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Barack Obama's presidency

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Broder Is Lastest Torture Apologist

By Melvin A. Goodman
September 4, 2009

Editor’s Note: It’s getting hard to take the Washington Post seriously as a supposedly leading American newspaper. In recent years, it has devolved into a combination of neocon propaganda sheet and pompous conveyor of the conventional wisdom.

In this guest essay, former CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman looks at the latest installment in the decline of the newspaper of Watergate:

David Broder, the senior op-ed writer at the Washington Post, has joined his colleagues (Fred Hiatt, David Ignatius and Richard Cohen) in condemning Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to name a special counsel to examine possible law-breaking by CIA interrogators.

And like his colleagues, Broder has put forth a list of irrelevant reasons for turning away from the abuses and violations of law during the eight years of the Bush administration.

Although Holder’s inquiry will only target those who acted beyond so-called legal guidelines, Broder is concerned that we will ultimately see Vice President Dick Cheney “standing in the dock.”

Broder should be concerned with the need to explicitly repudiate the policies and actions of President George W. Bush and Cheney that violated domestic and international law. These actions require a public hearing and an open record of some kind.

 Holder’s inquiry is the first step in what Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books called a “complicated political process.”

Broder’s lamest and most disingenuous reasons deal with CIA Director Leon Panetta and the methodology of the Post’s news staff.

Broder calls Panetta a “conscientious director” of the CIA, but Panetta has surrounded himself with the ideological drivers of the policies of detention and interrogation, Steve Kappes and Michael Sulick, and has fought every effort of the Obama administration to bring transparency and accountability to the Bush-Cheney policies.

Broder adds that Panetta’s “judgment” is supported by the reporting of Ignatius and others with “excellent sources inside the CIA.” Their sources, of course, are Kappes and Sulick, the very officers who seek to cover-up their own activities and have the freedom to talk to reporters.

Good reporting and journalism require an honest effort to seek all sources and not merely those who ratify one’s own positions.

Broder echoes Panetta when he argues that any investigation will have a “harmful effect on the morale and operations of his agency.”

No, morale was compromised by high-level CIA officials such as George (“slam dunk”) Tenet, who tailored intelligence to go to war against Iraq, and Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, who used outside contractors to build secret prisons, conduct extraordinary renditions, and engage in torture and abuse.

The CIA Inspector General (IG) responsible for the 2004 report on interrogations and torture told Der Spiegel this week that he decided on preparing a report because “some agency employees involved with the program…were uneasy about it.

The IG, John Helgerson, told the Washington Post last week that he “could not walk through the cafeteria without people walking up to me, not to complain but to say ‘More power to you.’”

CIA torture and abuse as well as extraordinary renditions also compromised valuable liaison relations with European intelligence services that are needed to combat international terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

As a result of CIA’s illegal activities, intelligence services in Germany, Italy and Spain were refusing to cooperate with their CIA counterparts.  Nevertheless, the CIA is still resisting the release of hundreds of pages of internal documents on detentions and interrogations, arguing that national security is at stake.
No, national embarrassment is involved and not national security.

At some point, Broder and his colleagues should be forced to read the 2004 IG Report on detentions and interrogations; the 2004 CIA report on interrogation techniques; the 2004 Taguba report on military abuse of detainees; the 2005 collection of “secret” documents by Karen Greenberg and Joshua Dratel in their The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib; the 2007 International Committee of the Red Cross Report on CIA’s treatment of detainees; the 2008 Senate Armed Services report on U.S. treatment of detainees; and Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side.

Then, they need to compare the treatment of the detainees, some of whom were totally innocent or erroneously detained, with what the Justice Department memoranda on interrogations permitted. 

Of course, Broder believes that the Justice Department torture memoranda demonstrate that the Bush administration engaged in a “deliberate, and internally well-debated policy decision, made in the proper places…by the proper officials.”

Meanwhile, the Post has presented no evidence of policy debates on torture and abuse, extraordinary renditions and secret prisons.

Broder and his colleagues could also try to interview those individuals who watched some or all of the 92 torture tapes before they were destroyed by high-ranking officials from the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. This destruction of evidence has been investigated for the past two years by John Durham, who will conduct the torture inquiry for Attorney General Holder.

Broder, Ignatius, Hiatt and Cohen have relied entirely on those CIA operatives who are trying to put the best possible face on CIA transgressions; the ethics of good journalism requires that they seek sources to learn about the details of the sordid and sadistic activities that put the nation at risk.

President Barack Obama should be credited with closing the secret prisons and ending the practice of torture and abuse, but the nation still needs to confront and understand the evidence and the events of the past six years.

Finally, the news and editorial reporters of the Washington Post need to compare their findings of the evidence with the laws that govern the illegalities that have taken place. They could start with the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution against “cruel and unusual punishments” (it has the virtue of being short); the War Crimes Act of 1996; the Convention against Torture of 1984 (yes, the United States is a signatory); and of course Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions.

Broder and his colleagues do not understand that the stature of international and domestic law is diminished when a nation violates it with impunity. The stature of a nation is diminished when it commits crimes against humanity.  And the national leadership and the nation itself are diminished when it ignores the need for accountability and explicit repudiation.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, had it right when he called for a “truth commission” to gather information on the CIA programs that the Bush administration endorsed and protected.

This would represent a good start in restoring our moral compass on the crimes of the post-9/11 era. The judgment of history will be harsh if we choose not to do so.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. [This story originally appeared at The Public Record.]

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