Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Penetrating the Secrecy

Stephen Soldz has a new post up promoting a John Sifton article. It's very good and on one of my favorite subjects: the retention of Bush-era torture enablers and their total lack of accountability. From Sifton/Soldz:

"Take Stephen Kappes. At the time of the worst torture sessions outlined in the
ICRC report, Kappes served as a senior official in the Directorate of
Operations—the operational part of the CIA that oversees paramilitary operations
as well as the high-value detention program. (The directorate of operations is
now known as the National Clandestine Service.) Panetta has kept Kappes as
deputy director of the CIA—the number two official in the agency. One of Kappes’
deputies from 2002-2004, Michael Sulick, is now director of the National
Clandestine Service—the de facto number three in the agency. Panetta’s refusal
to investigate may be intended to protect his deputies. Since the basic facts
about their involvement in the CIA interrogation program are now known,
Panetta’s actions are increasingly looking like a cover-up."


"Nonetheless, footnote 9 reveals that the ICRC was informed by the then-director
of the CIA, Michael Hayden, that interrogation plans for detainees were
submitted to the 'CIA headquarters' for approval and as of 2007 were approved by “the Director or Deputy Director of the CIA.”
It is likely that this approval process existed at earlier points in 2002-2006.
This is more than an interesting detail. In fact, it could implicate several high-level CIA officials in torture, including previous CIA directors George Tenet (resigned 2004) and Porter Goss (resigned 2006), as well as deputy directors John McLaughlin (resigned 2004) and Albert Calland (resigned 2006). These CIA officials are no longer serving. Kappes, Sulick and others are still there." [emphasis supplied]

This is a point I made during the D/CIA nomination process - don't be naive - if you're in power in the CIA, you knew. You must've known. That was the basis of my "Broader CIA Critique" and Stephen Kappes diaries (1, 2). That's why articles like this one (entitled "Do We Really Have to Call Steve Kappes a Torturer?") by Spencer Ackerman get under my skin:

"The most serious charge against Kappes, as best I can tell, comes from his
role in the abduction and rendition of Abu Omar, the Egyptian
cleric taken by the CIA off the streets of Milan
and tortured in Egypt. A 2007
article from The Chicago Tribune
about the rendition reports briefly that
Kappes was 'one of those who signed off on the Abu Omar abduction.' (h/t TalkLeft.) No doubt that’s troubling. Extraordinary rendition is legally and morally
problematic. Italy is prosecuting in absentia the CIA agents involved in the Abu
Omar rendition.

But we really don’t know from what’s publicly available the context of
Kappes’ decision. Was this something that his bosses demanded? Did he have
decision-making authority on the rendition? (The Chicago Tribune piece is
extremely complex, as much of this is murky.) What were the alternatives to
handling Abu Omar? What did or didn’t Kappes know? I’m not saying this is
exculpatory, necessarily. I’m saying that we should investigate before we reach
a conclusion.
This is partially why I keep calling for an independent congressionally-mandated investigation. There’s just too much that’s unknown to label individual CIA people torturers as a general proposition, so take it easy on that front. Reality-based community and all that."

"Take it easy?" So Kappes signs off on a rendition to Egypt - a country known to torture prisoners - and that makes him...what? A good person? His bosses made him do it? What boss - he was no.2 in the Directorate of Operations at the time. Nobody holds a gun to your head to make you torture. And as a matter of fact, Stephen Kappes eventually did resign from the CIA - but not because of torture, rather because of office politics!

From wiki:

"It had been widely reported in the press that Kappes quit the Agency rather
than carry out a request by Goss to reassign Michael Sulick, his then
deputy[1]. It is also reported that this incident occurred because the chief of staff
admonished the then assistant deputy director for counterintelligence, Mary Margaret Graham (who now works for the DNI John Negroponte) about leaking personnel information[1]. According to some news reports, Sulick had just engaged in a shouting match with Goss’s chief of staff."

Wow, what a principled guy.

Yes, torture is a serious crime. Serious enough that you do not want to besmirch someone's name with it. But it's also serious enough that if you knew what was good for you, you should've run the other direction. Instead, Stephen Kappes was sitting pretty at the top of the CIA before office politics drove him out - and then back in again.

One final point is that it's especially difficult to get at some of these CIA people because they are lovingly protected by Congress. As wiki notes in Stephen Kappes' entry, Democratic Senators Jay Rockefeller and Dianne Feinstein prefered he be selected for the CIA Director post. I is completely mind-boggling to think that the incoming Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, in charge of oversight, would want to place someone so closely tied with deceiving that same committee and carrying out torture policies at the top of the CIA...but there you go. The CIA is deeply and seriously protected by our politicians. And the only way we can change that is by ensuring those politicians are time we see their name on a ballot.

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