May 24, 2018

Fay Vincent, Former MLB Commissioner, Says The "Morality" Of Torture Is Irrelevant

Baseball Ex-Commish's Love Letter To Torturers And His One Percent Pals
Russ Baker, WhyWhatWhy, May 22, 2018
The other day, the Wall Street Journal published a ludicrous and tragically laughable op-ed from former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent, "Immorality Is Part of the Job." It argues that CIA directors should lie to Congress to protect "our boys." ...

In his essay, Vincent expressed disgust with "moral" considerations around torture in the confirmation hearings for the CIA director nominee, Gina Haspel. He stated that CIA directors are under instruction to lie, and should do so to "protect operations," and that since they're under instruction, that's "the law" — and we should be a nation of laws.

As usual, the background, context, and the "deep politics" to this convoluted thinking are entirely missing, and are just accepted without question ... Vincent does mention his "old friend" Dick Helms, the late former CIA director, who was involved with many CIA abuses. And he excoriates the late Sen. Frank Church, who was one of the few to investigate those abuses, writing:
Dick Helms died in 2002. His portrait hangs in honor at CIA headquarters. There is no portrait of Frank Church.
But Vincent ... doesn't say how he was friends with Helms, who was very much part of the CIA's hard-core, old-style element of democracy's hit men, or why he knew him.

In fact, Helms was not Vincent's only spook friend.

Vincent is an old friend of George H.W. "Poppy" Bush and his late wife Barbara — so old a friend, in fact, that, at age 18, he lived with the then-young couple in their house in Midland, Texas. ...

Knowing now that Vincent has this peculiar affinity for the world of covert intrigue and coups and torture should trigger the question of whether it is normal that a figure heading a beloved institution like major league baseball would be so close with people in the dark arts. ...
Vincent's op-ed is behind a pay wall at the WSJ, but I found a copy elsewhere:

At The CIA, Immorality Is Part Of The Job
Fay Vincent, Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2018
The confirmation hearings for Gina Haspel to head the Central Intelligence Agency became a theater of the absurd, as senators pressed her for an assurance that she would apply "moral" standards to intelligence-gathering, including interrogation of terrorists.

As I watched, I kept thinking of Sen. Frank Church and the disaster his Senate select committee inflicted upon the CIA in 1975. The committee was troubled by the disclosures of various misguided, even bizarre CIA endeavors during the Cold War, including an attempt to kill Fidel Castro. It ultimately adopted a series of proposals to rein in the agency that led the Carter administration to impose broad changes.

The effort to reform intelligence operations to make them moral was a noble one—and the damage it wrought to national security took decades to undo. The new generation of CIA veterans like Ms. Haspel must wonder if anyone in the current Senate has even heard of the Church Committee.

Senators today seem to assume there is agreement on what constitutes moral conduct in spycraft. But recruiting spies is not the work of moralists. The CIA's mission involves persuading others to disregard their deepest moral and legal obligations. It is a dirty yet necessary business, not best examined in open hearings.

In 1977 my friend Dick Helms was prosecuted by the Carter Justice Department for perjury after he denied in an open Senate hearing that the CIA had been involved in the 1973 overthrow of the Allende government in Chile. Helms was bound by his oath as a CIA officer never to reveal classified secrets. Yet before the Senate he was under the perjury threat if he fulfilled his obligation to preserve intelligence secrets. What was the moral thing to do in that situation?

Helms lied because he was operating under longstanding directions he and others at the agency had received from senior senators, including Democrat Richard Russell of Georgia, who worried candid answers in open hearings might risk "the lives of our boys." They instructed Helms to protect intelligence operations in such hearings.

Helms's defense lawyer, Edward Bennett Williams, warned the Justice Department he would have Helms testify in open court to numerous examples of CIA officials lying to Congress to preserve secret agency activities, with the likely exposure of important top-secret operations. The government relented, and Williams arranged for Helms to plead guilty to a misdemeanor with no penalty. In 1983 President Reagan recognized Helms's long service with a National Security Medal as an implicit apology. No CIA director has since been charged with a crime.

Intelligence work can involve complex judgments about morality and even legality. The law must remain our bulwark, morality a sweet frosting. To serve as head of the CIA is to be in charge of vital operations that must be subject to the rule of law, not the moral sensitivities of any one person.

Dick Helms died in 2002. His portrait hangs in honor at CIA headquarters. There is no portrait of Frank Church.

Mr. Vincent, a retired lawyer, was commissioner of Major League Baseball, 1989-92.
Appeared in the May 17, 2018, print edition.

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