The Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture reveals in detail the unrestrained brutality its operatives have carried out at secret sites around the world. Reading the disclosures in the 500-page executive summary of the committee’s findings is somewhat comparable to witnessing the strangling of Eric Garner by the police in Staten Island or hearing the testimony of witnesses who saw the unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown shot down in cold blood in Ferguson, Mo.
The whole world saw on television the killing of Garner, father of six, in cold blood by the cops. And the world was rightfully outraged when his killer was set free. The whole world is now reading detailed accounts of the most vile torture and murder. And it is equally outrageous that the CIA operatives and private contractors who did the actual torture have been protected from prosecution by the system.
The police and the CIA are two arms of the capitalist state. The police are tasked with controlling the domestic population, and in particular oppressed communities and rebellious workers. The CIA is in charge of subverting the resistance to U.S. imperialism abroad. In both cases, the government at all levels, backed by the capitalist ruling class, has rallied to protect these two wings of its repressive apparatus from being weakened.
Five-year struggle over torture report
The release of the Intelligence Committee’s report culminates a five-year phase of inner struggle within the government. In January 2009, newly elected President Obama had gone on television to announce that he was not interested in any investigations of what went on, saying, “We need to look forward as opposed to looking backward.” Shortly thereafter, he announced that he was outlawing the use of torture, which had previously been authorized by the Bush administration.
A month later, the Senate Intelligence Committee — under Chairperson Dianne Feinstein, Democrat from California, and Vice Chair Kit Bond, Republican from Missouri — voted 14-1 to open up an investigation into torture.
From that moment on, a five-year struggle ensued in which the White House, the Justice Department and the State Department, allied with the CIA, all worked to stifle the congressional investigation and keep the committee report from seeing the light of day. The presentation of the much-censored — “redacted” — document is the final outcome of that struggle within the capitalist establishment.
Even with the redactions, the report has taken many people’s breath away. It contains vivid accounts of prisoners being hung from the ceiling naked; forced to stay awake for up to 180 hours — more than a week — in a box which did not allow them to stand or sit; being placed in ice baths; having pulverized food forced up their rectums; being waterboarded up to 183 times; being threatened with death; being threatened with an electric drill while hooded; having their families threatened with death; and so on.
One man held in the infamous “snake pit,” a CIA prison in Afghanistan, died of hypothermia after being chained naked to a concrete floor in a cold cell. Another died from abuse after being repeatedly dragged up and down a hallway outside his cell.
And these are only some of the details finally revealed in the executive summary of the report after years of negotiating and haggling with the CIA and the White House over their demands to exclude damning information.
White House, Justice Department obstruction
It is important to know that Feinstein is no enemy of the growing “surveillance state.” She is a friend of the National Security Agency. In 2013, she crafted a bill that “would both make permanent a loophole permitting the NSA to search for Americans’ identifying information without a warrant — and, civil libertarians fear, contains an ambiguity that might allow the FBI, the DEA [Drug Enforcement Administration] and other law enforcement agencies to do the same thing.” (Guardian, Nov. 15, 2013)
Nevertheless, the CIA forced the Senate committee to operate out of a CIA facility in northern Virginia. The agency hacked into the committee’s computer three times and stole documents. One of the stolen documents was a highly critical review of CIA practices commissioned by former CIA Director Leon Panetta.
The CIA insisted on reviewing all of the 6 million documents the committee used. Thus, the time of completion of the Senate report was stretched from a year to five years. Justice Department head Eric Holder early on said he did not intend prosecutions. He later opened up an investigation of two CIA agents but found no one criminally culpable.
Secretary of State John Kerry went to the committee and warned against making the report public. The White House, before the investigation had barely gotten under way, said it was not interested in prosecution, despite pleas from the committee to withhold judgment.
When Feinstein discovered that the CIA had hacked into the Senate committee’s computers, current CIA Director John Brennan denied it and opened up a lawsuit against the committee for “stealing” the Panetta report. Only when CIA Inspector General David Buckley admitted the hacking did Brennan back down.
Inner conflict goes back decades
Feinstein and the Intelligence Committee are part of the establishment. This is a struggle to restrain the CIA, which has a huge budget, global resources, massive technology and operates lawlessly — not as a so-called “rogue” agency but with the support of the highest-level authorities.
In fact, the committee report let the high-ranking officials in charge at the time this torture was carried out — George Bush, Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet and lawyers like John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel — completely off the hook and kept the focus on low-level CIA operatives. But the real torturers were the highest members of the administration that devised and authorized these brutal practices.
Dick Cheney, who called the report “crap” in an interview on Fox News, blew the cover off this narrow view. When asked about Bush, Cheney told a Fox interviewer: “I think he knew certainly the techniques, we did discuss the techniques. There was no effort on our part to keep him from that.”
“The notion that the committee’s trying to peddle, that somehow the agency was operating on a rogue basis, and we weren’t being told or the President wasn’t being told, is just a flat out lie,” Cheney later added. To back up this assertion, Cheney recommended to viewers to read Bush’s book.
In fact, this struggle goes as far back as the Watergate era and the Ford administration. The CIA was caught doing internal spying on behalf of President Richard Nixon and plotting assassinations of foreign leaders. A high-ranking congressional investigative committee, the Church Committee, was formed. Its chairperson was Sen. Frank Church, Democrat from Idaho. Among the members of the committee was the right-winger Barry Goldwater of Arizona.
The committee revealed that the CIA had plotted the murder of Patrice Lumumba, first president of the Congo; of Gen. René Schneider, an anti-Pinochet general in Chile; and tried numerous times to assassinate Fidel Castro, among others.
At the time, George H.W. Bush was president. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the creators of the torture program, were fierce defenders of the CIA and tried to sabotage the Church Committee. Cheney withheld many documents from the Senate committee.
Only mass struggle can push back CIA, Pentagon and police
Today, as then, it is a struggle to retain some semblance of civilian control over the growing strength of the aggressive right-wing forces of the state, represented in this case by the CIA. Both the CIA and the Pentagon have a permanent tendency to want to take the state in tow and free themselves from any external authority.
V.I. Lenin said that democracy is the best shell under which capitalism can function. And the Pentagon and the CIA need that shell to cover up and carry out their nefarious activities and acts of aggression. But they also want to dominate the shell. Any kind of democratic restraints, even of a bourgeois character, is antithetical to the very spirit and essence of these two authoritarian institutions. The struggle over the CIA torture report is another phase in the struggle against the tendency to disregard their need for the democratic shell.
This report was done in the manner of the loyal bourgeois opposition. It was not meant to threaten imperialism or capitalism. It was meant to strengthen the system and shield the U.S. imperialists from world criticism and retaliation.
It didn’t use the word “torture.” The document mostly revolved around the argument that torture didn’t work to produce effective intelligence. There was no demand for prosecution, even though every act of torture is a violation of international law, which states that all acts of torture must be investigated and prosecuted.
There was no mention of the killer drone program, which is operated jointly by the Pentagon and the CIA. And, of course, there was no criticism of the policy attempting to conquer the Middle East, take over Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and overthrow the government of Syria. But this is what the CIA program of torture was intended to effectuate.
The working class and the oppressed have a stake in the outcome of this struggle. They need to push back against the reactionary forces of the CIA, with its programs of unbridled torture, assassination and subversion. To do so is an act of proletarian internationalism and solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world. It also serves the goal of pushing back the war drive.
This cannot be done by pro-imperialist forces within the capitalist establishment. They are weak, conciliatory and loyal to the system of exploitation and oppression in general, even if they disagree with the right wing on tactics.
The CIA and the racist police can only be pushed back if they fear the wrath of the organized masses of people. This is what is building in the struggle against racist police brutality, and this is what is also needed to push back the CIA, the Pentagon and the warmakers.