The CIA Is Getting Away With Keeping Every Important Secret About Torture

Human Rights

At this point, is there anything the Central Intelligence Agency thinks itcan’t get away with?

To recap: the CIA systematically tortured people, then lied about it.Destroyed evidence of it, then lied about that. Spied on the US Senate staffers investigating the agency for torture, then lied about that. Now, after somehow being put in charge of deciding what parts of the Senate’s final report on that torture should be redacted, the CIA has predictively censored the key evidence of the litany of all of those transgressions.

The agency’s black marker has reportedly censored – at different points in the report – already-public, embarrassing and criminally culpable information. By doing so, the CIA has rendered it, as one Senator noted, “incomprehensible”. So while the Senators and Langley fight it out behind closed doors, Senator Dianne Feinstein, the intelligence committee chair, put the report’s public release on hold. Again.

Feinstein seems genuinely pissed at the intel community’s overreach (for once), but the sad fact remains that this is probably exactly what the CIA wanted: a protracted fight over redactions that will get played out largely in secret, while the report stays secret for weeks (or months) more, and what remains of any statutes of limitations for crimes outlined in it continue to tick away.

The Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper – not exactly knownfor his truth-telling – defended the redactions, insisting that 85% of the report remained untouched. But, as Senator Mark Heinrich said, “Try reading a novel with 15% of the words blacked-out.”

Writer Reed Richardson aptly demonstrated how absurd this can look. Try reading President Obama’s statement from last week on how the US “tortured some folks” – only with 15% of the words blacked-out.


But it’s what the CIA blacked out that makes it even worse. Various reports from the Washington PostMcClatchy, the New York Times andVice’s Jason Leopold have all captured different aspects of the censored material. Among them:

  • The names of countries that helped the CIA torture people, despite the fact that many of the countries involved have been widely reported for years;
  • The pseudonyms of the CIA officials who directly took part in the torture (not even their real names!);
  • Specific torture techniques used by CIA employees, particularly those who went beyond what the Bush administration lawyers approved;
  • Already-public information released in 2009 by the Senate Armed Services committee;
  • Exaggerations and misleading statements by the CIA about the value of information received through torture;
  • Proof that valuable information once presented as gleaned from torture was actually gained through other avenues.

So, basically, everything damning in the entire official report on CIA torture.

How did the CIA justify that? By claiming the agency must keep secret “sources and methods” – an increasingly amorphous phrase the government seems to have applied in recent months to virtually anything Langley wants to keep classified. Yes, legitimate, active intelligence sources and methods are one of the few methods that the government should use the classification system for. But here, the “method” the CIA is protecting is torture, which is prohibited by law, and the “sources” are people and governments who have systematically lied to the public about violating that law.

As Kade Crockford wrote, the White House, which ultimately signed off on the CIA’s redactions, seems more worried about safety for CIA torturers than justice for their victims. The victims of torture – even those with active court cases – have been given no access to the report. (In Guantanamo, even detainees’ own recollections of the torture they endured is still considered classified.) Meanwhile, former CIA directorshave been coordinating with Brennan about how to respond in the media – using the report no one else is allowed to see.

On Wednesday, we got a taste of what we might learn from the report when it is made public: Gawker published a harrowing first-personaccount of a 12-year-old girl who, along with her family, was rendered from Hong Kong by the CIA and Britain’s MI6 in 2004 at the behest of now-deceased dictator Muammar Gaddafi. (Her family’s story is reportedly one of many in the still-classified report.)

As retired Major Major General Antonio M Taguba, the man who originally investigated the torture Abu Ghraib a decade ago, wrote this week:

Ultimately, as we learned with Abu Ghraib, the best way of guarding against torture is an American public well informed about the moral and strategic costs of such abuse.

More than 12 years since the CIA started one of the darkest periods in its history, and they have yet to learn.

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