On Thursday, April 12, 2007, as then-CIA Director Michael V. Hayden was testifying behind closed doors of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about his agency’s ultra-secret methods of interrogating top terror suspects, Washington was already erupting in a battle of accusations and name-calling.
A capital city firestorm du jour swept the canyons of Pennsylvania Avenue and K Street on that 2007 day, bitterly dividing Democrats and Republicans. But it had nothing to do with what Hayden was revealing (see also: concealing).
The big controversy that day was about a new White House admission. “Countless White House E-Mails Deleted,” headlined The Washington Post website article. And, no, this wasn’t about the Obama administration’s IRS contretemps or even Benghazi – remember, this predated all of that.
“Countless e-mails to and from many key White House staffers have been deleted – lost to history and placed out of reach of congressional subpoenas – due to a brazen violation of internal White House policy that was allowed to continue for more than six years,” the Post article began. “ … The leading culprit appears to be President Bush’s enormously influential political adviser Karl Rove….”
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That’s all we knew about how April 12, 2007 began – just another mundane muddle of politics as usual. Until this week. Suddenly we discovered that day also sparked a real, sickening controversy that just exploded all over our stars and stripes.
Now, seven years after Hayden testified, we are learning about allegations of a shameful chain of abuses by CIA interrogators of terrorist suspects that went far beyond anything the CIA director had acknowledged.
The Senate Intelligence panel’s Democratic majority just issued a 528-page summary of its thousands of pages cataloguing interrogation practices.
While the CIA and Senate Republicans have criticized the report as inaccurate, it has been courageously championed by one Republican senator who knows best the horrors of torture as a prisoner of war. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who was tortured by the North Vietnamese in the prison known as Hanoi Hilton, powerfully and eloquently championed the Democratic majority’s report in a Senate speech.
The committee’s Democrats and McCain maintain the CIA’s abhorrent abuses provided no valuable information. Bush administration officials insist it did but provided no full details.
Hayden made assertions the Senate panel reported were refuted by facts. Among them (as compiled by The Washington Post):
• Waterboarding: Hayden said that “waterboarding cannot take place any more than five days out of a total of 30 days. There cannot be more than two sessions per day.” But the Senate report said: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded on nine days in two weeks, three sessions in one day, and five sessions in 25 hours.
• Hygiene: Hayden said detainees always had a bucket to dispose of their human waste. The Senate report said detainees were subjected to standing sleep deprivation, routinely had to wear diapers, and sometimes waste buckets were removed as punishments. A CIA cable said that one prisoner, Abu Hazim, “requested a bucket in which he could relieve himself, but was told all rewards must be earned.”
• Punches and kicks: Hayden testified, “Punches and kicks are not authorized and have never been employed.” But the Senate report cited a number of instances in which these and other abuses occurred.
• Threats of sodomy and arrests of families: Hayden said detainee claims of such incidents “are simply not true.” The Senate report cited five instances in which detainees were force-fed through rectal insertions – as a psychological means of exerting control over the prisoners.
• Injuries and death: Hayden said, “The most serious injury that I’m aware of … is bruising as a result of shackling.” The Senate report cited numerous instances of injuries, including one detainee, Gul Rahman, who was forced to remain nude from the waist down while shackled to his cell wall and died of hypothermia, according to the autopsy report.
Today we don’t know when, or if, we will ever know for sure whether Hayden honestly revealed – or dishonestly and deliberately concealed – the full scope of shameful things his CIA interrogators did (with the best intentions) to make terrorist suspects talk after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
But we do know for sure what to call the horrible deeds. They were torture. They were the despicable acts we used to see only in movies, perpetrated by America’s enemies. Or evil acts we’d hear about, much later, that were committed against our heroes, such as John McCain.
We always could envision the world’s evildoers who commit such horrible acts. But it is beyond saddening when the perpetrators we see in our mind’s eye looks uncomfortably like ourselves.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.