By Katrina vanden Heuvel
Every once in a while, the CIA’s “Because I said so” club lets loose with a bit of preposterous condescension that reminds us why, along with extraordinary rendition and drone strikes, we’re also a nation of transparency and checks and balances. In this case, the crowing comes from Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., former head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and the administrator of that agency’s post-9/11 enhanced interrogation (i.e., torture) program. We shouldn’t believe the “shocking” results of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-CA) Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation, Rodriguez says, especially those that lay bare the lies and exaggerations promulgated by the CIA and the ineffectiveness of the program itself.
Why not? Because Rodriguez was there, and you weren’t. Never mind that Rodriguez hasn’t actually read the report, or the fact that CIA-sponsored torture isn’t a yoga class, so “being present” doesn’t really count as the endeavor’s ultimate objective. And never mind the findings of the “Internal Panetta Review,” conducted by the CIA, that, according to Sen. Feinstein, “documented at least some of the very same troubling matters already uncovered by the committee staff—which is not surprising, in that they were looking at the same information.”
If we ever want to know the truth about what atrocities were committed by our government in our name under the umbrella of the “Global War on Terror,” then we need to not only conduct investigations into them, but also release their—however sickening they might be—results with as little redaction as possible. We need to re-establish the precedent (exemplified by the Church Committee of the 1970s) that accountability matters. Not only will we as a nation not abide torture, but we won’t stomach erstwhile torturers, either.
On April 2, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Walter Jones (R-NC) introduced the bipartisan Targeted Lethal Force Transparency Act, which would “require an annual report on the number of combatants and civilians killed or injured annually by strikes from remotely piloted aircraft, also known as drones.” The bill allows for an investigation into U.S. drone strikes since 2008, building on a similar provision that had been included by Feinstein’s committee in last year’s (unpassed) Intelligence Authorization Act for 2014. Numerous human-rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have issued a joint statement in support of the bill.
But if the CIA succeeds in squelching—or at least significantly redacting—the Intelligence Committee’s enhanced-interrogation report, it will cast an opaque pall on the Schiff-Jones bill in particular and on transparency in general. Indeed, what is the point of congressional oversight if the committee charged with it allows itself to be pushed around by the agency it oversees? Last month, Frederick A.O. Schwartz Jr., chief counsel for the Church Committee, wrote here, “Executive agencies and the White House—whichever party is in power—will always resist such efforts. They will stall, they will rely on secrecy, and—if Feinstein is right—they may even spy on Congress and illegally impede its lawful investigations. These obstructions must be overcome.”
And as The New Yorker’s Steve Coll has written, “Can the C.I.A., after a decade of fat budgets and swaggering prerogative, adjust to emboldened congressional oversight? Can Congress provide such oversight? And can the American people at last have the facts about the Bush Administration’s embrace of torture as national policy, carried out in their name?” Let’s hope so. If we refuse to admit, let alone acknowledge, what we’ve done, what’s to stop us from doing it again? Speaking to the Senate in a closed session in 1975, Sen. Church said, “We must remain a people who confront our mistakes and resolve not to repeat them. If we do not, we will decline. But if we do, our future will be worthy of the best of our past.”