little fanfare, and even less media coverage, last week the Senate
Intelligence Committee took the first step in granting the Defense
Intelligence Agency increased domestic spying authority, as well as
decreased public accountability. With its new powers, the DIA could do
something it has longed to do for years: spy on the American public.
Using the Bush
administration's tried-and-true excuse of needing "greater latitude" in
fighting the war on terror, the Senate Intelligence Committee approved
granting the DIA authority to covertly recruit and train "U.S. persons" as
informants. As if that weren't enough "latitude", the Committee decided
the DIA should also be able to withhold any information about its
activities from the public. Can't have a government that's accountable to
the governed after all.
Interestingly, the Senate was forced to withdraw a virtually identical
amendment from last year's intelligence authorization bill in response to
public concerns about domestic spying. Late this past September, at the
Pentagon's behest, the amendment was slipped into this year's intelligence
authorization bill, without public hearings or debate. Clearly, the Senate
learned from its past mistake of letting the public in on its shenanigans.
The machine of government is so much more efficient when the moronic
masses are kept in the dark.
In the DIA's defense, it is only seeking the same investigative powers
already granted to the FBI and the CIA. If two federal intelligence
agencies already get to ride roughshod over our civil liberties, what's
the harm in letting one more agency in on the fun? Besides, one can only
imagine the damage to the DIA's self-esteem from being the odd agency out.
In a further effort to make the DIA feel more on par with the CIA, the
Senate Intelligence Committee granted the DIA something it lobbied for
unsuccessfully in 2000 -- exemption from the Freedom of Information Act.
Under the approved language, the DIA would be permitted to exempt all of
its "operational files" from the disclosure requirements of FOIA. Such
"operational files" would include documents relating to "the conduct of
foreign intelligence or counterintelligence operations" of the DIA's
Directorate of Human Intelligence (HUMINT).
One might ask, what are some examples of the DIA conducting "foreign
intelligence or counterintelligence operations" in order to collect human
intelligence? Abu Ghraib, for one. Guantanamo Bay, for another. In fact,
many of the documents that have been obtained by the American Civil
Liberties Union pertaining to prisoner abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq, were
obtained from the DIA. Under the amendment approved by the Senate
Intelligence Committee, the DIA would have the same impunity currently
enjoyed by the CIA.
A review of the DIA-generated HUMINT documents obtained by the ACLU
reveals the Bush administration's motivation for shielding such
"operational files" from public scrutiny. In some of the DIA documents,
for example, there is evidence that U.S. captors deliberately burned and
beat Iraqi detainees. DIA interrogators reported witnessing multiple U.S.
officers repeatedly punching an Iraqi detainee in the face, "to the point
the individual needed medical attention." DIA documents also include
evidence that U.S. interrogators raped two female Iraqi detainees, that
detainees were subjected to sleep deprivation, and that dogs were used to
terrorize the detainees.
More damningly, the DIA documents demonstrate that "the senior leadership
knew of, or were aware of the incidents going on at the prison [Abu
Ghraib]." Such evidence stands in stark contrast to the Bush
administration's party line that the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib and
beyond was committed by a few bad apples. Any more such evidence and it
may become difficult for the Bush administration to blame low-level
scapegoats for a torture policy developed and condoned by the White House,
the Justice Department, and the Pentagon.
The DIA's previous attempt at getting Congressional authorization to
subvert FOIA further explains why the Bush administration deems it so
necessary to keep the DIA's "operational files" completely and permanently
under wraps. When the DIA sought exemption from FOIA in 2000, the National
Security Archive, among others, provided examples of the types of HUMINT
reports that would no longer be subject to pesky public scrutiny. Those
examples included reports of torture and human rights abuses in Chile and
Guatemala during the "dirty wars" of the 1970s, '80s, and '90s.
In one report to DIA, dated February 2, 1976, a U.S. Defense official
described how Chilean military guards repeatedly struck prisoners "at the
rear of knee joints" with "police type billy clubs," repeatedly beat a
twelve-year-old boy, and banged an elderly man's head against a wall. In
another report, dated August 5, 1976, a Defense official reported that two
Jewish businessmen were "disappeared" by Chilean intelligence. On November
5, 1977, a Defense official reported how Chilean security officials
committed kidnappings and robberies, making it look as though they had
been committed by leftist subversives.
In a report dated April 11, 1994, the DIA described some of the terror and
torture tactics employed by the U.S.-backed intelligence directorate of
the Guatemalan army. Prisoners were detained in pits covered by cages and
filled with water so that the prisoners had to hang from the cage bars to
keep from drowning. Prisoners who either died during interrogation or who
"were still alive but needed to disappear," were flown, under cover of
darkness, thirty minutes off the coast of Guatemala and then pushed from
Another report from Guatemala, dated November 24, 1995, details the
deliberate efforts of the Guatemalan military to destroy all
"incriminating evidence" pertaining to the torture and execution of Efrain
Bamaca Velasquez, a captured rebel leader who was married to an American
lawyer, "and probably a thousand others." A DIA report from April 17,
1994, details how Bamaca was put in a full body cast to prevent his
escape, tortured, and then executed. That same report describes how
Michael DeVine, a U.S. citizen, was detained by Guatemalan security forces
on suspicion of running guns and drugs. DeVine was tortured and murdered,
and his "body was later found tied and mutilated."
Fortunately, the DIA failed in its prior attempt at "disappearing" its
records of U.S. knowledge of and involvement in kidnapping, torture, and
execution in South and Central America. Unfortunately, thanks in large
part to the underhanded tactics of the Senate Intelligence Committee, it
looks like the DIA just might get a free pass to either commit or turn a
blind eye to kidnapping, torture, and execution in Iraq, Afghanistan, and
the world over.
Sanders is a lawyer and writer in Tucson whose publishing
credits include: Op Ed News, Z Magazine, Common Dreams,
Democratic Underground, Dissident Voice, and Political
Affairs Magazine, among others.
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