17 December 2014: CIA’s culture needs to change

CIA culture needs an overhaul

Since the 15th century when Tomas de Torquemada made his mark, his name has become synonymous with torture.  Torquemada was a Dominican monk, quite pious it is said in his private life but fanatical in his public role.  He was appointed by Spain’s Most Catholic Majesties Ferdinand II and Isabella I of Spain to head the Inquisition.

Torquemada was aptly named in that torque means “to twist, turn, turn about, twist awry, and torture.”   That is what he did to human bodies.

Torquemada’s charge was to ferret out heresy and to identify non-believers, but he soon targeted anyone suspected of committing unforgivable sins such as adultery or sodomy, even going after Jews and Muslims who converted to Catholicism.  To Torquemada they were suspect and their presence defiled Spain.

His “enhanced interrogation techniques,” the modern euphemism for torture, were beyond sadistic.  And like those practiced by CIA operatives as related in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s findings, they were ineffective.

If the goal is to elicit information, torture doesn’t work.  The victim will most likely tell the torturers whatever they want to hear in order for them to stop.

The “confessions” of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the mastermind of the September 11th attacks, provides evidence of that.  Even after nearly drowning him, agents who used their hands to form pools of water over his mouth got little more than false statements and intelligence fragments.

On the other hand, if one’s goal is to sadistically inflict excruciating pain merely to enjoy watching the victim suffer, then torture works.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) knows something about that given the ordeal he endured as a POW at the hands of the North Vietnamese.

“What might come as a surprise,” said McCain, “not just to our enemies but to many Americans, is how little these practices did to aid our efforts to bring 9/11 culprits to justice, and to find and prevent terrorist attacks today and tomorrow.”

Of course, McCain, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), is an anomaly among conservatives with no skin in the game but are blowing back on the finding.

“The question is not about our enemies,” McCain continued.  “It’s about us.  It’s about who we were, who we are, and who we aspire to be.  It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

Graham agreed.  “The techniques in question are nowhere near what the enemies of this nation and radical Islam would do to people under their control.  There is no comparison.  The comparison is between who we are and what we want to be.  In that regard, we made a mistake.”
The release of the report is ironic in that Colorado voters bizarrely opted not to recognize Mark Udall’s efforts by rehiring him as their senator.  It was Mark’s threat to read the entire finding into the Senate record that was the impetus for the Senate to act on releasing the redacted version information.

Mark, though, is not finished.  In a blistering speech on the Senate floor, he flat out accused the CIA of lying.

“The CIA’s formal response to this study under Director Brennan,” Udall said, “clings to false narratives about the CIA’s effectiveness when it comes to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. It includes many factual inaccuracies, defends the use of torture and attacks the committee’s oversight and findings.”

Throughout his public service tenure, Mark has been on the frontline when it comes to defending Americans’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.  In recognition of that, I told him at a Clear Creek town hall meeting, “You’re my hero!”

What came down vis-à-vis torture is the result of reasonable fear and caution descending into hysteria thus allowing a few bad apples giving the entire group, in this case the CIA, a black mark.  Unfortunately, it’s continuing.  Udall, though, is having none of it, holding the CIA’s obstinacy is “not a problem of the past.”

“I believe its flippant and dismissive tone represents the CIA’s approach to oversight, and the White House’s willingness to let the CIA to do whatever it likes even if it’s actively undermining the president’s stated policies.”

As Mark makes clear, the culture at the CIA must change.  So does, however, the mindset of people who not only want to claim the moral high ground for America but also cherish their civil liberties.

If you’re one of those, you too ought to be thanking Mark Udall for his heroic efforts.

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