Monday, November 28, 2005

NATIONAL JOURNAL: CIA Veterans Condemn Torture (11/19/05)

By Jason Vest, Government Executive
© National Journal Group Inc.
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2005

Among the fundamental conceits of the architects of the Bush administration's war on terrorism is that heavy-handed interrogation is useful, even necessary, to get any information that will protect the American people, and that such interrogation techniques are devoid of negative consequences in dealing with real or suspected terrorists. One way this notion has played out in practice is the CIA's use of "extraordinary rendition," in which terror suspects overseas are kidnapped and delivered to third-party countries for interrogation -- which, not uncharacteristically, includes some measure of torture, and sometimes fatal torture.


In recent years officers have been getting the worst combination of no training plus ambiguous signals from management on the ethics of interrogation.




Details about the extent and excesses of the U.S. government's interrogation practices have been ably documented by the media and human-rights organizations. Many thought that extraordinary rendition would be the worst of the revelations, but on November 2, The Washington Post revealed that the CIA has been running its own system of secret overseas detention and interrogation centers, known as "black sites." Coming at a moment when both CIA Director Porter Goss and Vice President Cheney have been crusading to exempt the CIA from pending legislation authored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that would ban U.S. government personnel from using torture, and other abusive conduct, in interrogations, the story has been particularly resonant -- especially when at least one prisoner under CIA supervision at the now-defunct Afghanistan "salt pit" black site died as a result of abuse.

Although outrage has focused on the existence and symbolism of the black sites, comparatively little attention has been paid to the concerns -- if not outright objections -- of many distinguished CIA veterans about these sites and the use of torture in general. It's not just that such behavior is largely impractical, they say; it's that even by the morally ambiguous standards of espionage and covert action, the abuse is simply wrong.

Some perennially high-profile retired CIA officers like Bob Baer, Frank Anderson, and Vincent Cannistraro recently spoke out to Knight Ridder about their opposition to torture on practical grounds (Cannistraro said that detainees will "say virtually anything to end their torment"). But over the past 18 months, several lesser-known former officers have been trying, publicly and privately, to convince both the agency and the public that torture and other unduly coercive questioning tactics are morally wrong as well.

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