CIA officer who purged torture evidence is rewarded with promotion

Chuck Hagel, Barack Obama, John BrennanBy IAN ALLEN | |
A United States Central Intelligence Agency officer who was personally involved in the illegal controversial destruction of videotapes showing CIA personnel torturing detainees, is now leading the Agency’s operations division. At the center of the affair are nearly 100 recordings of interrogation sessions of al-Qaeda suspects Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. The videotapes were made in 2002 at a CIA black site in Thailand and kept inside a safe at the Agency’s station in the Asian country. The CIA decided to destroy the videotapes soon after May of 2005, when the Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate demanded access to them. In 2007, after The New York Times revealed the destruction of the videotapes, the US Department of Justice ordered two separate investigations into the incident. However, under pressure from the administration of President Barack Obama, no criminal charges were ever pressed. The videotape affair is bound to resurface in the headlines, however, after The Washington Post revealed on Wednesday that a female CIA officer, who personally ordered the destruction of the videotapes, even though she knew that Congress had asked for them, was recently promoted to one of the CIA’s most senior posts. The officer, whose name cannot legally be revealed, because she remains undercover within the Agency, is currently in charge of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service (NCS), which is responsible for conducting covert action and espionage around the world. Many consider the NCS as the ‘heart and soul’ of the CIA, and it is the first time in the history of the CIA that a woman has led that secretive division. Citing “current and former intelligence officials”, The Post alleged that the officer entered the position in an acting capacity a few weeks ago, following the retirement of her boss. It added that the officer, who previously served as the CIA’s station chief in New York and London, United Kingdom, is among a small group of CIA insiders who are seen as viable candidates to permanently fill the NCS director’s post. The revelation inevitably draws attention to the position on torture of the CIA’s recently appointed Director, John Brennan. He said during his confirmation hearings earlier this year that he was opposed to interrogation as a matter of principle. He also told a Senate committee that he was “firmly opposed” to the use of enhanced interrogation on enemy detainees. The paper quoted CIA spokesperson Preston Golson as saying that Brennan is still making up his mind on who to appoint for permanent director of NCS and has “asked a few highly respected former senior agency officers to review the candidates he’s considering for the job”.

15 Responses to CIA officer who purged torture evidence is rewarded with promotion

  1. I am unaware that the destruction of the tapes was found to be “illegal.” This was a charge made in the press and by political opponents of the administration. I’d be interested in knowing how it was concluded that this action was illegal.

  2. Dr. Paul P. says:

    Is the professor playing with words here? At first, CIA denied having any tapes. Shortly after Senate formally asked for them, CIA simply destroyed them giving Congress the finger. Ignoring a formal request by the elected representatives of the American people may not be “illegal” for (whatever is left of) Bush administration supporters like professor Oleson. But it sure makes a mockery of the American system of government and our Constitution. If Professor Oleson (and others like him) believe that the Intelligence Community (and not the People) control this country, he should just go ahead and say it, instead of playing with words.

  3. Pete says:

    Two democratically elected Presidents decided that destruction wasn’t illegal.

    Also the tapes were highly classified but if passed to the Senate many Senators might leak the details. Detailing the process of torture (so often practiced in Third World countries, China etc) would negatively impact US’ international standing.

    Basically it would get millions of Americans upset about torture of al Qaeda figures who frequently use torture.

  4. Dr. Paul P. says:

    I see. So the argument here is that we should trust the unelected sleuths of the CIA over the elected representatives of the American People. What a great day this is for American democracy.

    Furthermore, when AQ uses torture, it makes them terrorists. But allowing others to see US-practiced torture would “negatively impact” our international standing -hence we destroy the evidence. At least Pete is being honest here.

  5. carl says:

    I believe there was at least on federal order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2007 prohibiting the destruction of evidence of torture. That is rather different than a “request” from a politician.

  6. Carl:

    Thank you for a substantive response to my query. I’ll research the court order as I was unaware of it.

  7. Carl,

    Again, thank you for the article. I note that the court order appears to come after the destruction of the tapes (if the article is accurate). If the tapes had already been destroyed an ex post facto order does not constitute contempt of court. If more were destroyed after the court order that is a different matter and individuals involved could be held in contempt. But from what I have read thus far no one has been. Therefore to characterize the destruction as “illegal” is inaccurate. A moral judgment is entirely a different matter. Looking in retrospect I conclude that the “enhanced interrogation” program was at best morally questionable. Being a combat veteran (Vietnam) I also understand that in times of combat initial decisions deemed essential are often later questioned.

  8. Contempt of Congress (or a court) can cause sanctions of a ‘legal’ nature and so in fact the tapes destruction may be construed to have been illegal. In a general sense of law, destruction of evidence of a crime is in an of itself a prosecutable offense. You don’t need it spelled out in a particularly crafted statute direct to the particular circumstance, there is federal common law principle covers it. I’m comfortable with saying that, having been invited to and taught American Constitutional Law as adjunct professor here in Europe.

    More germane to the facts at hand, we (the USA) prosecuted Japanese for water-boarding our POWs and the international law of reciprocity (what is good for the goose is good for the gander) makes the act of destruction of the tapes a criminal act to conceal evidence of a crime, never mind the USA is a signatory to the UN Convention on torture which is ‘the supreme law of the land under the so-called ‘supremacy clause’ of our constitution. If that multi-lateral treaty had been ratified as ‘non-self-executing’, it is with the understanding the USA will carry out prosecution of any such acts, which in the end are patently illegal as would be the destruction of evidence to frustrate justice under existing laws and principles of law applicable in the USA.

    Insofar as

    “Being a combat veteran (Vietnam) I also understand that in times of combat initial decisions deemed essential are often later questioned”

    I would simply note this appears to be an excuse in lieu of honoring the rule of law. I’m also a Vietnam combat veteran and that fact in no way excuses professional murder operations such the Phoenix Program. But our ‘clandestine services’ have a long history of egregious violations of law, both international law and American law. Directly relevant to this, the USA has declared its intent to withdraw from the Statute of Rome process (International Criminal Court) and there is little public relations (propaganda) can do to burnish the rank cowardice of that act of shielding criminals who would be extraditable, example given David Patraeus complicity in Iraq death squads as recent documentary by The Guardian and BBC Arabia had recently exposed.

    C’st la vie in the 21st century USA

  9. intelNews says:

    I want to thank professor Oleson for his thoughts, and to agree with him that the destruction of the CIA’s videotapes was not illegal. I would argue that it was perhaps unjust, but injustice and illegality are two different things. I think that, in the interest of accuracy, the term “illegal” should be removed from the article.

    In taking this a step further, I believe that the destruction of the videotapes was a highly controversial act that highlighted some of the more serious imperfections of practicing intelligence in a democracy. I also believe that, in the aftermath of this regrettable incident, all parties involved –the IC, Congress, and the Executive, among others– missed a great opportunity to seriously engage with these imperfections, in an attempt to resolve them. In my view, therefore, it is highly likely that similar controversies will occur in the future, giving rise to criticisms of the type that Mr. West posted, above.

    It is also worth pointing out that, in addition to the destruction of the tapes, the US Department of Justice considered charging CIA personnel with making false statements to a grand jury during the course of the investigation into the incident. Eventually, in November of 2010, the Obama administration decided not to pursue this; without being a lawyer, my feeling is that this decision was taken on political, not legalistic, grounds. In other words, the charges could probably be sustained in court, but the Obama Administration did not wish to antagonize the CIA at the time. [JF]

  10. TFH says:

    “Many consider the NCS as the ‘heart and soul’ of the CIA, and it is the first time in the history of the CIA that a woman has led that secretive division.”

    Bu would this story be here if it was a male who deleted torture videos and then got promoted, go feminists!

  11. gthunter says:

    @tfh I don’t believe that this story has much to do with the gender of the acting director of the Clandestine Service. In context of possibly being promoted to D/NCS, the officer’s gender is interesting as she would be the first female to run the Service, but her gender has nothing to do with her shameful association with the destruction of tapes controversy. The fact that this officer is on the shortlist for D/NCS shows how the Agency and the DO (now NCS) have an insular culture that makes it acceptable to place officers who were involved with RDI (rendition, detention, and interrogation), and possibly cover-ups of RDI, in positions of more responsibility.

  12. TFH says:

    @Gthunter: Irony is a dish best eaten alone, or so I’ve found out.

  13. Harry Mahan says:

    I absolutely Love a woman with balls. I said that about Margret Thatcher, too, when she said she’d nuc a certain country if they used those scuds with chemical payloads. She saved a lot of lives, probably mine, too. HooRah!

  14. xenonman says:

    Let’s hope that this new D/NCS doesn’t screw up like the Agency’s celebrated “wonder woman”, Martha Peterson, who threw a temper tantrum in the presence of a US Consul following her arrest in Moscow in 1977!

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