ScienceBloglings Greg Laden and John Wilkins have discussed whether or not CIA employees complicit in torture should be exempt from prosecution. The debate has revolved around the ‘following orders’ issue. But this misses a key point:
CIA personnel are not military personnel.
There is a specific reason the CIA is a civilian agency and not a military command (in fact, there are strict regulations about the percentage of military personnel that can work for the CIA). In a military command, soldiers can disobey orders if those orders are found to be unethical. However, if the orders are found to be ethical and not in violation of military law, the soldier in question can be prosecuted for disobeying orders. Now, this wouldn’t be such a big deal if soldiers could resign at will. For obvious reasons, they can’t.
But CIA employees are just federal employees (with lots of security clearances). They can walk. There are no legal impediments to quitting if confronted with the prospect of being complicit with torture. Yes, they would have to sign lots of non-disclosure agreements. Their federal pensions would be smaller. They probably wouldn’t be able to line up a cushy, lucrative job with a private intelligence contractor. But those objections aren’t about law or the obligation to follow orders, they are about careers and money.
In other words, those who claim they were following orders, were complicit in torture for money. If that is not the definition of the banality of evil, I don’t know what is. The alternative is that they believed torture was the right thing to do.
Either way, the Republic is not safe until we prosecute these criminals.
Update: Daniel De Groot makes a similar point. And, on a related note, maha asks, “If torture is so good at extracting information, why did it need to be applied 183 times in one month?