Lee Kapla-Unsoeld, Section Editor
On Feb.25, a group of about 70 college students, professors, and community members gathered at Traditions Café in Olympia to listen to Evergreen Professor Steve Niva and Saint Martin’s Professor David Price, Ph.D., as they led the audience through a difficult discussion regarding the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the use of torture.
The event, sponsored by the Washington State Green Party, took on humorous notes at points, for example, Niva joked that “everything said tonight can and will be used against you in a [CIA] black site.”
Niva, professor of international politics and Middle Eastern studies, and Price, professor of sociology and cultural anthropology, brought factual and interpretative elements of the issue into play, and despite the somewhat dreary nature of the topic, maintained the interest of the cozily packed crowd.
Specifically exploring the recent congressional report on the CIA’s use of torture released by Senator Diane Feinstein and others on the Senate Intelligence Committee, the presenters first gave an overview of the CIA in the context of the report. Having been caught torturing countless alleged terrorists, the CIA has been in a somewhat defensive position, having to justify their techniques to Congress and the American public.
The report, however, shows quite clearly that the CIA’s torture programs have yielded little to no useful information. Abu Zaida was water-boarded around 170 times, with no good information resulting from the torture. In fact, many prisoners who were tortured gave up information that turned out to be false in order to get a brief respite from the torture. The CIA has spent millions of dollars funding research into ineffective torture tactics, and when scientists behind these studies came under scrutiny, millions more were spent for their defense.
When thinking of the CIA, most people think that it is similar to the president’s secret police, but from the 1960’s onward, the CIA progressively lost its controls.
As Price stated, despite the popular narrative, “what happens is, whatever controls were left at 9/11, vanished.”
The CIA was created as an arm of the executive branch, but it has shed its shackles and now operates in a way that has gained it the reputation of being a “rogue elephant”.
Whatever changes the CIA has gone through in recent years, the USA has also witnessed the rise of the Joint Select Operations Committee, operating under “Title 10”, whereas the CIA operates under “Title 50”.
Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, dismayed that the CIA was beholden to the executive branch and not the Department of Defense, Rumsfeld “starts to try and shift this kind of global counter terrorism initiative to JSOC.”
They had found that the CIA is “too soft, has too much oversight, and is just not up to the task that they had envisioned for it, and it’s cutting on the turf of the US military,” Niva explained.
As the talk showed, it is not just the CIA that is responsible for some of the gruesome, inhumane atrocities that have been committed in the name of America on foreign people and lands, but the CIA’s example highlights many flaws in the system nonetheless. The lack of accountability, the flawed interrogation methods that do not yield helfpful information, and the intimidating behavior that the CIA displays even to its handlers, Congress, suggest extreme abuses of power and future problems caused by their actions. When the Senate was assembling the CIA torture report, Senator Feinstein’s staff’s computers were hacked into – by the CIA.
Michael Savoca, an Olympia local who ran as an independent candidate for the 20th legislative district, was in attendance at the talk and said that in his campaign, he heard from people that “‘There’s nothing we can do about it,’ they were overwhelmed, I had people say to me, ‘You better watch it, they’ll put a bullet in your head’, I had people say to me, ‘There’s no way we can stop them.’”
When Saint Martin’s student Denver Garcia, a history major, asked about the National Defense Authorization Act and how it ties into the power that the government has to indefinitely detain American citizens, Price’s response was cut off by the unmistakable flash of a police car’s red and blue lights zooming by the building.
“You’re right to be scared,” Price said when the police car had passed.
Given the information shared at the talk about the CIA and the US government’s nefarious, violent, and unethical actions at home and abroad, most people in attendance did not have to be told twice.