side, they like the other government agencies deserve thorough investigation.

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