Torture report's hidden fiasco: How Mark Udall revealed a little-noticed smoking gun

Buried in the "Panetta Review" is proof that the CIA repeatedly lied to the top levels of government. Here's why

By Heather Digby Parton


Published December 11, 2014 1:30PM (EST)

Mark Udall    (AP/Brennan Linsley)
Mark Udall (AP/Brennan Linsley)

After Sen. Mark Udall lost his seat last November a number of Americans, including yours truly, tried to persuade him to release the Torture Report on his own if it looked like the Intelligence Committee was going to lose its nerve. As we all know, the Executive Summary was released yesterday and was as explosive as many of us who've been following this story closely have known for a long time that it would be. Many of these details were known, of course, although some of them, like "rectal feedings" are uniquely awful. (Truthfully, some of that had been hinted at before as well.) Still, it's an official document and that does make a difference.

So Sen. Udall was spared the risk of having to go to the floor to release a classified document that, in this environment, could have easily bought him some very unpleasant legal trouble.  Yes, the Senate speech and debate clause is supposed to protect him. But anyone who counts on such things should have a chat with some of the whistle-blowers and reporters who've been harassed and persecuted by the government these last few years. These things are hardly clear-cut.

However, despite the risk, Udall did reveal some very important classified information anyway. And for inexplicable reasons, nobody seems to have noticed. I'm talking about information contained in the classified  "Panetta Review," which was the document the CIA was allegedly looking for when it infiltrated the computers of the Senate staffers doing the investigation.

Udall called it a smoking gun. Here's what he said:

The Panetta Review found that the CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Congress, the president, and the public on the efficacy of its coercive techniques. The Brennan Response, in contrast, continues to insist that the CIA’s interrogations produced unique intelligence that saved lives. Yet the Panetta Review identifies dozens of documents that include inaccurate information used to justify the use of torture – and indicates that the inaccuracies it identifies do not represent an exhaustive list.

The Panetta Review further describes how detainees provided intelligence prior to the use of torture against them. It describes how the CIA – contrary to its own representations – often tortured detainees before trying any other approach. It describes how the CIA tortured detainees even when less coercive methods were yielding intelligence. The Panetta Review further identifies cases in which the CIA used coercive techniques when it had no basis for determining whether a detainee had critical intelligence at all. In other words, CIA personnel tortured detainees to confirm they didn’t have intelligence – not because they thought they did.

Considering the headlines being made around the world about the report, you'd think that the news media would be all over this. This report has been the subject of intense controversy inside the Beltway. Of course, it's always possible that it implicates some of the very people to whom these media outlets are so eager to give endless hours of face time defending the agency's tactics, so perhaps it's something they'd rather not know. (It would make it harder to present a nice "he said/she-said" story line.)  It certainly implicates people like John Brennan, who Udall urged the president to fire along with every other CIA employee implicated in this horrifying episode.

This will not happen, needless to say, and Udall seemed to realize that when he issued a scathing indictment of the president as well. And it had to be said:

The White House has not led on this issue in the manner we expected when we heard the president’s campaign speeches in 2008 and read the executive order he issued in January 2009. To CIA employees in April 2009, President Obama said, “What makes the United States special, and what makes you special, is precisely the fact that we are willing to uphold our values and ideals even when it’s hard — not just when it’s easy; even when we are afraid and under threat – not just when it’s expedient to do so. That’s what makes us different.”

This tough, principled talk set an important tone for the beginning of his presidency. However, fast forward to this year, after so much has come to light about the CIA’s barbaric programs, and President Obama’s response was that we “crossed a line” as a nation, and that, quote, “hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.”

That’s not good enough. We need to be better than that. There can be no cover-up. There can be no excuses. If there is no moral leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA’s torture program wasn’t necessary and didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what’s to stop the next White House and CIA Director from supporting torture?

Absolutely nothing. Indeed, what this episode shows is that a Democratic White House engaged in a torture coverup and 95 percent of Republicans on record outright supporting it. Since there is impunity for having done it, why shouldn't they? It's nothing more than a policy debate now, one among so many, which breaks down upon the usual lines of hawks vs. doves (John McCain, a torture victim, being the anomalous outlier.)

The revelation of the Panetta Review might change that, however. Americans know that torture is immoral, but what we now know is that many people also just don't care as long as it "gets the job done." Udall says the Panetta Review agrees that it didn't get the job done. That could actually mean something, even to the likes of Wolf Blitzer and many of the rest of the mainstream media, which seems intent upon allowing the CIA apologists to carry the day. We need to see that report.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

America Barack Obama Cia Congress George W. Bush Hypocrisy Leon Panetta Mark Udall Smoking Gun Torture