Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tortured testimony

Yeah, I know I should have said something days ago concerning the brouhaha between former CIA Director Michael Hayden and Dianne Feinstein. It amused me that so many people focused on the sexist undertones of Hayden's remark and not on the fact that he has almost certainly lied to Congress about torture.

Marcy Wheeler (a thousand blessings upon her name!) wrote a piece which puts the focus where it belongs.

But it's not enough to remind the audience, as Marcy does, of the time Hayden lied in 2007. Even more egregious, I think, was the time he forced his successor, Leon Panetta, to grit his teeth and lie to Congress during the latter's confirmation hearings.

Before proceeding, you should understand that I never liked Hayden. Granted, I have a reputation as an old-school, '70s-style CIA critic -- so in that sense, I'm not supposed to like any of those people. But Hayden in particular has always rubbed me the wrong way. It's just something about the guy: Talks too fast, seems too full of himself...

Anyways, Hayden wanted to stay in the job after Obama won. Nevertheless, Obama chose Leon Panetta -- who was, supposedly, a total CIA outsider. (I doubt that. Of course, I'm just being paranoid.)

So Hayden met with Panetta for the big transition meeting. During this meeting, Hayden said: "Don't ever put the words 'CIA' and 'torture' in the same paragraph again."
“Torture is a felony, Leon,” Hayden said. “Say you don’t like it. Say it offends you. I don’t care. But just don’t say it’s torture. It’s a felony.” The Justice Department had approved what the CIA did in long, detailed memos, so -- legally -- the CIA had not tortured anyone.
I'm not sure that the guys being waterboarded would have cared one whit about those long, detailed memos.

(By the way, the quote comes from Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars. Like many of you, I had stopped reading Woodward a long time ago, but this book turns out to be pretty useful. I note that Woodward never explicitly says that Panetta was a CIA outsider.)

A short while later, Panetta was on the Hill for the usual confirmation grilling. He said that the Agency will no longer send people to foreign countries "for purposes of torture." Watching this testimony on CSPAN, Hayden got royally ticked off. Had he not given clear instructions not to use "CIA" and "torture" in the same paragraph? There had been no torture, never ever ever. Hayden had long, detailed memos to prove it.
He contacted Jeff Smith, a former CIA general counsel who was helping with the transition for Panetta.

“He walks that sentence back tomorrow in his public testimony,” Hayden threatened, “or we will have the spectacle of the current director of the Central Intelligence Agency saying the prospective director of the Central Intelligence Agency doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” He said he would say this publicly. “That’s not in anybody’s interest.”
At that stage, I'm not sure if many people in the country would have cared about a Michael Hayden tizzy fit on that topic. Nevertheless, the threat must have rattled Obama's team.
The next day, Friday, February 6, Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, the senior Republican on the Intelligence Committee, pressed Panetta.

“Thank you for the question, Senator, because I think there is some clarification required. ...We may very well direct individuals to third countries,” Panetta said. “I will seek the same kind of assurances that they will not be treated inhumanely.”

Would he retract his statement from the previous day about torture? Bond asked.

“Yes, I would retract that statement.”

Bond rubbed it in. So “liberal blogs” and “rumors or news stories” were insufficient sources for someone nominated to be CIA director. “I would ask you to assure this committee that you will not make rash judgments based on hearsay.”

“Senator, you have my assurance that I intend to do that.”
This anecdote is pretty damned outrageous. It becomes more outrageous the closer you look at it.

First and foremost, we have the spectacle of Senator Kit Bond -- someone who is supposed to be exercising control over the intelligence agencies -- carrying water for Michael Hayden. Then you have the equally tawdry spectacle of Leon Panetta offering a humiliating apology for words that required no apology.

And finally, there is that last childish dig from Bond: “I would ask you to assure this committee that you will not make rash judgments based on hearsay."


Panetta, in his original statement, had committed the great sin of telling the truth: The CIA did send people to foreign countries for torture. Many news stories (not "hearsay") documented the phenomenon. There were even people who tracked the flights.

America has become a country in which one cannot get ahead unless one is willing to lie.

For the rest of the story, go here. Marcy, again. 
Oh man, Hayden, that fucker can rot in hell. Everyone that matters (at least from my perspective) knows he's a clown, but in the end that doesn't matter with DC, does it? The disconnect is so grand that I have to laugh and then cry.
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