Ray McGovern: Accountability for Torture

On November 12 I went to hear former CIA analyst Ray McGovern speak on “Why Accountability for Torture is Crucial for Human Rights, Our Security and Our Souls,”  an event sponsored by the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture (WSRCAT) and co-sponsored by our local Amnesty International groups among others.

As the evening’s program notes:

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years. He is active in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and has been an outspoken critic of the flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq war and of the use of torture.


Rep. Jim McDermott

Representative Jim McDermott spoke before Ray McGovern. McDermott was one of the few members of congress willing to speak out on the lies leading up to the Iraq War, as well as against the use of torture.

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Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern spoke of the documents now available online detailing the Bush Adminstration’s justification and use of torture, including:

The Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody:


The International Committee of the Red Cross Report on the Treatment of  Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody:


The Department of Justice memos (available on the ACLU website):


and the CIA Inspector General’s Special Review of Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003):


Torture does not provide reliable information, so McGovern raised the question of “Why torture?”  As he noted, it’s great for getting unreliable information.  in the build up to the Iraq War, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was sent to Egypt to be waterboarded and confessed that Saddam Hussein was training  Al Qaeda operatives. This “intelligence” was used by the Bush administration to justify the war.

As Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff of the Department of State during the term of Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed in May (shortly before the d:

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just “committed suicide” in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)

McGovern stressed to importance of speaking out, and before the question and answer session, Rob Crawford from WSRCAT came out to tell us what we could do locally, and another WSRCAT member handed out action sheets to contact members of the Obama administration and congress.

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Rob Crawford

During the q&a, someone asked about what had changed for Ray McGovern, given his 27 years in the CIA, that he was now speaking out.  Interestingly enough (and I recall Bob Baer on the Amnesty International panel in San Francisco), McGovern didn’t have a problem with what he had been doing as an analyst with the CIA, which was providing accurate intelligence information to the White House. His job, as he noted, was “to speak truth to power.” Of course, often the President for other political reasons didn’t listen.  One case he noted was Johnson’s bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, which none of the CIA analysts thought would work.

What the problem was (and Baer said this too), was adding in the former spies to the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency, who’s mission was to provide accurate intelligence in one place.  Also, Presidents telling the CIA to start wars, which totally goes against the mission of providing objective information.

Another reason for torture that McGovern brought up in the q&a session was the intimidation factor.  Citing the case of John Walker Lindh, who was the first person tortured in “the war on terror,” McGovern raised the issue of whether they really expected to get any information from Lindh, a misguided young man who had only recently joined the Taliban?  The green light was given despite the fact of Lindh being an American citizen.  Part of the message was “Don’t mess with us,” as McGovern notes, not only to those abroad, but to those in the US who might question what they were doing.

A major change McGovern sees is that we no longer have a free media reporting on what’s happening in DC and around the world (“the fawning corporate media”, is how he refers to them). I know others have noted how even papers like the New York Times and Washington Post have become stenographers for those in power, not questioning.  On the other hand, as McGovern notes, if you know your way around the web, you can find out considerably more than was possible in the past. Information most of the American public doesn’t see.

In closing, Ray McGovern said he did see the glass as half full, and was encouraged by the steps Obama has taken in releasing documents and letting Holder investigate in the face of pressure not to. Also, that it is up to us to hold Obama and the rest of our government accountable.

Ray McGovern’s whole lecture from November 12 is currently online, thanks to Talking Stick TV, and I’ve included it above. 

I wish I could say my memory would be this good a week and a half after the event, but the truth is, I just watched it again and took notes.


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