Architects of a shameful chapter in the agency’s history now reap rich rewards in the private sector. They must be held to account

Tim Shorrock The Guardian 8/25/09

Monday’s release of the long-awaited CIA report on the agency’s role in torture and interrogation brought me back to 1967, when I was a high school student opposed to the Vietnam war. Angry that my history teacher was only presenting the official story, I persuaded her to allow my class to read Vietnam! Vietnam!, a powerful indictment of the war by the British reporter Felix Greene. It was filled with disturbing images, including a haunting photograph of a Vietnamese fighter being waterboarded while American soldiers looked on. But my teacher and fellow students dismissed the book as propaganda, preferring instead the sanitised version of the war provided by the US government.

The CIA report, however, is the official word on the Bush-Cheney “war on terror”. In gruesome detail, it shows how untrained CIA interrogators and private contractors, blessed by their superiors, inflicted detainees captured in the Middle East with “enhanced interrogation techniques” that ran the gamut from mock executions to threats to kill family members to waterboarding. While the intelligence provided important details about al-Qaida and some information about possible attacks, the report concluded that the interrogations violated US commitments to human rights and showed that the CIA “failed to provide adequate staffing, guidance and support” to those involved.

CIA director Leon Panetta attempted to downplay those findings by saying that “the challenge is not the battles of yesterday, but those of today and tomorrow”. But we know from the American experience that is not true: as in Vietnam, we must come to grips with the fact that using the ends to justify the means has destroyed thousands of lives and stirred deep hatred for the US.

Curiously, there is a reference to the American cold war past in the CIA report. After Vietnam, it said, US interest in interrogation faded, only to re-emerge with US intervention in Central America as a way to “foster foreign liaison relationships” — presumably with the anti-communist governments such as El Salvador and Guatemala. But in the mid-1980s, after two CIA officers were investigated for killing a detainee — in a country blacked out in the report — the agency said it ended its so-called “human resource exploitation” programme.

Attorney general Eric Holder has now appointed a prosecutor to examine the dozen or so cases where the CIA believes US laws were broken after 9/11. But the prosecutor’s mandate is narrowly defined, and will not cover those who acted “in good faith and within the scope of legal guidance” provided by the White House through the justice department. If so, that is a travesty: the plan eliminates those most responsible, including the justice department lawyers who wrote the CIA guidance under the tutelage of the president, George Bush, the vice-president, Dick Cheney, and the CIA director, George Tenet.

Adding insult to injury, some of those responsible have been rewarded with lucrative careers in the private sector. Tenet, for example, is making millions of dollars in the intelligence business, including as a board member for defence contractor QinetiQ. And Jose Rodriguez, the former director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service who ordered the destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes, works with former CIA director Mike Hayden at the oddly named National Interest Security Company, an intelligence contractor. It’s shameful that people responsible for one of America’s darkest chapters are so richly rewarded.

Back in 1967, Greene dedicated his Vietnam book to American opponents of the war who had “affirmed for all the world to see what is best and most humane in the American tradition”. We can restore that tradition by seeking justice for the officials who violated America’s trust in its constitution and basic human rights. It’s the least we can do for our democracy.