CIA and the President: The Warm Embrace of Mutual Incrimination

Brennan with TortureAndrew Sullivan is newly convinced — but surprised and confused — that President Obama is permitting John Brennan to hold up the release of the Senate Torture Report.

It is becoming clearer and clearer that one major power-broker in Washington is resisting the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s allegedly devastating report on the torture program run by the Bush-Cheney CIA. That major power-broker is the Obama administration.

You might be surprised by this, given the president’s opposition to torture and abolition of it. But the evidence is at this point irrefutable

[snip]

Brennan answers to the president, who has urged the release of the report.

So why the hold-up? That is the question.

Why is Obama allowing Brennan to undermine Obama’s own position? Why is the president allowing the CIA to prevent the very transparency he once pledged to uphold? I don’t know. But what I do know is that it is now Obama who is the main obstacle to releasing the Senate Report on Torture.

Mind you, the evidence was pretty irrefutable back in May, too, and became more so in July. Moreover, I’m not sure Obama has “urged the release of the report” — though Joe Biden has.

The explanation for Obama’s silence on this report seems pretty obvious if you read both Stephen Preston’s answers to Mark Udall’s questions and Obama’s past actions on torture. In short:

  • Torture was authorized by a Presidential Finding — a fact Obama has already gone to extraordinary lengths to hide
  • CIA has implied that its actions got sanction from that Finding, not the shoddy OLC memos or even the limits placed in those memos, and so the only measure of legality is President Bush’s (and the Presidency generally) continued approval of them
  • CIA helped the (Obama) White House withhold documents implicating the White House from the Senate (Sully does not note this fact, but Katherine Hawkins, whom Sully cited, did)

With specific reference to documents potentially subject to a claim of executive privilege, as noted in the question, a small percentage of the total number of documents produced was set aside for further review. The Agency has deferred to the White House and has not been substantively involved in subsequent discussions about the disposition of those documents.

Indeed, I wonder whether the evidence in the Senate report showing CIA lied to the White House is not, in fact, cover for things some in the White House ordered CIA to do.

This is, I imagine, how Presidential Findings are supposed to work: by implicating both parties in outright crimes, it builds mutual complicity. And Obama’s claimed opposition to torture doesn’t offer him an out, because within days of his inauguration, CIA was killing civilians in Presidentially authorized drone strikes that clearly violate international law.

Again, I think this is the way Presidential Findings are supposed to work: to implicate the President deeply enough to ensure he’ll protect the CIA for the crimes he asks it to commit.

But it’s not the way a democracy is supposed to work.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. ess emm says:

    But it’s not the way a democracy is supposed to work.

    Not a democracy, no. This is no better than those regimes, juntas, dictatorships and other tyrannies where power swaggers about naked.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    But if it’s a Senate report, the Senate can release it without deferring to the CIA’s supposed interest in response.

    And if it is a matter that the public definitely should know about, it is long past time for some whistleblower to leak it. Right, Senators?

  3. orionATL says:

    i have been wrestling with the perverse and very difficult-to-explain fact that government secrecy, for six decades in the u.s., has been so widely practiced and aggressively protected.

    i think the following quote from ew gets close to the core of what i am trying to understand, though coming from a different direction.

    “… by implicating both parties in outright crimes, it builds mutual complicity. And Obama’s claimed opposition to torture doesn’t offer him an out, because within days of his inauguration, CIA was killing civilians in Presidentially authorized drone strikes that clearly violate international law.

    Again, I think this is the way Presidential Findings are supposed to work: to implicate the President deeply enough to ensure he’ll protect the CIA for the crimes he asks it to commit…”

    secrecy is practised, extended like emperialism, and viciously protected, because it

    – allows power holders to take actions that many human beings, especially fellow citizens/voters, would find unacceptable and morally wrong

    – allows power holders to hide those actions and thereby avoid critcism, evaluation of their decisions, or legal sanctions against themselves

    secret government and enabling government classification schemes hiding those secret decisions really are a “get out of jail free” card,

    or to put it less cutely and more directly, are an authorization to conduct government business in a brutal, amoral, illegal fashion completely at odds with long-established moral and legal traditions of our society, e.g., habeas corpus and torture, and tbe american constitution.

    it needs to be understood that government officials who authorize this behavior, tolerate this behavior, and engage in this behavior,

    do so out of the secret THRILL of being able to take such actions, e.g., todachev, with no serious legal or political consequences.

    assertions by would-be perps of the need for “gloves off memoranda”, renditions, torture, drone attacks, limitless electronic spying are simply the national security rational for u.s. government officials and agents behaving like vicious teen-age (or pre-teen) punks – 60 + years of “lord of the flies” by the likes of regan, cheney, tenent, gross, bush, obama, meese, ashcroft, gonzales, mucusy, holder.

    i understand that injecting guesses at motives (human psychology) into this discussion will elicit disdain, but i view that as some readers’ problem, not mine.

  4. Bill Michtom says:

    @par4: It’s not a “democracy”. Never has been. Ben Franklin supposedly said “A republic if you can keep it”. There is a world of difference.”

    In the context of EW’s comments, what, EXACTLY, is this huge difference? And, how does being a republic somehow bring meaning to this so important distinction?

  5. [email protected] says:

    “the president’s opposition to torture and abolition of it”

  6. Jeff Kaye says:

    @mspbwatch: It would be embarrassing if it were solely emitted from his psyche, but I believe it is his job to perennially breathe life into the corpse, to steer gullible but sincere gawkers away from what anyone with eyes can see: that the rulers of America and the West in general are corrupt torturers and imperialists, who use other people’s lives to prop up their wretched rule and gather the wealth they seize as their own.

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