The Senate’s revelations last week of CIA torture abuses should anger the public and prompt action against the higher-ups responsible for such disgraceful policies and cover-up.
But the report’s documentation of horrors is unlikely to do so.
The Democrats on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence deserve some credit for approving the report 10-8 on a party-line vote. But Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), right, and President Obama provided lax oversight for years. They enabled crimes to go unreported for the most part during the five years of the investigation, and for many outrageous practices to continue at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and in secret prisons the CIA funded in allied nations with vast payoffs to complicit officials.
The Senate report shows far worse crimes than those exposed in the 2003 Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq. Revelations from the prison in Iraq’s capital prompted punishment that included a 10-year prison sentence for guard Charles Graner. He is shown standing above a mound of seven naked prisoners in a personal photo at left, which the Associated Press later distributed.
Yet Graner and all but one of the others punished were low-level guards with little relevant training. One convict was Graner’s colleague and lover Lynndie England, shown in the photo. England, a West Virginia high school junior when she enlisted in the Army Reserves, was scapegoated with a three-year prison sentence.
No American leader dares take the next step of seeking censure much less prosecution for those at higher levels. We can now say with confidence they were criminally responsible for the more serious and widespread actions that the Senate documented in the 500-page summary of the still-classified 6,700-page report.
The actions reported on the basis of confidential CIA documents are forbidden by U.S. treaty and the morality of all civilized nations. Once upon a time, the United States opposed and punished torture, most famously during the post-World War II Nuremberg trials that resulted in execution of war criminals.
Far from seeking accountability regarding the torture as United Nations officials last week demanded, few American leaders are willing to connect the torture issue to other institutional lapses. These include last week’s other major government disgrace — rushed passage by a lame-duck Congress of a $1.1 trillion annual federal budget bill. Few members could have read the bill. It had been devised largely in secret in negotiations with leadership and lobbyists, not the “regular order” of hearings.
The bill creates giveaways to bankers and other wealthy, elite “one-percenters.”
Obama plans to sign the bill, which raises campaign finance limits to $1.5 million for an individual donor to a party ($3 million for a couple), a ten-fold increase in the current limit.
Among its many dubious provisions, the bill strips elderly and minority college students of pension and Pell grant funding, respectively. Those groups are among those who will pay for last week’s largesse to banks, defense and intelligence contractors, and others who possess enough clout to attract the goodwill of DC lawmakers.
More generally, torture will resonate as a moral and political issue only if the public understands how it stems from our misguided pro-war culture, which has been destroying the middle class. In various ways, that’s where funding has been come from to fund overseas military adventures and the surveillance/police state, including the torture sector.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), left, promoted her reputation among liberals by objecting to bank-friendly and reputedly bank-drafted provisions. These mandate that taxpayers automatically bail out banks whose profiteering leads them into risky investments, as in the 2007-2008 financial crisis and before the 2010 Dodd-Frank legislation.
But Warren and other senators failed to filibuster the budget bill. Neither do they appear ready to fight against separate legislation to enable the CIA and its allies in a Republican-led Congress to initiate new wars in the Mideast and Ukraine with scant legislative control.
In the new Congress beginning in January, key Senate committees will be led by the body’s most ardent interventionists, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), right, on the Armed Services Committee.
Democrats emerged from the weekend with a few crumbs, including the likelihood of a few patronage confirmation votes early this week.
One nomination catching our eye was that of Northern District of Texas U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldaña to become assistant Homeland Security Secretary, thereby running the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had opposed her on the grounds that she would be a rubber stamp for the president’s claim he had the power to shield from deportation five million people in the country illegally. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) planned to put her nomination to a vote early this week. Ironically, Cruz’s tactics over the weekend provided a tactical opening for a confirmation vote.
Cruz’s attack carries special resonance to those who saw Saldaña moderate a panel last year broadcast by C-SPAN entitled, JFK Assassination: Warren Commission Findings. “Rubber stamp” and “glad-handing careerist” describe her fatuous role in giving unreserved endorsement to the Warren Commission staffers and their dubious findings voiced on the panel.
The federal prosecutor’s remarks showed that she regarded her role as an opportunity to ingratiate herself with attendees, not to raise substantial points. The locale was her alma mater, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, coincidentally the home of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The site exemplified the unity of both political parties, academia and the justice system behind deeply flawed if not corrupt Warren Commission findings, as described in our 22-part Readers Guide to the JFK Assassination.
All panelists in the two SMU sessions (including faculty) and all members of the audience expressed support for the Warren Commission’s findings. Also, Dallas authorities used an advance ticket system to prevent any critics of the Warren Commission from attending an open-air memorial at Dealey Plaza to commemorate the nation’s most important and controversial murder of the century.
In sum, Saldaña used the unique occasion of the 50th anniversary of the president’s death and an unprecedented panel of surviving investigators to bestow the prestige of federal law enforcement on a biased program, feathering her own nest in the process. She helped ensured that no one would be offended and no one would learn anything substantial. That is the kind of official the system promotes to higher office.
Why Does the Public Keep Losing?
Let’s take a step back to reflect on why the military hawks, banks, mega-donors, and craven public officials always seem to win, as do cover-up artists and careerists.
Very few Americans knowingly voted last November for new wars in the Ukraine against Syria’s government at enormous cost. In the case of arming the Ukraine, historically part of Russia, the neo-conservatives and their neo-liberal/corporate Democrat allies dominating today’s foreign affairs establishment in both parties are obtaining their long-sought confrontation with Russia to shatter its power — but one that has the potential for armed conflict against a nuclear power.