Could logjam be breaking on CIA torture?

Mar. 30, 2014 @ 04:36 PM

There's a logjam in Washington that's stopping any action on torture accountability.

I learned this several years ago, at an accountability strategy session there. We were briefed by some very smart D.C. insider types. And what they told us hasn't changed.

Until now. Maybe.

What they told us was that at the federal level, the three branches were stuck:

In the courts, the judges were bowing to claims of "national security." So the nation's courtrooms were locked against the claims of victims or any prosecutions of torture perpetrators.

From the Oval Office, the official line was, "look forward, not back," and the White House was stonewalling every inquiry from any direction.

Meanwhile in Congress, legislative action, even any oversight, was dead in the water.

All three branches of government, supposedly designed to serve as mutual checks on official excess and wrongdoing, were stuck. Paralyzed. A logjam.

I left the D.C. seminar persuaded two things needed to happen:

-- Back here in Carolina, my friends in NC Stop Torture Now should continue our gadfly protests aimed at keeping torture criminality from being completely forgotten. We've done that.

-- And we should keep hoping for the three-branch logjam to start breaking up.

How would that break happen? One way would be for a determined, nonviolent-but-militant mass accountability movement to tie Washington in knots until somebody with a name that rhymes with Trick Janey landed in the Hague wearing plastic bracelets.

No sign of that. The other breakup scenario was for titans at the top of one federal branch to take on titans in another.

Finally there's a candidate for this second plan: California's Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and the secret report from the four-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she chairs.

The report from that exhaustive probe, we are told, is damning.

I figure the report must be more than that. It must be dangerous, as in somebody-might-actually-go-to-jail dangerous to the CIA.

I think that because the CIA, abetted by the committee's Republicans, including N.C. Sen. Richard Burr, have gone all out from day one to kill it and they may yet succeed.

But maybe they won't. Because in this field, Feinstein qualifies as a titan. And it looks as if she's thrown down the gauntlet to the CIA and its protector in the Oval Office.

There's no telling how this will end. The CIA and the president -- and Barack Obama seems fully on board with the torture-protection effort -- is a formidable combination for even a Senate titan to take on. But what if sympathetic noises made by such as Lindsey Graham of South Carolina turned into actual support for Feinstein's challenge?

If this chink in the logjam were to widen into an actual crack, the White House might move into damage control. That typically means a high-level firing or two. The obvious candidate is CIA chief John Brennan.

Brennan is almost surely complicit with the illegal torture program and the ongoing coverup. Yet to really break the logjam, his dismissal, even a bowling alley of rolling heads, would not be enough.

It could easily turn out to be a defeat, if the White House managed to trade a few firings for the report's continued suppression.

The fate of the report is the real prize. Its release, in a form that outlines the actual extent of flagrant illegality it uncovered, would signal that a crack in the logjam had become a breach.

Such a breach would be easy pickings for the tame and lazy Beltway media. It could also spur open congressional investigations, with subpoenas and more evidence.

It might even revive the consciences and stiffen the spines of some federal judges. If only a few jurists broke the spell of "national security" hocus-pocus, and actually started enforcing the laws that already apply to torture…

As I said, I'm not making predictions. This clash has only begun. As it plays out we will be watching history being made. And if we're very lucky, we may see a logjam breaking apart.

And the Constitution coming back together.

Chuck Fager was cirector of Quaker House, a peace project in Fayetteville, from 2002 to 2012. He lives in Durham.