On CIA torture, the President must take action


By John Kiriakou

John Kiriakou was interviewed Oct. 27, 2015, by WRAL journalist David Crabtree at University of North Carolina.  (Photo credit: © Jerry Markatos)

John Kiriakou was interviewed Oct. 27, 2015, by WRAL journalist David Crabtree at University of North Carolina.  (Photo credit: © Jerry Markatos)

It has been my personal experience that, with only one or two exceptions since the creation of the Church Committee in 1975, Congress has been generally loathe to challenge the CIA. There’s very little oversight, and, certainly, there are few, if any, examples of Congress telling the CIA “no.” 

That’s why the release last year of the Senate torture report was such a momentous event. Why was it momentous? Because the CIA’s torture program was worse than most Americans expected. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said that Agency officers used interrogation methods that had not been approved by either the Justice Department or by CIA Headquarters; the Agency actively impeded investigations and oversight of the program, not only by the White House and Congress, but even by its own Inspector General; and CIA officers tortured as many as 26 people who didn’t meet the legal standards for detention. Many were likely innocent of any ties to terrorism. 

There is no room for a middle ground response. There is still time for the President to order the Justice Department to prosecute violations of the law.

The CIA has admitted only to waterboarding three prisoners—Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, Abu Zubaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. But it took the Senate report to tell us about Ammar al-Baluchi, who was arrested in Pakistan and sent to a secret CIA prison, where he was repeatedly dunked in a tub of ice water.  Interrogators held his head under the water, beat him repeatedly with a truncheon-like object, and slammed his head against the wall.  Baluchi’s attorneys say he suffered head trauma during CIA interrogations. This was not authorized by the Justice Department. So why weren’t the perpetrators charged with a crime?

The SSCI’s chairwoman at the time of the report’s release, Senator Dianne Feinstein, said the report “exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation. It chronicles a stain on our history that must never be allowed to happen again.” She’s right. 

And there’s a precedent for how the government has confronted similar actions in the past. The Washington Post on January 21, 1968 published a photo of a U.S. soldier waterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner. The Defense Department investigated, court-martialed the soldier, and convicted him of torture. It was wrong in 1968 to commit torture and it was wrong in 2002. It should still be wrong—and prosecutable—in 2015.

Some current and former CIA leaders will argue that they had the legal authority to carry out what they euphemistically call “enhanced interrogation techniques” and that torture allowed us to collect actionable intelligence that saved American lives. I was working in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the same time they were and I can tell you that they’re lying. 

Torture may have made some of us feel better in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. It may have made us feel that we were avenging our fallen compatriots who were killed that day. But there was no information gathered through torture that saved American lives. The report found that “the harsh interrogation methods did not succeed in exacting useful intelligence.”  That’s a categorical statement.  Torture didn’t work.  Period.

Useful intelligence, however, shouldn’t even be the criterion. The question isn’t really whether torture works. The question is whether it is right, whether it is moral.

After all, murder works. But we don’t murder people.  At least, we’re not supposed to. Rape works. But we don’t rape people. Beating children in front of their parents works. But we don’t do that. There has to be a red line. If we are to maintain our role as a beacon of hope for the rest of the world, as a nation where human rights are respected, then we have to oppose torture absolutely. That begins with the President. And it’s past time for him to take action.


John Kiriakou is a former CIA Counterterrorism Officer and former Senior Investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. To learn more about John Kiriakou, please visit his website.


Faith actions and opposing torture: acting out our faith


By Wes Hare, for the Church of Reconciliation and the New Hope Presbytery Peacemaking Committee


For years, many organizations in North Carolina have struggled with CIA detainees being transported by the U.S. government using aircraft and pilots based in Johnston County, NC.  People of faith in local churches and related action groups have established a new local initiative to bring this practice to light and seek justice.  Let’s celebrate and support this with our energy and resources.

First, a reminder of our nation’s continued denial of its torture legacy.  In a detailed report released Dec. 1, 2015, Human Rights Watch identifies a legal basis for prosecution of government officials.  In “No More Excuses: A Roadmap to Justice for CIA Torture,” HRW calls on the U.S. Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to conduct criminal investigations of those responsible for post-9/11 torture. The report also calls for the release of the full Senate Torture Report, most of which remains classified.

Among those HRW calls on to be criminally investigated for their roles in authorizing torture are leading figures of the George W. Bush administration, including former CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice — and Bush himself.

While chances for such an investigation are currently remote, there is a glimmer of hope:  the National Religious Coalition Against Torture (NRCAT) and other groups won a big victory when President Obama signed into law a bill to permanently ban CIA torture.  The FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) requires CIA interrogations to follow humane standards spelled out in the Army Field Manual, and requires International Committee of the Red Cross access to all detainees.  It also creates a procedure for updating the Field Manual with our best understanding of effective, humane interrogation techniques that do not involve the use or threat of force. 

This permanent ban on CIA torture is an important moral step forward for the nation.  Crucially, it was bi-partisan.  A Republican Congress joined with a Democratic President to end CIA torture forever.  People like yourself, from many different faiths, led the way by calling, with one united voice, for an end to torture. 

Now onward to North Carolina.  Specifically, the rendition flights, many of which took off from Johnston County Airport, are of unique concern to us because the airport is within the bounds of our neighborhoods.  What is our leaders’ response to the Senate Torture Report?  Governor Pat McCrory, other NC political government leaders, and North Carolina’s U.S. Senators have refused to act for greater transparency or accountability.

Enter the new local approach.  The NC Commission of Inquiry on Torture (NCCIT) is a non-governmental initiative to create the transparency for North Carolina’s role in CIA torture that our state and local governments have refused to recognize and support.  NCCIT is drawing on local churches for action and financial support. 

One such local response comes from the Church of Reconciliation or “the Rec,” a local Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill.  The Session of the Rec has approved $3,000 as requested and prepared with Rec support, and led by Janie Lee Freeman and the Rec’s Justice and Peace Committee.  Janie has been the moving force behind years-long flying of the Rec’s anti-torture banner.  This NCRAT banner has delivered our Church’s position, and now the New Hope Presbytery Peacemaking Committee has sent NCCIT $3,000 in financial support at the Rec’s request.  

NCCIT has presented this challenge to all of us.  Now it is up to us to rally a broader range of local faith-based resources to NCCIT so all of us can exert more pressure and get commitments from North Carolina’s leadership to bring this out into the public.

It seems clear, but won’t be without a struggle….

"Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation . . . want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. [. . .]  Power concedes nothing without a demand.  It never did and it never will.  The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."
          -   Frederick Douglass, August 3, 1857

"All of us – we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations."
          - President Barack Obama, January 12, 2011


Wes Hare is a member of the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC,  and Moderator of the New Hope Presbytery Peacemaking Committee in Raleigh, NC. He is also the Co-Chair of the “Rec’s” Justice & Peace Committee. Hare is retired, but works as a crossing guard at Rashkis Elementary School in Chapel Hill . He also walks & harvests abandoned Golf Balls and donates them to the area ALS Jim “Catfish” Hunter Chapter's annual “Catfish Classic Golf Tournament."