Journalism in the Public Interest

CIA Officials Involved in Abuse and Wrongful Detention Rarely Reprimanded, Sometimes Promoted


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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.

Shorter versions of the AP story have been published elsewhere, but for all the details, read the full report.

And these are the cases that have been leaked or made public.  How many more instances of murder and abuse have been kept inhouse or swept under the rug?  All considered collateral damage in the service of power.

Barry Schmittou

Feb. 9, 2011, 3:45 p.m.

To see more crimes the Obama and Bush administrations have protected, please go to

“CIA Director Leon Pannetta has fired employees for misconduct.”

I don’t care about people been fired, they should be put on trial for crimes they have committed all in the name of the idiotic slogan - national security.

Cheung comments above. I agree. Betrayal of public trust is akin to military desertion and treachery. Rewarded by sexual emasculation, permanent service to the public, with rations and basic accommodation. On discharge ALL assets and priviledges cease.
Interesting to investigate how much they were paid to leave.
This saves the tax payer the cost of prisons, wardens, foods and entertainment.

It’s really sad what this country has come to.  We have no one to blame but ourselves….we re-elected a man (Bush Jr.) to office and let his “puppet masters” run the farm, so to speak!!  These people should be fired and prosecuted!  Just because you are a prisoner does NOT mean that the U.S. has “free rein” over abusive behavior.  This is dispicable!!

Absolutely agree but it wasn’t just the republicans.  Obama ran his campaign on promises of transparency and accountability.  How is that working out?  Not great.  In fact his DOJ employs the same arguments for exec privilege and secrecy that the Bushies used.  True democracy requires that the public be aware of what the govt is doing in their name and under their flag.  We haven’t had that for many years now.

Given that this exceptional story is the result of outstanding work by AP journalists Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, is it really right that Pro Publica carry the name of another journalist at the top of this page, which many might view as indicative of authorship?

We all should be wary of having Mr Panetta at the Pentegon and his willingness to carry out abuses for intelligence. Mr Panetta along with this administartion twist and distotrs the law to fit their intelligence gathering needs. This was true with the torture of guitanamo bay and it is true today. We are just starting to get in to an era where activist will be targeted and their computers seized by big brother. This is a government will neber ever be transparent as it will always refuse to acknowledge it abuses. It is also unresponsive to critisicm as it believes it version of demodracy is superior to all other forms of government

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