Much fanfare has been devoted to the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program, but the focus of the CIA and allies of the Intelligence Community is not on repairing the damage torture has done to the institution. It is suppressing what wrongs were done and protecting those who did wrong. Although their concerns are supposedly on the potential security issues posed by the release of the report, the reality that the world already thinks the worse of the CIA suggests officials are protecting themselves and the institution from criticism.
Looking at protests across America over the killing of 18 year-old Michael Brown, 12 year-old Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner by police, there are varying circumstances to why encounters with the police turned unnecessarily deadly. The common thread driving these protests, which can also be seen in protests around the world, is a perception the powerful are above the law. Similarly, the reality that the CIA and allies appear to believe the spy agency is immune from justice and above the law is what drives anger against the CIA as well as those who shield the CIA from the consequences of their worst behavior.
In truth, this report would likely have been quietly released and forgotten about by the American People if not for Edward Snowden. By helping to reveal the CIA hacked the computers of Congress, Edward Snowden turned some of those shielding the CIA into victims looking for revenge. At the same time, the overall Edward Snowden revelations, along with the revelations of other whistleblowers, forced the sins of America’s national security apparatus into the light of day. Consequently, the CIA is clearly struggling, as an institution, to deal with internal corruption, not a PR problem as defenders want to believe.
Organizations like the CIA should be the most trusted parts of the government due to their mission to protect America, yet they are the least. A large part of the problem is a lack of consequences and a perception of immunity for wrongdoing, which leaves temptation unchecked. Not only does the CIA need actual oversight, a greater level of transparency, i.e. the CIA needs to understand programs will eventually be on public display, and criminal prosecution for those who step over the line, they are also a “too big to fail” institution that needs some of its responsibilities and authority transferred to other agencies in order to weaken the burden of its corrupting power.
That said, defenders of the CIA would say the spy agency is being treated as a whipping boy for what others were not willing to do and those in the CIA gladly play that role, so they should be protected. They might even point to the human rights abuses of other countries, particularly in the Middle East, as far harsher than anything the CIA has ever done. They may even be correct to some degree while the CIA will likely be given little more than a slap on the wrist and have to report to Congress more often, but the institution does need to rebuilt itself and the trust it is supposed to garner, if it is going to be effective.
For critics who still believe torture is effective and necessary, which ironically often includes religious conservatives on the right, they may want to consider the work of monsters like Dr. Eduard Wirths and Dr. Shiro Ishii. Although the “experiments” of both serial killer “physicians” offered beneficial insights to the field of medicine, as well as national defense, only the deranged would support the way in which that information was obtained. Like the CIA torture programs, any benefits derived could have been gathered in an alternative manner.
The reason those who engaged in/approved the torture of suspected terrorists, in spite of their sophisticated rationales, is because they are the kind of people who want to mistreat and abuse others. There are people who take up arms in order to satisfy impulses to kill and/or abuse others. The CIA is one organization that happens to attract these type of people, because it offers them power over others while the 9/11 terrorist attacks gave these individuals an opportunity to indulge their darkest fantasies. Consequently, the CIA needs to take this opportunity as an institution to root out these types of people, so it can help secure America, instead of making us less secure.
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