CIA fires “secret prison” whistleblower

… thus in effect confirming the story, and compounding some very serious crimes.

The CIA has fired an employee of its IG’s office for telling reporters about the secret torture chambers the CIA was running, and presumably still is running, in Eastern Europe.

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this. Leaking classified information is sometimes heroic, but it shouldn’t be risk-free. A CIA officer signs a contract to keep the secrets. Being fired is an appropriate penalty for violating that contract by leaking information that embarrasses the country.

However, to act on that logic in any particular case assumes a judgment on the part of those doing the firing that the release of information was, on balance, undesirable. In this case, the firing amounts to a confirmation of the underlying story, and a ratification of the decision to violate the Constitution, domestic statute, and the law of nations by holding prisoners in secret and inflicting torture. (One reason to have the torture chambers outside the country is to put the activities there beyond the reach of the courts, which might otherwise be asked to enforce the Eighth Amendment’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.”)

By firing the whistleblower, Porter Goss has made himself an accessory after the fact to some very serious crimes. Of course, as CIA Director he is also, presumably, a principal or a co-conspirator in committing those same crimes on an ongoing basis.

That judgment about the legal and moral rights and wrongs of the case is, of course, separate from the political judgment about whether the Democrats would gain votes by filing resolutions of inquiry, demanding hearings, and otherwise showing that they are actually against torture, or the somewhat different judgment about whether this is an issue worth losing votes over. Since I’m not running for anything, I’m allowed to say that the bully-and-coward faction that doesn’t mind a little torture as long as it’s out of sight and applied to people with funny foreign names probably constitutes a majority in the American electorate. I think the time for Democratic politicians to demonstrate their opposition to torture is when we hold the White House and can start some criminal investigations, not now. Your mileage may vary.

But even in cases where the material revealed isn’t evidence of a crime, and where firing is appropriate, it’s still incumbent on those who regard to whisteblower’s actions as having forwarded the national interest to ensure that she (in this case) doesn’t suffer for it economically. Some institution whose management disapproves of torture ought to give Mary McCarthy a job. One of the structural advantages of the right wing in this country is that it is much more diligent about taking care of its own after they leave the public payroll.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

5 thoughts on “CIA fires “secret prison” whistleblower”

  1. This is very much like the contracts that have been put out on gangsta rats, the finks who spill the beans on the crewes, mobs, or other sorts of crooks. Anyone who tells gets the hit and doesn't have much of a life to live afterward, sorta like OJ and his "warning." While the gov't usually doesn't literally dumpsterise their rotten vegetables, they mess and stink them up enough so that no one else would be likely to use them for any other purpose. Emulation is not a desireable prospect. Refuse fishing Nick Nolte-style in "Down and Out In Langley" is about all that might be left considering the ways and means of the gov't and its methods of protecting the "family." Certainly, the officer in question has put herself in a bad light, but to whose (dis)advantage? Seems awful gilly and scaly that it would be so obvious of an exposure. Yes, and the question remains whether truth trumps confidentiality, honour winning out over the rock-headed paper-pushers. Rockies may break red-tape cutting scissors but at what point?

  2. Some blogger (sorry, I can't trace it now for the hat tip) has pointed out that the firing – for leaking classified information, not spreading disinformation – confirms the truth of the story.
    I don't agree with Mark that Dems should put the question of criminal liability for torture on the back burner (ugh). First, the practical objection: any serious Democratic presidential contender will have to take a position early on amnesties. I think these should be ruled out, but in any case the issue can't be avoided. Second, the ethical objection: fear of prosecution down the road is the only thing holding back the torturers as we write. So decent people have to kick up a fuss now, and keep saying: torture is a crime; crime will not pay.

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