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Symbols of Bush-era Lawlessness Flourish Under Obama

Guantanamo Bay prison plans expansion, while CIA official linked to torture cover-up gets promoted

A man crosses the Central Intelligence Agency logo in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
April 2, 2013 3:00 PM ET

During the George W. Bush years, two of the most controversial elements of what was then called the Global War on Terror were the CIA's rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program and the creation of the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay. The RDI program included waterboarding and other forms of torture, as well as so-called black site prisons where detainees were held incommunicado after being abducted by the CIA, and sometimes tortured by members of the host country's security forces.

Guantanamo Bay and the RDI program are both back in the news now, each for their own unsavory reasons, and their reemergence should be a reminder of how fully the Obama administration has embraced the logic underpinning the Bush regime's response to 9/11. The Pentagon is now requesting nearly $200 million for Guantanamo Bay infrastructure upgrades, including $49 million for a new unit for "special" prisoners – likely the so-called high-value detainees currently housed at Camp 7, which include self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The Pentagon's reasoning is that neither the president nor Congress have any plans to close the prison anytime soon, so these repairs are necessary.

This massive capital request comes as detainees are engaged in an increasingly dire hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention and to signal their lack of hope for transfer or release. Instead of closing Guantanamo Bay, the Obama administration stands poised to do the very opposite – pour more money into what is already the country's most expensive prison.

Meanwhile, participation in the CIA's controversial RDI program has resulted for at least one person not in prosecution or professional sanctions, but rather in a promotion. For the last several weeks, an unnamed woman has been acting director of the National Clandestine Service – the part of the CIA that runs spying and covert operations, including the CIA's drone program – as first reported by the Washington Post. This is the first time a woman has held that position. But this particular woman was a major figure in the RDI program, once ran a black site prison, and has been linked to the destruction of interrogation tapes that almost certainly documented the CIA's use of torture.

In 2005, the unnamed woman was chief of staff for Jose Rodriguez, then the acting director for the clandestine service. Rodriguez ordered the destruction of at least 92 tapes CIA agents made of the interrogations of two high-value detainees, Abu Zubayah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri – at least some of which included waterboarding, which is widely regarded as a form of torture. The New York Times reported that the woman "and Jose were the two main drivers for years for getting the tapes destroyed" – an anonymous quote they attributed to a "former senior CIA officer." In his memoir, Rodriguez said that the woman drafted the cable allowing the destruction of the tapes after meeting with CIA lawyers.

Rodriguez ordered the tapes destroyed despite a 2004 court order to preserve them, an act which led the American Civil Liberties Union to attempt, unsuccessfully, to hold the CIA in contempt of court. In 2007, The New York Times reported that members of the 9/11 Commission were not aware of the existence or destruction of the tapes, despite their requests for exactly that kind of evidence. Neither were the two highest-ranking members of the House Intelligence Committee in 2005. The Department of Justice has twice investigated the destruction of the tapes, but has not brought charges against anyone involved.

So the prison at Guantanamo Bay is likely to get more funding, including a new prison, and a CIA agent tied to one of the most shameful episodes of the last decade will likely be granted a powerful, coveted spot at the CIA. That she'll be promoted by new CIA director John Brennan, himself a high-level CIA official during the worst torture years, is only appropriate in Obama's age of "look forward, not backward." And instead of robust protest from liberals, there is for the most part either silence or acquiescence. What was once controversial is now institutionalized and accepted – a fact which may ultimately be one of the Obama administration's most lasting legacies.

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