Littwin: Udall strides across White House lawn and into sunset
December 13, 2014
Sen. Mark Udall was on the Senate floor, probably for the last time, and giving 'em hell. He gave President Barack Obama hell. He gave the CIA hell. He gave CIA Director John Brennan, whom he called on to resign, even more than that.
It wasn't just political theater, although it was dramatic. Udall was angry. He had finally helped get the mostly unredacted executive summary of the Senate torture report to light — and, well, nothing.
The country may have been abuzz with stories of rectal feeding and mulling the details of the prisoner plunged in the icy bath, chained to a wall and left to freeze to death. But in the end, Brennan, who had done everything to block release of the Senate report, was still CIA director. And Obama was still supporting Brennan.
Meanwhile, Republicans were saying the report had put the country at risk. And Dick Cheney was on Fox saying the report, which he maintained he hadn't read, was "full of crap" and that, anyway, it was war, dammit. After all, the CIA had Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and they could either torture him or, as Cheney put it, "kiss him on both cheeks and tell us, please, please tell us what you know."
Sure, Udall was angry. He knew better. As Heather Digby Parton points out in Salon, Udall would cite the partly declassified Panetta Review, which showed that the CIA had misled on intelligence supposedly gained from torture. And it was worse than that. The review, Udall said, showed that some detainees had been giving information to interrogators — and only then were tortured. And that some detainees were tortured before they were even asked to give information. And that some detainees were tortured just to prove they didn't have any helpful information.
"The refusal to provide the full Panetta Review and the refusal to acknowledge facts detailed in both the committee study and the Panetta Review lead to one disturbing finding: Brennan and the CIA today are continuing to willfully provide inaccurate information and misrepresent the efficacy of torture," Udall said. "In other words, the CIA is lying."
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It was all there on CSPAN, and as I was watching, it hit me. If this had happened two months ago, Udall may well have been re-elected. There's more than one way to get the women-in-Jefferson-County vote.
The funniest moment in the Udall-Cory Gardner campaign came when Udall insisted during a debate that he was "the last person" the White House wanted to see coming "down the front lawn."
The crowd hooted. CNN mocked him. It's possible that I may have mocked him myself. After all, Gardner's entire campaign was centered on the notion that Udall had voted with Obama 99 percent of the time. Udall's suggestion that he was actually feared by the White House seemed more than a little desperate.
Now we know who gets the last laugh. (That's right, Gardner, who — surprise — hasn't said much about the Senate report.) It turns out that Udall was a big White House problem, but that no one in Colorado seemed to know it.
That wasn't the only secret, of course. Udall's conversations with the White House were all about secrets. About the NSA secrets. About the CIA secrets.
It was about saying, early on, that it was time for Brennan to go.
The big news Thursday was that Brennan held a news conference at Langley to give his side of the story. In his side, he didn't use the word "torture." In CIA-speak, he used "EITs" — enhanced interrogation techniques — because "torture" is a loaded word and "EIT" sounds like a place you'd want to send your kid to college.
Brennan conceded that some of the acts described in the Senate report were "abhorrent," but he refuted the committee's conclusion that no useful information had come from detainees who had been, say, waterboarded. He said there was no way to know whether normal interrogation techniques — the ones presumably being used now — would have provided the same intelligence.
"The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable," is how Brennan put it.
Of course, torture wasn't put in place to provide "useful" information. If you remember the arguments after 9/11, we were told torture was a terrible option to be used only because it might stave off a new attack. It was a bad option even then, of course, and that was the knowable information that Udall wanted to pass along.
And in his speech, he showed why Obama wasn't, in fact, happy too see him. First, Udall praised Obama for ending torture as soon as he came into office, noting how the president had said then that the use of torture in any circumstance violated every American ideal.
But then, Udall notes, "Fast forward to this year, after so much has come to light about the CIA's barbaric programs, and President Obama's response was that we 'crossed a line' as a nation, and that, quote, 'hopefully, we don't do it again in the future.'
"That's not good enough. We need to be better than that. There can be no cover-up. There can be no excuses. If there is no moral leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA's torture program wasn't necessary and didn't save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what's to stop the next White House and CIA director from supporting torture?"
It's a good question. Or maybe you think that someday it will be Gardner walking down the White House lawn.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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