In a series of interviews in 1977, television journalist David Frost asked Richard Nixon about the legality of his actions as president. Nixon responded, “Well, when the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”
That mindset has also long been a guiding principle for the CIA, and unfortunately the American people have gone along with it, in the name of the Cold War, “national security,” and now the “war on terrorism.”
The result has been a life of the lie, a life that purports to constitute “freedom” and “limited government” but that in reality constitutes much of what occurred under communism — state kidnappings, assassinations, military coups, arbitrary arrests, secret prisons, torture, secret detentions, extra-judicial executions — and, most important, the assurance, implicit or explicit, of absolute immunity from criminal prosecution.
The idea, which has long been taught to American students in government-approved schools, has been that when regimes like China and the Soviet Union do these sorts of things, that constitutes communism and, thus, is evil and immoral. But when the CIA does them, Americans and the world are expected to consider them pro-freedom and good and moral.
The CIA is now discovering, much to its chagrin, that not everyone in the world holds the Nixonian mindset. A good example involves Poland, a country where people suffered under decades of communist tyranny and, therefore, are quite familiar with the types of actions the CIA has been engaged in.
The CIA used this former communist country to set up some of its post-9/11 “black sites” as part of its much-vaunted “war on terrorism.” These were the chain of secret gulags around the world in which the CIA would deposit its kidnap victims, secretly incarcerate them, torture them, and deny them access to lawyers, the judiciary, family, the Red Cross, and the press. The whole process conjures up the period when the KGB, which was the Soviet Union’s counterpart to the CIA, would exile prisoners to prison camps in Siberia.
Polish authorities have now criminally charged the former head of the Polish intelligence service with working with the CIA to establish some its black sites and torture system in Poland. As this article in the New York Times states, it is “the first high-profile case in which a former senior official of any government has been prosecuted in connection with the agency’s program.”
The Polish press is reporting that charges might also be pressed against one of Poland’s prime ministers during the time that prisoners were allegedly tortured at the prison.
The CIA’s reaction? The Times reports that it is terribly distressed over the fact that the entire matter has been made public because “foreign officials were assured that their assistance would always remain secret.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time that a foreign country has filed criminal charges arising out of the CIA’s “pro-freedom” criminal escapades. Recall that when the CIA kidnapped a man in Italy as part of its “war on terrorism,” the CIA officials involved in the kidnapping were charged and convicted of felonious criminal offenses in that country. Of course, by that time the defendants had vamoosed from the country and have steadfastly refused to return to face justice.
Has the U.S. Justice Department instituted criminal actions against the CIA for its criminal actions in either Poland or Italy?
Please, don’t make me laugh! The Justice Department, not surprisingly, takes the same Nixonian position that the CIA does — that when the CIA does it, it isn’t illegal.
That, of course, includes torture and murder. Think about the people who have been taken into custody by the CIA since 9/11 and then tortured or even executed. Has anyone been charged with torture or murder in those cases? Of course not because, you see, it’s not illegal when the CIA does it.
Moreover, let’s not pretend that this is a new phenomenon. Go back to the year 1973, when the CIA helped murder a young American journalist in Chile named Charles Horman during the U.S.-supported coup that brought a military dictatorship into power.
Is there evidence of CIA complicity in Horman’s death? Why, yes there is. After many years of false denials on the part of U.S. officials, the U.S. State Department released a memo indicating that the CIA had in fact played a role in Horman’s murder.
Wouldn’t that be enough for any honest prosecutor to begin issuing grand-jury subpoenas? Why, of course it would. But not when it’s the CIA that does the murdering. The Justice Department wouldn’t touch Horman’s murder with a 10-foot pole, and it still won’t despite the fact that there is no statute of limitations for murder.
Good for the Poles. Good for the Italians. The people of these two countries, who suffered under both fascism and communism, are reminding Americans that there are objective standards of morality and right conduct, standards that not even the CIA should be permitted to violate.