Best Defense

Has the CIA been committing civil disobedience? If so, it’s time to man up

Has the CIA been committing civil disobedience? If so, it’s time to man up

Best Defense is in summer re-runs. This item originally ran on April 8, 2014.

A letter I wrote to the editor of the Washington Post ran in this morning’s editions. Here it is:

As I read Jose A. Rodriguez’s defense of his actions [“I ran the CIA interrogation program. Whatever the Senate report says, I know it worked,” Outlook, April 6], and having listened to people I know in the intelligence agencies discuss their actions over the past 12 years, I picked up an aggrieved tone: We did what we had to do. This applies to the use of torture in interrogations (because hanging people from walls, beating their heads into walls and pouring ice water up their upturned noses is just that) and to a variety of intrusions on our constitutional rights.

That is, many of these people know they went over the line. I’ve actually had people tell me that the CIA has learned its lesson and won’t do it again. But they add that hard times warranted hard measures.

This argument, plus the agency’s relations with Congress, seem to amount to civil disobedience. That is, these people believed that the laws were wrong and that, as patriots, they were compelled to obey a higher duty. There is a long and honored tradition of such actions in this country. The difference is that Martin Luther King Jr. and others were willing to go to jail for their civil disobedience.

So, CIA and National Security Agency officials, I think the honorable course would be to stand up and say: “These were the things we did. We thought them necessary at the time. We still do. But we understand we broke the law and are willing to accept the consequences of our actions, for which we remain proud. We throw ourselves upon your mercy.”