The White House is facing new pressure at home and around the world to hold officials accountable for CIA torture. Senate findings released this week provide new details on the CIA’s abuses of foreign prisoners, as well as the extensive efforts it undertook to mislead the federal government, Congress and the public. On Wednesday, outgoing Democratic Sen. Mark Udall called for a purge of top CIA officials implicated in the abuses and the ensuing cover-up, including current Director John Brennan. In stark language, Udall accused the CIA of lying.
Sen. Mark Udall: "The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff and lied about torture and the results of torture. And no one has been held to account. … There are right now people serving in high-level positions at the agency who approved, directed or committed acts related to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program. It’s bad enough not to prosecute these officials, but to reward or promote them and risk the integrity of the U.S. government to protect them is incomprehensible. The president needs to purge his administration of high-level officials who were instrumental to the development and running of this program."
Colorado Sen. Mark Udall’s call for prosecution was echoed around the world as details of the torture program were revealed. Speaking in Geneva, Rupert Colville, a spokesperson for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said the U.S. obligation to prosecute over torture is "crystal clear."
Rupert Colville: "It’s absolutely crystal-clear: Torture is prohibited absolutely, in all circumstances, at any time. It cannot be practiced in war, in peace, during emergencies, during internal instability, any circumstances whatsoever. And the corollary of that is, people who do practice it should be brought to trial."
Calling the U.S. torture practices "gruesome," Germany’s justice minister said "everybody involved must be legally prosecuted." Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called the CIA’s abuses "inhuman" and in violation of "all accepted norms of human rights in the world." Ghani’s comments come as the United States quietly announced it has closed its last remaining prison in Afghanistan at the Bagram Air Base — just one day after the torture report’s release. In closing Bagram, the United States has handed over the last prisoners known to be in its custody in Afghanistan — including one prisoner whose torture is detailed in the Senate report.
The Obama administration meanwhile is standing by its long-standing refusal to prosecute Bush administration officials for carrying out torture. On Wednesday, the Justice Department said the Senate findings offer no new information to warrant reopening a previous investigation. At the White House, Press Secretary Josh Earnest said President Obama took sufficient action by ending the torture program when he took office.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: "The moral authority of the United States of America is one of the most powerful tools in our arsenal to protect and advance U.S. interests around the globe. And it’s the view of the president that the use of these techniques, regardless of whether or not they elicit national intelligence information, undermine our ability to use this very powerful tool. And that is why the president outlawed these techniques in his first or second day in office."
As the torture fallout unfolds, one of the two psychologists who helped create the CIA’s program has spoken out in his own defense. James Mitchell told Vice News the abuse of prisoners is preferable to the Obama administration’s ongoing drone war that claims civilian lives.
James Mitchell: "To me, it seems completely insensible that slapping KSM (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) is bad, but sending a Hellfire missile into a family’s picnic and killing all the children and, you know, killing granny and killing everyone is OK, for a lot of reasons. One of the reasons is, what about that collateral loss of life? And the other one is, is that if you kill them, you can’t question them."
According to the Senate report, Mitchell and his partner, Bruce Jessen, received an $81 million contract to help design the CIA’s torture methods, including some of its most abusive tactics. They had no prior experience in interrogation.
With new details of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen’s role exposed, the American Psychological Association, or APA, has renewed calls for the pair to be held accountable. Rhea Farberman of the APA spoke out on Wednesday.
Rhea Farberman: "We were distressed and, frankly, sickened by some of the brutal details. The techniques that were described are clearly torture. They are a violation of everything that our discipline stands for. They are clearly a violation of human rights and international law. As I said earlier, the two psychologists who apparently were involved are not members of our association. They’re therefore beyond the reach of our ethics program. But regardless, they should be held accountable. If these allegations are true, they should be held accountable for very serious violations of U.S. law and international law."
A government shutdown is back on the table today as top Democrats object to corporate-friendly measures tucked into an omnibus spending bill. The $1.1 trillion measure was negotiated ahead of tonight’s midnight deadline to fund the government and keep federal agencies from closing their doors. But Democrats are now opposing several last-minute provisions, including one that would repeal a key rule in the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill that limits risky trades by federally insured banks. On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren accused the financial giant Citigroup of authoring the rule change.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren: "Citigroup is large, and it is powerful, but it is a single private company. It shouldn’t get to hold the entire government hostage, to threaten a government shutdown, in order to roll back important protections that keep our economy safe. This is a democracy, and the American people didn’t elect us to stand up for Citigroup. They elected us to stand up for all the people."
Another amendment would increase tenfold the amount of money allowed for certain political donations. Republicans say they’re open to a one- or two-day extension, but have rejected Democratic calls to remove the pro-corporate provisions. Republicans will not be able to pass the spending bill without bipartisan support.
Protests continue nationwide one week after a grand jury chose not to indict a New York City police officer for the chokehold death of Eric Garner. On Wednesday, students at around 70 medical schools nationwide staged joint "die-ins," donning white lab coats and laying their bodies on the ground. In New York City, the group Picture the Homeless staged a rally at the right-wing Manhattan Institute before a march to Penn Station, where they held a "die-in" for 11 minutes — that’s 11 for the amount of times Garner repeated his last words, "I can’t breathe." Protesters called for the repeal of the NYPD policy known as "broken windows."
Scott Andrew Hudson: "This is not a valid theory. It is used to harass the poor, people of color and the homeless."
Marcus Moore: "It basically focuses on issues that’s not really a crime, where you could just get a small ticket and you don’t have to be taken down in handcuffs to central booking. It’s ridiculous."
The group New York Justice League presented a series of demands to state officials in a rally at City Hall on Wednesday. The Justice League’s agenda includes the firing of the officer who killed Garner, Daniel Pantaleo, and the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the case. The group was joined by prominent hip-hop artists Nas, Common and Q-Tip, as well as the music mogul and activist Russell Simmons.
A federal judge has given the White House a deadline of next Tuesday to decide whether it will prosecute New York Times reporter James Risen. The government has ordered Risen to testify at the trial of a former CIA officer, Jeffrey Sterling, who is accused of giving him classified information about the agency’s failed operation to deliver faulty nuclear bomb blueprints to Iran. Risen has fought his subpoena for years, but lost an attempt to bring the case before the Supreme Court in June. If the Obama administration now forces him to testify, Risen has said he is prepared to serve jail time rather than reveal his source. Click here to watch our extended interview with Risen about his case.