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Hentoff: Where in Constitution is CIA absolved of crimes?

Published: Monday, Aug. 18, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

At long last, after all these years, we have a defining question to We The People on our rule of law from libertarian Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation: “Why not simply abolish the CIA?”

He asks: “Did any CIA agent get indicted for torturing people? No.

“Did any CIA agent get indicted for destroying the videotapes that showed the torture? No.

“Did any CIA agent get indicted for murdering prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq? No.”

As I’ve often reported, the list of the agency’s wrongdoings is long, continuous and deeply documented in such books as “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” by Tim Weiner, and “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention And Extraordinary Rendition” by Amrit Singh and published by The Open Society Foundations.

And right now, many Americans are waiting for the public release of an extensive, carefully validated four-year report from the Senate Intelligence Committee on the history of CIA torture and its other crimes against our rule of law and the international rule of law.

I was not surprised to see that the release of this report had been delayed indefinitely. How come? Susan Crabtree of the Washington Examiner explains:

“Senate Democrats engaged in a tug-of-war with the White House over heavy redactions to its long-delayed torture report remain furious that President Obama allowed the CIA to censor the document.”

Who asked the most secretive president in our history to exercise that authority?

Crabtree writes: “In a letter dated April 7, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, asked Obama to allow the White House to ‘take the lead’ in determining what would be redacted from a declassified study it planned to publicly release.”

The champion of the Senate’s torture report expected sudden candor from Obama of all people? Feinstein got a curveball.

“We tortured some folks,” the president said in an Aug. 1 White House press conference.

But, according to The Guardian, “he believed intelligence officials responsible for torturing detainees were working during a period of extraordinary stress and fear.”

Have pity on the CIA?

Feinstein finally realized that allowing the White House and the CIA to look over the report before it reached the public had caused her to receive “a heavily redacted executive summary of the report.”

Furthermore, she “warned that she would need additional time to understand the justification for the obscured passages. Reviewing the redactions could take days, if not weeks,” Crabtree reported.

“Obscured” is a euphemism for censored.

Crabtree also notes significantly that “Republicans on the Intelligence Committee refused to participate in the investigation,” which illuminated much of the torture of the George W. Bush-Dick Cheney years.

And, revealingly, before deciding to delay the report indefinitely once the CIA had edited it, Feinstein “indicated the CIA was most sensitive about two categories of information in files related to the interrogation program: ‘The true names of non-supervisory CIA personnel and the names of specific countries in which the CIA operated detention sites.’”

Aren’t We The People also entitled to know the true names of high-level CIA personnel who tortured at will, as well as the presidents and members of the Judiciary Committee who gave them the authority to?

Nonetheless, a number of dogged reporters have been digging into the classified report to tell us some of what’s being held back so that we’ll know why.

Here’s one from Alex Kane of AlterNet: “CIA went beyond legal memo. In 2002, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel drafted a report authorizing CIA torture, saying that the use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and stress positions were perfectly legal. It was written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo” (who is still a University of California law school professor and frequent writer-lecturer).

“But even that memo attempting to legalize torture wasn’t enough for the CIA. ... McClatchy reported that the CIA went beyond what it was authorized to do by the Bush administration.

“In a phone interview with AlterNet, [Jason] Leopold [of Al Jazeera America] said this revelation casts a harsh light on the Obama administration’s arguments that those who relied on Department of Justice legal advice shouldn’t be prosecuted.

“ ‘It literally demolishes any rationale that Obama and [Attorney General Eric] Holder had for not investigating, for not bringing criminal charges, or even launching a criminal inquiry against people who were responsible for implementing this,’ said Leopold.”

How about bringing an impeachment inquiry of commander in chief Barack Obama? He was – and is – deeply involved in hiding these crimes against our rule of law and our disintegrating Constitution.

Kane’s report in AlterNet ends with this:

“McClatchy’s reporters also revealed that the CIA lied about the number of prisoners it had in its custody in black sites around the world. ... In addition, the CIA held 26 people that did not meet the legal standard for detaining someone.”

Come on! Only 26? The numbers could run into the thousands. Will we ever find out from these kidnappers and their commanders all the way up?

• Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights.

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