VIPS Memorandum re Torture: Don't Leave the Loaded Pistol Lying on the Kitchen Table

VIPS Memorandum re Torture: Don't Leave the Loaded Pistol Lying on the Kitchen Table
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Twelve of us "Veteran Intelligence Professionals For Sanity" just signed the memorandum below to the President on torture. Our points have been echoed by numerous military and civilian intelligence agency personnel as well as by one former member of the Church Committee, former Vice President Walter Mondale, who made this pertinent comment on the same day we were finishing our memo: "..holding people responsible in some way for what happened is very important. If the verdict here is that you can do these kinds of things and there are no consequences, then that leaves a precedent. I've been around the federal government long enough to know that if there is a bad precedent, it's like leaving a loaded pistol on the kitchen table. You don't know who is going to pick it up and pull the trigger. There need to be consequences for violating the law."

April 29, 2009


FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity

SUBJECT: Torture

This memorandum is VIPS' first attempt to inform you on a major intelligence issue, as we did your predecessor; thus, some background might be helpful. Five former CIA officers established Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003, when we saw our profession being corrupted to justify an attack on Iraq. Since then, our numbers have grown to 70 intelligence professionals, mostly retired, who have served in virtually all U.S. civilian and military intelligence agencies.

In our first Memorandum for the President (George W. Bush), dated February 5, 2002, we provided a same-day commentary on Colin Powell's U.N. speech. We warned the president that "an invasion of Iraq would ensure overflowing recruitment centers for terrorists into the indefinite future [and that] far from eliminating the [terrorist] threat, it would enhance it exponentially."

We strongly urged the former president to widen the discussion on Iraq "beyond the circle of those advisers clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic." VIPS' second pre-war Memorandum for the President was titled, "Forgery, Hyperbole, Half-Truth: A Problem"--a reference to the bogus intelligence we saw being ginned up to "justify" war.

President Bush ignored our warning and the warnings of other informed individuals and groups. The corporate media uncritically echoed the Bush administration's misuse and misrepresentation of the intelligence, despite the questions raised--including those raised by our unique movement. (It was the first time an alumni group of intelligence officials had formed expressly to chronicle and to halt the corruption of intelligence.)

The cheerleading for war had begun--a war that would fit the post-WWII Nuremberg Tribunal's description of a "war of aggression." Nuremberg defined such a war as "the supreme international crime, differing from other war crimes only in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."

Torture: An Accumulated Evil

Torture is one of those accumulated evils. Violating domestic laws like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 is another. You were right to unceremoniously jettison former CIA director Michael Hayden, who betrayed the thousands of NSA professionals who, until he directed that domestic law could be ignored, had adhered scrupulously to the 1978 FISA law as NSA's "First Commandment"--Thou Shalt Not Eavesdrop on Americans Without a Court Warrant.

In contrast, we believe you were badly misguided in giving a prominent White House post to former CIA director George Tenet's protégé John Brennan, who has publicly defended "extraordinary rendition" in full knowledge that its purpose was torture. Brennan also had complicit knowledge of the lengths to which Tenet conspired with the Department of Justice to distort history and the law in drafting opinions that attempted to "justify" torture.

With all due respect, Mr. President, it would be another mistake for you to believe what you are hearing from the likes of Brennan and Hayden and the journalists they have fed and domesticated. Please do not be deceived into thinking that most intelligence officials, past and present, condone torture--still less that they are angry that you have put a stop to such techniques. We are referring, of course, to what President Bush called "an alternative set of procedures" involving cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that violates domestic and international law. We focus on torture in the VIPS statement that follows these introductory remarks.

The Senate Armed Services Committee recently concluded that it was President Bush himself who, by Executive Memorandum of February 7, 2002 exempting al-Qaeda and the Taliban from Geneva protections, "opened the door" to the abuse that ensued. You need to know that the vast majority of intelligence professionals deplore "extraordinary rendition" and the other torture procedures that were subsequently ordered by senior Bush administration officials.

Sadly, President Bush was not the first chief executive to find a small cabal of superpatriots, amateur thugs, and contractors to do his administration's bidding. But never before in this country were lawless thugs given such free rein. The congressional "oversight" committees looked the other way.

Tenet and his acolytes successfully ingratiated themselves with President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and the faux lawyers who devised what actually amounts to a very porous "legal" shield for those who carried out the torture. It was a shield designed for and applied exclusively to those "just following orders" at the CIA black sites, and not for the low-ranking soldiers doing similar things at Abu Ghraib.

Some of the latter have done time in prison; one is still there. It would appear that some are less equal than others. And, to this day, the organizers and apologists for torture have managed to escape the consequences of their actions.

No doubt you appreciate better than anyone that the official Department of Justice memoranda you insisted be released last week are a national disgrace. Worse still are the first-hand accounts by young soldiers at Guantanamo of perversions like "rape by instrumentality." You should be aware that this was a practice adamantly defended by former White House lawyers when Congress attempted to draft legislation expressly prohibiting it. Asked to explain their objection, Bush administration lawyers acknowledged that they were worried that such legislation might subject practitioners to prosecution under state and federal criminal statutes.

Interrogation Abuses and Those Responsible Must Be Fully Exposed

Inasmuch as we have gone on record as strongly opposed to torture, both on moral and practical grounds, from the first public awareness that the Bush administration had decided to violate international and domestic law, treaty provisions, and American tradition;

As former intelligence officials we understand that unless intelligence is "actionable"--accurate, specific, and timely enough to be acted upon with some confidence--it is ineffective. Equally important, we acknowledge our responsibility to expose fallacious reasoning regarding the utility of torture in acquiring actionable intelligence. This issue comes to the fore especially in the celebrated, but specious "ticking time-bomb hypothetical"--a regular feature of Jack Bauer TV fiction.

The fact that the exploits of Jack Bauer have injected a dangerous level of fiction and fear among impressionable viewers, and have misled not only interrogators at Guantanamo but also the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Silvestre Reyes--not to mention Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia--leaves no doubt that such illusionary scenarios need to be addressed by professionals with real-life experience.

Inasmuch as the recently released legal memos that comprised part of the "golden shield" constructed by Bush Administration lawyers do shed some light but also provide inadequate information on "harsh interrogation tactics," and that the memos sow confusion regarding which officials were responsible for institutionalizing those methods--not to mention whether they were actually effective, as former vice president Cheney continues to insist;

Inasmuch as it has come to light that two detainees were waterboarded at least 266 times, throwing strong doubt on various rationalizations regarding the effectiveness of waterboarding in providing timely actionable intelligence (in a "ticking time-bomb" scenario, for example);

Whereas CIA Director Leon Panetta has insisted that the "harsh interrogation tactics that some officials have declared to be torture" (the circumlocution now in vogue in the corporate media) might again be used in a future "ticking time-bomb hypothetical;"

Whereas, when the torture technique of waterboarding, a practice with antecedents in the Spanish Inquisition was applied by Japanese troops in WWII to American and British prisoners--Japanese officers were later tried and executed;

Whereas there has been no better system devised-- despite some shortcomings--to ascertain the truth of potential wrongdoing than the criminal investigative and judicial adversary process, which provides the right to attorney and right to jury and is governed by judicial rules which attempt to ensure fairness;

Whereas we recognize that the criminal justice process serves the important goal of stopping and deterring criminal actions and cannot be dismissed as merely "retribution;"

Whereas 92 videotapes showing application and results of the "harsh interrogation tactics that some officials have declared to be torture" have already been destroyed, and there is understandable concern that other evidence is being destroyed as the days go by;

Whereas other civilian and military intelligence professionals have also gone on record (see attached Annex) with respect to how torture tactics are not only ineffective in terms of getting reliable, actionable intelligence but have fueled recruitment by Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups to the point that, arguably, more U.S. troops have been killed by terrorists bent on revenge for torture than the 3,000 civilians killed on 9/11;

Whereas the false confessions that were elicited by the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, for example, were used by the president, vice president, and the secretary of state (at the U.N.) to claim that proof existed of operational ties between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, and whereas such false confessions also diverted limited investigative resources to pursue bogus leads;

We of VIPS call for a full, truthful, and public fact-finding process to begin without delay. We ask that you give careful consideration to Senator Carl Levin's suggestion that the attorney general appoint retired judges with solid reputations for integrity to begin the process. Another viable possibility would be the appointment of an independent "blue-ribbon commission," perhaps modeled on the Church Committee of the mid-Seventies, to assess any illegal or improper activities and make recommendations for reform in government operations against terrorism.

We commend the administration for releasing the Department of Justice memos attempting to legalize torture. We believe the remaining relevant information must be released promptly so that the citizenry can make informed judgments about what was done in our name and, if warranted, an independent prosecutor can be appointed without unnecessary delay. We believe strongly that any judgments regarding amnesty, forgiveness, or pardon can only be made on the basis of a fully developed, public record--and not used as some sort of political bargaining chip. Finally, we firmly oppose the notion that anyone can arrogate a right to ignore the Nuremburg Tribunal's rejection of "only-following-orders" as an acceptable defense.

(signatories are listed alphabetically with former intelligence affiliations)

Gene Betit, US Army, DIA, Arlington, VA
Ray Close, National Clandestine Service (CIA), Princeton, NJ
Phil Giraldi, National Clandestine Service (CIA), Purcellville, VA
Larry Johnson, CIA & Department of State, Bethesda, MD
Pat Lang, US Army (Special Forces), DIA, Alexandria, VA
David MacMichael, National Intelligence Council, Linden, VA
Tom Maertens, Department of State, Mankato, MN
Ray McGovern, US Army, CIA, Arlington, VA
Sam Provance, US Army (Abu Ghraib), Greenville, SC
Coleen Rowley, FBI, Apple Valley, MN
Greg Theilmann, Department of State & Senate Intel. Committee staff, Arlington, VA
Ann Wright, US Army, Department of State, Honolulu, HI


Other experienced intelligence personnel, who have spoken out publicly about the inefficacy and counter productiveness of torture are listed below. Links to their testimony, articles, interviews and op-eds is contained at Consortium News which first published our VIPS memo.

FBI: Ali Soufan, Dan Coleman, Jack Cloonan

CIA: John Helgerson (former Inspector General), Bob Baer, Haviland Smith

Military: Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora; Major General Antonio Taguba; Air Force Col Steven M. Kleinman; Rear Admiral (ret) and former Judge Advocate General for the Navy John Hutson; former Naval Intelligence officer and Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration Lawrence Korb; former U.S. military interrogator (pseudonym) Matthew Alexander; and former military intelligence officer Malcolm Nance

Church Committee: Walter Mondale (Commenting on the need for accountability in an interview at the Humphrey Institute in Minneapolis on April 28, 2009, with Jane Mayer, author of "The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals", the former vice president also effectively dispelled the notion that airing the truth about government abuses hurts morale. Mondale explained that before and at the time the Church Committee began to investigate and hear testimony, this same idea was prevalent that unearthing the facts of the COINTELPRO abuses, etc. would hurt or even destroy agency morale. This notion proved totally unfounded, according to Mondale, as it quickly became apparent that agency personnel called before the Church Committee were thankful for the chance to get the truth out, get it off their shoulders, and behind them. That truth then allowed the country to come to resolution as to how national security issues should be addressed in the future.

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