Unfounded criminal prosecution of CIA officers for torture

Soon after the 9/11 terror attacks the Bush administration and U.S. defense community recognized the need to improve our intelligence gathering capabilities to combat Al Qaeda and their efforts to pull off additional mega terror attacks. Boosting military capabilities, improving sharing of intelligence among agencies and aggressively pursuing our enemies became priorities for the administration. Under Bush’s leadership no longer would America stand complacent in the face of those who would destroy us.

The first step was to boost military spending that had been cut 18% by the Clinton administration from the George H.W. Bush days and maintained at low levels not seen since Ronald Reagan first took office. The 1994 defense budget was called the “first truly post-Cold War budget” by Defense Secretary Les Aspin, but more accurately described as “fundamentally flawed” by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell.

As devastating as Clinton’s military cuts were to our nation’s ability to defend itself, the division between the foreign intelligence community and domestic law enforcement turned out to be an even greater contributor to 9/11. Much of the blame could be directed toward Jamie Gorelick, Deputy Attorney General 1994 to 1997, who wrote a memo in 1995 that called for “a set of instructions that will clearly separate the counterintelligence investigation from the more limited, but continued, criminal investigations”. In Gorelick’s own words the new policy would “go beyond what is legally required”. She argued that it was more important to preserve the ability for the DOJ to prosecute terrorists in U.S. courts than to protect the nation from terrorist acts.

The effects of what would become known as “Gorelick’s Wall” wasn’t lost one FBI agent who prophetically commented at the time “whatever has happened to this — someday someone will die — and wall or not — the public will not understand why we were not more effective in throwing every resource we had at certain problems…..especially since the biggest threat to us UBL (Usama bin Laden), is getting the most protection.”

Six years later the agent would be proven correct when according to Jeff Dunetz at Big Government, “Jamie Gorelick’s wall barred anti-terror investigators from accessing the computer of Zacarias Moussaoui, the 20th hijacker, who was already in custody on an immigration violationshortly before 9/11.” It was later learned that Moussaoui’s computer contained vital information “linking him both to a major financier of the hijacking plot and to an Al Qaeda boss who met with at least two other hijackers while under surveillance by intelligence officials.”

Bush took steps to ensure this type of intelligence breakdown would not happen again. No longer would our enemies be able to hide behind Miranda rights and other protections that were never meant for non-citizens while a robust interrogation program was designed for enemy combatants scooped off of the battlefield.

In 2002 the CIA got huge break when they apprehended Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the criminal “mastermind” behind 9/11. The circumstances behind his capture remain a mystery, but what is known is that instead of being sent to New York where DOJ officials would have insisted he get his 3 squares a day and a court appointed lawyer, he was sent to a CIA black box prison where he was relentlessly interrogated.

Like many dedicated radicals, KSM was a tough nut to crack. Dedicated to his murderous ideology and unwilling to give up his comrades in arms, he refused to reveal any useful intelligence even after dozens of interviews with CIA and FBI agents. Faced with the possibility that the highest ranking Al Qaeda member in captivity might go to his grave without giving up his secrets, the Bush administration decided explore other options.

At the time of KSM’s initial imprisonment there was good reason to believe that Al Qaeda was working on a follow up mega attack to 9/11. KSM confirmed as much when he cryptically told his captors “soon, you will know”. Rather than waiting to see how many Americans would die this time around, the Bush administration decided that KSM’s civil rights weren’t nearly as important as saving American lives.

According to a 2008 Senate report, “harsh interrogation techniques used by the CIA and the U.S. military were directly adapted from the training techniques used to prepare special forces personnel to resist interrogation by enemies that torture and abuse prisoners. The techniques included forced nudity, painful stress positions, sleep deprivation, and until 2003, waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning.”

The use of enhanced interrogation did its work in breaking down KSM. As described in the Washington Post:

“KSM, an accomplished resistor, provided only a few intelligence reports prior to the use of the waterboard, and analysis of that information revealed that much of it was outdated, inaccurate or incomplete,” according to newly unclassified portions of a 2004 report by the CIA’s then-inspector general released Monday by the Justice Department.

Over a few weeks, he was subjected to an escalating series of coercive methods, culminating in 7 1/2 days of sleep deprivation, while diapered and shackled, and 183 instances of waterboarding. After the month-long torment, he was never waterboarded again.

“Once the harsher techniques were used on [detainees], they could be viewed as having done their duty to Islam or their cause, and their religious principles would ask no more of them,” said the former official, who requested anonymity because the events are still classified. “After that point, they became compliant. Obviously, there was also an interest in being able to later say, ‘I was tortured into cooperating.’ ”

According to declassified DOJ documents from 2005, after a couple months of enhanced interrogation KSM spilled his guts about an Al Qaeda plan “to use East Asian operatives to crash a hijacked airliner into a building in Los Angeles”, an operation that never got past the planning stage thanks to the CIA. Now transformed into a model prisoner, KSM answered every question asked of him and provided actionable intelligence on a number of Al Qaeda plots to strike targets in the U.S., Saudi Arabia and East Asia. He also talked about a number of key Al Qaeda operatives in the field.

One operative in particular grabbed the attention of interrogators: the identity of Osama bin Ladin’s most trusted courier, a man whose name has not been officially released but is believed to be Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq according to WikiLeaks. The intel was confirmed by Abu Faraj al Libbi, another top Al Qaeda operative who was also given the waterboard treatment. Now that the CIA knew who to look for they were eventually able to locate al-Khaliq and follow him to bin Ladin’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. On May 2, 2011 America got its revenge for 9/11 when Osama bin Ladin was killed during a SEAL Team 6 raid and buried at sea.

Obama has had no problem bragging to the world about his part in the operation:

I met repeatedly with my National Security team as we developed more information about the possibility that we had located bin Laden hiding within a compound deep inside Pakistan. Finally, last week I determined that we had enough intelligence to take action and authorized an operation to get Osama bin Laden and bring him to justice.

Of course Obama never mentions that it was the much maligned Bush enhanced interrogation program that wrestled the necessary intelligence from an unwilling KSM and al Libbi that deserved the real credit for bin Ladin’s death. CIA director Leon Panetta admitted as much when he said during an interview with NBC News “in the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information, and that was true here. We had a multiple series of sources that provided information with regards to this situation. Clearly, some of it came from detainees and the interrogation of detainees.”

According to a 2007 New York Times article few detainees were ever given the harshest treatment. “Intelligence officials have said that of about 100 prisoners held to date in the C.I.A. program, the ‘enhanced’ techniques were used on about 30, and waterboarding used on just three.” The Bush administration reserved harsh interrogation for only the most exceptional cases where there was reasonable expectation of a coming attack, and they kept Congress apprised of their efforts the entire time.

In early 2009 Democrat politicians hypocritically called for prosecution of the Bush administration for “torturing” enemy combatants. It was later revealed that Democratic leadership in Congress had been briefed on the interrogation program from the beginning. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused the CIA of lying about her involvement and tacit approval, which caused CIA director Leon Panetta to release documents that proved she had been briefed about enhanced interrogation of prisoners starting in September 2002.

House Republican Peter J. Goss described being “slack-jawed to read that members claim to have not understood that the techniques on which they were briefed were to actually be employed; or that specific techniques such as ‘waterboarding’ were never mentioned … a disturbing epidemic of amnesia.” According to the LA Times, there were “40 briefings over a seven-year period during which CIA and other U.S. intelligence officials described the agency’s interrogation program to senior lawmakers.”

Even though intelligence officials were simply following orders given to them by their Commander in Chief and sanctioned by Congress, under Holder’s direction the DOJ started its very own CIA witch hunt. They reopened cases against CIA officers that had already been thoroughly investigated by career Justice attorneys during the Bush administration in a concerted effort to find some new scrap of evidence that could be used to hang a Bush era operative. According to former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Holder ordered the investigations “without reading the memos” that had already exonerated the CIA officers, a decision Mukasey went on to describe as “unconscionable”.

Even the left leaning CBS News smelled a rat:

The impropriety of dragging individuals through investigations with virtually no chance for convictions, reversing a prosecutorial decision of a prior administration is a dangerous precedent for the Justice Department. One former Justice lawyer warns: ‘It would mean no one would ever get any peace, because if you were the target of an investigation at the end of which DOJ said it was not prosecuting, there would be no finality to that decision. It would turn DOJ into a purely partisan agency.’

The persecution of CIA officers continued until the killing of Osama bin Ladin. With Obama proclaiming, “we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counterterrorism professionals who’ve worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome” and Panetta confirming that “enhanced interrogation techniques against some of those detainees” were essential to finding bin Ladin, the potential for embarrassment to DOJ, should the investigations continue, became too much for the politicized Holder and he finally shut down the investigation.

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