When The Investigation Is The Cover-Up

So the CIA destroyed video-tapes of “harsh interrogation techniques” (lest anyone use the word torture to describe torture).  We know it now.  But  pretty much everybody in the world who had any say about such things in Washington knew about it in 2003.  The White House knew.  Congress knew.  The CIA lawyers knew.  As did the good men and women who run the Central Intelligence Agency.  How they managed to keep Bob Novack from spilling the beans, I don’t know.

So naturally, Congress has to start an investigation, since there’s nothing they like better than a foregone conclusion.  But my old friend, Michael Mukasey, has joined in the fray by appointing a special prosecutor, John H. Durham, a senior prosecutor in the District of Connecticut.

Now I don’t know anything about Durham, except what Norm Pattis tells me.  Norm says “Durham is a tough as nails prosecutor who has earned a reputation for ferocious and determined advocacy.”  I believe him.  And that means that if one supports the concept of an independent prosecutor in this instance, John Durham would be the guy you would want.

But I do not believe that the solution to all problems Washingtonian is an independent prosecutor.  In fact, I believe that this situation is one where a criminal investigation by an outsider is just what the CIA doctor ordered.  It’s not that Durham would be inclined to sweep anything under the rug.  It’s that these investigations tend to miss seeing the forest through the trees.  They focus on individual wrongdoing.  That’s what criminal investigations do. 

And so I predict that the investigation will identify a handful of individuals who will be hung out to dry as the villains who destroyed the videos of “harsh interrogations,” who will be dutifully punished.  And then, we can all go grab a beer and bask in the glow of kinder, gentler CIA.  This is not my idea of a good outcome.

My issue with this new scheme is that the handful of individuals who were directly involved in the destruction of the tapes are not what went wrong here.  These individuals were the fingers, connected to an arm, connected to a body, directed by a mind to do the dirty work.  Cutting off the fingers will not alter the evil that remains in the mind.

The destruction of these videotapes, following upon advice and admonitions by nearly everyone else in Washington to not destroy them, was an institutional decision.  The CIA is a spy institution, and inherent in its culture is secrecy.  That means when they do something that us ordinary folk aren’t supposed to know or believe happened, they make it disappear.  That’s what the CIA does.

What this incident has taught us is that there is no one in Washington who exerts control or influence over the CIA.  It exists independent of everything else American.  It makes its own decisions and executed them.  While the CIA may believe that it does so for the benefit of the country, and in furtherance of the American way, by disconnecting itself from the control of the three branches of government that we were under the impression ran the United States, they have become a rogue agency.

And that’s my issue.  The investigation will necessarily direct its focus at a few of the trees that were involved in some direct, provable way, to the destruction of the videos.  These people are likely to be good soldiers, doing what the institution of the CIA directs and expects them to do.  Given the nature of their work, this is hardly a bad thing.  The CIA does lots of shifty stuff, and every country needs an agency to do their dirty work.

But the problem here is that the CIA, even while doing its country’s dirty work, needs to answer to someone.  The tape destruction showed that it didn’t, and doesn’t.  That’s an entirely different problem, and no criminal investigation, even by a prosecutor as tough and honest as Durham, is going to be able to touch the real culprit.  So the CIA will go free and some poor spooks will fall on the sword.  And the United States of America will still have a rogue agency in Washington, except that next time it will be smarter than to let everybody know what it’s up to.

One comment on “When The Investigation Is The Cover-Up

  1. Kathy

    Yes, but I would add that this isn’t just about the CIA, but also the White House and Justice Department, who I’m sure were involved in the decision to destroy the tapes.

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