‘Ishmael Jones” is a former deep-cover officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. He is author of The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture, published last year by Encounter Books.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Should citizens be concerned with the CIA interrogation memos that we’ve all been talking about involving insects and waterboarding?
ISHMAEL JONES: Americans should be concerned about the use of the CIA memos to advance political agendas. Release of the CIA interrogation memos seems designed to please the American Left and to attack the Bush administration, not to bring about any real accountability.
The torture/interrogations issue was never about ethics or the humane treatment of prisoners. Choking a person on water is nasty stuff, all right, but I’ve never heard any voices from the Left express concern about the enemy’s behavior. Al-Qaeda in Iraq uses far more aggressive forms of torture in its interrogations. Before the surge, the Baghdad morgues filled with a hundred murders a day, many showing evidence of having been tortured to death using power drills and saws.
LOPEZ: Today supposedly begins the first of the interrogations about interrogation. Will the release of the memos trigger more investigations?
JONES: It will all just fizzle out. Ever since it came up several years ago, the purpose of the interrogations/torture issue has been purely political, and it has served its purpose. The Republicans have been defeated, and Bush administration officials have been put out to pasture.
Pragmatic Democrats should recognize that they’re in charge now and that they need good foreign intelligence, not political show trials. Foreign-policy crises — North Korea, Iran, Somalia — are coming up faster than expected. A foreign-policy debacle or a major terrorist attack, and not the economy, may be the real threat to President Obama’s re-election and the Democrats’ hold on power.
LOPEZ: But if the United States is in any possible way guilty of human-rights violations, shouldn’t there be a full accounting?
JONES: The Senate Intelligence Committee has already announced that the CIA employees involved in the actual interrogations — the low- and mid-level employees and contractors — will not be targets of investigations. That’s generous, because these people are patriotic Americans who were doing their best for their country, in remarkably difficult jobs, away from home and family. There are a lot of innocent people alive today because of what they did. The interrogations produced information that repeatedly stopped terrorist attacks from happening.
The CIA has mutated from being a “red” or conservative organization dedicated to toppling communist dictators into a bureaucracy that is “blue” and supportive of the American political Left. Through the Plame incident, bad intelligence on Iraq, and leaks on torture/interrogations issues, the CIA bureaucracy did more to help Democrats win in the last election than ACORN or MoveOn.org.
Investigations inspired by congressional Democrats will seek to avoid targeting political allies within the CIA. Having already announced that low- and mid-level CIA employees will not be targeted, this really just leaves Bush administration officials and CIA employees without close ties to politicians and the media. Prosecutions will be so selective and so obviously politically driven that they will not be convincing to impartial juries.
LOPEZ: When all is said and done, is there something constructive that can be learned from all of this review? Something constructive for American intelligence?
JONES: The interrogations controversy has served the CIA bureaucracy. A top goal of bureaucracy is to look busy, and whether one agrees with the interrogation methods or not, the impression given is that the CIA is both busy and aggressive. It relishes this “cowboy” image, and its greatest fear is that the taxpayer might figure out how little it actually is doing. Bans or restrictions on interrogations would have the constructive effect of removing this smokescreen, this distraction, and redirecting focus to what exactly the CIA is doing to provide the foreign intelligence the president needs.