Friday, February 11, 2011

Torture: it's good for your resumé

Torture: it's not only not a war crime, or a felony, it's actually a career move.
In the years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, officers who committed serious mistakes that left people wrongly imprisoned or even dead have received only minor admonishments or no punishment at all, an Associated Press investigation has revealed. * * *

Though Obama has sought to put the CIA's interrogation program behind him, the result of a decade of haphazard accountability is that many officers who made significant missteps are now the senior managers fighting the president's spy wars.

The AP investigation of the CIA's actions revealed a disciplinary system that takes years to make decisions, hands down reprimands inconsistently and is viewed inside the agency as prone to favoritism and manipulation. When people are disciplined, the punishment seems to roll downhill, sparing senior managers even when they were directly involved in operations that go awry.
Two officers involved in the death of a prisoner in Afghanistan, for instance, received no discipline and have advanced into Middle East leadership positions. Other officers were punished after participating in a mock execution in Poland and playing a role in the death of a prisoner in Iraq. Those officers retired, then rejoined the intelligence community as contractors.
Obama finds the torturers useful; hence they cannot be prosecuted.

The article begins by noting that the fool who had Khalid al-Masri, a German citizen, nabbed and tortured, is now "risen to one of the premier jobs in the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, helping lead President Barack Obama's efforts to disrupt al-Qaida." The article calls her "a tireless worker who made the wrong call under intense pressure." Uh, no. Jane Mayer covered this in The Dark Side: even after Masri's passport checked out, and the agents actually dealing with him were convinced they had the wrong guy, this woman -- the head of the al-Qaeda unit in D.C. -- insisted on continuing to hold and torment him:
As Masri wasted away, being fed rotten chicken bones and suffering from chronic diarrhea, the chief of station in Kabul was saying, "I want this guy out" -- but in Washington, the head of the Al-Qaeda Unit kept insisting she had "a gut feeling he's bad. She can't admit a mistake," a former colleague said. [After his passport checked out,] The head of the Al-Qaeda Unit still wanted Masri held. "She just looked in her crystal ball and it said he was bad," said another former colleague at the CIA in disgust. "If you're going to unleash the beast," he said of the CIA's terrible powers, "you better be damn sure of your target."

After this had gone on for several months, some of those in the Agency who knew that Masri's passport was legitimate started to lobby for his release. One CIA official said he came in every morning and asked, "Is that guy still locked up in the Salt Pit?"

But the Al Qaeda Unit leader was still saying she had suspicions about him. She argued, a source said, that Masri "had phone calls to people who were bad. Or to people who knew people who were bad."
Do you, Gentle Reader, have phone calls to people who know people who are bad?
"But is he a terrorist?" the others were asked.
Two CIA officers in Europe planned a "reverse rendition" to bring Masri home, but even after months without any evidence that he was a terrorist, this CIA official would not budge: she
was still arguing that he was a terrorist. She had an unusual amount of clout in the Agency. She was smart and tough. And her trump card was that she sometimes personally briefed President Bush.
Finally the matter went up to Tenet, who could see the political downside, and Masri was released. "Seven or eight other cases like Masri" have been investigated by the CIA inspector general.

The same woman now "regularly briefs Panetta, making her an influential voice in Obama's intelligence circle." I am unaware of any report that she has ever admitted any error regarding Masri.


  1. Smart and tough? Doesn't sound that smart to me. And cheap steak tough isn't going to help anyone.

  2. Smart alas is not inseparable from prudent, sensible, or self-critical.

    Let's just hope for our sake that she learns from her mistakes ... if she admits any.