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Newt Gingrich: CIA Bully-Boy Since 1995

Gingrich orangeEx-House Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich has been apoplectic about current Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s claim that the CIA lied about briefing her about the use of torture ("enhanced interrogation techniques") at a meeting in September 2002. Like a diminutive Zeus, thundering from the heights of Mt. Lilliput, Gingrich railed against what he called Pelosi’s "despicable, dishonest and vicious political effort," and called for investigations.

Whatever Pelosi’s ultimate political fate on this matter — and she appears to have backed off a little on Friday, shifting her emphasis from the lies of the CIA to the lies of the Bush administration in general, after a letter from CIA Director Leon Panetta to his troops — a person would have to be totally obtuse not to see Gingrich’s attack as cover for the CIA and its torture crimes. It is also a fiercely partisan attack, laying down a smokescreen for the real criminals, Cheney, Bush, Tenet, Rumsfeld and their ilk.

But this is not the first time we’ve seen Newt play this role. In 1995, then-Democratic Representative Robert G. Torricelli received information from a State Department whistleblower, Richard Nuccio, that a long-time Guatemalan CIA agent, Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, was responsible for the controversial killing of an American innkeeper living in Guatemala, as well as the murder of a leftist guerrilla leader married to an American citizen, Jennifer Harbury. The guerrilla leader, Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, was ordered killed at the end of his interrogation by Alpirez, who also was a Guatemalan military intelligence officer. Both the State Department and the National Security Council knew the identity of the killer, but withheld the information, even as Harbury was conducting hunger strikes to get the government to pursue what then appeared to be her husband’s disappearance.

Torricelli, who was a member of the House Intelligence Committee, released the name of the CIA agent and announced in a letter to President Clinton:

The direct involvement of the Central Intelligence Agency in the murder of these individuals leads me to the extraordinary conclusion that the agency is simply out of control and that it contains what can only be called a criminal element…"

Torricelli’s bombshell caused a huge scandal, coming in the wake of revelations of a bloody U.S.-backed Guatemalan counter-insurgency campaign that killed over 100,000 civilians, led by the Guatemalan military and intelligence services. According to a New York Times article in March 1995, Alpirez had been a CIA informer since the 1980s, and then trained at the U.S. Army-run School of the Americas in 1989.

By the time of the 1990 murder of Michael DeVine, "an American citizen who ran a hotel in the Guatemalan rain forest and apparently had stumbled onto a smuggling operation involving the Guatemalan military," Alpirez was a contract agent for the CIA. The controversy over DeVine’s murder forced the Bush I administration to cut off military aid to the Guatemalan regime, all the while, according to the UK Independent, secretly channeling $7 million a year to the Guatemalan government through the CIA.

The mid-90s scandal grew uglier and uglier. From the NY Times article:

The role of Guatemala’s military and intelligence services in death-squad killings has long been suspected. In 1993 that role was confirmed by two Guatemalan soldiers, who linked many such killings to the military high command.

The C.I.A.’s station in Guatemala has had close links to the military since 1954, when the intelligence agency led a coup that overthrew the nation’s President, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, and helped install a right-wing junta.

The stage was set for Speaker Newt to spring into action. He called Torricelli’s disclosures "explicitly inappropriate," and called for the House Intelligence Committee to expel the New Jersey congressman. "I think he just decided it was better to go ahead and cause a public embarrassment to the United States," Gingrich said.

In the end, Gingrich did not get his way, as supposedly "not wanting to make the Democrat a martyr," the Republicans backed down and Torricelli stayed on the committee. Meanwhile, the next year found Gingrich mixing it up with fellow Republican Arlen Specter, as Gingrich fought to increase the CIA budget for covert operations against Iran from $4 million to $18 million dollars ($19 million was already set aside for destabilization operations against Iraq). And then it seems only yesterday (2007), when Newt attacked then-Senator Biden’s call for a special prosecutor in the case of the destroyed CIA torture tapes.

According to a Jeff Stein interview with Nuccio in 1997, published at Salon, the Torricelli disclosures led to a change in Clinton-era CIA hiring policy, which now was to exclude hiring agents who were implicated in human rights abuses. Even further, then CIA-director John Deutch ordered an internal review of current agents involved in such abuses, and approximately 100 agents fitting such criteria were fired.

The denouement was not so pretty, however. The CIA rank-and-file mutinied — "poor morale," don’t you know — and got Deutch kicked out and a new CIA director appointed. Before Deutch was gone, two senior CIA officials were also let go for lying to Congress. Meanwhile, the CIA saw to it that Nuccio lost his security clearance, thereby wrecking his career. Torricelli won the New Jersey Senate seat, only to bow out after one term because of financial scandal. Gingrich went on to even bigger game, helping impeach President Clinton for lying about a blow job, only to fall in disgrace himself a few years later. Deutch was replaced by George Tenet.

The CIA and the U.S. government’s policy over prisoners did not fall from the clouds. Nor did it come from the original sin of Dick Cheney, as guilty as he may be in this instance. All these "secret cabals" (Lawrence Wilkerson’s term, not mine) within the government are incubated in the attitudes and crimes of normative government/military functioning. Just ask the 100, 000 dead Guatemalan civilians, predecessors to the 100,000s thousands of dead in Iraq. Or ask Jennifer Harbury… or Abu Zubaydah.

Newt Gingrich’s charges against Nancy Pelosi are not motivated by a desire for truth, but to cover for the crimes of the CIA. This is his M.O. This is his job. If only the press had a memory they would not report the fulminations of this shill for torturers and murderers. They might report this, from a story by Jeremy Scahill on the "extrajudicial terror squad" still active at Guantanamo, published in Friday’s AlterNet:

As the Obama administration continues to fight the release of some 2,000 photos that graphically document U.S. military abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, an ongoing Spanish investigation is adding harrowing details to the ever-emerging portrait of the torture inside and outside Guantánamo. Among them: "blows to [the] testicles;" "detention underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep;" being "inoculated … through injection with ‘a disease for dog cysts;’" the smearing of feces on prisoners; and waterboarding. The torture, according to the Spanish investigation, all occurred "under the authority of American military personnel" and was sometimes conducted in the presence of medical professionals….

The force is officially known as the the Immediate Reaction Force or Emergency Reaction Force, but inside the walls of Guantánamo, it is known to the prisoners as the Extreme Repression Force. Despite President Barack Obama’s publicized pledge to close the prison camp and end torture — and analysis from human rights lawyers who call these forces’ actions illegal — IRFs remain very much active at Guantánamo.

Or they could do the kind of digging Jason Leopold did in his latest article, Documents Describe Prisoner Abuse Photos Obama is Withholding. Besides describing a number of the photographs Obama does not now want the U.S. public to see, the article demonstrates how widespread the abuse and torture of prisoners actually was, a horrific combination of official policy, and an army brutalized by its own leadership, inured to the idea of prisoner abuse by observing the policy of the higher ups:

Another photograph that was set for release at the end of month that is now being withheld was taken in December 2003 and was found on a government computer. The image shows three soldiers at the St. Mere Forward Operating Base posing with three Iraqi detainees “zip-tied to bars in a stress position, fully clothed, with hoods over their heads.”

One female soldier in the photo is pointing a broom "as if I was sticking the end of a broom stick into the rectum of a restrained detainee," she testified to Army investigators in April 2004….

One soldier said they “kept the detainees awake by holding them up or by playing the loud music,” the report noted. The soldier said Special Forces instructed soldiers that prisoners who were “violent or had information” were “flex-cuffed on their hands, heads covered and not allowed to sleep"….

Most of the soldiers interviewed in all of the incidents stated that they were not aware of any set policy on the treatment of detainees, and did not realize at the time that their actions were wrong nor did they believe it was inappropriate. A sergeant stated that he had also seen pictures on Army computers of detainees being kicked, hit or inhumanely treated while in U.S. custody.

Another soldier said he had “seen a few pictures of this nature before but thought nothing of it since these people are the ones that are trying to kill us.”

On Wednesday, Obama told reporters that the photographs “are not particularly sensational.”

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Jeff Kaye

Jeff Kaye

Jeffrey Kaye is a retired psychologist who has worked professionally with torture victims and asylum applicants. Active in the anti-torture movement since 2006, he has his own blog, Invictus, previously wrote regularly for Firedoglake’s The Dissenter, as well as at The Guardian, Truthout, Alternet, and The Public Record. He is the author of Cover-Up at Guantanamo, a new book examining declassified files on treatment of prisoners at the Guantanamo detention camp.