Micah Zenko

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action

Zenko covers the U.S. national security debate and offers insight on developments in international security and conflict prevention.

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The Senate Torture Report and Investigative Journalism

by Micah Zenko
April 11, 2014


Today, Sen. Diane Feinstein and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the chair and former chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), published an op-ed in the Washington Post, “Why the Senate Report on the CIA’s Interrogation Program Should be Made Public,” which contains the following passage:

“In December 2007, media reports revealed that the CIA had destroyed videotapes depicting the interrogations of its first two detainees, Abu Zubaida and Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri. The CIA had destroyed those tapes in 2005 over the objections of President George W. Bush’s White House counsel and the director of national intelligence, among others.”

The existence and destruction of those tapes was first uncovered by Mark Mazzetti and the New York Times. When the Times told the Agency about their plans to publish this damaging information, then-director of central intelligence Michael Hayden preempted the story by writing a letter to CIA employees describing the tapes and the decision to destroy them, “in the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them.”  The New York Times’ ability to obtain information about the videotapes, and Hayden’s subsequent attempts to justify their destruction, compelled the SSCI to open its own four-year investigation into the CIA’s rendition and interrogation program.

Today, McClatchy also published an important piece, which supposedly reveals several of the roughly twenty main conclusions in the SSCI. These include that the CIA used interrogation methods not approved by the Justice Department, and hindered or impeded oversight by the White House, Congress, and even the Agency’s own Inspector General. When asked for a comment about these startling revelations, Feinstein replied:

“If someone distributed any part of this classified report, they broke the law and should be prosecuted.”

Thus, it was only the work of investigative reporting obtaining classified information that led the SSCI to produce the 6,600 page report. But, if investigative reporters can obtain classified information from that report’s main conclusions, the sources should be prosecuted. There is obviously a tremendous public service provided by the McClatchy revelations of some of what is contained in the SSCI report: it could further accelerate efforts to declassify its main conclusions, and to declassify a greater percentage of them. The habit of government officials and policymakers selectively demonizing investigative journalists and their sources endures.

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  • Posted by Phillip Bolster

    Drowning a restrained person in a slow controlled manner using a prescribed procedure is torture. I don’t know how anyone can possibly disagree with that, except in order to escape blame or responsibility using legal mumbo jumbo.

    Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was Waterboarded intensely in 2003.
    They poured water on to KSM’s face 183 times in a Black Site in Poland in 2003 until the man was nearly brain dead.

    This is a shameful chapter in modern US history and one which should be dragged into the light so that it never happens again. Just like the physical and sexual abuse carried out in Abu Ghraib during the same period 2003 it has been massively destructive to the US world image and the effects of that cannot be overstated.

    It only serves to increase Anti-US hatred among young impressionable males in the M.E. who would be easily swayed towards Anti-US Jihadist Terrorism. It is doing the PR work for AQ and its affiliated groups apart from being morally and ethically repugnant in and of itself and against everything the US purports to stand for as a nation.

    In short – if you torture terrorists – They win!
    If you assassinate without trial using drones killing innocents in the process – They win !
    If you give up so many of your freedoms to the NSA machine -guess what ? They win!

    There were 90+ video tapes which showed this water torture but they were destroyed to save some individuals from possible retribution and to save the CIA from a media storm which would have resulted if the tapes got out.
    Whereas this was a rational approach by the individual in charge who ordered their destruction and also a rational approach by a CIA under fire and in defensive mode – it only served to prolong the investigation and analysis by the legislature, senate comittees and media (incl this think tank) and made the problem and subsequent damage to the global image of the US and it’s ‘standing’ even worse than it already is.


    “I was honoured to serve my country after the 9/11 attacks. I am proud of the decisions that I took including the destruction of the tapes to protect the people who worked for me. I have no regrets.”

    – Jose Rodriguez, Former Head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center

    I don’t blame Jose Rodriguez. He is just a handy scapegoat in all this. He was just dooing his job serving his country, the same way as a Drone Pilot serves his or Michael Hayden who pushed the over reach of the NSA to where it is serves his. The problem is the mind-set. The world view that these individuals have. They believe they are helpgin their country, that they do good because they have to but they have blinders on and fail to see the big picture – the moral picture – the ethical picture – which is what is used to feed the hatred of these terrorist groups and which will continue to motivate these groups for decades to come unless there is change. The truth about this water torture is one way of saying to the world
    ‘ok we did bad things, we know that now, here’s who was responsible, they are now out of the loop, let’s agree to never do it again because it is against our principles which we hold dear which guide us as a nation and let’s move forward’

    That’s what needs to happen. Not political pass the hot potato or the blame game or democrats terrified to lose points or fox news bullsh1t verses NBC bullsh1t. The truth, and nothing but the truth, that’s the only way forward here and I for one hope some whistle blower steps up with a tape and gets this thing out in the light… to be dealt with… bravely.


    Waterboarding is a form of torture, more specifically a type of water torture, in which water is poured over a cloth covering the face and breathing passages of an immobilized captive, causing the individual to experience the sensation of drowning. Waterboarding can cause extreme pain, dry drowning, damage to lungs, brain damage from oxygen deprivation, other physical injuries including broken bones due to struggling against restraints, lasting psychological damage, and death.

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