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(DV) Sanders: Adding Another Lock to Our Closet of Tortured Skeletons







Adding Another Lock to Our Closet of Tortured Skeletons
by Ken Sanders
October 19, 2005

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With 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. Poor babies. 

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 the aircraft. 

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.

Ken 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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