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Barry McCaffrey and Robert Baer: Investigate the Bush White House on Torture

Sarah's picture

How shall I put this? To say four-star General Barry McCaffrey is no sycophant of the Bush/Cheney regime is to say it's damp at the bottom of the Marianas trench. But McCaffrey, who's got some cred with such veterans as H. Norman Schwarzkopf, wants an investigation into the Bush White House concerning torture. Moreover, he has a strong opinion about the matter with which I completely agree:

"We should never, as a policy, maltreat people under our control, detainees. We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the C.I.A."

Robert Baer is an intelligence analyst and author now; but he used to be a real-life version of the guy Jack Bauer is modeled upon (allowing, of course, for dramatic license

in every sense of both words of that phrase).

The last point I completely agree with. Since 9/11, I have regularly gotten calls from very smart, talented people who intend to join the CIA. Competing against their résumés, I would never make the cut today. So I'll split the difference and help the CIA figure out how to keep a new generation from running for the door like I did.

For a start, current management has got to go. For too long it has truckled to power, spending its day scurrying down to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for orders. If it's not Cheney treating George Tenet as a court jester, it's some analyst badgered until he changes his assessment. What I'm trying to say is that it's not the CIA that is broken, it's Washington — which means the quick fix is to build a firewall between a hopelessly partisan Washington and the CIA. And it wouldn't cost much:1. Move the CIA out of Washington. Maybe to Spokane, Wash. Or at least far enough away from D.C. that directors and the rank and file cannot be summoned to the White House for a browbeating. (See 10 things to do in Washington, D.C.)

2. Give CIA directors tenure, with terms of 10 years. Knowing that he couldn't lose his job, a director would be more inclined to tell the truth. (Under my plan, a director could be removed only by the President for gross incompetence, with the concurrence of Congress.)

3. Take covert action away from the CIA. Covert action is little more than propaganda, which only gets in the way of looking at the world objectively.

4. End the revolving door between the CIA and Beltway bandits — in other words, stop the featherbedding. There would be no more resigning from the CIA on Friday afternoon and coming back Monday morning as a contractor making three or four times the salary.

5. Closing that revolving door would mean a serious increase in salaries. We can't ask our spies to live in the back of beyond for 20 years and not pay them a professional's salary.

6. Create two classes of CIA employees. For example, there are hundreds of ethnic American Pashtuns ready to go work for the CIA in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but their murky family and tribal ties prevent them from being hired. However, they could be brought in with lower security clearances. Spies in the field rarely need to see the crown jewels to do their job.

I don't want us to hurry into this. I don't want us to mess this up. I sure as hell, as a vet and the mother of boys who might be soldiers in some dark future day, don't want us to let this go. Not only do we owe the people who were tortured and murdered, we owe their families. We owe our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guards, past, present, and future.

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Submitted by hipparchia on

if ever there was a one-sentence summary, kind of a geneva conventions for dummies, this is it.

baer's 3, 4, and 6 -- yeah.

1 i'm not sure about. i think the infiltration of the christianists into the air force academy suggests that there's no guarantee that physical separation from dc keeps the rank and file safer from idiots and wingnuts and corrupting influences.

2 i can't really go along with either. i've been a minor govt bureaucrat myself, as well as a minor cog in a big corporate machine, and did some time in academia too. i've never seen a huge difference between any of the three systems in numbers of toadies, sucker-uppers, or fearless truthtellers. people with the courage to look the big cheese in the eye and tell the unvarnished and inconvenient truth can be gotten rid of, no matter how many protections they've got on paper.

5, like i said, i've been a minor govt bureaucrat, and truth be told, if you're a federal govt employee living in the back of beyond on an unimpressive govt salary, you're probably doing better than most of your neighbors.

Damon's picture
Submitted by Damon on

Given this astonishing accusation against the C.I.A. and the U.S. military from a credible source, the General's statement warrants explanation and substantiation.

If his accusation is true, let's know what happened. If it's false, then the onus to make amends is on the source and the network.

This is what I want to know about McCaffrey's comment.

As for Robert Baer's recommendations, it's something I'd definitely have to mull over for quite some time, especially concerning a critique that says that there isn't anything wrong with the CIA, which raises some instant red flags, for me.

And, while I'm concerned about the CIA being little more than a proxy for the White House, I'm also accutely and equally skeptical of offering an agency whose very work is to be done in the shadows too long a leash or too much independence. For me, the CIA still has a trust-issue it needs to work on with the American public before I'd be willing to give them a longer leash.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

and we all know the WoD is FITH from the get-go, I admit you've got a right to doubt. But on this issue I think the guy's right.

Look, we're talking about fallible humans here, inconsistent people (and Baer's pieces were not written or published back-to-back) who have over career-long periods amassed what I consider "street cred" to back up what they're saying.

Insofar as a minor Fed (heh. Best paying job I EVER had was a Census job -- if it had lasted a full year I'd've made $36K, and that was '90. On the Fed food chain, there is NOTHING lower than a full-time temporary employee, aka a Census worker) ... if you've got bennies and they cover your mileage, yeah, in the backbeyond you're probably not too hurt. But if you're not in the backbeyond, you don't get mileage, and they're not covering your insurance / pension ... you're pretty well, as Leroy Jethro Gibbs would say, "screwed."

You can always go to work for Xe (nee Blackwater) -- they pay better. But then you'd have to, you know, have Xe for your coworkers and bosses. Is it worth it?

I was enlisted in the 1970s. At the time I thought $347 a month GROSS pay was damn good money.

Last year a gross paycheck of $2,117 a month had me jumping thru hoops... but you know, eventually, life's just too damn short. To make another $35 a month, I'd've needed a Master's. Not to be studying for it, but to have it on paper. (I could then eat mashed-potato sandwiches for-freaking-ever to pay for it ...)

So ... given where they've been and what they've done (and the scars they've earned in the process: life does that to us all, but some people seem to get 'em in spades) I kinda think it's worthwhile to listen to their opinions.

Submitted by hipparchia on

[say that three times fast]

i swear, we must be evil twins or something. i did the census thing too [2000]. but civil service jobs [the kind with tenure, to use baer's word] are supposed to make up for the mediocre-ish pay with the benefits. do you really want a blackwater hotshot who's in it for the $$? [and yeah, i do know what they get paid, and no you can't go to work for them if we outlaw the use of mercenaries].

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

Amarillo (for the hell-and-be-damned of it, I wore an ID badge that said "Robert Conrad" in big block letters half the time). Ten years later I ran an EDP shop for 'em in Lubbock. I did some permanent survey work in '98 and '99 for 'em and then worked the decennial for five months to take my mind off losing my mother in 2000.

Since then I've been an IAQ company copy editor and sample monkey (everything from simple tape-and-swab surface-sample only jobs to the full-on Tyvek/respirator, Allergenco and Anderson samplers, particle counters, moisture meters, the Leatherman / sheetrock saw, the sling psychrometer and the Pelican boxes ... and enough lab-grade alcohol to burn down Brazil, because I cleaned everything with it in between every slide and plate); then I went to work in public health, for the state, then for a nonprofit, until I got a job with a university press. That was the "life's too short" eureka-driver, though.

I need to win the lottery, myself...