Did the CIA Really Get a “Bum Rap” on Torture?

Last week, David Cole, the Hon. George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University Law Center, the co-chairman of the Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee, and the Nation’s legal affairs correspondent, concluded that the CIA got a “bum rap” from the Senate intelligence committee’s report on torture and abuse.  As a result, he wrote an exculpatory brief for the CIA in the New York Times.  Cole believed he was justified in doing so because he had finally read the entire report and concluded that the CIA “was treated unfairly.”

Well, I’ve also read the report, and I am shocked by what Cole doesn’t deign to mention in his article.  Nowhere does Cole mention that the torture and abuse was sadistic; that it began before the Department of Justice sanctioned certain measures; and that it incorporated measures that were never permitted by the so-called Torture Memoranda.  It is noteworthy that even the leading co-author of the memoranda, John Yoo, another legal scholar, believes that those individuals who conducted sadistic measures could be indicted.

Nowhere does Cole mention some of the more bizarre and unconscionable aspects of CIA’s torture and abuse such as “rectal feeding” and “rectal hydration” that involved a “pureed” blend of hummus and raisins that was “rectally infused.”  The CIA justified these techniques as “medically necessary,” which was the kind of lie that Cole likes to pretend was not part of the CIA’s modus operandi.  And nowhere does Professor Cole note that these sadistic techniques were performed on totally innocent victims, who were known to be innocent by many at the CIA.  It is believed that nearly 25% of the victims were totally innocent, which created no problem for Vice President Dick Cheney but should have bothered the first recipient of the ACLU’s prize for contributions on civil liberties in 2013.

Nowhere does Cole mention the CIA operatives in the field who wanted to call a halt to some of the torture and abuse in CIA’s secret prisons, particularly when they found prisoners who were both “compliant and cooperative.”  As a result, Cole ignores the high-level operatives such as Rodriquez who ordered the field operatives to stop making “sweeping statements” about compliance in their cable traffic.  The fact that 85% of the interrogation group consisted of contractors points to the fact that many Agency operatives refused to take part in the sadistic interrogations.

And nowhere does Cole mention CIA director John Brennan, one of President Obama’s “patriots,” who said that “The president told us to do it, and we did what we were told,” which should have a neat Nuremberg ring to a constitutional scholar.  By not mentioning Brennan, there is no need of course to mention the CIA director’s lies to then chairwoman of the Senate intelligence committee Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) who produced this important document.

The most bizarre aspect of Cole’s apologia is that half of it is devoted to making the CIA’s case that torture worked, presumably because such well known dissemblers as former directors George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden as well as former deputy directors John McLaughlin and Steve Kappes said that it did.  I’m impressed with the fact that the CIA worked so hard to redact those parts of the report that actually established the sources of important intelligence, which had nothing to do with torture, and thus demonstrated that torture was not only sadistic but gratuitous.  Cole believes that Senator Feinstein should have acknowledged that torture by foreign intelligence services of rendered victims could have produced intelligence.  Actually, Cole should acknowledge that rendering suspects for torture is a serious violation of law.

Finally, Cole concludes that it was a mistake of “moral principle” for the Senate intelligence committee to focus on the role of the CIA.  Does he really mean that the agency that selected the victims; decided on their guilt; conducted the sadistic measures; and misinformed the White House and the Department of Justice should not be held accountable.  Cole’s a civil rights lawyer; he should be thankful that the CIA’s Office of the Inspector General preserved important documents and that the Senate intelligence committee eventually did the job that it was created for in the 1970s following the crimes of the Vietnam era.

Fortunately, there  is an appropriate punishment for Professor Cole who seems to be morally obtuse on these crimes.  He should be forced to watch the 92 torture tapes that recorded the sadistic techniques used by the CIA.  Fortunately for Cole, however, these tapes were destroyed by Jose Rodriquez, the director of interrogations, who faced no punishment for defying orders from the White House to protect the tapes.  Rodriquez claimed that he had to destroy the tapes to protect the identity of the torturers.  Well, even the torturers in Hollywood’s Zero Dark Thirty were hooded.  There has never been a time in modern history when torturers weren’t hooded.  Professor Cole’s metaphoric hood on the role of the CIA is more difficult to understand.

Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  He is the author of “The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA;” “National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism;” and the forthcoming “The Path to Dissent: A Whistleblower at the CIA” (City Lights Publishers, 2015).  Goodman is a contributing editor for national security issues at CounterPunch.org.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.