Ex-CIA official Michael Scheuer, one-time head of its bin Laden unit, held forth earlier this month before a U.S. House of Representatives panel about the program of extraordinary rendition — one that caught Canadian citizen Maher Arar in its net.
… Scheuer’s main intent seemed to deflect criticism from the CIA and lay it at the feet of senior White House officials and CIA lawyers, who he said approve every snatch proposed by the counterterrorism unit.
In doing so, he provided listeners with a rare public glimpse into what one long-ago CIA official-turned-critic, Victor Marchetti, called the “clandestine mentality,” an anything-goes mindset that separates CIA people from their brethren in the FBI, a law enforcement agency, and the Pentagon, whose spies for the most part are bound by military oaths.
“Sir, a half-assed bureaucrat like me,” he told Delahunt, the panel’s chairman, “is never going to take a prisoner anywhere in this world without the authority of the executive branch.”
And if the CIA gets the wrong man, he asserted, it’s not really the CIA operators’ fault.
“Each and every target of a rendition was vetted by a battery of lawyers at CIA and not infrequently by lawyers at the National Security Council and the Department of Justice,” he said, following “a written brief citing and explaining the intelligence information that made the rendition target a threat to the United States and/or its allies.”
“If mistakes were made,” he went on to say, “I can only say that that is tough, but war is a tough and confusing business .”
Protecting Americans “should always trump other considerations, especially pedantic worries about whether or not the intelligence data is air tight.”Apologize
The parliamentary report featured a handful of cases of mistaken identity, the most prominent of which was the ordeal of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen suspected of terrorist ties and packed off to his native Syria in 2002.
Upon his release 375 days later, Arar said he had been brutally tortured.
The Canadian government, which had supplied U.S. intelligence with a dossier that prompted Arar’s detention in New York, reinvestigated his case, cleared him of all suspicion, issued him an apology and awarded him $11.5 million in compensation.
But the the CIA, Scheuer said under persistent questioning from the panel’s Democrats, owes neither Arar nor any other innocents picked up an apology.
“No, and if I had the same information sheet today, I’d go after him,” Scheuer said.
“But the Canadians say there’s absolutely no evidence,” countered Edward J. Markey, D-Mass.
“I would certainly not apologize to him, sir.”
If anything, the finger of blame should land on the Canadian government for “providing us with information that was incorrect,” he said.
But the panel was barking up the wrong tree, he insisted. It should be asking higher officials about mistakes and compensation.
“You’re forgetting that the CIA is a service organization that responds to the demands of the government whether the Republicans or the Democrats are in power,” he said. “It’s their decision, and it’s Congress’s decision. If they want to sign onto an agreement that prevents the United States from defending itself, then they should do that and worry about defending their decision.”
The CIA , he added, is not “in the business of cleaning up afterwards. We’re in the business of pre-emption.”
But, Delahunt persisted, “What about those who are clearly eventually determined to be innocent?”
“Mistakes are made, sir.”
“Mistakes are made.”
“Yes, sir. And if you can prove that there was not due diligence in designing the target package or assembling the information (for) that operation. . . then you have a case against someone. Otherwise, it’s a mistake.”
“It’s just a mistake.”
“That’s right,” Scheuer said. “They’re not Americans, and I really don’t care.” He spread his arms, smiling. “It’s just a mistake.”
“And if they’re not Americans,” Delahunt persisted, “you really don’t care.” He shuffled some papers. “That’s very interesting.”
The witness and the congressman seemed to be talking across a vast universe.
“I never got paid, sir, to be a citizen of the world,” Scheuer said. “Maybe you do.”