By Martin Langfield
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
When the United States was attacked on 9/11, every member of the Central Intelligence Agency’s clandestine services had a rule book on the conduct of interrogations. It was clear and concise.
So the CIA doesn’t consider “waterboarding” -- mock execution by near drowning -- to be torture, but the U.S. State Department does.
President Barack Obama brought the U.S. commitment against torture into sharper focus on Wednesday. For a president who prohibited torture as one of his first official acts, this shouldn’t be news. But it is.
George Tenet, who presided over the CIA when terrorist suspects were waterboarded and subjected to other forms of brutal "enhanced interrogation," has set himself a near-impossible task. He is leading an effort to discredit an impending Senate committee report expected to lay out a case that the intelligence agency tortured suspects and then misled Congress, the White House and the public about its detention and interrogation program.
What were they thinking?
In the wake of last fall's revelation that the National Security Agency had wiretapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone, the report of U.S. intelligence’s involvement in two other likely cases of spying on Germany is mind-boggling.
In her angry broadside at the CIA on the Senate floor last week, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman, said, “I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search … may have undermined the constitutional framework essential to effective oversight of intelligence activities or any other government function.”
The current fight between the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA -- each accuses the other of spying on it -- is part of the deep, continuing struggle between the legislative and executive branches of government over the wide-ranging power of the intelligence agency in the post-9/11 world.