If the George W. Bush era in the US seemed to signal the broadening of intelligence powers to all new highs, the Obama administration has humbled the national security machine.
Last week crystallized that national security as a trump card in internal government debates is not what it used to be, as the use of torture in interrogations was brought into sharp relief.
After several months of denying that the Central Intelligence Agency had acted improperly in hacking into the US Senate Intelligence Committee’s computers being used to investigate the CIA’s use of torture during the Bush era, CIA Director John Brennan made an astonishing apology.
Having issued a declassified summary of the CIA’s own internal investigation into its conduct, and the Department of Justice having dismissed any suspicions of CIA criminal wrongdoing, Brennan said that the CIA’s search of the Senate investigators’ computers was improper.
Five CIA agents — two lawyers and three computer specialists — surreptitiously searched the investigators’ files and reviewed some staff members’ emails, according to a summary of the CIA inspector-general’s report.
The report criticized members of the CIA’s computer team for a “lack of candor about their activities” when questioned by CIA Inspector-General David Buckley’s office about the incident.
But this episode is small-fry compared to the hit the CIA is expected to take when the Senate’s report is publicly distributed.
Numerous leaks to the media about the report indicate that it will debunk the CIA’s central defense for the Bush era “enhanced interrogation” program.
For years the CIA had claimed that information gleaned from enhanced interrogation was critical for the prevention of terror attacks.
In contrast, the report will say the information could have been obtained by non-torture interrogations and that the CIA actively misled Congress to deflect criticism about the importance of what enhanced interrogation produced.
All of this is compounded by developments in the Guantanamo Bay military court terror trials where defense lawyers started to have greater success in chipping away at the veil of secrecy about to what degree the CIA tortured their clients.
Defense attorney Richard Kammen hoped that exposing this information would save his client, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi detainee accused of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole naval vessel and other later attacks, from the death penalty.
In recent months, the chief prosecutor at the Guantanamo Bay war crimes court asked US Army Judge Col. James Pohl to drop a prior court order obligating the US to give defense lawyers sweeping amounts of classified detail related to al-Nashiri’s treatment at the hands of the CIA.
In a pretrial motion declassified in April, the prosecutor, US Brig.-Gen.
Mark S. Martins, said Obama administration efforts to declassify the Senate report should be allowed to be completed before the court forces declassification for only one complainant.
Al-Nashiri was one of three detainees known to have been waterboarded according to a CIA inspector-general report.
In March, Dr. Sandra Crosby, a specialist in treating torture victims, testified that al-Nashiri had been subject to “physical, psychological and sexual torture.”
Recently The Jerusalem Post reported that Col. (res.) Jana Modgavrishvili is the first Justice Ministry investigator of complaints of torture against the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) who is not an internal appointee.
The aggressive fronts that the CIA and Shin Bet face about their interrogation tactics stem from post-war backlashes (US – Afghanistan and Iraq, and Israel – notably the 2008-9 Operation Cast Lead.) While much has changed, it is unclear whether the pressure will lead to indictments in either the US or Israel, as changes in interrogation procedure have occurred in the US and are likely in Israel; or whether the pendulum will swing back in the other direction and the issue will fade.