In the Arena

More Candor

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CIA Director Hayden acknowledges that the public was going to find out about the CIA torture tapes anyway, but he still gets points for coming clean. And the revelation is further evidence of the Bush-driven sliminess of the Porter Goss regime at CIA. I’m not convinced that Hayden’s internal explanation of why the Gossites destroyed the tapes represents the whole story:

“Beyond their lack of intelligence value — as the interrogation sessions had already been exhaustively detailed in written channels — and the absence of any legal or internal reason to keep them, the tapes posed a security risk,” Hayden said. “Were they ever to leak, they would permit identification of your CIA colleagues who had served in the program, exposing them to and their families to retaliation from al-Qaeda and it sympathizers.”

But this represents yet another case where the intelligence community has released information that hammers the Bush Administration’s credibility–and, more important, helps the prospects of the bill that Congress will soon produce mandating that all government agencies conform to the anti-torture provisions of the Army Field Manual.

And also in the category of more good news that the administration doesn’t want to hear–and more reasons for a major diplomatic initiative to engage Iran–there’s this confirmation of previous reports from General Petraeus:

In a related development, Petraeus said there had been a decrease in “signature attacks” in Iraq with weapons linked to Iran, such as 240mm rockets, portable air defense systems and explosively formed projectiles. But he said it remains unclear whether the Iranian government has directed a halt to the attacks or stopped providing the weapons.

If, as seems probable, the Iranians stopped their lethal mischief in response to coordinated pleas from leading Iraqis, then what is left of the vaunted Iran threat? The capability–if not the desire–to eventually produce a nuclear weapon, to be sure. And the support for Hizballah in Lebanon and elsewhere. And the need for demagogues like Ahmadinejad to plump a Great Satan in order to divert the Iranian public’s attention from the unemployment, crumbling economy and absence of freedom internally. But the potential benefits of a return to civilization–diplomatic recognition, WTO status, an unfreezing of assets and lifting of sanctions–represent some pretty attractive carrots that the U.S. might offer in a negotiation.

I don’t have any hope that this President will do the right thing and engage Iran. But the way seems clear for the next President to take that initiative.

Update: More important than the CIA’s grudging confirmation of Mark Mazzetti’s story is the apparent fact that leading members of Intelligence Committees, both Democrat and Republican, knew about the CIA torture tapes, and perhaps even the plan to destroy them, and didn’t do anything to stop them. Spencer Ackerman has more here.

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