Former CIA operative Barry Eisler on CIA torture report, Obama "banning" torture


Who has jurisdiction? The federal Justice Department? Seems like a major weakness in the design of the US government is that the Executive Branch is responsible for investigating and prosecuting crimes within the Executive Branch.

I feel like I vaguely remember reading about victims attempting to file charges, but the cases have been thrown out due to lack of evidence or because the Executive Branch pulls some state secrets crap or something, and then the Judiciary Branch (really, individual judges) chickens out? Am I making that up?


this banning that is being referred to is because these things are against the law but aren’t being enforced thus decriminalized which in turn also legalizes them.


That actually appears to be his point. As in, banning something that is already illegal rather than punishing the people who broke the law is just grandstanding at best, and potentially harmful at worst. He claim is that this is very dangeorus because it sets a precident that “do not torture” is not a law that cannot be broken, but an administrative policy subject to the whim of the executive branch. Seems like a reasonable argument.


Exactly. Like, if it’s banned now was it okay before? Is that why we didn’t prosecute Chaney and his ilk? The message is very ambiguous, which may be the point.

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Actually having the President ban kidnapping probably is important, because the US government has done way too much of it. Sometimes they call it other things, like “rendition”, which means “kidnapping”, or “extraordinary rendition”, which means “really blatantly illegal kidnapping”, or “acquiring suspected terrorists from our Afghan allies and transporting them to Guantanamo”, which means “hiding kidnap victims somewhere you think you won’t be caught”, or whatever euphemism they used for kidnapping that Libyan dissident’s family back in the Gaddafi days that was just in the press.


this instantly reminded me of this xkcd:


A lot of things are illegal but are OK when done in the name of the state; killing people being a prime example. If “banning” means “renouncing the use of these methods, and saying that they are no longer acceptable actions for the state to perform in order to achieve its goals” then yeh, I think I’d be very happy if governments across the world banned everything in his list and a whole bunch more. Murder, data crime, assault, fraud and corruption would be a good start, but I could add to the list almost indefinitely.

Of course, I wouldn’t be living up to my username if I thought that Obama’s proclamation was anything other than lip service, but attacking him for saying that his administration believes that the use of torture is illegitimate because torture is already illegal seems pointless. I realise the article touches on this but the focus is wrong: it shouldn’t be “It’s already illegal to torture people!” but “OK, now that you’ve said this is what you believe, how are you going to back up what you have said?”


After all, no one likes kidnapping, child abuse, or mail fraud.

but he doesn’t address the fact that the torture that occurred was supported (and liked) by some folks in the Bush Administration and beyond… So he’s not really doing an apples-to-apples comparison here.

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I understand what he’s saying – that ‘banning’ torture is basically meaningless, since it’s already illegal but done anyway, so it’s just lip service – but I’m not clear what he’d prefer that the President do. Would he think it prudent for Obama to say, “Torture’s bad and makes our country look bad, and I really wish we hadn’t done a whole lot of it when Bush was in charge, and we’re trying to make everyone stop doing it, but hey, it’s hard to watch everyone at once!” Or would he prefer Obama to just say nothing?

He asks, Does it even need to be said? And I say yes, expressing convictions and the hope to stop torturing humans is important, and I’m glad Obama said what he said.

He said exactly what he wants done. He wants people arrested and prosecuted for committing crimes. When it comes to torture, “I was just following orders” is actually no excuse. Every agent who tortured anyone, every supervisor up the entire chain who knew about it. Everyone should go to prison, even if it means imprisoning half the CIA.

I understand why they would never, ever arrest Cheney or Bush, or even the department heads. If I were in his position, though, I would cooperate with international courts if they chose to prosecute them.

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I think everybody wants people arrested and prosecuted for committing crimes. That’s not much of an op-ed. If the point of your article is to say that we shouldn’t be enthused that the President has publicly come out against torture and that condemning it is pointless, then I want to know what he’d prefer the President to have said.

What about extraordinary rendition to Hague? I wouldn’t be surprised if the money needed could be crowdsourced. I’d even chip in.

If the CIA is doing any of those along with the torturing, I would like those responsible to go prison for that too.

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I think it’s a safe bet they are.

I assume you don’t mean going to prison :slight_smile:

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I’m very glad I’m not the sort of person who just assumes casually that our government is engaging in child abuse.

Well, Omar Khadr was a child soldier.


There’s a huge gap between unenforced laws and legalized practices. These things will still put you in jail (or worse) if you’re not part of the club that claims to ban it. The selective enforcement of these laws means it’s a state secret when we do it, but a punishable offence if you do it.

Basically the kind of thing Nixon was saying before he was forced to resign.


It occurs to me, that maybe, it really doesn’t matter what anybody says, not the prez and not the author, what matters is what anybody actually does.

So what does Barry Eisler actually do? He asks if the president has really done something or if he’s just said something.
He started a conversation.

Its very simple for the president to ban torture, as long as he doesn’t have to do anything about it. Its really easy to declare that he, personally, is against torture if he doesn’t actually have to prove it, its real easy to declare one is on the side of good if one is never going to be held accountable.

The conversation Mr Eisler has started, of course is not simple, he’s basically asking people if this is enough, if merely banning torture is enough to actually appease the conscience of a nation and atone for its admitted crimes

And if the answer is yes? What does that say about the USA?

Surely it says nothing about you personally, or anybody you know, its not like ordinary people really wield that much power or can be blamed for the malfeasance of its elected representatives. Or can they?

At this point anybody who might come around asking for justice will be told, it wasn’t me, it was dub’ya, America is Obama now and he thinks what was done to you was wrong, you have no gripe with us. Or wait around, maybe the next bureaucrat (prez) we hire might be able to help you, Its none of my business.

I’ve exaggerated a bit, of course, but only to make a point: That asking for answers just means you don’t have to provide any of your own.

I’m not trying to start a flame war with you, really, I mean no disrespect, I might come across that way if only because there’s no nice way to say that being American also signals to the rest of the world that you are pro torture since you do, as a country, torture people, and that if the president bans torture without actually doing anything about it, its just a political maneuver. Its easy to see when you consider the net effect on the population who are targets for torture. (But this cannot be considered out loud form the inside of course).

This shouldn’t be personally offensive if you understand that your identity as a person is separate from your identity as a nation. If there’s rage directed at me for THIS, well, I don’t really want to take a guess at its root cause because it could cloud the issue, but here it goes, it would seem like a sort of narcissistic injury to me.

But really, I’m just piggybacking on your comment to make my own observation as an outsider.

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