Imagine you commit a heinous crime. Then imagine that, once facing charges in court, you’re allowed to withhold incriminating evidence brought forth by the prosecutors, keeping the jury in the dark about the details of your lawbreaking. Further, imagine you commit more crimes while on trial and imagine the judge enables and covers up these additional offenses.
Who would call this a fair trial? Clearly, it’s nothing but a mockery of the rule of law.
But that’s essentially how the Senate investigation into the CIA’s Bush-era torture program has proceeded and the chaos seemed to have hit its zenith with Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s testimony on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday. She accused the CIA of violating formal agreements with the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating its torture program, and of violating “the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the C.I.A. from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”
The story she told is appalling, but it is also convoluted. Below is a short-list of things that stuck out to me.
- Since 2006, the CIA has continually misled the Senate committee about the extent and severity of the torture and interrogation program in an attempt to hide from public view torture methods employed that were “far different and far more harsh” than what had already been reported in the newspapers.
- In response to the Senate committee’s demands to access classified material documenting CIA torture and interrogation, the CIA insisted that investigators only be allowed to view the documents in a secure facility on secure computers chosen by the CIA. The CIA later hacked into the committee’s independent computer network to spy on the investigators’ activities.
- In sifting through millions of documents the CIA was compelled to provide on this supposedly secure network, Committee investigators came across an internal CIA review conducted in Obama’s first term while Leon Panetta was CIA director. This internal review concluded, among other things, that crimes had indeed been committed and that the torture did not produce valuable intelligence. These conclusions were consistent with those in the still-classified 6,300 page Senate report, but contradicted the CIA’s official public appraisal of the Senate report, which was that it was factually incorrect and contained fundamental judgement errors. This public position on the report, revealed to be spurious by the Panetta review, has been the basis for its continued classified status.
- At some point in the Senate committee’s investigation of these documents, the CIA quietly removed about 1,000 pages of documents from the collection that had been previously provided. When the staff noticed this, they demanded to know why this was done. The CIA initially alleged that the computer technicians must have done it on their own, then they claimed the White House ordered it done. When the Committee asked the White House about it, they denied giving such an order.
- The CIA had apparently intended to hide the Panetta review from Senate investigators, but perhaps inadvertently included it in the “document-dump” provided to the committee staff. Upon realizing the Panetta review was revealed to Senate investigators, the CIA started to spy on the committee staff and the CIA’s general counsel – who played an important part in the torture program and who is “mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study” – told the Department of Justice that Senate staff had committed a crime by reading the Panetta review. Feinstein said she believes this was an attempt both to protect himself and to “intimidate” the Senate committee.
Throughout all of this, President Obama has been almost completely silent – at least publicly. Behind the scenes, it seems clear he has colluded with the CIA in its implacable campaign to obstruct justice and keep crimes of the highest order from being revealed to the public. This collusion goes back a long way, in fact back to Obama’s first days as president in which he refused to initiate an investigation of his own into the torture and interrogation program, swearing off any pursuit of accountability for Bush-era crimes with the ludicrous missive “looking forward not backward.”
President Obama, for his part, is going even beyond the CIA’s flagrant attempt to cover up its crimes. According to McClatchy, “The White House has been withholding for five years more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence for its investigation into the now-defunct CIA detention and interrogation program.”
Notably, these 9,000 documents “are separate” from any of the 6.2 million documents provided to the Senate committee investigators by the CIA in those supposedly secure facilities. These are documents that are apparently regarded as even more revealing and incriminating than the millions the CIA has already been compelled to provide, raising questions about just how extreme the content of them are. When you add this to Obama’s refusal to declassify the Senate’s 6,300 page report, it is simply disgraceful.
“These documents certainly raise the specter that the White House has been involved in stonewalling the investigation,” Elizabeth Goitein of the NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice told McClatchy.
John Brennan, the current CIA director and close confidant of President Obama, has denied the testimony from Feinstein unequivocally. He said, “Nothing could be further from the truth. We wouldn’t do that.” My personal opinion when I view the video of his denial is that he is shamelessly lying, and rather obviously so. You’d think the CIA director would be able to do it better.
Anything less than the full and complete disclosure of all the relevant documents is unacceptable.