In what is likely his last speech on the Senate floor, Mark Udall, D-Colo., revealed parts of a classified internal CIA review of its torture program in calling for a cultural change in the intelligence community and a purge of those “instrumental in the development and running” of the illegal and ineffective interrogation program.
Udall previously referred to the Panetta review — an in-house CIA report named after former intelligence chief Leon Panetta that reportedly confirms many of the horrific allegations about the post-9/11 torture program — in committee hearings, but used his Wednesday address to further explain how its findings corroborate the SSCI’s torture report (parts of which were released Tuesday) and directly contradict the claims of current CIA Director John Brennan.
“The Panetta review found that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Congress, the president, and the public on the efficacy of its coercive techniques,” said Udall. “The Brennan Response, in contrast, continues to insist that the CIA’s interrogations produced unique intelligence that saved lives. Yet the Panetta review identifies dozens of documents that include inaccurate information used to justify the use of torture — and indicates that the inaccuracies it identifies do not represent an exhaustive list.”
“The Panetta review further describes how detainees provided intelligence prior to the use of torture against them,” continued the outgoing Colorado senator. “It describes how the CIA — contrary to its own representations — often tortured detainees before trying any other approach.”
Udall then went on to divulge parts of the Panetta review that sounded nearly identical to the Senate Intelligence report that has been dismissed by DCI Brennan, former George W. Bush administration officials and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
“It describes how the CIA tortured detainees even when less coercive methods were yielding intelligence. The Panetta review further identifies cases in which the CIA used coercive techniques when it had no basis for determining whether a detainee had critical intelligence at all. In other words, CIA personnel tortured detainees to confirm they didn’t have intelligence — not because they thought they did.”
Udall, who is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee in this Congress, but lost his fight for re-election in November to Republican Cory Gardner, excoriated the current intelligence regime and the administration that keeps it in place. “Director Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture. In other words, the CIA is lying.”
The Senator had been urged by torture critics over the course of the last two years to use his position as part of the official intelligence oversight structure to call more attention to the last decade-plus of abuses, some going as far as to ask Udall to leak the Senate torture report if the administration blocked its release. And in his speech, the Coloradan again called for the eventual declassification of the full 6,000-word document.
Udall was explicit about what he saw as a dereliction of duty at the very top.
“To date, there has been no accountability for the CIA’s actions or for Director Brennan’s failure of leadership,” said Udall, noting that despite all we know about the torture program, President [Barack] Obama had continued to express his “full confidence” in Brennan, and “demonstrated that trust by making no effort at all to rein him in.”
“The White House has not led on this issue in the manner we expected.” Udall then went on to contrast Obama’s tough campaign rhetoric and 2009 executive order on torture with his passive voice today, noting Obama’s Tuesday comment on torture: “Hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.”
“That’s not good enough,” said Udall from the well of the Senate. “We need to be better than that. There can be no cover-up. There can be no excuses. If there is no moral leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA’s torture program wasn’t necessary and didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what’s to stop the next White House and CIA director from supporting torture?”
Indeed. Especially considering that the Bush administration memorandum of notification that originally trumped up the legal justification for detainee torture and covert drone strikes has never been publicly terminated by the Obama White House.
But, as has been mentioned above, Udall is the outgoing senator; Wednesday was his farewell address. Who is left to hold the president and the intelligence community to account for the torture, lies and obstruction of justice?
In a previous era, it was Congress that took charge when the intelligence community ran wild and the executive branch either encouraged, consented or conveniently looked away.
In the wake of Watergate investigations that uncovered covert foreign operations by the CIA and domestic spying and counterintelligence on the part of the FBI, and 1974 revelations by New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh that the CIA and NSA were spying and conducting ops inside the United States, special committees were convened in the House and Senate to investigate the abuses.
In the Senate it was known as the Church Committee, after the chairman, Democratic Sen. Frank Church of Idaho. The House committee took its name from Rep. Otis Pike, D-N.Y. Church’s committee exposed outlandish plots to assassinate foreign leaders and disrupt domestic political movements, and is perhaps, today, the better-known. The Pike Committee went great lengths to exposing the creation of the NSA, until then an agency that was rarely even discussed in public, and just how much money was spent on advanced surveillance tools that were being used to spy on U.S. citizens.
The White House got in on the act, with President Gerald Ford appointing a committee headed by Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.
Then, too, critics warned of the global violence that would befall Americans should the information gleaned by the committees ever become public (it didn’t materialize), but new rules were drafted and executive orders were signed to rein in the worst excesses of the intelligence community.
The special committees became standing bodies — one being the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, authors of the newly released torture report — with direct oversight responsibilities.
But in the ensuing years, the quality of that oversight degraded. The small select committees, privy to classified information provided (or spoon-fed) by the intelligence community, went “native,” as insiders say, favoring their only link to the information they needed to do their jobs. And then, with the attacks of 9/11/01, the very lessons learned from Church and Pike were used as excuses for intelligence shortcomings. It was a matter of days, possibly hours, before President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney instructed their Office of Legal Counsel to “take the gloves off.”
With a White House scared of further attacks and eager for retribution, and without proper oversight from Congress (both because of legislative obeisance and intelligence community deception), a new catalog of abuses was quickly written. It took years for details to leak out, and 12 years, a change in administrations and the threat of the approaching GOP hegemony to push even a redacted executive summary into the light of day.
And it took the sun setting on the career of one SSCI member to divulge a little about the CIA’s own report on its house of horrors (a report, it should be noted, that spurred the agency to hack Senate computers in an attempt to erase the Panetta review), and to move that one Senator to call his own party’s president to account.
If you are a fan of transparency and democracy, then it is well and good to see a sitting U.S. Senator call for the ouster of the CIA chief and a purge of torturers from the government — but that Senator will only be sitting a few more days. After the departure of Mark Udall and the transfer of Senate power to the incoming Republican majority, what else can be expected?
It is doubtful Obama will honor the last wishes of his departing Democratic brethren and fire Brennan, or go after any of the government’s willing torturers. With the permanent oversight committees falling to control of the party that kicked off this latest round of ineffective and morally unsupportable intelligence abuse, will even the modest and fleeting lessons of past investigations be applied to the latest torture revelations?
Mark Udall, citing the greatness of American democracy and the willingness to admit mistakes, expressed optimism it would. But as the last six years have made evident, hope and change are not the same thing.