For the last 60 years, the CIA has been at the forefront of our nation’s history. Created by President Truman with the sole purpose of spreading and securing democratic ideals, the CIA became a way for the United States to covertly advance the American political, economic and social agenda, by any means necessary. With little to no Congressional or democratic oversight, the CIA has been participating and getting away with atrocities that have escaped the attention of many citizens and political figures.
Their actions, from overthrowing democratic leaders in Latin America, to helping the transportation of drugs into the United States, the CIA has not received any reprimands, not even a slight slap on the wrist from the federal government. This lack of accountability has led to a powerful organization that causes corruption, harm and injustice within and outside of the United States. This piece will demonstrate the extent to which torture has played a part in our nation’s system during the last decade and how it is affecting our civil liberties.
During our two most recent presidencies, the biggest headlines regarding the CIA have been about torture. After the attacks on 9/11, President Bush, and many of those in office, made it a mission for the United States to be as secure as possible. The United States went from a country of medium to high alert to very high alert, making the United States willing to do anything to make sure the devastation that occurred would never happen upon the American shore again.
The country’s leaders were tasked with implementing new ways to ensure safety and security. This came in the form of Homeland Security and new ways to dealing with suspected terrorists and anyone who is considered a threat. 9/11 opened eyes to the somewhat naïve nature we once had, and in an effort to keep things in order and without panic, both Obama and Bush have allowed the CIA to violate not only national laws, but international ones as well. In their own ways, each President have given his consent for unjust torture practices and the shielding of truth from Senate and the public.
The Bush presidency could be characterized, at best, as one the most controversial and heated presidential terms to have ever been served. During this time, the attacks on 9/11 prompted the President to authorize the CIA to commit human rights violations through torture. In his presidential memoir, Decision Points, Bush confessed to his involvement in the CIA’s highly unpopular waterboarding as he enthusiastically conceded to their request with a “Damn right!” This allowance from Bush at the beginning of his presidency opened up more than initially thought. Another world was formed for the CIA, they had a legitimate confirmation and even encouragement from the Executive Branch to take measures into their own hands, no matter how extreme those measures were.
Allowing the CIA the authority to act in whatever way is saw fit coincided with Bush’s agreement that those within the CIA, who had destroyed or attempted to destroy torture videos, would not be prosecuted or punished in any way. This sparked international protest and bewilderment to such an extent that that the UN became concerned and demanded retribution for the CIA torture tactics that were clearly taking place. In March 2013, years after the Bush administration ended, they demanded pertinent information about the torture and to supply names of those within the CIA that had participated in serious human rights violations.
According to Ben Emmerson, a UN special reporter, “Despite this clear repudiation of the unlawful actions carried out by the Bush-era CIA, many of the facts remain classified, and no public official has so far been brought to justice in the United States”.” The Bush Administration allowed the CIA to hold detainees at “black sites” where they would continuously inflict torture that were in clear violation of human rights and legal statures. Obama has done nothing and this silence speaks volumes.
Obama has publicly denounced Bush policies regarding the CIA, especially in cases where the CIA was allowed to operate secrete torture facilities around the world. However, this does not mean Obama has not supported torture efforts made by the CIA in cases like waterboarding, nor has he made any effort to bring to light the people who committed the crimes nor the crimes themselves. His “look forward, not back” policy is ineffective because it allows the CIA to continue their obscure and criminalizing operations.
For instance, in 2014, Senator Dianne Feinstein accused the CIA of spying on Congress. She claimed that they have collected intel that suggests/proves the CIA has violated the Constitution by illegally tapping into a “stand-alone computer network established for Congress”. They, the CIA, supposedly did this during January of 2014 when the Senate Intelligence Committee was actively investigating the “agency’s detention and interrogation programs under President George W. Bush.” By breaking into the computers, the CIA was not adhering to the separation of powers.
Considering all that has happened, Obama has not done much. His unwillingness to address the problem is a testament to the lack of power he wields over the CIA. If nothing is done, the CIA will continue to violate international and domestic agreements. Furthermore, when our Chief Executive agrees with the actions of the CIA or refuses to bring forth the matters at hand, it speaks volumes of what we really think of civil liberties: That they only matter when it pertains to us, with concern to other nations.
Prior to the Torture Report being released, many waited in suspense to see what the CIA has been up to. Even though the Report was heavily redacted, it revealed atrocities the CIA committed in the name of safety and national security. Yet we are still waiting for something—anything—to happen. The Obama administration has declined to prosecute the guilty parties, and many advocacy groups are demanding retribution against those responsible for the torture that took place. Yet Obama has yet to announce that enough is enough.
When we think about the torture the CIA has committed, we much think about how it affects our civil liberties and democratic values. It is time to think about what will happen in 2016. By then, this country will have survived sixteen years with presidential ineptness in handling the CIA, and we must take into account what we would like to see from our future presidents.