If the public had the full report on torture that Republican Senator Richard Burr has ordered into oblivion, they would know how to respond to President Trump’s nomination of Gina Haspel to be director of the CIA. The report reveals in excruciating detail, first, that torture was used by the United States, and, second, that such criminal acts did not produce good intelligence. In fact, when acted upon, that information created immeasurable tragedy.
I know because the primary case corroborating this truth was one I was central in developing.
Amidst some frustration in early February 2003, with only three days remaining before his presentation at the United Nations, Colin Powell took me aside at CIA headquarters, pointed me into an empty room, closed the door, and told me to sit down. He was trying to contain his frustration and anger but barely succeeding. I had been with him off and on for more than a decade and had never seen him so angry.
What he said to me was this: “All this business about terrorists and Saddam is bullshit. It sounds like Deuteronomy. Mohamad begat Abu-Masa, who begat al-Aman, who begat Abu-Nidal, who begat al-Zubydah, and on and on. There is nothing solid to it. It’s B.S. ”
Since I was the principal person responsible for putting together his UN presentation, I believe he thought I would object. I didn’t.
“I agree,” I responded. “Let’s toss it.”
Somewhat taken aback but clearly mollified, he said, “Good. Do it.”
I went straight to Lynne Davidson, Powell’s principal speechwriter and the person who was actually crafting the presentation narrative, and told her to take it all out.
Lynne was hard-pressed but said “Good” and got to work. I think she agreed with me. After all, the text did stink to high heaven.