Hooray! The Senate Select Committee has decided to investigate the CIA. Applause here is warranted since it wasn't too long ago that Senator Feinstein was offering the CIA reassurance and minimizing their role in Bush-era terror policy. To quote her from January: "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." Well, I guess we'll find out how true that is.
I have written previously about why an inquiry into the CIA is necessary. If you just read through the Senate Armed Services Committee's report on the treatment of detainees, you find many instance in which the CIA plays a role in pushing policy forward (this post from January provides all the examples). The CIA in this report "seeks policy approval" and "requests" approval for controversial tactics. This is not a passive agency. They appear to play a very active role in the development of these torture policies, and were active in helping other agencies adopt such policies (Invictus has a post on the torture meeting convened at GITMO with the involvement of the CIA as an authority on using torture in interrogations).
I am also interested in finding out more about the culture at the CIA at this time. Matthew Cole in Blowback describes how more or less renditions were "in." Of course the CIA should be willing to "take risks" - but the rendition of Abu Omar was so bungled that it resulted in more than two dozen American CIA officials tried (in absentia) in Italy and a big wrench in Italian-American relations. One of the officials involved, Bob Lady, claims that it would've been much more effective to just continue classic spy work on Abu Omar, then arrest and prosecute - they were only weeks away from having enough evidence to do so. But uh, why not ship someone to Egypt to be tortured instead? Aggressively ignoring the rule of law, as we see quite clearly now, only hurts our cause and energizes terrorists worldwide.
And aggressively ignoring the rule of law was apparently the CIA's style. Funny how we can argue with entire agencies that collectively decided, in the course of two or three years, to completely ignore international law and basic sense - that torture is wrong. We entertain the premise that they might have been right or at least well-meaning when implementing torture policies. We can go on and on and waver on prosecutions and so forth. But the CIA's simple destruction of evidence - the 92 torture tapes - is a bridge too far. It's unclear as to where the CIA found the authority to destroy evidence. Reports suggest that Bush didn't know they were going to do it - but he never knew anything so that means nothing. Apparently Harriet Miers told the CIA not to destroy the tapes.
But as we go through each personal excuse, each justification, each instance of plausible deniability, we need to also continue to press forward with broad investigations into wrongdoing. We need to expose those who supported this lawlessness and tinker with the structure of these agencies (or at the very least tinker - I know some would prefer to abolish the CIA, period). It still boggles my mind that the CIA could torture again at the drop of a hat - request permission from the President and legal authorization from the AG, and you've got yourself all it takes to turn up the music, put someone in a stress position, and carry out torture. This type of structure needs to be studied and changed, and the investigation format can accomplish this even if it is too lame to seek prosecutions.
We have to come to grips with the answers to a lot of questions over the next few years. Hopefully this investigation of the CIA will be a forum that accepts those questions honestly and seeks answers.