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Panetta’s Defense of CIA Interrogators Undercut by New DoJ Disclosures
by Jason Leopold,
Antemedius, April 14, 2009 – 2:22pm
CIA Director Leon Panetta has consistently stated over the past several months that agency interrogators who participated in the Bush administration’s sadistic torture practices should not be subject to “any investigation, let alone prosecution,” because they were following legal advice provided by the Justice Department.
In March, Panetta said he agreed to cooperate with a Senate Intelligence Committee “review” and “study” on CIA interrogation methods on the condition that he received assurances from committee Chair Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Republican Co-Chair Kit Bond (R-Missouri) that they would not attempt to “punish those who followed guidance from the Department of Justice.”
“That is only fair,” Panetta said. “Their goal is to draw lessons for future policy decisions” and [they] won’t seek to punish those who participated in the program.
On Thursday, in announcing the closure of the “black site” prisons where the torture took place, Panetta said CIA “officers who act on guidance from the Department of Justice – or acted on such guidance previously – should not be investigated, let alone punished. This is what fairness and wisdom require.”
However, Panetta’s defense was dealt a serious blow last week when the Justice Department revealed in a letter sent to a federal court judge that 92 interrogation videotapes the CIA destroyed were made between April and December 2002.
The Justice Department’s legal opinion authorizing the CIA to use specific interrogation methods, including the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding, was not issued until August 1, 2002.
According to veteran CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, Panetta has become entrenched in CIA bureaucracy.
“It is obvious Panetta wants to make no waves at the CIA,” Goodman said.
“It is extremely difficult for any outsider to make his mark within a bureaucracy as parochial and insular as the one at CIA,” said Goodman, who spent more than two decades at the agency. “Panetta, unfortunately, has tried to ingratiate himself with the negative elements. Panetta’s first mistake was to keep in place all of the holdovers from the era of George Tenet and Porter Goss, who were responsible for the culture of cover-up created at the CIA.”
“In keeping Steven Kappes as the deputy director, Panetta signaled that there would be no change at the Agency and no punishment for corruption,” Goodman added. “Kappes, after all, was the ideological driver for those policies that Obama and Panetta criticized before Panetta’s confirmation. Instead of reaching out to contrarians or dissidents from the intelligence community, Panetta has relied solely on the leadership he inherited, the very people who have a vested interest in making sure that nothing changes.”
Panetta’s about-face stands in stark contrast to statements he made in a series of op-eds in the Monterey County Herald and other publications last year. In a March 8, 2008, column titled, “Americans Reject Fear Tactics,” Panetta wrote that “all forms of torture have long been prohibited by American law and international treaties respected by Republican and Democratic presidents alike.”
“Our forefathers prohibited ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ because that was how tyrants and despots ruled in the 1700’s. They wanted an America that was better than that. Torture is illegal, immoral, dangerous and counterproductive. And yet, the president is using fear to trump the law.”
While stopping short of demanding investigations and prosecutions, Panetta certainly made it clear that Bush was acting above the law.
In a column published in the Washington Monthly last summer titled “No Torture, No Exceptions,” Panetta wrote that “there are certain lines Americans will not cross because we respect the dignity of every human being. That pledge was written into the oath of office given to every president, ‘to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.’ It’s what is supposed to make our leaders different from every tyrant, dictator, or despot. We are sworn to govern by the rule of law, not by brute force.”
Read the full article here:
© Jason Leopold – Reprinted by permission.