CIA officers who were involved in cases of wrongful imprisonment, mistreatment and even detainee deaths have often avoided serious punishment and in many cases been promoted within the agency, an investigation by the Associated Press has found.
Take the case of German citizen Khaled El-Masri, who was kidnapped and transferred to a secret prison in Afghanistan for interrogation in 2003. U.S. officials have since admitted that the CIA wrongfully imprisoned El-Masri.
Though the lawyer who signed off on the decision received a reprimand, the CIA never punished the analyst who pressed for El-Masri’s wrongful rendition, despite recommendations from the CIA’s inspector general, AP reported.
A former CIA official told the Washington Post in 2005 that the analyst “didn’t really know. She just had a hunch” when she made the decision regarding El-Masri. The analyst now runs the CIA’s Global Jihad unit, which leads the U.S. government’s counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda.
She’s hardly the only example of the CIA’s failure to hold officers accountable for their decisions. Other cases in the AP story in which officers made serious mistakes with little to no punishment include:
- A case in which a terrorism suspect froze to death in a makeshift prison in Afghanistan after CIA officers stripped him and left him overnight in an unheated cell. An investigation of the incident raised concerns about the top officer at the prison, the CIA’s station chief in Afghanistan, and management at headquarters. Nobody was punished.
- A case in which a CIA interrogator performed a “mock execution” by holding an unloaded gun and bitless drill to the head of an al-Qaeda operative at a secret CIA prison in Poland. Mock executions are not authorized by the Justice Department, but the interrogator received only a reprimand.
- A case of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in which a prisoner was interrogated, covered by a hood, shackled to a window, and found dead a half hour later. His death was ruled a homicide and the medical examiner said the hood over his head and the position he was constrained to contributed to his death, but the CIA officer who ran the detainee unit only received a letter of reprimand.
Many of the internal investigations which found past mistakes by CIA officers were conducted by the CIA’s inspector general—a position that sat vacant for more than a year before a new inspector general was sworn in last fall.
A CIA spokesman told the AP, “Any suggestion that the agency does not take seriously its obligation to review employee misconduct — including those of senior officers — is flat wrong,”and said that CIA Director Leon Pannetta has fired employees for misconduct.