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WCR EDITORIAL

December 29, 2014

While one should certainly be appalled by the findings of the U.S. Senate intelligence committee's report on CIA torture, one should not be surprised. The CIA, after all, is a spy agency charged with obtaining confidential information about possible threats to national security.

That it would actively avoid and impede White House and congressional supervision about its techniques for obtaining information should also be no surprise. A spy agency needs to get information from unwilling sources, and it is disingenuous to think that such information is always obtained over a cup of coffee in a relaxed setting. When it resorts to torture, as the CIA did on numerous occasions, political oversight becomes an obstacle to carrying out the mission. Those nasty elected officials with their humanitarian concerns are easily seen as busybodies and even people working in consort with the enemy.

The existence of a vigorous intelligence agency conflicts with the aims of a free, moral and democratic society. Democracy demands openness and intelligence gathering demands secrecy, about both its findings and its methods. An intelligence agency need not be abolished, just closely scrutinized.

The Senate report ought to be the occasion for bringing the CIA to heel, to reign in its leaders, to re-assert political authority and to hold CIA leaders responsible for actions of their operatives.

In that regard, it is noteworthy that the organization Physicians for Human Rights says health professionals who aided the CIA in carrying out its nefarious forms of torture betrayed the fundamental duty of the healing professions and may be guilty of war crimes. It doesn't stop with those who were merely complicit. The Senate report raised the serious possibility that CIA leaders and underlings violated both American and international law.

President Barack Obama has, however, signalled that those who committed torture will not be held accountable. Obama went so far as to say that Americans owe a "profound debt" to the CIA, even though some of its activities were "contrary to our values."

In fact, under Obama, some of the torturers have been promoted to the highest levels of the CIA. They were, after all, efficient in carrying out their orders.

The whole sordid affair gives an unusual inside glimpse into how "democracy" operates in the U.S. The CIA tortures people to extract information and lies to its political masters about what it has done. When elected officials find out some details of the torture – who knows what facts still remain hidden? – the president wags his finger, but won't let the due process of law take place.

It leaves one with the question of who actually is running the government of the United States – elected officials or the spies?