Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Something just doesn't add up

You know those crime dramas?

The ones where the otherwise respectable suspect has committed some heinous crime, and has told some reasonably plausible sounding story to cover his tracks? But the persistent detectives keep chipping away at the alibi and eventually they find some discrepancy, some little inconsistency, and then the suspect has to rationalize away the flaw in his story, and you just know he's lying his ass off? Suspense builds as the lies and the inconsistencies pile up and, eventually, the whole sordid mess falls apart like a house of cards? Yeah, those crime dramas.

CIA officials have been quoted as saying that water-boarding has been used on three prisoners since 2001 but on nobody since 2003 [emphasis mine].

Well, that's good, we've only tortured three people. Just three. Three, which is to say more than two but less than four. Just three, three is the number, and the number shall be three.

It is now also known that in 2005 the CIA destroyed hundreds of hours of videotapes showing the interrogations of Abu Zubaydah and another al-Qaeda prisoner.

Uh, how's that again? Hundreds of hours? Hundreds? For just three interrogations?

The White House has said categorically that it doesn't torture prisoners, and that things like waterboarding are merely 'enhanced interrogation' techniques. And enhanced interrogation has only been used in three cases. And it's very effective. And yet, the CIA destroyed hundreds of hours of tape recordings of those same interrogations. Hmmm, something just doesn't add up. Either it took one hell of a lot of water up the nose to get the prisoner to talk (which would indicate that it really isn't all that effective), or there were a few more interrogations than just three. Supposedly a lot of the footage was of Zubaydah just sitting in his cell, recovering from his wounds (which were inflicted in the firefight during his capture). We'll come back to that below.

Now, you have to be careful getting your numbers from a newspaper article, or even several newspaper articles. Or the internet. Or politicians. Or most especially, from the CIA. But these numbers seem to be reasonably accurate in broad strokes, neither CIA or any of the other entities involved are denying them, and it's their reasonably plausible story, so let's go with it for the moment.

The CIA is not denying that it did, indeed, perform the enhanced interrogations or that it did destroy the tapes. The question then would have to be: why? The CIA claimed that the tapes were destroyed to protect it's own interrogators from legal action in the future, should the footage somehow be leaked to the public.

Couple of observations here:

1) If we don't torture people, if we only use safe and legal 'enhanced' interrogation methods, then why does the CIA fear for it's agents (translation: the Higher Ups fear public reaction, their jobs are at risk - nobody actually gives a shit about the interrogators) if they were working within legal guidelines? Is it perhaps that those tapes showed something that looked a lot like torture? Screaming? Thrashing? Panic? Fear? A man strapped, naked, to a cold steel table, with water being forced up his nose? Coughing? Choking? Guess we'll never know what happened in those interrogations, or what the CIA did in our name, will we? We'll just have to take their word for it. And, of course, the CIA has a sterling reputation for telling the truth, don't they?

2) At least one of those agents has gone public. Others have been named. The interrogators themselves don't seem to be overly concerned about their anonymity. If their anonymity is so important to the CIA administration, why haven't they brought charges against John Kiriakou for divulging classified information, for endangering himself and his fellow interrogators? If this were one of those crime dramas, this is the point where the detectives would start scratching their heads and giving the suspect one of those patented Bruce Willis quizzical looks.

3) According to both the White House and the CIA, enhanced interrogation is absolutely necessary, evidence of which is that waterboarding of Zubaydah produced, and continues to produce, actionable intelligence which was used to disrupt terrorist operations and capture other enemies of America. This doesn't add up. I'm not saying that the interrogation didn't produce the actionable intelligence, because it appears that it did - or it at least corroborated information obtained through more traditional means. There are two problems with this little detail: First: If the interrogations did, in fact, produce useful information, as both the CIA and the White House claim, then that information is still useful - for a number of reasons. Government agencies in general, and intelligence agencies in particular, never destroy records or information (unless that information is contained in White House email, but I digress). When I was a Navy intelligence officer, I saw tapes and records that went back to the beginning of WWII, some of which were still useful for training, or for historical reasons, or as lessons learned. So here we have a major intelligence coup, something that is part of an active campaign, something that justifies the President's position on enhanced interrogation, proof positive that these methods do yield usable results, that the ends do indeed justify the means - and the CIA destroys it? Talk about hanging your boss out to dry. Wow. And Second: The CIA was specifically, unequivocally, ordered to maintain detailed records of all interrogations, by the White House, Congress, and several Judges. Now the Director of Central Intelligence isn't stupid, he must have known that there would be major political fallout when the destruction of the tapes became public. He knew that disclosure was inevitable. He knew he would be called to account for it in front of Congress, and he knew that the White House would hang him out to dry. So, ask yourself this: what was on those tapes that was worth hiding, when such consequences were the inevitable result?

As noted above, supposedly, much of the footage was of Zubaydah sitting in his cell, recovering from wounds inflicted during his capture. Boring stuff, just film of a guy sitting in a cell watching the water drip, so to speak. But that doesn't make sense either, why destroy recordings of a guy sitting in a cell by himself? Unless he was, oh say, naked and freezing, or being deprived of sleep, or chained in duress positions for extended periods, or any of a dozen other methods that sound humane but when seen turn out to be, well, torture. I'm not saying that he was tortured. I don't have too. Others, some in our own government, some in US and international human rights organizations, some in the CIA, have said so. The White House and the CIA deny it. And yet, and yet, they destroyed the tapes that would have proved the truth of their claim. Unless, you know, they didn't.

5) Those tapes were classified. Highly classified. Speaking as somebody who held a Special Security Access and handled highly classified materials for over twenty years - uh, real vote of confidence in your Classified Materials Security System, CIA guys. Ah, hell, actually I probably have to give this one to the spooks. Both the White House and Congress leak like a Russian nuclear reactor, it was an absolute certainty that somebody would have leaked those tapes.

And there you have it, right there. The CIA knew those tapes would leak
to the press, it was inevitable. I'd be willing to bet that those tapes didn't provide any actionable intelligence, didn't justify the use of enhanced interrogation, didn't prove the White House's position on torture. In fact, on the face of things, I'd say those tapes had a high probability of showing just exactly the opposite. I'd say there's a pretty high probability that the information on those tapes was so damming, so embarrassing, to the CIA, the Administration, and the reputation of the United States, that powerful men were willing to risk their jobs and reputations to get rid of it. They were willing to throw away hard won intelligence. They were willing to risk jail for defying a Judge's order. Quad era demonstrandum, just saying.

If this was indeed a TV crime drama, well this would be the point in the script where the suspect confesses his crimes and the detectives haul him away. Then we'd break for a laxative commercial and scenes from next week's show. Alas, this isn't a TV crime drama, there'll be no tidy wrap-up. Let's hope the low Nielson ratings get the show canceled sooner, rather than later.


  1. uh, real vote of confidence in your Classified Materials Security System, CIA guys.

    No shit, huh? If I'd been so lacksadaisical when I was a CMS Custodian, I'm quite sure a little bad publicity would of been the least of my worries. Which leads me to believe you are correct. There was nothing lacksadaisical about the destruction of those tapes.

    I hear Leavenworth's crappy this time of year. Not that anyone in this administration is in any danger of finding out.

  2. CMS Custodian - there's a job that'll make you just a tad paranoid, eh? A job I'm glad I'll never have again.

    You know, I expect my government to lie, I mean, that's what governments do by definition - but, you'd figure that with their experience, they'd be just a tad better at it. I mean, if we've got to have liars as our leaders, I'd at least like to have accomplished ones, jut saying

  3. Yes, CMS Custodian is one of those thankless, horrible, paranoia inducing jobs that most RM/IT's and CT's get stuck with at some point. Bleh.

    Actually, I'd really like to try a government that doesn't lie. Just as a refreshing change, you know?

  4. CIA operative testifying before congress -- he's behind screen to protect his identity.

    "Actually, sir, over 75% of the erased videotapes showed an retired Navy Chief doing something called the "Oh Yeah" dance. There was also singing. It was horrible."

    --sound of sobbing from behind the screen.--

  5. Must have been somebody else. I was never there. Didn't happen. And you can't prove it.

    oh yeah, oh yeah!

  6. Actually I kind of regret posting that so quickly. In hindsight, there was so much more I could have done with it.

    Comedy gold. I just crack me up.

  7. But what would they have to hide? I mean, it's all sunshine and kittens. We're saving Amerikun Lives!

    Sorry, my tin-foil hat wasn't adjusted properly and the FOX News Channel was beaming directly into my brain.

    Actually, I also expect that people would have seen the prisoners just spouting off anything just to stop the torture.

    I keep wondering about this claim of attacks averted and can't help but remembering all the warnings about "high alert for NYC's financial district" or "high alert for trains" stuff that went on in 2003 and 2004. My guess is that they're claiming that since the prisoners claimed some attack targeting someplace, which was then watched and no attack occured that this equals "we thwarted the attack."

    And was prevented them from transfering the video to audio only tapes, or transcripts with stills, video with screening and alteration of the interegators, or any other way to actually keep the intelligence gathered, but "lose" the original to handle all the issues they claimed they were worried about.

    Yeah, this all just doesn't add up properly. An dI go back to my earlier thoughts about why they were video taped in the first place. These aren't dumb people. Who or what were they videotaping for?


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