Is the report from the Democratic majority on the Senate Intelligence Committee on post-9/11 interrogations a “badge of honor,” as Joe Biden put it — or an attempt to scapegoat the CIA for doing what it was asked to do? NBC’s Richard Engel told Ronan Farrow that it’s much more the latter, allowing the political leadership in the Bush administration and Congress off the hook. It also curiously doesn’t address the interrogation programs in the military, which leaves the CIA “held out to dry,” as Engel’s sources tell him:
“So many people knew what was going on. This wasn’t a program that was over one or two weeks in a couple of dark sites,” Engel told MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow. “Everybody knew about it.”
Engel said that some of those implicated told him that they were being used as scapegoats by the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by outgoing Chairwoman Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.).
“The CIA was asked to do this; was given authorizations to do this. And now many people involved are saying to me privately, ‘Now we’re being held out to dry. You asked us to do this, and now the world is coming down on top of it,” Engel said.
If you’re wondering why CIA officers are telling Engel that Senate Democrats left them twisting in the wind, you can read their explanation on the website they’ve set up to rebut the SSCI majority report. Bearing in mind that they have their own motivations, the CIA argues that the report flatly disregards both testimony and evidence that would at the very least mitigate against the conclusions reached in the report:
Astonishingly, the SSCI Majority staff interviewed no CIA officers responsible for establishing, implementing, or evaluating the program’s effectiveness. Let us repeat, no one at the CIA was interviewed.
Worse, the Committee selectively used documents to try to substantiate a point of view where ample and contrary evidence existed. Over 5 years and at a cost of $40 million, the staff “cherry picked” through 6 million pages of documents to produce an answer they knew the Majority wanted. In the intelligence profession, that is called politicization.
The SSCI Majority would have the American people believe that the program was initiated by a rogue CIA that consistently lied to the President, the National Security Council, the Attorney General, and the Congress. Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing.
We, as former senior officers of the Central Intelligence Agency, created this website to present documents that conclusively demonstrate that the program was: authorized by the President, overseen by the National Security Council, and deemed legal by the Attorney General of the United States on multiple occasions. None of those officials were interviewed either. None. CIA relied on their policy and legal judgments. We deceived no one. You will not find this truth in the Majority Report.
The group also hotly disputes the majority’s conclusion that the enhanced interrogations produced nothing of value that could not have been discovered using normal procedures:
We had a deep responsibility to do everything within the law to stop another attack. We clearly understood that, even with legal and policy approvals, our decisions would be questioned years later. But we also understood that we would be morally culpable for the deaths of fellow citizens if we failed to gain information that could stop the next attacks.
The report defies credulity by saying that the interrogation program did not produce any intelligence value. In fact, the program led to the capture of senior al Qaida leaders, including helping to find Usama bin Ladin, and resulted in operations that led to the disruption of terrorist plots that saved thousands of American and allied lives.
Recall that the Department of Justice already did an investigation into these interrogations, a much-ballyhooed probe that was supposed to prosecute the people who supposedly besmirched America’s reputation. The effort started in 2009 amid much posturing, but it ended a few weeks after Barack Obama ordered the hit on Osama bin Laden — which was only made possible because of the enhanced interrogations as noted above. The DoJ continued its prosecution of two cases where detainees were killed during interrogations, but all of the other criminal probes were summarily dropped — without any explanation from AG Eric Holder at the time.
This feels like a way for Democrats to take a second bite out of that apple, and one in which they can shield their own leadership from blame. That’s in part what Engel is saying too, although he focuses a little more on George Bush and Dick Cheney in his remarks. Democrats can’t go after the Republicans without going after the Congressional Democratic leadership that was in on the loop, so ipso facto the criticism gets limited to the CIA, with allegations that the agency lied to political leadership about the tactics and the results.
That’s not to say it’s not possible that such allegations are true. Of course they may be true. It’s also true that Americans deserve at least an accounting of what was done and how effective it was, whether the techniques crossed over into torture, and how we can prevent abuses in the future. However, any report that makes those allegations should have accounted for all of the facts, not just those that fit their preferred narrative. One way to do that would have been to engage the Republican minority more, or wait for the next session of Congress to press for the GOP to meet Democrats halfway. Instead of accountability, we’re basically chewing over the same bones we did three years ago, only with a little more meat on them.
Here’s Joe Biden making the case that transparency is a “badge of honor” in this case:
Biden would be right if the report had been comprehensive, fair, and actually transparent. The Senate Democratic majority’s rush to get this done on their own before the end of the session, and without taking into account what the CIA itself had to say, at the very least diminishes the result, and at worst calls it all into question.