No Comment — February 10, 2011, 1:52 pm

The CIA’s Culture of Impunity

What happens to a CIA agent who authorizes the torture of an innocent citizen of a NATO ally, leaving a long trail of dumb mistakes behind? The answer appears to be: promotion. That’s the message from an impressive Associated Press story by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, two of the best reporters covering the intelligence beat today. Newspapers around the country pared the AP story down, and the Washington Post mysteriously edited out critical details, but it’s worth going straight to the AP site for the whole 3,700-word feature.

Here’s a key fragment:

In December 2003, security forces boarded a bus in Macedonia and snatched a German citizen named Khaled el-Masri. For the next five months, el-Masri was a ghost. Only a select group of CIA officers knew he had been whisked to a secret prison for interrogation in Afghanistan. But he was the wrong guy.

A hard-charging CIA analyst had pushed the agency into one of the biggest diplomatic embarrassments of the U.S. war on terrorism. Yet despite recommendations by an internal review, the analyst was never punished. In fact, she has risen to one of the premier jobs in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, helping lead President Barack Obama’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaida.

That “hard-charging CIA analyst,” we learn, has now become the head of the Agency’s Global Jihad Unit, responsible for tracking down Al Qaeda operatives—one of the most important posts in the agency. But who is she? AP explains that the CIA insists that her name not be used, not even her first name, which they indicate is “unusual.” They identify her as “Frances.” She figures prominently in an important 2005 article by Dana Priest, which details her notorious role in the el-Masri abduction. “She just had a hunch,” Priest quotes a CIA official as saying. “She didn’t know.” It’s unclear whether she is one of the thirteen CIA agents that German prosecutors indicted in January 2007, in a case that American diplomats subsequently tried to shut down with an unusual exhibition of raw political pressure, as a WikiLeaks cable disclosed.

In addition to Frances, we are also introduced to Elizabeth, a CIA lawyer eager to demonstrate a “can-do” mentality, who approved Frances’s decision to kidnap and torture the innocent German greengrocer; Matt, in whose custody a prisoner froze to death in the CIA’s infamous Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan; Albert, who decided to stage a mock execution to motivate a prisoner he was holding in Poland, and Ron, his boss, who watched the process go down and did nothing to stop it; Steve, who interrogated Manadel al-Jamadi to death; Baghdad station chief Gerry Meyer and his deputy Gordon, who introduced and operated the “ghost prisoner” system there; and others. There’s only so much one can cover in 3,700 words.

The AP story juxtaposes the CIA internal probes with the military’s culture of officer responsibility. The contrast between the CIA and the Navy, for instance, couldn’t be stronger. If a ship goes aground, the commander faces an almost certain inquiry and disciplinary measures from which his career is unlikely to quickly recover. The CIA, by contrast, has a culture of impunity—blame is shared and institutionalized. As the AP investigation shows, even in cases that the CIA agrees were clear-cut mistakes, those who disrespect the law and particularly the rules for the protection of prisoners are likely to rise within the agency.

Such a culture has certain legal consequences. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, when an organization involved in warfare fails to punish or discipline those who engage in criminal conduct, criminal liability passes to the senior officers of that organization. That’s a point for Leon Panetta and his senior deputies to ponder carefully. It is not just their reputations that are in jeopardy.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

From the June 2014 issue

The Guantánamo “Suicides,” Revisited

A missing document suggests a possible CIA cover-up

No Comment March 28, 2014, 12:32 pm

Scott Horton Debates John Rizzo on Democracy Now!

On CIA secrecy, torture, and war-making powers

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

September 2014

Israel and Palestine

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Washington Is Burning

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

On Free Will

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

They Were Awake

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Post
Arab artists take up — and look past — regional politics
“When everyday life regularly throws up images of terror and drama and the technological sublime, how can a photographer compete?”
“Qalandia 2087, 2009,” by Wafa Hourani
Post
“There was torture by the previous regime and by the current Iraqi regime,” Dr. Amin said. “Torture by our Kurdish government, torture by Syrians, torture by the U.S.”
Visiting His Own Grave © Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Article
The Tale of the Tape·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Heroin isn’t the weakness Art Pepper submits to; it’s the passion he revels in.”
Photograph (detail) © Laurie Pepper
Criticism
The Soft-Kill Solution·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Policymakers, recognizing the growing influence of civil disobedience and riots on the direction of the nation, had already begun turning to science for a response."
Illustration by Richard Mia
New Books
New Books·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

 
“Almond insists that watching football does more than feed an appetite for violence. It’s a kind of modern-day human sacrifice, and it makes us more likely to go to war.”
Photograph by Harold Edgerton

Chance that a movie script copyrighted in the U.S. before 1925 was written by a woman:

1 in 2

Engineers funded by the United States military were working on electrical brain implants that will enable the creation of remote-controlled sharks.

Malaysian police were seeking fifteen people who appeared in an online video of the Malaysia-International Nude Sports Games 2014 Extravaganza, and Spanish police fined six Swiss tourists conducting an orgy in the back of a moving van for not wearing their seatbelts.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

In Praise of Idleness

By

I hope that after reading the following pages the leaders of the Y. M. C. A. will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Subscribe Today