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

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel wins 4th term
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel
Congrats

RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel wins 4th term

Is Meta's decision to bring back Trump dangerous or overdue?
Donald Trump's Facebook page.
Picture of Harold MaassHarold Maass

Is Meta's decision to bring back Trump dangerous or overdue?

8 modest proposals to prevent gun violence
The White House.
Briefing

8 modest proposals to prevent gun violence

What does the GOP want from debt ceiling negotiations?
the Republican elephant
Briefing

What does the GOP want from debt ceiling negotiations?

Most Popular

The big debate about alcohol
Alcohol.
In depth

The big debate about alcohol

Andrea Riseborough's Oscar nomination sparks Academy scrutiny
Andrea Riseborough
andrea fallborough?

Andrea Riseborough's Oscar nomination sparks Academy scrutiny

Former U.S. generals explain how U.S. and German tanks can help Ukraine
Leopard 2 battle tanks
Many tanks

Former U.S. generals explain how U.S. and German tanks can help Ukraine