Unpunished: The CIA’s Felony War Crimes

By Richard Walker —

The United States Senate’s decision to let the public see a summary of its report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) torture program following the September 11 attacks hides the fact Congress and the White House are happy to let people guilty of ordering and committing war crimes walk free. That is the stark truth ignored in all the mass media coverage of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 11-3 vote to declassify 500 pages of the 6,300 pages of its shocking torture report.


Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.), who claimed there were some “chilling” stories of torture in the summary, might have better spent his time asking why no one has been held accountable for a program of torture that spanned the globe.

Human rights organizations have argued for years that the sheer scale of the torture program should require any democratic republic to bring the guilty to justice. Philip Zelikow, a former senior aide to President George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and subsequently an executive on the 9-11 Commission, has admitted the CIA torture program was a “felony war crime.” He asserted that his warnings about it were ignored by the Bush administration. In his words, the torture was “an unprecedented, elaborate, systematic program of medically monitored physical torment to break prisoners and make them talk.”

According to him, he told his Bush administration colleagues there was no legal precedent since World War II that would have justified the CIA’s interrogation techniques.

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The cynicism of the Bush White House about torture was best encapsulated in McCain’s recent revelation that when CIA operatives contacted the White House—presumably Vice President Dick Cheney’s office—to reveal they had waterboarded a suspect and had gotten nothing out of him, they were told to “waterboard him some more.”

While Zelikow has revealed his shock about the CIA’s activities, it is worth noting he nevertheless remained within the Bush administration. He was surrounded by colleagues in the Bush White House and the Justice Department who persuaded the CIA to believe the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the agency. There were also CIA bosses, and last but not least, CIA operatives, contractors and medical and psychological professionals directly involved in the process of torturing suspects.

Not a single one of the guilty men and women will face a U.S. court for their crimes. Neither will CIA figures, who destroyed video evidence of some of the torture—especially pertaining to 9-11.

Nevertheless, truth has a strange way of surfacing, as illustrated by the revelations of whistleblower Edward Snowden. He showed that a powerful intelligence agency like the National Security Agency can let its guard down. If that happens with the torture story the damage may not be easily contained. That is the assessment of a retired European diplomat familiar with intelligence matters, who spoke to this writer on condition of anonymity.

“Snowden is a wake-up call for those playing with the public trust and it shows how a whistleblower can bring the house down,” said the diplomat. “It could just as easily happen over the torture issue. Americans involved in torture may not have to worry about facing the wrath of their own legal system, but if the [truth gets out] they will have to stay at home in the U.S. indefinitely because there are legal eyes on this issue across Europe. Britain has contained some of it by buying the silence of detainees who were subjected to torture, but that is just a quick fix. There were too many people involved in this thing to silence all of them. Sooner or later the dam may burst and produce another Snowden.”

Richard Walker is the pen name of a former N.Y. news producer.

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