CIA Getting Cold Feet on Rendition/Torture?

First there was the NY Times story that “The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them” in order to avoid torture. (Robert Waldman notes that this did get reported months ago, although it seems to have gone down the memory hole.)

Now comes a suggestion in the UK’s Observer — sadly, not an utterly reliable source — that CIA officers are getting cold feet about carrying on with these ‘renditions’. But not because they produce false intelligence. No, it’s the fear of law suits.

The Observer buried the leed: They start with the Yet Another Torture Allegation (YATA) story that An Ethiopian student who lived in London claims that he was brutally tortured with the involvement of British and US intelligence agencies. It seems that
Mr. Binyam Mohammed, 27,

says he spent nearly three years in the CIA’s network of ‘black sites’. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator.

Then there’s a tie-in the Padilla case:

Western agencies believed that he was part of a plot to buy uranium in Asia, bring it to the US and build a ‘dirty bomb’ in league with Jose Padilla, a US citizen. Mohammed signed a confession but told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, he had never met Padilla, or anyone in al-Qaeda.

That’s interesting. But the really eye-catching part comes next:

A senior US intelligence official told The Observer that the CIA is now in ‘deep crisis’ following last week’s international political storm over the agency’s practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ – transporting suspects to countries where they face torture. ‘The smarter people in the Directorate of Operations [the CIA’s clandestine operational arm] know that one day, if they do this stuff, they are going to face indictment,’ he said. ‘They are simply refusing to participate in these operations, and if they don’t have big mortgage or tuition fees to pay they’re thinking about trying to resign altogether.’

Could we actually be getting somewhere? And does this explain the nearly-rabid efforts by the Bush administration to keep the CIA exempt from suit for torture and ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ treatment?

But don’t get too optimistic: Binyam Mohammed got shipped to Guantanamo in September. UK and US law may not let evidence acquired under torture into court. But, so far that rule is inoperative in Guantanamo.

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4 Responses to CIA Getting Cold Feet on Rendition/Torture?

  1. Ammonite says:

    The reaction of Porter Goss will undoubtedly be to hire younger, stupider, less principled interrogators. We’ll get more torture and more misinformation.

    The downward spiral into which we are being sucked by the Bush administration leads to a black hole, both morally and practically

  2. fiztmas says:

    It is odd that Cheney has spent the past 5 years undermining the CIA and now, when it comes to torture, is the agency’s great advocate – seems like it’s really more of the same from Cheney, and for the CIA.

  3. Altoid says:

    There’s something going on here, but its outlines aren’t very clear. (Apologies, Springfield.) This weekend the “defense columnist” Jack Kelly (who tends to cultivate the gimlet-eyed Sam Spade mode and writes mostly about how non-republicans don’t know squat about anything) wrote a column suggesting that the CIA should just be disbanded because it’s a miserable failure. Funny, I thought that was already Porter Goss’s job . . .

    However, let’s be clear what these peoples’ problem with the CIA is. Cheney, bush, et al have never had a problem with the exploding-cigar types there; in fact they love this stuff because it’s been the normal way regime change has happened since WWII, and it’s all secret. So it isn’t Operations they distrust. It’s the analysis sections they hate– reality-based and all that (even though analysis missed the Soviet Union’s collapse, etc). And for these purposes we should include the counter-proliferation section that Valerie Plame used to work in. It isn’t macho enough for Ops, plus they may have actually prevented delivery of a WMD stash that was supposedly going to be planted in Iraq for our troops to find there.

    More to the point, Ops people, I have to believe, are the ones who do the, uh, whatever it’s called, mumble mumble, okay, extreme interrogation.

    What we might see, if Kelly is reflecting administration thinking, is a shutdown of analysis, billed as a shutdown of the CIA, and the quiet renaming of the Ops section, or a move over into some sub-fiefdom of the defense department. In the course of this, as Ammonite suggests, the more professional old hands who have reservations about whatever it is we call it will be jettisoned.

    This would be far more fitting with this administration’s MO.

  4. felicity smith says:

    In February, CIA lawyers asked for and obtained from the administration a formal exemption from President Bush’s pledge to abide by the “spirit” of the Geneva Conventions. The CIA was aware, if no one else seemed to be, that the new White House policy authorized American officers to commit acts for which the Second World War Allies had hanged Gestapo and SS officers and Japanese prison-ccamp commanders.

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