By Melvin Goodman / CounterPunch
In an article assessing Facebook last month, Washington Post writer Molly Roberts attacked whistleblowers for demonstrating a “lack of loyalty” to their institutions and described their actions as “betrayal.” Roberts argued that it took “gumption” for whistleblowers to decide that they are right and that the leaders above them are wrong. She wrote that these actions “look like “individualism to some and narcissism to others.” In fact, the nation needs more whistleblowers, particularly after the corruption of the Trump presidency.
Fortunately, a former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Office of Inspector General, Carolyn McGiffert Ekedahl, a former whistleblower herself who filed a sworn affidavit thirty years ago against the confirmation of Robert Gates as CIA director, wrote a letter to the Post defending whistleblowing. Ekedahl, who is my wife, noted that institutions, even religious ones, become loyal to themselves rather than to the missions they proclaim. Ekedahl asked, “Are victims of abuse by priests ‘betraying’ the Catholic Church when they become whistleblowers? Are civil servants who disclose corruption in their departments guilty of ‘lack of loyalty’?”
Investigative reporters of The Washington Post often have their exposes because of whistleblowers. Watergate and Deep Throat is the enduring example. In his excellent new book, “Midnight in Washington,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) documents the necessity of whistleblowers to the Congress, particularly the congressional intelligence committees. As Schiff states, without whistleblowers the congress “would be almost completely reliant on the intelligence agencies to self report any problems.”
Nevertheless, whistleblowers such as Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning were maligned in the editorial columns of the Post. David Ignatius, an apologist for the CIA for decades, charged that Snowden looked “more like an intelligence defector…than a whistleblower.” Then-host of Meet the Press, David Gregory, asked Glenn Greenwald, “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden…why shouldn’t you be charged with a crime.” Greenwald’s “crime” was to report Snowden’s revelations in the U.K. Guardian.
So-called liberal pundits in the Post piled on. Richard Cohen, who beat the drums for war against Iraq, called Manning a “cross-dressing Little Red Riding Hood.” Ruth Marcus, another liberal writer for the Post, referred to Snowden’s “unattractive personality,” and gratuitously maligned all whistleblowers as “difficult ones, the sort who tend to feel freer to speak out precisely because they don’t fit in.” Marcus argued that Snowden should have “stuck around to test the system the Constitution created,” and dealt with the consequences of his actions. In other words, whistleblowers should ignore the caprice of U.S. jurisprudence and the reactionary politics of the U.S. Supreme Court.
We would have benefitted from whistleblowers who could have exposed the CIA’s ten-year campaign of sadistic torture and abuse. A letter last week from seven senior military officers officially condemned the torture carried out by CIA officers and contractors. The author of the letter, a Navy captain, called the torture of a terrorist a “stain in the moral fiber of America.” He noted that his views are typical of senior members of the U.S. military.
The military officers, who had heard the harrowing testimony at Guantanamo Bay of a detainee in the agency’s custody, wrote their letter to urge clemency. They noted that CIA agents and operatives subjected the detainee to “physical and psychological abuse well beyond approved enhanced interrogation techniques,” comparable to “torture by the most abusive regimes in modern history.” The story appeared last week in the New York Times; there was no mention of the letter in The Washington Post. A great deal of previous testimony from other victims didn’t get reported by the mainstream media.
Last month, The New York Times, but not The Washington Post, published important details of how the United States and the CIA deceived the Polish government on the details of the sadistic interrogation program taking place at the CIA’s black site in Poland. Poland wanted assurances regarding the handling of prisoners at the site; the CIA refused to sign any documents. It was particularly outrageous for the CIA to compromise the relatively new independent status of an East European country that had been behind the Soviet iron curtain for decades.
The European Court of Human Rights censured Poland for allowing torture at the black site. Yet, the CIA treats the issue as a classified matter and refuses to allow former intelligence officers to discuss the issue. Once again, the CIA is using its tool of censorship to prevent an embarrassment to its reputation and not to protect the national security interests of the United States.
The letter of the senior military officers documents in detail the cruel experiences of a former prisoner at one of CIA’s black sites. The letter represents an authoritative rebuttal to former directors of the CIA George Tenet and Michael Hayden and deputy directors John McLaughlin and Michael Morell who argued in a book titled “Rebuttal” that the CIA got a “bum rap.” Their book moved swiftly through the CIA’s Publications Review Board without change, although CIA’s leaders had misrepresented every aspect of the torture program to the Senate intelligence committee. Meanwhile, critics of CIA’s torture program such as myself faced long delays and heavy-haded censorship in trying to publish criticism of the program.
Meanwhile, the CIA’s Inspector General report on torture and abuse as well as the Senate intelligence committee’s report remain classified and hidden in various governmental vaults. As a result, the CIA has been given carte blanche in its efforts to deceive the American public on the torture program. In June 2003, President George W. Bush recorded that the United States “was committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.” In fact, the CIA’s Inspector General brought examples of abuses to the attention of the Department of Justice, but Attorney General John Ashcroft had no problem with CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Not even the waterboarding of one detainee 119 times bothered Ashcroft.
President Barack Obama unfortunately contributed to the miscarriage of justice. The Convention against Torture, which the United States ratified in 1994 bans torture without exception and requires that torturers be prosecuted. Obama stopped torture but totally failed to carry out the second requirement.
As Ms. Ekedahl stated in her letter to the Post, “By shedding light on their actions, whistleblowers remain loyal to the supposed mission of those institutions—and loyal to our broader civil society.” With a masthead that states “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” the Post should be defending whistleblowers and ending its campaign of vilification.
Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.