Opinion

Michael Hayden's massive conflict of interest on torture

The former CIA director's sexist comment about Dianne Feinstein isn't the only thing that's suspect

Former CIA Director Michael Hayden sparked a huge internet firestorm a couple days ago when he gaslighted Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) for wanting to declassify part of the Senate torture report:

On Fox News Sunday, Hayden cited comments Feinstein made last month in which she said declassifying the report would "ensure that an un-American, brutal program of detention and interrogation will never again be considered or permitted." [...]

"That sentence — that motivation for the report — may show deep, emotional feeling on the part of the senator, but I don't think it leads you to an objective report," Hayden said. [The Washington Post]

As everyone immediately pointed out, that's an ancient sexist stereotype, and utterly misleading to boot. But I'd like to focus on a different aspect of the case: namely, what might cause Michael Hayden to have a distorted perspective about this issue.

Let's review: Under United States and international law, torture is a war crime. To refuse to prosecute it is itself a war crime. Furthermore, the historical evidence shows that torture is simply ineffective as an intelligence-gathering tool. Only knaves and fools ever use it for such a purpose. As all sensible totalitarians know, torture is for intimidation and false confessions.

Michael Hayden was a key figure in the upper echelons of the US security apparatus during the Bush administration, running the NSA from 1999-2005 and the CIA from 2006-2009. As such he is deeply implicated in the torture program. He was not running the CIA during the bulk of it (he was running the warrantless wiretapping program instead), but at the very minimum he did not call for a full legal accounting of the torturers, as is required by the Geneva Conventions. Instead he let Jose Rodriguez, a man who by his own admission destroyed tapes of the torture sessions, resign peacefully. At this point it's clear that no one will be prosecuted for torture, but theoretically, if Hayden admitted to letting a known torturer walk, it could still be grounds for a war crimes prosecution.

[UPDATE: Via Katherine Hawkins, during Hayden's tenure at the CIA, they were still inflicting extreme sleep deprivation on prisoners, so such a case would be even stronger than failing to prosecute.]

Incidentally, this is a major reason why anti-torture laws are so strict. Violations often require such strong confrontation against such powerful people and institutions that the temptation to simply airbrush the past and let them slide is irresistible, thereby implicating current officials in the crimes of the past and ensuring they will happen again.

I wonder if Michael Hayden ever catches himself thinking he sold his morality for a mess of pottage. I wonder if he grinds his teeth at night. I wonder if he ever looks in a mirror and wonders if future generations will consider him a monster.

In any case, as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) detailed in a speech in the Senate defending his colleague, Hayden has already repeatedly misled Congress about the efficacy of the torture program. Could that be because he can't admit to himself that the torture program was simply not worth the moral price paid? One thing is clear: If there's anyone whose motives, integrity, and emotions are suspect here, it's not Dianne Feinstein.

More From...

Picture of Ryan CooperRyan Cooper
Read All
2 million words at The Week
Ryan behind stacks of paper.
Opinion

2 million words at The Week

The promise and peril of electric cars
An electric car.
Opinion

The promise and peril of electric cars

The growth backlash
A garbage can.
Opinion

The growth backlash

The Supreme Court is a bastion of unearned privilege
The Supreme Court.
Opinion

The Supreme Court is a bastion of unearned privilege

Recommended

Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces campaign for Congress
Bill de Blasio
he's running

Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announces campaign for Congress

Oklahoma Legislature passes bill prohibiting abortion after fertilization
Pro-choice and anti-abortion activists at a protest.
abortion in america

Oklahoma Legislature passes bill prohibiting abortion after fertilization

Jan. 6 committee wants to speak with GOP lawmaker over Capitol tour
Rep. Barry Loudermilk.
capitol riot aftermath

Jan. 6 committee wants to speak with GOP lawmaker over Capitol tour

Bush mistakenly condemns 'brutal invasion of Iraq'
George W. Bush
bushisms

Bush mistakenly condemns 'brutal invasion of Iraq'

Most Popular

College student who delivered baby before graduation surprised at hospital
Jada Sayles receives her diploma.
major milestones

College student who delivered baby before graduation surprised at hospital

Russian state TV military analyst backpedals criticism of Ukraine invasion
Mikhail Khodarenok
'the colonel has been reined back in'

Russian state TV military analyst backpedals criticism of Ukraine invasion

Elon Musk reportedly offered to trade a horse for an erotic massage
Elon Musk
A horse?

Elon Musk reportedly offered to trade a horse for an erotic massage