On torture, the CIA says to trust the CIA

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden says we shouldn't rush to judgment. But the facts are already in.

(Image credit: (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images))

As we await the release of a Senate report on the CIA's torture practices during the Bush years, a public relations campaign is unfolding in the media. The latest salvo is from former CIA Director Michael Hayden, who wrote an op-ed arguing that anti-torture activists — such as Human Rights First, which is supported by a group of retired military leaders — are smearing the CIA before they have even had a chance to read the report.

Some are trying to get you to accept their bottom line on a report neither they nor you have read. And I am trying to get you, before you make up your mind, to stop and read the rebuttals and ask yourself why no one who had access to the ground truth was interviewed. [The Washington Times]

The upshot of Hayden's article is that Human Rights First and its supporters are biased and unreliable shills for the Democratic Party, and therefore shouldn't be trusted. Instead, we should listen to the CIA and its congressional apologists, particularly when it comes to keeping the numerous redactions that have been made to the report:

Which brings us to the current impasse. Will the White House bend and put sensitive information back into the document prior to its releaseThis should be a fairly clinical process. Great weight should be given to the judgment of professionals on what information, if disclosed, would harm national security. [The Washington Times]

Where to begin?

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First of all, Hayden completely mischaracterizes what Human Rights First is doing. The group is trying to restore the bipartisan norm against torture — remember, the Convention Against Torture was one of President Reagan's proudest accomplishments. Indeed, the group's supporters include John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Second, when it comes to the Senate report, you could not find a more compromised person than Hayden and members of the CIA. They are all deeply implicated in the torture itself, as well as a history of blatant deception.

The program of torture, which is how both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have described it, was authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration. Torture is illegal under U.S. law. Therefore, the CIA has a vested interest in defending its reputation and forestalling possible war crimes prosecutions.

Hayden himself was a major player in the story, running the CIA from 2006 to 2009. He did not oversee the worst of the torture, but during his tenure the CIA was still carrying out extreme sleep deprivation, a form of torture if done long enough.

Practically the entire top echelon of the Bush security apparatus is guilty of omissions, misleading statements, and outright lies. President Bush lied about torture. Vice President Cheney lied about torture. Hayden himself lied to Congress about torture. These are people who have no problem lying to the public if they can convince themselves it's in the interest of national security — or of saving their own skin.

Finally, while Hayden accuses his critics of prespinning the report, there really isn't much to be spun. The question of whether the CIA conducted torture has been answered already, which is why most people accepted the Senate report as soon as its general outlines were known. They comport with decades of detailed academic work on the subject, and with other careful outside accounts of what happened.

The point of the Senate report is not to blow the CIA torture program wide open. It is to confront that disgraceful era in an official manner and to restore some decency to the nation. By putting his own spin on the report, Hayden is trying to undermine that effort and discredit those who would make torture a thing of the past.

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