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CIA to Promote Head of "Black Site" Where Torture Occurred?

Alex Abdo,
Former Senior Staff Attorney,
ACLU Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project
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April 1, 2013

Update (5/7/2013): CIA Director John Brennan has replaced the acting head of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, who is also the subject of this blog post. This important news hopefully signals Brennan’s commitment to enforcing the letter and spirit of President Obama’s executive order banning the use of torture, abuse, and secret prisons.

According to media reports, the acting director of the CIA’s clandestine service has, for the last month, been an official who was “in the chain of command” in the CIA’s torture program in the years after 9/11. According to a book by Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the clandestine service, this unnamed official even headed one of the early CIA “black sites”—notorious secret prisons set up overseas to torture detainees. Media reports indicate that the unnamed career officer also reportedly signed off on the destruction of 92 videotapes documenting some of the most brutal mistreatment carried out under the CIA program.

Here is the cable that reportedly bore her name (redacted, of course), authorizing the destruction of the tapes in violation of a court order in our long-running Freedom of Information Act lawsuit on detainee treatment:

(This document was released to the ACLU in 2010 as part of that lawsuit. The judge ordered the CIA to pay a penalty, and wrote in his ruling, “The CIA…had the obligation to identify or produce the videotapes, and the CIA cannot be excused in its dereliction because of particular individuals’ lapses.”)

Newly appointed CIA Director John Brennan is now reportedly deciding whether he will make the unnamed official’s temporary placement as the director of the clandestine service permanent. Before doing so, he should consider the history. The CIA’s torture and “black site” detention program violated U.S. and international law, harmed our national security, and deeply damaged our international standing. The abuse that predictably followed from the program is now well documented: dozens of reports by the military and the CIA have confirmed it. Approximately ten detainees even died as a result of abusive interrogation or confinement. Our country continues to pay the price—in our courts, in our politics, and in our moral standing in the world—for the Bush administration’s decision to torture detainees.

People within the CIA objected to torture and rejected it as illegal and immoral, but they aren’t the ones being recognized as they should be. Instead, the Obama administration’s determination to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards” on accountability for torture is taking us to a point where those who signed off on torture or carried it out are considered for promotion instead of being held to account.

Brennan can begin to set a different example. Before selecting the next head of the agency’s clandestine service, he should carefully investigate any candidate’s affiliation with the CIA’s torture program.

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