A coalition of religious leaders and human rights groups are protesting the possible promotion of a CIA official who was allegedly involved in the destruction of several videos showing US officials torturing detainees. The coalition against her promotion is led by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and also includes the Center for Victims of Torture, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Policy Center, and Physicians for Human Rights.
The group sent a letter to the CIA Director, John Brennan, calling on him not to promote anyone involved in torture “black sites,” or in the destruction of the torture tapes. The letter says, “Promoting such an individual would compound the existing impunity for torture, by suggesting that such actions are in fact rewarded.”
Although the name of the CIA official has not been made public, the Washington Post has reported a few things on her: she would be the first woman to lead the clandestine services area of the CIA, she is highly respected within the agency for her work, and she was a very strong advocate for the use of torture during interrogations after 9/11.
In 2002, this CIA operative helped run a “black site” in Thailand. It is widely acknowledged that the CIA was torturing detainees at these secret prisons. According to a report on US torture after 9/11 published by the Constitution Project, “many lower level troops believed ‘the gloves were off’ regarding treatment of prisoners.” At the CIA location in Thailand, 92 tapes of interrogation were recorded, reportedly including agents waterboarding a prisoner to the point of “screaming and vomiting.”
In 2004, a US court ordered the government to turn over or preserve all evidence in relation to its secret interrogation programs. In 2005, all 92 of the tapes were destroyed against court orders, allegedly at the request of this CIA official as well as CIA’s head of counterterrorism, Jose Rodriguez. The videos were destroyed the same month that Dana Priest wrote a exhaustive article about the CIA’s black sites, leading to increased public scrutiny of the practice.
This official is already acting as head of the clandestine operations, but John Brennan has hesitated in making her the permanent leader of that office. Clandestine operations oversees sending spies abroad and the CIA’s drone program, which has faced its own criticism lately over transparency.
Marc Thiessen, a former Bush administration official, wrote a defense of the agent, in which he worries that demoting this official could “send a chilling message through the ranks of the CIA…It would push the agency back into a risk-averse, pre-Sept 11, 2001, mindset.”
If the risks that the CIA is taking involves torturing people, then that is exactly the kind of message we should be sending. Depriving people of their rights from the Geneva Convention is not a “risk” we should ever be willing to take. So far, there has been no punishment for those involved in the destruction of the tapes. How can we hold the government accountable when they are destroying all of the evidence against themselves?