Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, August 30, 2009

  Shining light on CIA torturers cum whiners

This report by Walter Pincus and Joby Warrick is already generating criticism as yet another installment in the Washington Post's repulsive effort to build public support for Dick Cheney's defense of abusive interrogations (regarding which see this satirical commentary on yesterday's installment). I think something more subtle is going on in today's piece. Pincus and Warrick are airing Cheney's argument that the investigation of CIA abuses damage morale at the Agency, only to cut it down by showing repeatedly that any complaints at the CIA are limited to those few officials who took part in the abuse and now stand to be held accountable for it.

Not only does the current article not align itself with Cheney's position, it provides ammunition against Cheney's argument that we should be concerned about the mental anguish of torturers who now have to suffer through an investigation of their conduct. In fact, some of that ammunition is new and will prove useful in rebutting Cheney's talking points.

For example, the article highlights the outrage that was felt by many CIA officials at the reports that were trickling back about the abuse of prisoners. Here it quotes CIA Inspector General John Helgerson saying that he was cheered on by the rank and file officer when he began his investigation into CIA wrongdoing:

Helgerson now says he received a steady flow of information, questions and encouragement during his inquiry. "Frankly, I could not walk through the cafeteria without people walking up to me, not to complain but to say, 'More power to you.' "

Former senior officials say that they were concerned with what was an unprecedented program and that as reports came in from secret sites alleging improper activities, they took action, including sending reports to Helgerson.


The article's central point is made right at the outset, in the last clause of the report's first sentence – which hangs there as a rather pointed rebuke of the torturers' self-serving whining:

Morale has sagged at the CIA following the release of additional portions of an inspector general's review of the agency's interrogation program and the announcement that the Justice Department would investigate possible abuses by interrogators, according to former intelligence officials, especially those associated with the program.


From there Pincus and Warrick go on to quote one of the lead advocates for abusive CIA programs, Alvin Krongard (who retired and went to work for Blackwater), to the effect that the release of Helgerson's report and hence the prospect of investigations means that morale at the CIA has dropped "down to minus 50". That's an assertion that the rest of the article proceeds to show is grossly inaccurate, so Krongard is exposed as an alarmist at best. In any case, Krongard's complaint is directly juxtaposed to a comment by Helgerson:

At the same time, former inspector general John L. Helgerson, whose review of the program was largely declassified Monday, said that the release, though painful, would ensure that the agency confronts difficult issues head on, instead of ignoring or trying to bury them.


As every complaint is aired, the reporters undercut it by showing that it isn't necessarily representative of the views held throughout the Agency. Indeed, they also point out that nobody can reasonably claim to know what all CIA officers think (a rhetorical trick that is essential to the arguments advanced by the Cheney/Krongard faction that claims to speak for the poor put-upon CIA officer):

It is impossible to extrapolate from the small sample contacted by Washington Post reporters about the effect the varied inquiries are having on the thousands of agency employees, more than one-third of whom are spread around the world. But among the dozens of officials who were part of the program and either remain active or have retired, feelings run high about how the White House and the Justice Department have handled the issue.


It's primarily those who are implicated in torture who are raising a fuss about investigations and the release of information about their activities.

The article also points out that CIA officers were wary of the abusive interrogation program from the start and had immediately anticipated that there would be legal problems in the future when the program was exposed...despite Bush administration lawyers' attempts to reassure the CIA that it had been indemnified and was free to torture away.

Read in this light, the Pincus/Warrick column does a public service by dismantling one of Cheney's most emotive talking points.

crossposted at unbossed.com

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