America’s Disappeared July 18, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Latin America, Torture.
Tags: Alberto Gonzales, Argentina, barry mccaffrey, bush adminsitration, cheney, chris hedges, cia prisons, Condoleezza Rice, david addington, detainees, dirty war, disappeared, drone missiles, george tenet, habeas corpus, human rights, Human Rights Watch, jay bybee, John Ashcroft, john rizzo, john yoo, pakistan, predator missiles, rendition, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, william j. haynes
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Dr. Silvia Quintela was “disappeared” by the death squads in Argentina in 1977 when she was four months pregnant with her first child. She reportedly was kept alive at a military base until she gave birth to her son and then, like other victims of the military junta, most probably was drugged, stripped naked, chained to other unconscious victims and piled onto a cargo plane that was part of the “death flights” that disposed of the estimated 20,000 disappeared. The military planes with their inert human cargo would fly over the Atlantic at night and the chained bodies would be pushed out the door into the ocean. Quintela, who had worked as a doctor in the city’s slums, was 28 when she was murdered.(Illustration by Mr. Fish)
A military doctor, Maj. Norberto Atilio Bianco, who was extradited Friday from Paraguay to Argentina for baby trafficking, is alleged to have seized Quintela’s infant son along with dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other babies. The children were handed to military families for adoption. Bianco, who was the head of the clandestine maternity unit that functioned during the Dirty War in the military hospital of Campo de Mayo, was reported by eyewitnesses to have personally carried the babies out of the military hospital. He also kept one of the infants. Argentina on Thursday convicted retired Gen. Hector Gamen and former Col. Hugo Pascarelli of committing crimes against humanity at the “El Vesubio” prison, where 2,500 people were tortured in 1976-1978. They were sentenced to life in prison. Since revoking an amnesty law in 2005 designed to protect the military, Argentina has prosecuted 807 for crimes against humanity, although only 212 people have been sentenced. It has been, for those of us who lived in Argentina during the military dictatorship, a painfully slow march toward justice.
Most of the disappeared in Argentina were not armed radicals but labor leaders, community organizers, leftist intellectuals, student activists and those who happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time. Few had any connection with armed campaigns of resistance. Indeed, by the time of the 1976 Argentine coup, the armed guerrilla groups, such as the Montoneros, had largely been wiped out. These radical groups, like al-Qaida in its campaign against the United States, never posed an existential threat to the regime, but the national drive against terror in both Argentina and the United States became an excuse to subvert the legal system, instill fear and passivity in the populace, and form a vast underground prison system populated with torturers and interrogators, as well as government officials and lawyers who operated beyond the rule of law. Torture, prolonged detention without trial, sexual humiliation, rape, disappearance, extortion, looting, random murder and abuse have become, as in Argentina during the Dirty War, part of our own subterranean world of detention sites and torture centers.
We Americans have rewritten our laws, as the Argentines did, to make criminal behavior legal. John Rizzo, the former acting general counsel for the CIA, approved drone attacks that have killed hundreds of people, many of them civilians in Pakistan, although we are not at war with Pakistan. Rizzo has admitted that he signed off on so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. He told Newsweek that the CIA operated “a hit list.” He asked in the interview: “How many law professors have signed off on a death warrant?” Rizzo, in moral terms, is no different from the deported Argentine doctor Bianco, and this is why lawyers in Britain and Pakistan are calling for his extradition to Pakistan to face charges of murder. Let us hope they succeed.
We know of at least 100 detainees who died during interrogations at our “black sites,” many of them succumbing to the blows and mistreatment of our interrogators. There are probably many, many more whose fate has never been made public. Tens of thousands of Muslim men have passed through our clandestine detention centers without due process. “We tortured people unmercifully,” admitted retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey. “We probably murdered dozens of them …, both the armed forces and the C.I.A.”
Tens of thousands of Americans are being held in super-maximum-security prisons where they are deprived of contact and psychologically destroyed. Undocumented workers are rounded up and vanish from their families for weeks or months. Militarized police units break down the doors of some 40,000 Americans a year and haul them away in the dead of night as if they were enemy combatants. Habeas corpus no longer exists. American citizens can “legally” be assassinated. Illegal abductions, known euphemistically as “extraordinary rendition,” are a staple of the war on terror. Secret evidence makes it impossible for the accused and their lawyers to see the charges against them. All this was experienced by the Argentines. Domestic violence, whether in the form of social unrest, riots or another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil, would, I fear, see the brutal tools of empire cemented into place in the homeland. At that point we would embark on our own version of the Dirty War.
Marguerite Feitlowitz writes in “The Lexicon of Terror” of the experiences of one Argentine prisoner, a physicist named Mario Villani. The collapse of the moral universe of the torturers is displayed when, between torture sessions, the guards take Villani and a few pregnant women prisoners to an amusement park. They make them ride the kiddie train and then take them to a cafe for a beer. A guard, whose nom de guerre is Blood, brings his 6- or 7-year-old daughter into the detention facility to meet Villani and other prisoners. A few years later, Villani runs into one of his principal torturers, a sadist known in the camps as Julian the Turk. Julian recommends that Villani go see another of his former prisoners to ask for a job. The way torture became routine, part of daily work, numbed the torturers to their own crimes. They saw it as a job. Years later they expected their victims to view it with the same twisted logic.
Human Rights Watch, in a new report, “Getting Away With Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” declared there is “overwhelming evidence of torture by the Bush administration.” President Barack Obama, the report went on, is obliged “to order a criminal investigation into allegations of detainee abuse authorized by former President George W. Bush and other senior officials.”
But Obama has no intention of restoring the rule of law. He not only refuses to prosecute flagrant war crimes, but has immunized those who orchestrated, led and carried out the torture. At the same time he has dramatically increased war crimes, including drone strikes in Pakistan. He continues to preside over hundreds of the offshore penal colonies, where abuse and torture remain common. He is complicit with the killers and the torturers.
The only way the rule of law will be restored, if it is restored, is piece by piece, extradition by extradition, trial by trial. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, former CIA Director George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice and John Ashcroft will, if we return to the rule of law, face trial. The lawyers who made legal what under international and domestic law is illegal, including not only Rizzo but Alberto Gonzales, Jay Bybee, David Addington, William J. Haynes and John Yoo, will, if we are to dig our way out of this morass, be disbarred and prosecuted. Our senior military leaders, including Gen. David Petraeus, who oversaw death squads in Iraq and widespread torture in clandestine prisons, will be lined up in a courtroom, as were the generals in Argentina, and made to answer for these crimes. This is the only route back. If it happens it will happen because a few courageous souls such as the attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Michael Ratner, are trying to make it happen. It will take time—a lot of time; the crimes committed by Bianco and the two former officers sent to prison this month are nearly four decades old. If it does not happen, then we will continue to descend into a terrifying, dystopian police state where our guards will, on a whim, haul us out of our cells to an amusement park and make us ride, numb and bewildered, on the kiddie train, before the next round of torture.
Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, cheney, cia prisons, convention against torture, detainees, doj, eric holder, george busy, george tenet, Guantanamo, hrw, human rights, International law, justice department, naseema noor, olc, rendition, roger hollander, rumsfeld, torture, torture memos, waterboarding
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Published on Tuesday, July 12, 2011 by Inter Press Service
WASHINGTON – Senior officials under the former George W. Bush administration knowingly authorized the torture of terrorism suspects held under United States custody, a Human Right Watch (HRW) report released here Tuesday revealed.
Titled “Getting Away with Torture”, the 107-page report presents a plethora of evidence that HRW says warrants criminal investigations against former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet and Bush himself, among others. (photo: pantagrapher)
Titled “Getting Away with Torture”, the 107-page report presents a plethora of evidence that HRW says warrants criminal investigations against former Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director George Tenet and Bush himself, among others.
Newly de-classified memos, transcriptions of congressional hearings, and other sources indicate that Bush officials authorized the use of interrogation techniques almost universally considered torture – such as waterboarding – as well as the operation of covert CIA prisons abroad and the rendition of detainees to other countries where they were subsequently tortured.
HRW also criticized the United States under the current Barack Obama administration for failing to meets it obligations under the United Nations Convention Against Torture to investigate acts of torture and other inhumane treatment.
“President Obama has defended the decision not to prosecute officials in his predecessor’s administration by arguing that the country needs ‘to look forward, not backward,’” said HRW executive director Kenneth Roth. “[He] has treated torture as an unfortunate policy choice rather than a crime.”
To date, both the Bush and Obama administrations have successfully prevented courts from reviewing the merits of torture allegations in civil lawsuits by arguing that the cases involve sensitive information, which, if revealed, might endanger national security.
Last year, Bush defended the use of waterboarding on the grounds that the Justice Department deemed it legal. In 2002, lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel had drafted memos approving the legality of a list of abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. However, HRW documents evidence that shows senior administration officials pressured the politically-appointed lawyers to write these legal justifications.
“Senior Bush officials shouldn’t be allowed to shape and hand-pick legal advice and then hide behind it as if were autonomously delivered,” Roth said.
HRW further recommends that Congress establish an independent, nonpartisan commission to examine the mistreatment of detainees in U.S. custody since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and compensate victims of torture, as required by the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
“Without [a commission], torture very much remains within the toolbox of accepted policies. People are not going to back away from it until there is accountability,” Karen Greenberg, executive director of New York University’s Center on Law and Security and author of “The Least Worst Place: Guantanamo’s First 100 Days”, told IPS.
In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appointed a special prosecutor to investigate detainee abuse, but limited the mandate to only “unauthorized” acts, which effectively excluded violations like waterboarding and forcing prisoners to maintain stress positions that were approved by the Bush administration.
But on Jun. 30 of this year, the Justice Department announced that it would continue probing only two of nearly 100 allegations of torture. The open cases involve the deaths of two men – Manadel al-Jamadi, an Iraqi, and Gul Rahman, an Afghan – in CIA custody.
Human and civil rights group criticized the narrow scope of the torture investigations, while HRW said they failed to address the systematic character of the abuses.
“The U.S. government’s pattern of abuse across several countries did not result from acts of individuals who broke the rules,” Roth said. “It resulted from decisions made by senior U.S. officials to bend, ignore, or cast aside the rules.” If the U.S. does not pursue criminal investigations, HRW is urging other countries to exercise universal jurisdiction under international law and prosecute the aforementioned officials.
A number of former detainees have already taken this step by filing criminal complaints in courts outside of the U.S.
In February 2011, alleged victims of torture living in Switzerland planned to file a suit against Bush, causing him to cancel his trip there.
Another investigation is underway in Spain, where the Center for Constitutional Rights and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights requested a subpoena for a former commander of the Abu Ghraib prison to explain his role in the alleged torture of four detainees.
Washington’s failure to investigate its own citizens for abuses like torture ultimately undercuts its efforts to hold other governments accountable for human rights violations, according to HRW.
“The U.S. is right to call for justice when serious international crimes are committed in places like Darfur, Libya, and Sri Lanka, but there should be no double standards,” Roth said.
“When the U.S. government shields its own officials from investigation and prosecution, it makes it easier for others to dismiss global efforts to bring violators of serious crimes to justice,” he added.
Failing to prosecute ultimately sends the message that “if you are powerful, you can get away with even torture,” Greenberg said.
Are Presidents Afraid of the CIA? December 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, History.
Tags: allen dulles, assassination, bay of pigs, cia, cia history, cia interrogations, Cuba, cuba invasion, David Petraeus, eavesdropping, eric holder, george tenet, harry truman, history, james douglass, john durham, john kennedy, kennedy assassination, leon paneta, lucien vandenbroucke, michael hayden, michael mukasey, porter goss, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, sidney souers, torture, torture memoranda, truman library, truman papers, warren commission
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In the past I have alluded to Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs. The reference is to CIA Director Leon Panetta and seven of his moral-dwarf predecessors-the ones who sent President Barack Obama a letter on Sept. 18 asking him to “reverse Attorney General Holder’s August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations.”
Panetta reportedly was also dead set against reopening the investigation-as he was against release of the Justice Department’s “torture memoranda” of 2002, as he has been against releasing pretty much anything at all-the President’s pledges of a new era of openness, notwithstanding. Panetta is even older than I, and I am aware that hearing is among the first faculties to fail. Perhaps he heard “error” when the President said “era.”
As for the benighted seven, they are more to be pitied than scorned. No longer able to avail themselves of the services of clever Agency lawyers and wordsmiths, they put their names to a letter that reeked of self-interest-not to mention the inappropriateness of asking a President to interfere with an investigation already ordered by the Attorney General.
Three of the seven-George Tenet, Porter Goss, and Michael Hayden-were themselves involved, in one way or another, in planning, conducting, or covering up all manner of illegal actions, including torture, assassination, and illegal eavesdropping. In this light, the most transparent part of the letter may be the sentence in which they worry: “There is no reason to expect that the re-opened criminal investigation will remain narrowly focused.”
When asked about the letter on the Sunday TV talk shows on Sept. 20, Obama was careful always to respond first by expressing obligatory “respect” for the CIA and its directors. With Bob Schieffer on Face the Nation, though, Obama did allow himself a condescending quip. He commented, “I appreciate the former CIA directors wanting to look out for an institution that they helped to build.”
That quip was, sadly, the exception to the rule. While Obama keeps repeating the mantra that “nobody is above the law,” there is no real sign that he intends to face down Panetta and the Seven Dwarfs-no sign that anyone has breathed new life into federal prosecutor John Durham, to whom Holder gave the mandate for further “preliminary investigation.” What is generally forgotten is that it was former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who picked Durham two years ago to investigate CIA’s destruction of 91 tapes of the interrogation of “high-value detainees.”
Durham had scarcely been heard from when Holder added to Durham’s job-jar the task of conducting a preliminary investigation regarding the CIA torture specialists. These are the ones whose zeal led them to go beyond the already highly permissive Department of Justice guidelines for “harsh interrogation.”
Durham, clearly, is proceeding with all deliberate speed (emphasis on “deliberate”). Someone has even suggested-I trust, in jest-that he has been diverted to the search for the money and other assets that Bernie Maddow stashed away.
In any case, do not hold your breath for findings from Durham anytime soon. Holder appears in no hurry. And President Obama keeps giving off signals that he is afraid of getting crosswise with the CIA-that’s right, afraid.
Not Just Paranoia
In that fear, President Obama stands in the tradition of a dozen American presidents. Harry Truman and John Kennedy were the only ones to take on the CIA directly. Worst of all, evidence continues to build that the CIA was responsible, at least in part, for the assassination of President Kennedy. Evidence new to me came in response to things I included in my article of Dec. 22, “Break the CIA in Two.”
What follows can be considered a sequel that is based on the kind of documentary evidence after which intelligence analysts positively lust.
Unfortunately for the CIA operatives who were involved in the past activities outlined below, the temptation to ask Panetta to put a SECRET stamp on the documentary evidence will not work. Nothing short of torching the Truman Library might conceivably help. But even that would be a largely feckless “covert action,” copy machines having long since done their thing.
In my article of Dec. 22, I referred to Harry Truman’s op-ed of exactly 46 years before, titled “Limit CIA Role to Intelligence,” in which the former President expressed dismay at what the Central Intelligence Agency had become just 16 years after he and Congress created it.
The Washington Post published the op-ed on December 22, 1963 in its early edition, but immediately excised it from later editions. Other media ignored it. The long hand of the CIA?
Truman wrote that he was “disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment” to keep the President promptly and fully informed and had become “an operational and at times policy-making arm of the government.”
The Truman Papers
Documents in the Truman Library show that nine days after Kennedy was assassinated, Truman sketched out in handwritten notes what he wanted to say in the op-ed. He noted, among other things, that the CIA had worked as he intended only “when I had control.”
In Truman’s view, misuse of the CIA began in February 1953, when his successor, Dwight Eisenhower, named Allen Dulles CIA Director. Dulles’ forte was overthrowing governments (in current parlance, “regime change”), and he was quite good at it. With coups in Iran (1953) and Guatemala (1954) under his belt, Dulles was riding high in the late Fifties and moved Cuba to the top of his to-do list.
Accustomed to the carte blanche given him by Eisenhower, Dulles was offended when young President Kennedy came on the scene and had the temerity to ask questions about the Bay of Pigs adventure, which had been set in motion under Eisenhower. When Kennedy made it clear he would NOT approve the use of U.S. combat forces, Dulles reacted with disdain and set out to mousetrap the new President.
Coffee-stained notes handwritten by Allen Dulles were discovered after his death and reported by historian Lucien S. Vandenbroucke. They show how Dulles drew Kennedy into a plan that was virtually certain to require the use of U.S. combat forces. In his notes Dulles explains that, “when the chips were down,” the new President would be forced by “the realities of the situation” to give whatever military support was necessary “rather than permit the enterprise to fail.”
Additional detail came from a March 2001 conference on the Bay of Pigs, which included CIA operatives, retired military commanders, scholars, and journalists. Daniel Schorr told National Public Radio that he had gained one new perception as a result of the “many hours of talk and heaps of declassified secret documents:”
“It was that the CIA overlords of the invasion, Director Allen Dulles and Deputy Richard Bissell had their own plan on how to bring the United States into the conflict…What they expected was that the invaders would establish a beachhead…and appeal for aid from the United States…
“The assumption was that President Kennedy, who had emphatically banned direct American involvement, would be forced by public opinion to come to the aid of the returning patriots. American forces, probably Marines, would come in to expand the beachhead.
“In fact, President Kennedy was the target of a CIA covert operation that collapsed when the invasion collapsed,” added Schorr.
The “enterprise” which Dulles said could not fail was, of course, the overthrow of Fidel Castro. After mounting several failed operations to assassinate him, this time Dulles meant to get his man, with little or no attention to what the Russians might do in reaction. Kennedy stuck to his guns, so to speak; fired Dulles and his co-conspirators a few months after the abortive invasion in April 1961; and told a friend that he wanted to “splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds.”
The outrage was mutual, and when Kennedy himself was assassinated on November 22, 1963, it must have occurred to Truman that the disgraced Dulles and his outraged associates might not be above conspiring to get rid of a President they felt was soft on Communism-and, incidentally, get even.
In his op-ed of December 22, 1963 Truman warned: “The most important thing…was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisions.” It is a safe bet that Truman had the Bay of Pigs fiasco uppermost in mind.
Truman called outright for CIA’s operational duties [to] be terminated or properly used elsewhere.” (This is as good a recommendation now as it was then, in my view.)
On December 27, retired Admiral Sidney Souers, whom Truman had appointed to lead his first central intelligence group, sent a “Dear Boss” letter applauding Truman’s outspokenness and blaming Dulles for making the CIA “a different animal than I tried to set up for you.” Souers specifically lambasted the attempt “to conduct a ‘war’ invading Cuba with a handful of men and without air cover.”
Souers also lamented the fact that the agency’s “principal effort” had evolved into causing “revolutions in smaller countries around the globe,” and added:
With so much emphasis on operations, it would not surprise me to find that the matter of collecting and processing intelligence has suffered some.”
Clearly, CIA’s operational tail was wagging the substantive dog-a serious problem that persists to this day. For example, CIA analysts are super-busy supporting operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan; no one seems to have told them that they need to hazard a guess as to where this is all leading and whether it makes any sense.
That is traditionally done in a National Intelligence Estimate. Can you believe there at this late date there is still no such Estimate? Instead, the President has chosen to rely on he advice of Gen. David Petraeus, who many believe will be Obama’s opponent in the 2012 presidential election.
Fox Guarding Henhouse?
In any case, the well-connected Dulles got himself appointed to the Warren Commission and took the lead in shaping the investigation of JFK’s assassination. Documents in the Truman Library show that he then mounted a targeted domestic covert action of his own to neutralize any future airing of Truman’s and Souers’ warnings about covert action.
So important was this to Dulles that he invented a pretext to get himself invited to visit Truman in Independence, Missouri. On the afternoon of April 17, 1964 he spent a half-hour trying to get the former President to retract what he had said in his op-ed. No dice, said Truman.
No problem, thought Dulles. Four days later, in a formal memo for his old buddy Lawrence Houston, CIA General Counsel from 1947 to 1973, Dulles fabricated a private retraction, claiming that Truman told him the Washington Post article was “all wrong,” and that Truman “seemed quite astounded at it.”
No doubt Dulles thought it might be handy to have such a memo in CIA files, just in case.
A fabricated retraction? It certainly seems so, because Truman did not change his tune. Far from it. In a June 10, 1964 letter to the managing editor of Look magazine, for example, Truman restated his critique of covert action, emphasizing that he never intended the CIA to get involved in “strange activities.”
Dulles and Dallas
Dulles could hardly have expected to get Truman to recant publicly. So why was it so important for Dulles to place in CIA files a fabricated retraction. My guess is that in early 1964 he was feeling a good bit of heat from those suggesting the CIA might have been involved somehow in the Kennedy assassination. Indeed, one or two not-yet-intimidated columnists were daring to ask how the truth could ever come out with Allen Dulles on the Warren Commission. Prescient.
Dulles feared, rightly, that Truman’s limited-edition op-ed might yet get some ink, and perhaps even airtime, and raise serious questions about covert action. Dulles would have wanted to be in position to flash the Truman “retraction,” with the hope that this would nip any serious questioning in the bud. The media had already shown how co-opted-er, I mean “cooperative”-it could be.
As the de facto head of the Warren Commission, Dulles was perfectly positioned to exculpate himself and any of his associates, were any commissioners or investigators-or journalists-tempted to question whether the killing in Dallas might have been a CIA covert action.
Did Allen Dulles and other “cloak-and-dagger” CIA operatives have a hand in killing President Kennedy and then covering it up? The most up-to-date-and, in my view, the best-dissection of the assassination appeared last year in James Douglass’ book, JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. After updating and arraying the abundant evidence, and conducting still more interviews, Douglass concludes the answer is Yes.
This article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
The Facts Thwart Rehab of Colin Powell May 29, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Casey Sheehan, cheney, Cindy Sheehan, Colin Powell, counterinsurgency, George Bush, george tenet, good samaritan, guernica, gulf war, gulf war syndrome, Iraq, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, james baker, jay rockerfeller, john mclaughlin, kamasiyah, lawrence wilkerson, leon panetta, prophet isaiah, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, rumsfeld, wmds
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Watching retired Gen. Colin Powell refer to the parable of the Good Samaritan during Sunday’s Memorial Day ceremonies on the Mall in Washington, it struck me that Powell was giving hypocrisy a bad name.
Those familiar with the Good Samaritan story and also with the under-reported behavior of Gen. Powell, comeback kid of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM), know that the two do not mesh.
Powell’s well-documented disregard for those who have borne the brunt of the battle places him in the company of the priest and the Levite – in the Good Samaritan parable – who, seeing the man attacked by robbers on the side of the road, walked right on by.
Sadly, Powell has a long record of placing the wounded and the vulnerable on his list of priorities far below his undying need to get promoted or to promote himself. Powell’s rhetoric, of course, would have us believe otherwise.
At the Memorial Day event, Powell hailed our “wounded warriors” from Iraq and Afghanistan as the cameras cut to several severely damaged veterans. Lauding the “love and care” they receive from their families, Powell noted in passing that some 10,000 parents are now full-time care providers for veterans not able to take care of themselves.
It was a moving ceremony, but only if you were able to keep your eye on the grand old flag and stay in denial about thousands of wasted American lives, not to mention tens and tens of thousands wasted Iraqi lives – as well as many thousands more incapacitated for life – and not ask WHY.
The wounded warriors’ former commander in chief, President George W. Bush, argued that the deaths were “worth it.” They were casualties suffered in pursuit of a “noble cause.”
Some claim that to suggest that those troops killed and wounded were killed and wounded in vain is to dishonor their memory, belittle their sacrifice, and inflict still more pain on their loved ones.
But Bush never could explain what the “noble cause” was, despite months and months of vigils by those camping outside the Bush house in Crawford asking that question. Our hearts certainly go out to the wounded, and to the families of the killed or wounded.
But I think that the surest way to dishonor them all is to avoid examining the real reasons for their loss, and to use lessons learned so that their own sons and daughters will not be sacrificed so glibly.
I lost many good Army colleagues and other friends in Vietnam. Back then, generals and politicians – the military and civilian leaders who promoted Powell and the careerists like him – helped to obscure the real reasons behind that carnage, too. And that was even before the corporate media became quite so fawning.
As the hostilities in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on and the casualties continue to mount, I feel an obligation to do what I can to help spread some truth around – however painful that may be. For truth is not only the best disinfectant, it is the best protection against such misadventures happening again…and again.
It is, I suppose, understandable that only the bravest widows and widowers – and parents like Cindy Sheehan whose son Casey Sheehan was killed in Sadr City on April 4, 2004 – have been able to summon enough courage out of their grief to challenge the vacuous explanations of Bush and people like Powell.
You can see it in microcosm in the Sheehan family. Casey’s father, Pat Sheehan, cannot agree that Casey’s death was in vain. Pat told me that Casey met an honorable death, since he was sent to rescue comrades pinned down by hostile forces in Sadr City.
No one can be sure what was going through Casey’s mind. And only later did it become clear that, rather than “volunteering” for an ill-conceived rescue mission, Casey, a truck mechanic, was ordered onto that open truck by superiors unwilling to risk their own hides. (This is what one of Casey’s comrades on the scene later told his mother.)
But let us assume that Casey was nonetheless eager to rescue his comrades. This still begs the question that I asked Pat Sheehan: Why were Casey and his comrades in Iraq in the first place? What was the “noble cause?” Pat’s reaction, or lack thereof, almost made me regret having asked him. Remembering it almost makes me want to stop this essay here. Almost.
With ministers, priests and rabbis officiating at funerals and other memorial services for “the fallen” and spinning their own renditions of “Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori” – “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country” – small wonder that even those who should know better choose this escape from reality. There is so much pain out there…and if denial helps, well…
It does not help when it comes to charlatans like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell – the latter now trying to re-establish his poster-boy status with an eagerly cooperative FCM.
Aside from those whose TVs are stuck at Fox News and radios at Rush Limbaugh, fewer and fewer Americans now believe the lingering lies. Even funeral directors and preachers tread sparingly with the once-familiar rhetoric – used cynically in Washington to facilitate further careless carnage – that these dead “must not have died in vain.”
Isaiah on the Mall
Besides the Good Samaritan parable, Powell quoted from Isaiah about bringing comfort to the people. Surely Isaiah did not mean this to be done with lies on top of lies. Isaiah was no shrinking violet. He got himself killed for speaking out bluntly against lies that in his time justified the oppression of those on the margins.
I imagine this is what Isaiah would say to us now:
“Hear this, Americans. It is time to be not only sad, but also honest. You must summon the courage to handle the truth, which is this: our young warriors and (literally) countless Iraqis died in vain, and there is no excuse for their needless sacrifice. Nothing will bring them back – least of all meretricious rhetoric that is an insult to their memory.
“Their sacrifice was in vain, hear? Our task now is two-fold: (1) Bury the dead with respect and care for the wounded and their families; and (2) ensure that the truth gets out, so that a war built on lies will not soon happen again.”
Isaiah, I think, would add that this is also precisely why we owe it to the “fallen” and their families to hold to account those responsible for sending them into battle “on false pretenses,” to quote then-Senate Intelligence Committee head, Jay Rockefeller last June.
After a five-year investigation and a bipartisan vote approving the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Rockefeller summed it up:
“In making the case for war, the Administration repeatedly presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent.” As a result, the American people were led to believe that the threat from Iraq was much greater than actually existed.”
There is plenty of blame to go around – to be shared by an adolescent president who liked to dress up and call himself a “war president,” and openly savored presiding over what he called “the first war of the 21st Century.”
Not to mention the power-hungry, sadistic bent of the men he chose to be vice president and secretary of defense and the treachery of CIA seniors George Tenet and John McLaughlin.
But there would have been no war, no dead, no limb-less bodies, no loved ones for whom to recall Isaiah’s words of comfort or mention the Good Samaritan, if Colin Powell had a conscience – if he had not chosen to “walk right on by.”
Let’s face it; neither the Texas Air National Guard’s most famous pilot nor the five-times-draft-deferred former vice president had the credibility to lead the country into war – especially one based on a highly dubious threat.
They needed the credibility of someone who had worn the uniform with some distinction – someone who, though never in command of a major Army combat unit, had been good at briefing the media while Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the glorious Gulf War in 1991, which most Americans have been led to believe was virtually casualty-free.
Actually, since we are trying to spread some truth around, this is worth a brief digression.
The Casualty-Lite Gulf War
According to Powell’s memoir, My American Journey, before the attack on Iraq Powell was warned by his British counterpart, Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir David Craig, about the risks involved in bombing Iraq’s so-called “weapons of mass destruction” installations. After Powell told him that this was indeed part of the plan, Craig expressed particular worry about release of agents from biological installations: “A bit risky that, eh?”
Powell writes that he told Craig the attendant risk of release was worth it and: “If it heads south, just blame me.”
Powell writes he was “less concerned” about chemical exposures. He should have been more concerned, not less. As the hostilities ended, U.S. Army engineers blew up chemical agents at a large Iraqi storage site near Kamasiyah. About 100,000 U.S. troops were downwind.
Many of those troops are now among the 210,000 veterans suffering from nervous and other diseases – and FINALLY now receiving disability payments for what came to be known as Gulf War Syndrome.
Far from his pre-war posture of “just blame me,” Powell joined Pentagon and CIA efforts to cover up this tragedy. When reports of the horrible fiasco at Kamasiyah hit the media, he erupted in macho outrage saying that, were he still on active duty, he would “rape and pillage” throughout the government to find those responsible. Of course, Kamasiyah happened during his watch. Typically, the FCM reported his macho remark, and then gave him a pass.
Despite numerous veterans’ pleas for support, Powell, in effect, went AWOL on the issue of Gulf War illnesses, never acknowledging that he shared any of the responsibility.
He took no interest and, in effect, made a huge contribution to the unconscionable delay in recognizing Gulf War illnesses for what they are. One out of every four troops deployed to the Gulf in 1991 are now receiving the benefits to which they have long been entitled – no thanks to Gen. Powell.
You didn’t know that? Thank the FCM and its persistent romance with Gen. Powell. Sorry for the digression; just had to get that off my chest.
Back to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld quest for someone to sell the attack on Iraq, someone whom the media loved, someone with military credentials who would do what he was told.
Perhaps they had read Powell’s memoir, in which he brags about his subservience to the “wisdom” of those up the line. They needed someone who was not too bright but could be eloquent – someone who was so used to taking orders that he would squander his own credibility for his boss, if the boss would just ask.
Not too bright? Apparently, during the three years between when Powell and I, as fledgling infantry officers, had been instructed at Fort Benning on counterinsurgency, the Army’s understanding of how to fight it had improved. Either that, or Powell was not able to master the key learnings of the course.
Here is what Powell writes in his memoir about how he bought into his superiors’ notion about how to win hearts and minds – what Powell calls “counterinsurgency at the cutting edge”:
“However chilling this destruction of homes and crops reads in cold print today, as a young officer I had been conditioned to believe in the wisdom of my superiors, and to obey. I had no qualms about what we were doing. This was counterinsurgency at the cutting edge. Hack down the peasants’ crops, thus denying food to the Viet Cong…It all made sense in those days.”
“Duty, Honor, Country” is what I remember made sense in those days. That was the watchword for young Army officers in the early Sixties – not supreme faith in the wisdom of superiors and blind obedience. But most of the rest of us did not make it beyond colonel.
Small wonder that the hapless Powell was easy prey for Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld. They needed him to sell the war to the American people and, they hoped, to the rest of the world.
It is hard to fathom what “wisdom” Powell saw in his superiors’ decisions; what is clear is that he lacked the courage to challenge them, whether out of blind faith, a highly exaggerated – and dubiously moral – notion of obedience, a lack of conscience, or simple cowardice.
Tell lies to support the White House decision for war on Iraq? No problem. As was his wont, Powell saluted sharply, even though four days prior to his Feb. 5, 2003 U.N. speech he and his chief of staff, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, had decided that some of the “intelligence” the White House had conjured up to “justify” war was pure “bull—t,” according to Wilkerson. Powell ended up using it anyway.
Powell and his handlers were acutely aware that war would be just weeks away after Powell spoke. One small but significant sign of this was what seemed to me the earliest cover-up related to the soon-to-begin attack on Iraq.
It was a literal cover-up, accomplished even before Powell conducted his post-speech press briefing in the customary spot in front of the Security Council wall adorned with a reproduction of Picasso’s famous anti-war painting, Guernica.
Prior to the press conference, that wall hanging had been covered up by another fabric. Some PR person had recognized the impropriety of trying to justify a new war of aggression with Guernica as backdrop. As usual with Powell, the speech and press conference went swimmingly, and the gullible or shameless (your choice) FCM was embarrassingly generous with their accolades.
Once it became clear — by mid-2003 — that there were no WMD stockpiles or mobile bio-weapons labs or anything else that had been conjured up in the U.N. speech, Powell smoothly shifted the blame to the CIA, and his fans in the FCM transformed Powell into a noble victim, now tragically suffering from a “blot on my record” for no real fault of his own.
Though it is abundantly clear that then-CIA Director George Tenet and his accomplice/deputy John McLaughlin did play a treacherous role, no CIA director has ever made a secretary of state worth his salt do anything – and certainly not help start an unnecessary war.
Besides, it is a safe bet that what was already clear to us Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) was at least equally clear to Powell. On the afternoon of Powell’s U.N. speech, we formally warned President Bush that the evidence adduced by Powell fell far short of justifying an attack on Iraq and that such an attack would be a huge fillip to terrorism around the world.
And since it was obvious that Powell had thrown in his lot with those rolling the juggernaut to war, we urged the president to “widen the circle of your advisers beyond those clearly bent on a war for which we see no compelling reason, and from which we believe the unintended consequences are likely to be catastrophic.”
Why Powell simply saluted, in full knowledge that his imprimatur would grease the skids to a highly dubious war can be debated. It may be as simple as the clues he provided in his memoir about honoring the “wisdom of superiors” and his penchant to obey, even when it made little sense and even when lots of folks would lose their homes and their lives.
Who was the colonel in Vietnam who insisted he was duty bound to destroy a village in order to save it from the communists? Powell was cut from similar cloth, albeit with a greater sense of subtlety and a much better knack for PR.
In April 2006, Powell admitted to journalist Robert Scheer that top State Department experts never believed that Iraq posed an imminent nuclear threat, but that the president followed the misleading advice of Vice President Dick Cheney and the CIA in making the claim.
It may simply be that by the time other generals promote you to general (the current system) you have distinguished yourself first and foremost by saluting smartly – by obeying and not asking too many questions.
But why Powell acquiesced is less important than THAT he went along. Though perhaps not the brightest star in the galaxy, he certainly was aware he was being co-opted, and that he needed not only to bless the war but also to wax enthusiastic about it, in order to remain welcome in the White House.
Surely he had learned something since his days in Vietnam – something about the “wisdom” of superiors, and of blind obedience. He could have said no, but he just did not have it in him to do so.
Powell’s stature (especially with the FCM) made his blessing of the Iraq War especially valuable to Cheney/Rumsfeld and the war-hungry neocons.
“The Only Guy Who Could Perhaps Have Stopped It”
Don’t take my word for it. Take it from the quintessential Republican elder statesman, former Secretary of State James Baker – hero of the Florida escapade that stopped the recount in Florida and, with the help of the U.S. Supreme Court, gave the 2000 election to George W. Bush.
In his book The War Within, Bob Woodward wrote: “Powell…didn’t think [Iraq] was a necessary war, and yet he had gone along in a hundred ways, large and small…He had succumbed to the momentum and his own sense of deference – even obedience – to the president…Perhaps more than anyone else in the administration, Powell had become the ‘closer’ for the president’s case on war.”
On Oct. 19, 2008, Tom Brokaw asked Powell about this on “Meet the Press;” Brokaw alluded to Woodward’s revelations and how Baker had grilled Powell when he appeared before the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group. Here’s Brokaw quoting Woodard’s book:
“‘Why did we go into Iraq with so few people?’ Baker asked. … ‘Colin just exploded at that point,’ [former Secretary of Defense William] Perry recalled later. ‘He unloaded,’ [former White House Chief of Staff and now CIA Director Leon] Panetta added, ‘He was angry. He was mad as hell.’… Powell left [the Iraq Study Group meeting].
“Baker turned to Panetta and said solemnly. ‘He’s the only guy who could have perhaps prevented this from happening.’”
I added the bold, so you wouldn’t miss it.
Powell responded to Brokaw’s question by again pointing his finger at the CIA – “a lot of the information that the intelligence community provided us was wrong” – and then insisting that his war role wasn’t that consequential.
Stung by Baker’s observation, Powell said, “I also assure you that it was not a correct assessment by anybody that my statements or my leaving the administration would have stopped” going to war.
Unlike the Good Samaritan who went out of his way to help a stranger in trouble, Powell simply looked to his own convenience, carefully protecting his status within the Bush administration and keeping his place at fashionable Washington dinner parties.
Whether he could have stopped the war or not, the truth is that Colin Powell didn’t even try. He would not risk his reputation for all those victims – Iraqi and American – who have died or suffered horribly from an unnecessary war. The blot on his record was self-inflicted; the FCM is likely to run out of Clorox trying to remove the stain.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. During his career as a CIA analyst, he prepared and briefed the President’s Daily Brief and chaired National Intelligence Estimates. He is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
How Torture Trapped Colin Powell May 19, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
Tags: al-Qaeda, carl ford, cheney, cia, cia interrogation, cia interrogators, CIA torture, Colin Powell, curveball, george tenet, Guantanamo, Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, Iraq invasion, Iraq war, iraqi wmd, lawrence wilkerson, lindsey graham, ray mcgovern, roger hollander, saddam hussein, torture, torture confession, waterboarding, wmds
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www.consortiumnews.com, May 18, 2009
Four days before trying to sell the invasion of Iraq to the United Nations, Secretary of State Colin Powell was ready to scrap dubious allegations about Saddam Hussein’s ties to al-Qaeda but was dissuaded by top CIA officials who cited a new “bombshell” that now appears to have been derived from torture, a top Powell aide says.
Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was then Powell’s chief of staff, said the key moment occurred on Feb. 1, 2003, as the two men labored at the CIA over Powell’s presentation to the U.N. Security Council set for Feb. 5.
“Powell and I had a one-on-one — no one else even in the room — about his angst over what was a rather dull recounting of several old stories about Al Qa’ida-Baghdad ties [in the draft speech],” Wilkerson said. “I agreed with him that what we had was bull___t, and Powell decided to eliminate all mention of terrorist contacts between AQ and Baghdad.
“Within an hour, [CIA Director George] Tenet and [CIA Deputy Director John] McLaughlin dropped a bombshell on the table in the [CIA] director’s Conference Room: a high-level AQ detainee had just revealed under interrogation substantive contacts between AQ and Baghdad, including Iraqis training AQ operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.”
Though Tenet and McLaughlin wouldn’t give Powell the identity of the al-Qaeda source, Wilkerson said he now understands that it was Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who later claimed he gave the CIA false information in the face of actual and threatened torture.
Not realizing that the new intelligence was tainted, “Powell changed his mind and this information was included in his UNSC presentation, along with some more general information from the previous text about Baghdad’s terrorist tendencies,” Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson’s account underscores how the Bush administration’s reliance on harsh interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects influenced the rush to war with Iraq, while also pointing out how the need to justify the war gave impetus to the use of torture for extracting information.
Sealing the Deal
Powell, whose credibility essentially sealed the deal for war as far as millions of Americans were concerned, also appears to have let himself be manipulated by senior CIA officials who kept him in the dark about crucial details, including the fact that the Defense Intelligence Agency doubted al-Libi’s credibility.
“As you can see, nowhere were we told that the high-level AQ operative had a name, or that he had been interrogated [in Egypt] with no US personnel present or much earlier rather than just recently (the clear implication of Tenet’s breathtaking delivery),” Wilkerson said.
“And not a single dissent was mentioned (later we learned of the DIA dissent) … All of this was hidden from us – the specific identity, we were informed, due to the desire to protect sources and methods as well as a cooperative foreign intelligence service. …
“As for me in particular, I learned the identity of al-Libi only in 2004 and of the DIA dissent about the same time, of al-Libi’s recanting slightly later, and of the entire affair’s probably being a Tenet-McLaughlin fabrication – to at least a certain extent – only after I began to put some things together and to receive reinforcement of the ‘fabrication’ theme from other examples.”
Among those other examples, Wilkerson said, was the case of an Iraqi “defector” codenamed Curveball, who supplied false intelligence about mobile labs for making biological and chemical weapons, and various Iraqi walk-ins who spun bogus stories about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program.
Though some of those sources appear to have concocted their tales after being recruited by the pro-invasion exiles of the Iraqi National Congress, al-Libi told his stories – he later claimed – to avoid or stop torture, a central point in the current debate about whether torture saved American lives.
For those of you distracted by the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) spotlight on “what-did-Pelosi-know-about-torture-and-when-did-she- know-it,” please turn off the TV long enough to ponder the case of the recently departed al-Libi, who reportedly died in a Libyan prison, a purported suicide.
The al-Libi case might help you understand why, even though information from torture is notoriously unreliable, President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the sycophants running U.S. intelligence ordered it anyway.
In short, if it is untruthful information you are after, torture can work just fine! As the distinguished Senator from South Carolina, Lindsey Graham put it during a Senate hearing on May 13 — with a hat-tip to the Inquisition — “One of the reasons these techniques have been used for about 500 years is that they work.”
All you really need to know is what you want the victims to “confess” to and then torture them, or render them abroad to “friendly” intelligence services toward the same end.
Poster Child for Torture
Al-Libi, born in 1963 in Libya, ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2000. He was detained in Pakistan on Nov. 11, 2001, and then sent to a U.S. detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was deemed a prize catch, since he would know of any Iraqi training of al-Qaeda.
The CIA successfully fought off the FBI for first rights to interrogate al-Libi. FBI’s Dan Coleman, who “lost” al-Libi to the CIA (at whose orders, I wonder?), said, “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links” between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
Meanwhile, at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist sent there in summer 2002, told the Senate, “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful.
“The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
CIA interrogators elicited some “cooperation” from al-Libi through a combination of rough treatment and threats that he would be turned over to Egyptian intelligence with even greater experience in the torture business.
By June 2002, al-Libi had told the CIA that Iraq had “provided” unspecified chemical and biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda operatives, an allegation that soon found its way into other U.S. intelligence reports. Al-Libi’s claim was well received even though the DIA was suspicious.
“He lacks specific details” about the supposed training, the DIA observed. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”
Despite his cooperation, al-Libi was still shipped to Egypt where he underwent more abuse, according to a declassified CIA cable from 2004 when al-Libi recanted his earlier statements. The cable reported that al-Libi said Egyptian interrogators wanted information about al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq, a subject “about which [al-Libi] said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.”
According to the CIA cable, al-Libi said his interrogators did not like his responses and “placed him in a small box” for about 17 hours. After he was let out of the box, al-Libi was given a last chance to “tell the truth.”
When his answers still did not satisfy, al-Libi says he “was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and fell on his back” and then was “punched for 15 minutes.”
And, as Sen. Graham noted, that stuff really works! For it was then that al-Libi expanded on his tales about collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iraq, adding that three al-Qaeda operatives had gone to Iraq “to learn about nuclear weapons.” Afterwards, he said his treatment improved.
Al-Libi’s stories misinformed Colin Powell’s U.N. speech, which sought to establish a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda to justify invading Iraq.
Al-Libi recanted his claims in January 2004. That prompted the CIA, a month later, to recall all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the 9/11 Commission.
Bear in mind that before the attack on Iraq on March 19, 2003, polls showed that some 70 percent Americans believed that Saddam Hussein had operational ties with al-Qaeda and thus was partly responsible for the attacks of 9/11.
Just What the Doctor Ordered
George Bush relied on al-Libi’s false confession for his crucial speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, just a few days before Congress voted on the Iraq War resolution. Bush declared, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”
Colin Powell relied on it for his crucial speech to the U.N. on Feb. 5, 2003. He said: “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.”
For a while, al-Libi was practically the poster boy for the success of the Cheney/Bush torture regime; that is, until he publicly recanted and explained that he only told his interrogators what he thought would stop the torture.
In his disingenuous memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet sought to defend the CIA’s use of the claims made by al-Libi in the run-up to the Iraq war, suggesting that al-Libi’s later recantation may not have been genuine.
“He clearly lied,” Tenet writes in his book. “We just don’t know when. Did he lie when he first said that Al Qaeda members received training in Iraq or did he lie when he said they did not? In my mind, either case might still be true.”
Really; that’s what Tenet writes.
Tenet’s stubborn faith in the CIA’s “product” reflects the reality that he is not a disinterested observer. If there was a CIA plan to extract a false confession, it’s likely he was a key participant.
After all, he devoted 2002-03 to the mission of manufacturing a “slam-dunk” case for invading Iraq in order to please his bosses. He had both the motive and the opportunity to commit this crime.
Well, if al-Libi is now dead — strangely our embassy in Tripoli was unable to find out for sure — this means the world will never hear his own account of the torture he experienced and the story he made up and then recanted.
And we will all be asked to believe he “committed suicide” even though it is apparently true that al-Libi was a devout Muslim and Islam prohibits suicide.
Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American and a prominent critic of the Gaddafi regime, explained to Newsweek, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.”
He added that, throughout Gaddafi’s 40-year rule, there had been several instances in which political prisoners were reported to have committed suicide, but that “then the families get the bodies back and discover the prisoners had been shot in the back or tortured to death.”
Am I suggesting…?
Anatomy of a Crime
Commenting on what he called the “Cheney interrogation techniques,” Col. Wilkerson, writing for The Washington Note on May 13, made the following observations:
“…as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002 — well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion — its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but on discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq to al-Qaeda.
“So furious was this effort on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee ‘was compliant’ (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the advanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet.
“This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, ‘revealed’ such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.”
Stung by Wilkerson’s criticism of her father, Liz Cheney, who worked in the State Department during the last administration, lashed out at Wilkerson, charging he has made “a cottage industry out of fantasies” about the former Vice President.
All that Ms. Cheney could manage in rebuttal, though, was to point out that al-Libi was not among the three al-Qaeda figures that the U.S. has admitted to waterboarding.
After his article in The Washington Note, I asked Col. Wilkerson for a retrospective look at how it could have been that the torture-derived information from al-Libi was not recognized for what it was and thus kept out of Secretary Powell’s speech at the UN.
Since al-Libi had been captured over a year before the speech and had been put at the tender mercies of the Egyptian intelligence service, should he and Powell not have suspected that al-Libi had been tortured?
Wilkerson responded by e-mail with the comments cited above regarding Tenet and McLaughlin interrupting Powell’s evaluation of the Iraqi WMD intelligence with their new – vaguely sourced –“bombshell.”
I asked Col. Wilkerson: “Were there no others from the State Department with you at CIA headquarters on Feb. 1, 2003. Was INR [State’s very professional, incorruptible intelligence unit] not represented? He answered:
“When I gathered ‘my team’ – some were selected for me, such as Will Toby from Bob Joseph’s NSC staff and John Hannah from the VP’s office – in my office at State to give them an initial briefing and marching orders, I asked Carl [Ford, head of INR] to attend. I wanted Carl – or even more so, one of his deputies whom I knew well and trusted completely, Tom Fingar – to be on ‘my team’.
“Carl stayed after the meeting and I asked him straightforwardly to come with me or to send someone from INR. Carl said that he did not need to come nor to send anyone because he had the Secretary’s ear (he was right on that) and could weigh in at any time he wanted to.
“Moreover, he told me, the Secretary knew very well where INR stood, as did I myself (he was right on that too).
“As I look back, I believe one of my gravest errors was in not insisting that INR send someone with me.
“Fascinating and completely puzzling at first was the total absence of a Department of Defense representative on my team; however, after 3-4 days and nights I figured out … DoD was covering its own butt, to an extent, by having no direct fingerprints on the affair — and being directly wired into Cheney’s office, Rumsfeld’s folks knew they were protected by Toby and Hannah.
“When we all arrived at CIA, we were given the NIC [National Intelligence Council] spaces and staff. [But] I could not even get on a computer!! Protests to Tenet and McLaughlin got me perfunctory CIA-blah blah about security clearances, etc. — and me with 7 days and nights to prepare a monumentally important presentation! …
“[It took] 24 hours before George or John acknowledged I could be on a computer…. From there on, it was a madhouse.
“But at the end of the day, had I had an INR rep, had I had better support, had I been more concerned with WHAT I was assembling rather than HOW on earth I would assemble it and present it on time, I’m not sure at all it would have made any difference in the march to war.”
Not the Only Crime
So there you have it folks, the anatomy of a crime — one of several such, I might add.
Mention of Carl Ford and Tenet and McLaughlin remind me of another episode that has gone down in the annals of intelligence as almost equally contemptible. This one had to do with CIA’s furious attempt to prove there were mobile biological weapons labs of the kind Curveball had described.
Remember, Tenet and McLaughlin had been warned about Curveball long before they let then-Secretary of State Powell shame himself, and the rest of us, by peddling Curveball’s wares at the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003.
But the amateur attempts at deception did not stop there. After the war began, CIA intrepid analysts, still “leaning forward,” misrepresented a tractor-trailer found in Iraq outfitted with industrial equipment as one of the mobile bio-labs.
On May 28, 2003, CIA analysts cooked up a fraudulent six-page report claiming that the trailer discovered earlier in May was proof they had been right about Iraq’s “bio-weapons labs.”
They then performed what could be called a “night-time requisition,” getting the only Defense Intelligence Agency analyst sympathetic to their position to provide DIA “coordination,” (which was subsequently withdrawn by DIA).
On May 29, President George W. Bush, visiting Poland, proudly announced on Polish TV, “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.” [For a contemporaneous debunking of the CIA-DIA report, see Consortiumnews.com’s “America’s Matrix.”]
When the State Department’s Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts realized that this was not some kind of Polish joke, they “went ballistic,” according to Carl Ford, who immediately warned Powell there was a problem.
Tenet must have learned of this quickly, for he called Ford on the carpet, literally, the following day. No shrinking violet, Ford held his ground. He told Tenet and McLaughlin, “That report is one of the worst intelligence assessments I’ve ever read.”
This vignette — and several like it — are found in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, who say Ford is still angry over the fraudulent paper.
Ford told the authors: “It was clear that they [Tenet and McLaughlin] had been personally involved in the preparation of the report… It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.”
Too bad Carl Ford made the incorrect assumption that he could rely on his credibility and entrée with Secretary Powell to thwart the likes of Tenet and McLaughlin, as they peddled their meretricious wares at CIA headquarters — with Col. Wilkerson left to twist in the wind, so to speak.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour. He served in all four directorates of the CIA, mostly as an analyst, and is now a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).
The 13 People Who Made Torture Possible May 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: abu grhraib, Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, bagram, cheney, cia interrogation, Condoleezza Rice, david addington, geneva conventions, george tenet, geroge bush, gonzales, Guantanamo, International law, james mtchell, jay bybee, john rizzo, john yoo, marcy wheeler, nuremberg, renditon, roger hollander, rumsfeld, sere, sere techniques, steven bradbury, Taliban, torture, torture memos, torture techniques, torture videos, War Crimes, william haynes
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The Bush administration’s Torture 13. They authorized it, they decided how to implement it, and they crafted the legal fig leaf to justify it.
On April 16, the Obama administration released four memos that were used to authorize torture in interrogations during the Bush administration. When President Obama released the memos, he said, “It is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”
Yet 13 key people in the Bush administration cannot claim they relied on the memos from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel. Some of the 13 manipulated the federal bureaucracy and the legal process to “preauthorize” torture in the days after 9/11. Others helped implement torture, and still others helped write the memos that provided the Bush administration with a legal fig leaf after torture had already begun.
The Torture 13 exploited the federal bureaucracy to establish a torture regime in two ways. First, they based the enhanced interrogation techniques on techniques used in the U.S. military’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) program. The program — which subjects volunteers from the armed services to simulated hostile capture situations — trains servicemen and -women to withstand coercion well enough to avoid making false confessions if captured. Two retired SERE psychologists contracted with the government to “reverse-engineer” these techniques to use in detainee interrogations.
The Torture 13 also abused the legal review process in the Department of Justice in order to provide permission for torture. The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) played a crucial role. OLC provides interpretations on how laws apply to the executive branch. On issues where the law is unclear, like national security, OLC opinions can set the boundary for “legal” activity for executive branch employees. As Jack Goldsmith, OLC head from 2003 to 2004, explains it, “One consequence of [OLC's] power to interpret the law is the power to bestow on government officials what is effectively an advance pardon for actions taken at the edges of vague criminal statutes.” OLC has the power, Goldsmith continues, to dispense “get-out-of-jail-free cards.” The Torture 13 exploited this power by collaborating on a series of OLC opinions that repeatedly gave U.S. officials such a “get-out-of-jail-free card” for torturing.
Between 9/11 and the end of 2002, the Torture 13 decided to torture, then reverse-engineered the techniques, and then crafted the legal cover. Here’s who they are and what they did:
1. Dick Cheney, vice president (2001-2009)
On the morning of 9/11, after the evacuation of the White House, Dick Cheney summoned his legal counsel, David Addington, to return to work. The two had worked together for years. In the 1980s, when Cheney was a congressman from Wyoming and Addington a staff attorney to another congressman, Cheney and Addington argued that in Iran-Contra, the president could ignore congressional guidance on foreign policy matters. Between 1989 and 1992, when Dick Cheney was the elder George Bush’s secretary of defense, Addington served as his counsel. He and Cheney saved the only known copies of abusive interrogation technique manuals taught at the School of the Americas. Now, on the morning of 9/11, they worked together to plot an expansive grab of executive power that they claimed was the correct response to the terrorist threat. Within two weeks, they had gotten a memo asserting almost unlimited power for the president as “the sole organ of the Nation in its foreign relations,” to respond to the terrorist attacks. As part of that expansive view of executive power, Cheney and Addington would argue that domestic and international laws prohibiting torture and abuse could not prevent the president from authorizing harsh treatment of detainees in the war against terror.
But Cheney and Addington also fought bureaucratically to construct this torture program. Cheney led the way by controlling who got access to President Bush — and making sure his own views preempted others‘. Each time the torture program got into trouble as it spread around the globe, Cheney intervened to ward off legal threats and limits, by badgering the CIA’s inspector general when he reported many problems with the interrogation program, and by lobbying Congress to legally protect those who had tortured.
Most shockingly, Cheney is reported to have ordered torture himself, even after interrogators believed detainees were cooperative. Since the 2002 OLC memo known as “Bybee Two” that authorizes torture premises its authorization for torture on the assertion that “the interrogation team is certain that” the detainee “has additional information he refuses to divulge,” Cheney appears to have ordered torture that was illegal even under the spurious guidelines of the memo.
2. David Addington, counsel to the vice president (2001-2005), chief of staff to the vice president (2005-2009)
David Addington championed the fight to argue that the president — in his role as commander in chief — could not be bound by any law, including those prohibiting torture. He did so in two ways. He advised the lawyers drawing up the legal opinions that justified torture. In particular, he ran a “War Council” with Jim Haynes, John Yoo, John Rizzo and Alberto Gonzales (see all four below) and other trusted lawyers, which crafted and executed many of the legal approaches to the war on terror together.In addition, Addington and Cheney wielded bureaucratic carrots and sticks — notably by giving or withholding promotions for lawyers who supported these illegal policies. When Jack Goldsmith withdrew a number of OLC memos because of the legal problems in them, Addington was the sole administration lawyer who defended them. Addington’s close bureaucratic control over the legal analysis process shows he was unwilling to let the lawyers give the administration a “good faith” assessment of the laws prohibiting torture.
3. Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel (2001-2005), and attorney general (2005-2008)
As White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales was nominally in charge of representing the president’s views on legal issues, including national security issues. In that role, Gonzales wrote and reviewed a number of the legal opinions that attempted to immunize torture. Most important, in a Jan. 25, 2002, opinion reportedly written with David Addington, Gonzales paved the way for exempting al-Qaida detainees from the Geneva Conventions. His memo claimed the “new kind of war” represented by the war against al-Qaida “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners.” In a signal that Gonzales and Addington adopted that position to immunize torture, Gonzales argued that one advantage of not applying the Geneva Convention to al-Qaida would “substantially reduce the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act.” The memo even specifically foresaw the possibility of independent counsels’ prosecuting acts against detainees.
4. James Mitchell, consultant
Even while Addington, Gonzales and the lawyers were beginning to build the legal framework for torture, a couple of military psychologists were laying out the techniques the military would use. James Mitchell, a retired military psychologist, had been a leading expert in the military’s SERE program. In December 2001, with his partner, Bruce Jessen, Mitchell reverse-engineered SERE techniques to be used to interrogate detainees. Then, in the spring of 2002, before OLC gave official legal approval to torture, Mitchell oversaw Abu Zubaydah’s interrogation. An FBI agent on the scene describes Mitchell overseeing the use of “borderline torture.” And after OLC approved waterboarding, Mitchell oversaw its use in ways that exceeded the guidelines in the OLC memo. Under Mitchell’s guidance, interrogators used the waterboard with “far greater frequency than initially indicated” — a total of 183 times in a month for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and 83 times in a month for Abu Zubaydah.
5. George Tenet, director of Central Intelligence (1997-2004)
As director of the CIA during the early years of the war against al-Qaida, Tenet had ultimate management responsibility for the CIA’s program of capturing, detaining and interrogating suspected al-Qaida members and briefed top Cabinet members on those techniques. Published reports say Tenet approved every detail of the interrogation plans: “Any change in the plan — even if an extra day of a certain treatment was added — was signed off on by the Director.” It was under Tenet’s leadership that Mitchell and Jessen’s SERE techniques were applied to the administration’s first allegedly high-value al-Qaida prisoner, Abu Zubaydah. After approval of the harsh techniques, CIA headquarters ordered Abu Zubaydah to be waterboarded even though onsite interrogators believed Zubaydah was “compliant.” Since the Bybee Two memo authorizing torture required that interrogators believe the detainee had further information that could only be gained by using torture, this additional use of the waterboard was clearly illegal according to the memo.
6. Condoleezza Rice, national security advisor (2001-2005), secretary of state (2005-2008)
As national security advisor to President Bush, Rice coordinated much of the administration’s internal debate over interrogation policies. She approved (she now says she “conveyed the authorization”) for the first known officially sanctioned use of torture — the CIA’s interrogation of Abu Zubaydah — on July 17, 2002. This approval was given after the torture of Zubaydah had begun, and before receiving a legal OK from the OLC. The approval from the OLC was given orally in late July and in written form on Aug. 1, 2002. Rice’s approval or “convey[ance] of authorization” led directly to the intensified torture of Zubaydah.
7. John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel (2001-2003)
As deputy assistant attorney general of OLC focusing on national security for the first year and a half after 9/11, Yoo drafted many of the memos that would establish the torture regime, starting with the opinion claiming virtually unlimited power for the president in times of war. In the early months of 2002, he started working with Addington and others to draft two key memos authorizing torture: Bybee One (providing legal cover for torture) and Bybee Two (describing the techniques that could be used), both dated Aug. 1, 2002. He also helped draft a similar memo approving harsh techniques for the military completed on March 14, 2003, and even a memo eviscerating Fourth Amendment protections in the United States. The Bybee One and DOD memos argue that “necessity” or “self-defense” might be used as defenses against prosecution, even though the United Nations Convention Against Torture explicitly states that “no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war … may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Bybee Two, listing the techniques the CIA could use in interrogation, was premised on hotly debated assumptions. For example, the memo presumed that Abu Zubaydah was uncooperative, and had actionable intelligence that could only be gotten through harsh techniques. Yet Zubaydah had already cooperated with the FBI. The memo claimed Zubaydah was mentally and physically fit to be waterboarded, even though Zubaydah had had head and recent gunshot injuries. As Jack Goldsmith described Yoo’s opinions, they “could be interpreted as if they were designed to confer immunity for bad acts.” In all of his torture memos, Yoo ignored key precedents relating both specifically to waterboarding and to separation of powers.
8. Jay Bybee, assistant attorney general, Office of Legal Counsel (2001-2003)
As head of the OLC when the first torture memos were approved, Bybee signed the memos named after him that John Yoo drafted. At the time, the White House knew that Bybee wanted an appointment as a Circuit Court judge; after signing his name to memos supporting torture, he received such an appointment. Of particular concern is the timing of Bybee’s approval of the torture techniques. He first approved some techniques on July 24, 2002. The next day, Jim Haynes, the Defense Department’s general counsel, ordered the SERE unit of DOD to collect information including details on waterboarding. While the record is contradictory on whether Haynes or CIA General Counsel John Rizzo gave that information to OLC, on the day they did so, OLC approved waterboarding. One of the documents in that packet identified these actions as torture, and stated that torture often produced unreliable results.9. William “Jim” Haynes, Defense Department general counsel (2001-2008)
As general counsel of the Defense Department, Jim Haynes oversaw the legal analysis of interrogation techniques to be used with military detainees. Very early on, he worked as a broker between SERE professionals and the CIA. His office first asked for information on “exploiting” detainees in December 2001, which is when James Mitchell is first known to have worked on interrogation plans. And later, in July 2002, when CIA was already using torture with Abu Zubaydah but needed scientific cover before OLC would approve waterboarding, Haynes ordered the SERE team to produce such information immediately.Later Haynes played a key role in making sure some of the techniques were adopted, with little review, by the military. He was thus crucial to the migration of torture to Guantánamo and then Iraq. In September 2002, Haynes participated in a key visit to Guantánamo (along with Addington and other lawyers) that coincided with requests from DOD interrogators there for some of the same techniques used by the CIA.
Haynes ignored repeated warnings from within the armed services about the techniques, including statements that the techniques “may violate torture statute” and “cross the line of ‘humane’ treatment.” In October 2002, when the legal counsel for the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff attempted to conduct a thorough legal review of the techniques, Haynes ordered her to stop, because “people were going to see” the objections that some in the military had raised. On Nov. 27, 2002, Haynes recommended that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorize many of the requested techniques, including stress positions, hooding, the removal of clothing, and the use of dogs — the same techniques that showed up later in the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
10. Donald Rumsfeld, secretary of defense (2001-2006)
As secretary of defense, Rumsfeld signed off on interrogation methods used in the military, notably for Abu Ghraib, Bagram Air Force Base and Guantánamo Bay. With this approval, the use of torture would move from the CIA to the military. A recent bipartisan Senate report concluded that “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.” Rumsfeld personally approved techniques including the use of phobias (dogs), forced nudity and stress positions on Dec. 2, 2002, signing a one-page memo prepared for him by Haynes. These techniques were among those deemed torture in the Charles Graner case and the case of “20th hijacker” Mohammed al-Qahtani. Rumsfeld also personally authorized an interrogation plan for Moahmedou Ould Slahi on Aug. 13, 2003; the plan used many of the same techniques as had been used with al-Qahtani, including sensory deprivation and “sleep adjustment.” And through it all, Rumsfeld maintained a disdainful view on these techniques, at one point quipping on a memo approving harsh techniques, “I stand for eight to 10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?”
11. John Rizzo, CIA deputy general counsel (2002-2004), acting general counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency (2001-2002, 2004-present)
As deputy general counsel and then acting general counsel for the CIA, John Rizzo’s name appears on all of the known OLC opinions on torture for the CIA. For the Bybee Two memo, Rizzo provided a number of factually contested pieces of information to OLC — notably, that Abu Zubaydah was uncooperative and physically and mentally fit enough to withstand waterboarding and other enhanced techniques. In addition, Rizzo provided a description of waterboarding using one standard, while the OLC opinion described a more moderate standard. Significantly, the description of waterboarding submitted to OLC came from the Defense Department, even though NSC had excluded DOD from discussions on the memo. Along with the description of waterboarding and other techniques, Rizzo also provided a document that called enhanced methods “torture” and deemed them unreliable — yet even with this warning, Rizzo still advocated for the CIA to get permission to use those techniques.
12. Steven Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general, OLC (2004), acting assistant attorney general, OLC (2005-2009)
In 2004, the CIA’s inspector general wrote a report concluding that the CIA’s interrogation program might violate the Convention Against Torture. It fell to Acting Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury to write three memos in May 2005 that would dismiss the concerns the IG Report raised — in effect, to affirm the OLC’s 2002 memos legitimizing torture. Bradbury’s memos noted the ways in which prior torture had exceeded the Bybee Two memo: the 183 uses of the waterboard for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in one month, the gallon and a half used in waterboarding, the 20 to 30 times a detainee is thrown agains the wall, the 11 days a detainee had been made to stay awake, the extra sessions of waterboarding ordered from CIA headquarters even after local interrogators deemed Abu Zubaydah to be fully compliant. Yet Bradbury does not consider it torture. He notes the CIA’s doctors’ cautions about the combination of using the waterboard with a physically fatigued detainee, yet in a separate memo approves the use of sleep deprivation and waterboading in tandem. He repeatedly concedes that the CIA’s interrogation techniques as actually implemented exceeded the SERE techniques, yet repeatedly points to the connection to SERE to argue the methods must be legal. And as with the Bybee One memo, Bradbury resorts to precisely the kind of appeal to exceptional circumstances — “used only as necessary to protect against grave threats” — to distinguish U.S. interrogation techniques from the torture it so closely resembles around the world.
13. George W. Bush, president (2001-2009)
While President Bush maintained some distance from the torture for years — Cheney describes him “basically” authorizing it — he served as the chief propagandist about its efficacy and necessity. Most notably, on Sept. 6, 2006, when Bush first confessed to the program, Bush repeated the claims made to support the Bybee Two memo: that Abu Zubaydah wouldn’t talk except by using torture. And in 2006, after the CIA’s own inspector general had raised problems with the program, after Steven Bradbury had admitted all the ways that the torture program exceeded guidelines, Bush still claimed it was legal.
”[They] were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively, and determined them to be lawful.”
With this statement, the deceptions and bureaucratic games all came full circle. After all, it was Bush who, on Feb. 7, 2002, had declared the Geneva Conventions wouldn’t apply (a view the Supreme Court ultimately rejected).
Bush’s inaction in torture is as important as his actions. Bush failed to fulfill legal obligations to notify Congress of the torture program. A Senate Intelligence timeline on the torture program makes clear that Congress was not briefed on the techniques used in the torture program until after Abu Zubaydah had already been waterboarded. And in a 2003 letter, then House Intelligence ranking member Jane Harman shows that she had not yet seen evidence that Bush had signed off on this policy. This suggests President Bush did not provide the legally required notice to Congress, violating National Security Decisions Directive-286. What Bush did not say is as legally important as what he did say.
Yet, ultimately, Bush and whatever approval he gave the program is at the center of the administration’s embrace of torture. Condoleezza Rice recently said, “By definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations in the Convention Against Torture.” While Rice has tried to reframe her statement, it uses the same logic used by John Yoo and David Addington to justify the program, the shocking claim that international and domestic laws cannot bind the president in times of war. Bush’s close allies still insist if he authorized it, it couldn’t be torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, david broder, david swanson, Dick Cheney, doj, elizabeth de la vega, eric holder, geneva conventions, George Bush, george tenet, Guantanamo, harry reid, human rights, International law, jameel jaffer, jeremy scahill, John Conyers, john yoo, justice department, Karl Rove, lawrence wilderson, michael ratner, Nancy Pelosi, nerrold nadler, nuremburg, patrick fitzgerald, patrick leahy, president obama, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, rule of law, scott horton, senate intelligence, special counsel, special prosecutor, torture, torture memos
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Published on Wednesday, April 29, 2009 by CommonDreams.org
Representatives John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler are officially asking Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent Special Prosecutor “to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute” participants in the Bush-era US torture system. “A Special Counsel is the most appropriate way to handle this matter,” Nadler said. “It would remove from the process any question that the investigation was subject to political pressure, and it would preempt any perceptions of conflict of interest within the Justice Department, which produced the torture memos.” But, as Politico reports, “Holder is likely to reject that request – his boss, the president, has indicated he doesn’t see the need for such a prosecutor.” The Democratic Leadership, particularly Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Diane Feinstein have pushed for secret, closed-door hearings in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Other Democrats, like Patrick Leahy, advocate establishing a Truth Commission, though that is not gaining any momentum. The fact remains that some powerful Democrats knew that the torture was happening and didn’t make a public peep in opposition.
This week, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell came out in favor of prosecutions of “the decision-makers and their closest advisors (particularly the ones among the latter who may, on their own, have twisted the dagger a little deeper in Caesar’s prostrate body – Rumsfeld and Feith for instance). Appoint a special prosecutor such as Fitzgerald, armed to the teeth, and give him or her carte blanche. Play the treatment of any intermediaries – that is, between the grunts on the ground and the Oval – as the law allows and the results demand.”
Wilkerson, though, understands Washington. “Is there the political will to carry either of these recommendations to meaningful consequences?” he wrote to the Huffington Post. “No, and there won’t be.”
As of now, Conyers and Nadler aren’t exactly looking for over-flow space for their meetings on how to get criminal prosecutions going.
Officially joining the anti-accountability camp this week was The Washington Post‘s David Broder who wrote this gem in defense of the Bush administration: “The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places – the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department – by the proper officials.” (For a great response to this, check out Scott Horton). Broder is urging Obama to “stick to his guns” in standing up to pressure “to change his mind about closing the books on the ‘torture’ policies of the past.” Don’t you love how Broder puts torture in quotes? I really wonder how Broder would describe it if he was waterboarded (and survived). Can’t you just imagine him making the little quote motion with his hands? Broder’s Washington Post column was titled “Stop Scapegoating: Obama Should Stand Against Prosecutions:”
[Obama was] right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices.But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more – the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps – or, at least, careers and reputations.
Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability – and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.
Obama has opposed even the blandest form of investigation, a so-called truth commission, and has shown himself willing to confront this kind of populist anger.
Thank goodness we have a president who opposes “even the blandest form of investigation”-how uncouth such savagery would prove to be. While the elite Washington press corp works hard to make sure things don’t get too uncomfortable at the wine and cheese cocktail parties, some liberal journalists are also making the case against a special prosecutor (or at least the immediate appointment of one). Last week it was Elizabeth de la Vega, who made an interesting case for waiting to prosecute while evidence is gathered:
We must have a prosecution eventually, but we are not legally required to publicly initiate it now and we should not, as justifiable as it is. I’m not concerned about political fallout. What’s good or bad for either party has no legitimate place in this calculus. My sole consideration is litigation strategy: I want us to succeed.
This week it is Mother Jones Washington editor David Corn, who comes out in favor of a congressional investigation “that placed a premium on public disclosure” or “an independent commission.” Corn describes how he recently warned a Congressmember who supports the appointment of a Special Prosecutor, “That’s not necessarily a good idea.” Corn talks about how a coalition of groups from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU to Democrats.com and MoveOn.org have all petitioned for a prosecutor:
These liberals all want to see alleged Bush administration wrongdoing exposed. But there’s one problem with a special prosecutor: it’s not his job to expose wrongdoing. A special prosecutor does dig up facts-but only in order to prosecute a possible crime. His mission is not to shine light on misdeeds, unless it is part of a prosecution. In many cases, a prosecutor’s investigation does not produce any prosecutions. Sometimes, it leads only to a limited prosecution.That’s what happened with Patrick Fitzgerald. He could not share with the public all that he had discovered about the involvement of Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove, and other officials in the CIA leak case… A special prosecutor, it turns out, is a rather imperfect vehicle for revealing the full truth.
Prosecuting government officials for providing legal opinions that greenlighted waterboarding and the like would pose its own legal challenges. Could a government prosecutor indict the government lawyers who composed and signed the torture memos for aiding and abetting torture without indicting the government employees who actually committed the torture? (President Barack Obama has pledged that the interrogators will not be pursued.) And could a prosecutor win cases in which his targets would obviously argue that they were providing what they believed was good-faith legal advice, even if it turned out that their advice was wrong?… Several lawyers I’ve consulted have said that a criminal case against the authors of these memos would be no slam dunk. One possible scenario is that a special prosecutor would investigate, find out that sordid maneuvering occurred at the highest levels of the Bush-Cheney administration, and then conclude that he or she did not have a strong enough legal case to warrant criminal indictments and trials.
The bottom line: Anyone who wants the full truth to come out about the Bush-Cheney administration’s use of these interrogation practices cannot count on a special prosecutor.
Corn’s advice to that unnamed Democratic Congressmember wasn’t exactly well received by lawyers who have been pushing for prosecutions. Perhaps the most passionate advocate for the appointment of an independent Special Prosecutor right now is Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
“To argue that we should not have prosecutions because it won’t bring out all the facts when taken to its logical conclusion would mean never prosecuting any official no matter the seriousness of the crimes,” Ratner told me. “Right now is not the time to be backing off on prosecutions. Why are prosecutions of torturers ok for other non-western countries but not for the US? Prosecution is necessary to deter torture in the future and send a message to ourselves and the rest of the world that the seven or eight year torture program was unlawful and must not happen again. The purpose of prosecutions is to investigate and get convictions so that officials in the future will not again dispense with the prohibition on torture.”
Constitutional Law expert Scott Horton says that the problems with a Special Prosecutor Corn lays out are “correct, but he makes the latent assumption that it’s either/or. That’s absurd. Obviously it should be both a commission and one or more prosecutors as crimes are identified.”
Jameel Jaffer, one of the leading ACLU attorneys responsible for getting the torture memos released by the Obama administration, agrees with Horton. “I don’t think we should have to choose between a criminal investigation and a congressional inquiry,” Jaffer told me. “A congressional committee could examine the roots of the torture program and recommend legislative reform to prevent gross human rights abuses by future administrations. At the same time, a Justice Department investigation could investigate issues of criminal responsibility. One shouldn’t foreclose the other.”
Jaffer adds, “It might be a different story if we thought that Congress would need to offer immunity in exchange for testimony. But many of the key players – including John Yoo, George Tenet, and Dick Cheney – have made clear that they have no qualms about talking publicly about their actions (Yoo and Tenet have both written books, and Cheney is writing one now).”
The bottom line, Ratner argues, is that “prosecutions will bring out facts.” He cites the example of the Nuremberg Tribunals:
What if we had had a truth commission and no prosecutions? Right now we have many means of getting the facts: FOIA, congressional investigations such as the Senate Armed Services Report, former interrogators, document releases by the Executive. There are plenty of ways to get information even if it does not all come out in prosecutions. Many of the calls to not prosecute are by those, particularly inside the beltway, who cannot imagine Bush, Cheney et al. in the dock or by those who accept the argument that the torture conspirators were trying their best. This is not a time to hold back on the demand that is required by law and fact: appoint a special prosecutor.
David Swanson, who for years has pushed for prosecutions of Bush administration officials, was one of the organizers of the petitions calling for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor. “My top priority is not ‘truth,’” he said. “My top priority is changing the current truth, which is that we don’t have the nerve and decency to enforce our laws against powerful people.”
The Story of Mitchell Jessen & Associates: How a Team of Psychologists in Spokane, WA, Helped Develop the CIA’s Torture Techniques April 21, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
Tags: Abu Zubaydah, actionable intelligence, amy goodman, apa, cia interrogation, cia secret prisons, CIA torture, cia torture program, Democracy Now, Dick Cheney, doj, eric holder, fbi interrogators, geneva accords, geneva conventions, george tenet, International law, jay bybee, jose padilla, justice department, karen steele, katherine eban, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, mark benjamin, military psychologists, Mitchell Jessen & Associates, nuremberg, president obama, psychological association, Rahm Emanuel, roger hollander, sere training, torture, torture memos, torture techniques, waterboard
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www.democracynow.org, April 21, 2009
AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in Spokane, Washington, less than three miles from the headquarters of a secretive CIA contractor that played a key role in developing the Bush administration’s interrogation methods. The firm, Mitchell Jessen & Associates, is named after the two military psychologists who founded the company, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen.
Beginning in 2002, the CIA hired the psychologists to train interrogators in brutal techniques, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation and pain. Both of the men had years of military training in a secretive program known as SERE—Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape—which teaches soldiers to endure captivity in enemy hands. Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the tactics taught in SERE training for use on prisoners held in the CIA’s secret prisons.
The declassified torture memos released last week relied heavily on the advice of Mitchell and Jessen. In one memo, Justice Department attorney Jay Bybee wrote, quote, “Based on your research into the use of these methods at the SERE school and consultation with others with expertise in the field of psychology and interrogation, you do not anticipate that any prolonged harm would result from the use of the waterboard.”
Well, today we’re going to take a detailed look at Mitchell Jessen’s role. We’re joined now by three journalists who have closely followed this story. Katherine Eban joins us from New York. Her 2007 article in vanityfair.com, “Rorschach and Awe,” gave a detailed account of the role of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Mark Benjamin joins us from Washington, DC, national correspondent for Salon.com. He wrote about Mitchell and Jessen in his 2007 article called “The CIA’s Torture Teachers.” And here in Spokane, I’m joined by Karen Steele. She is a former reporter at The Spokesman-Review, where she covered this story.
We called Mitchell Jessen & Associates, based here in Spokane, not far from these studios, to invite them on the show, but, well, we did not hear back from them. Mitchell and Jessen have avoided speaking to the media for years. Two years ago, they released a statement to Vanity Fair that read, quote, “We are proud of the work we have done for our country.”
Well, why don’t we begin first with Mark Benjamin in Washington. How did you first hear of Mitchell and Jessen, Mitchell Jessen & Associates?
MARK BENJAMIN: I first heard of those two psychologists when I was doing my reporting a couple of years ago from—frankly, from some of their associates and people that worked with them in the military. And their associates were concerned, because this SERE training that you referred to, it’s not designed to be an interrogation tool. It’s designed to teach soldiers to resist, frankly, what are tools developed by communists, used by the Koreans, for example, during the Korean War to force false confessions out of soldiers. And so, we were teaching our soldiers how to—the SERE training teaches soldiers how to resist that kind of abuse. The reason it was brought to my attention is some of these Mitchell and Jessen’s colleagues were very, very concerned that these guys had, quote, “gotten their hands dirty,” unquote, by reverse-engineering these things. Frankly, their colleagues thought it was a very stupid idea, for obvious reasons.
AMY GOODMAN: Katherine Eban, tell us a little about these two men, exactly who they are, and what you found in this very comprehensive piece that you did called “Rorschach and Awe,” the first piece.
KATHERINE EBAN: Thanks very much, and it’s nice to be here, Amy.
You know, these were guys who have been described to me as op-docs. They were, you know, Ph.D.s who wanted to be sort of in the operational arena, which is a very seductive arena to be in. But effectively, they were teachers and overseers of a SERE program where they were just monitoring, you know, the well-being of troops. They weren’t scientists. They had no data, according to my sources, to show that if you reverse-engineered these tactics, they would be effective in eliciting information. So, you know, the description that I got, also from colleagues of theirs, is that these guys were wannabes. You know, they were wannabe operational psychologists, like, you know, Jodie Foster’s character in Silence of the Lambs. And they weren’t.
But apparently—and now we really see the extent of it—they were very convincing in selling the use of these tactics to the CIA. And I guess it was a moment in time when our government was really desperate for any kind of solutions. But the fact that they landed on this without any data to justify its use, without any proof of effectiveness, is really what was remarkable to me in my reporting.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Benjamin—well, both of you, actually, have now written new pieces. Mark, as you look to the torture memos, how does Mitchell Jessen fit in? These new documents that have been released, well, pretty much unredacted; there are—you know, it is blacked out especially around the names of the people involved.
MARK BENJAMIN: Well, we already knew, because of reporting like mine and Katherine’s, how crucial these psychologists were in developing the CIA’s torture program. I think what the documents show is how crucial they were in carrying it out. In other words, if you look through these memos, these Justice Department memos, the whole rationale, you know, or the defense of the program from the Justice Department is that it’s safe. You know, in other words, it’s not torture according to doctors, and there are doctors there to monitor what’s going on, and there are doctors there to make sure that the person being interrogated doesn’t die on them. And they have data allegedly showing that, you know, SERE, this training, when we do it to soldiers, it doesn’t—you know, it doesn’t kill them, and it doesn’t make them crazy from the abuse they do during training. And so, it must be OK.
I mean, in other words, I think that—I don’t think you can overemphasize the extent to which the Justice Department relied on the advice and consent and participation of these psychologists, not just in designing the program, but carrying it out and arguing that it was safe and that it wasn’t torture. I mean, they were an absolutely vital part of this program, either in the room while these people were being tortured or watching on videotape.
AMY GOODMAN: Karen Dorn Steele, you were writing for The Spokesman-Review, and after Mark Benjamin’s piece came out, you did your first. Of course, this is a local story. We’re broadcasting here at the PBS station in Spokane, KSPS, that’s run by the Spokane Public Schools. Not three miles from here is the American Legion Building. Tell us what you learned in the reports that you started to do here in Spokane.
KAREN DORN STEELE: Yeah, after we had read Mark’s piece, we did some research, Bill Morlin and I, on who these guys are. We pulled their corporate records and other records, and we found out that they had 120 employees. And they opened their rather large offices here in March of 2005, although they had had contracts with the CIA prior to that. We learned that they came out of the SERE program, as has been discussed, and that they lived here because Spokane is a good place to live. They had many military connections here. These programs are still very big, the SERE program at Fairchild Air Force Base and the—
AMY GOODMAN: How far is Fairchild Air Force Base from here?
KAREN DORN STEELE: It’s just about three miles west of town. It’s very, very close. It’s the big Air Force community. And the agency, the overarching agency that runs the SERE program nationwide also has a major facility here. It’s called the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency. And sources within JPRA knew a lot about Mitchell and Jessen. They said they were self-promoters, they were cowboys. They disapproved of the kind of techniques and their cozying up to the CIA. But they told us that they live here because it’s a nice place to live. And even though their mailing address is Langley, Virginia, they’re based in Spokane.
AMY GOODMAN: I understand Mitchell doesn’t live here anymore, but Jessen does.
KAREN DORN STEELE: That’s correct. That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: And why was SERE big at Fairchild?
KAREN DORN STEELE: SERE was big at Fairchild because every pilot in the US Air Force is required to go through this Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape programming to learn what they might be subject to if they ever fell into the hands of an enemy that didn’t follow the Geneva Accords. And of course we know that these techniques were reversed by Mitchell and Jessen for the CIA and the black sites overseas.
We also followed rather closely the debate within the American Psychological Association about the ethics of psychologists participating in sites where they were arguably doing harm, not doing no harm, as their guidelines say. And APA distanced themselves from Mitchell and Jessen, so they were not APA members, but we found out that one of their board members, Joseph Mazzarato [sic.]—Matarazzo, excuse me—who’s an emeritus psychology professor at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, is a former president of the APA. And so, after we broke that story, then the APA could no longer say there weren’t ties between this organization and their organization.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break. Then we’re going to come back to this discussion. Our guest in studio is a former reporter with The Spokesman-Review. Like many newspapers in this country, there have been a number of buyouts and layoffs at the paper here. Karen Dorn Steele is a George Polk Award-winning reporter for her work on the Hanford Reservation. We’ll talk about that in a minute. But today we’re talking in light of the memos that have just been released by the US government about Jessen, Mitchell, psychologists who run a firm here, well, that are involved in the coercive interrogations around the world. Our guests in New York, Katherine Eban, and in Washington, DC, Mark Benjamin. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Here in Spokane, we’re broadcasting from the PBS station KSPS, run by the Spokane Public Schools, and we’re talking about an institution, a company, not three miles from here, operating out of the American Legion Hall in Spokane.
Our guest here in the studio is Karen Dorn Steele, a George Polk Award-winning journalist. She wrote for The Spokesman-Review a series of pieces on Jessen, Mitchell. In Washington, DC, Mark Benjamin. In New York, in our firehouse studio, we’re joined by Katherine Eban of Vanity Fair.
I wanted to ask about Dick Cheney’s latest comments. Dick Cheney is demanding that the CIA release memos that show that these enhanced interrogation techniques were effective. He said, “What we authorized wasn’t torture. But it worked. We got actionable intelligence from these techniques.” Katherine Eban, from your research, what did you find?
KATHERINE EBAN: Well, from my research, I found exactly the opposite, that there had been an FB—the issue is very active over the detainee Abu Zubaydah, and there had been an FBI interrogation team with him initially, which had basically nursed him back to health after gunshot wounds and used rapport-building, classic rapport-building tactics, which is what the FBI excels at, and it was because of those tactics that he revealed that KSM, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was the architect of 9/11 and also revealed the name of Jose Padilla, and that in fact he was talking to interrogators until Mitchell showed up along with the CIA interrogation team, began imposing these harsh tactics, and Zubaydah clammed up.
So, in response to that, they made a request to accelerate these tactics. I think they refer to it in the memos that were just released as an “intense pressure phase.” You know, basically, what my sources say is, “Sure, these tactics, these coercive tactics, can get you to talk. But about what? So how do you verify the legitimacy of the information?” Well, apparently, under torture, Zubaydah gave investigators a lot of false leads, which ate up the time of American intelligence back at home. So, you know, the debate is a very live one. There are people in the CIA who say these tactics absolutely worked, and I do think that this is going to be a central question of investigations as they go forward, is the effectiveness of these tactics. And people are now—yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You know, I thought it was very interesting, Katherine Eban, how you describe what happened. The FBI there, they’re getting intelligence that they think is actually useful. George Tenet, then Director of Central Intelligence, hears about this. He’s very proud that intelligence is coming out from the interrogation. And then he’s informed it’s not coming from CIA interrogators, it’s coming from FBI interrogators. And he hits the roof. And that’s when they send in Jessen and the other CIA interrogators. You could take it from there.
KATHERINE EBAN: Right. You know, and let me just say that they sent in Mitchell. I don’t believe that Jessen was there at that point. But it was interesting—
AMY GOODMAN: I mean Mitchell.
KATHERINE EBAN: —that Mitchell Jessen—Mitchell’s company at that point closed up shop about a day before—the day after Zubaydah was captured, and then he was deployed to Thailand to the safe house where they were interrogating Zubaydah. But what you had in this situation was a classic turf war. You know, you had the CIA wanting to take the credit for getting actionable intelligence.
As soon as they started using these coercive tactics, it had a rather profound effect, which is that the FBI felt compelled to withdraw their investigators from the scene. The effect of that, the end result, is that the CIA had total control over these interrogations. So, by using these coercive tactics, they also won a turf war.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Benjamin, as you look at these torture memos right now and the whole cachet around Mitchell Jessen, if you can call it that, around getting effective intelligence when, as Katherine Eban was saying, it was the opposite.
MARK BENJAMIN: Well, that’s right. And when you look at the memos, there are even some hints there that show what interrogators have long believed, which is that these are not effective ways to gather intelligence, what Mitchell and Jessen were doing is just—it’s just not an effective way of running an intelligence operation.
And I would just add, you know, my reporting suggests that when the CIA put together this interrogation program, this torture program, they didn’t involve any experienced interrogators. There were no interrogators involved. Nobody who knows how to question—effectively question a suspect set this thing up. The CIA didn’t have anybody on board that knew how to do this stuff. I mean, it was people who just frankly didn’t know what they were doing. I mean, you know, they knew how to train soldiers how to resist torture, but not how to get effective intelligence.
And, in fact, if you look at the memos that came out last week, there is a reference in one of the memos to a CIA inspector general report. And according to the reference, the CIA inspector general criticized the CIA’s own interrogation program, saying essentially they didn’t know when somebody was being recalcitrant and wouldn’t talk and when they just didn’t know anything. That’s the problem with torture. And so, they ended up torturing people even though they had already said everything they know. I mean, it was just—and that’s the problem with torture. You don’t know—I mean, how do you know when to torture somebody and when not to? How do you know when they’re telling you the truth and when they’re not? It’s just, you know—and I think the memos, you know, while they’re meant to back up and say that this torture program is defensible, I think if you look at them pretty closely, that that facade starts to fall apart pretty fast.
AMY GOODMAN: Karen Dorn Steele?
KAREN DORN STEELE: Yes, we interviewed two former SERE instructors here in Spokane, who—one person who’s now a lawyer, another who’s a psychologist. And the psychologist, Mark Mays, told us that the most important function of the psychologist in the legitimate SERE program is to make sure that the interrogators aren’t going out of bounds, because when they do, you get bad information.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Benjamin, we were both covering in 2007 the APA national convention that was taking place in San Francisco. At that time, the dissident psychologists who wanted the APA to impose a ban on members participating in coercive interrogations lost. They ultimately found this loophole in the bylaws and found that they could put out the referendum to the membership instead of keep getting it voted down by the leadership. But what about the APA and—well, and Mitchell Jessen?
MARK BENJAMIN: Well, you know, as we mentioned, Mitchell and Jessen were not members of the APA. But I think the sort of, you know, Reader’s Digest version is that I think it’s safe to say that the psychologists have been traditionally very, very close to the military. You know, they’ve been working with the military and the CIA for years and are closer than, say, psychiatrists and other doctors. I think it’s fair to say that the APA, the psychologists, as opposed to psychiatrists and doctors, have been much more willing since September 11th to play ball, essentially, to not remove themselves from interrogations as doctors and psychiatrists did, to continue to participate.
And I think that’s reflected in the way Mitchell and Jessen, you know, were so important here. I think the psychologists saw a way to be players at the table, and that was reflected in their association, in the APA. And the APA essentially allowed their—you know, wrote rules, year after year after year, that would allow the continued participation of psychologists in these brutal interrogations. And now that these memos have come out, I think it’s really clear how important the government saw those psychologists were, in having them in the room or watching on video or designing the program or carrying it out.
AMY GOODMAN: Katherine Eban, I think you’d like to chime in here, as you talk with a number of top military psychologists and even those at the beginning who were recruited into an APA committee that would investigate whether psychologists should continue, people like Kleinman and others who you quote saying, “I think Mitchell and Jessen have caused more harm to American national security than they’ll ever understand.”
KATHERINE EBAN: Yeah. I mean, what was interesting is, is that there was suspicion initially that the psychologists who participated on this APA committee that basically sort of approved participation in interrogations, that they were somehow behind these coercive tactics. What you really had was almost what I describe as a Wizard of Oz scenario. You had Mitchell and Jessen behind the curtain driving, you know, the sort of good name of psychologists, as it were, into this very murky, dark area.
And I think, you know, what’s really important in the debate going forward among psychologists is the extent to which psychologists loaned their names and loaned their credentials and their Ph.D.s to this kind of activity and essentially were used by the Bush administration to provide a kind of “get out of jail free” card for the people who were, you know, doing these interrogations, because the logic, which I think Mark had mentioned, is, you know, this circular logic. So long as there are trained psychologists from the SERE program who are on site at these interrogations who are saying that these detainees can withstand this treatment, are not being harmed psychologically, then it’s not torture. So, you know, you’ve got this sort of [inaudible] tortured—tortured logic, which is the phrase that has come up, but it’s this sort of self-justifying loop in which professionals are loaning their credentials to this kind of activity.
And you see the same thing in the Office of Legal Counsel, where you have, you know, lawyers loaning their credentials to approving what are clear violations of the Geneva Conventions.
AMY GOODMAN: Karen Dorn Steele, this is both a global issue and, as is usually the case, a local one, because Mitchell Jessen is right here in Spokane. There were local protests after your reports came out. Describe what happened.
KAREN DORN STEELE: Yes, they were about a month after our first stories and some of the follow-ups on the APA debate. There was a street protest. Maybe three dozen people showed up. Many of them were psychology students from local colleges who said, “Not in our names should this be done, and this is a violation of everything we’ve been taught in schools.” And there were intelligence agents there. We couldn’t determine who they were, but they were photographing everybody in the crowd. But Spokane is not a place that’s given to street protests normally, although there have been some anti-Iraq war protests. But this was an unusual event, and it triggered some passion here.
AMY GOODMAN: And yet, they continue, and they not only have Mitchell Jessen, but little other companies that are right in the American Legion Hall.
KAREN DORN STEELE: Yeah. There’s a cluster of national security companies that all come out of the SERE and JPRA program that are still here and functioning.
AMY GOODMAN: I went over to The Spokesman-Review yesterday and was speaking to the editor. I said, “Have you ever been able to speak to Mitchell Jessen? I mean, they’re a local company.” And he said, “No, they do not respond.”
KAREN DORN STEELE: No, they just gave us the same response that you read earlier on the program, that they condemn torture.
AMY GOODMAN: Mark Benjamin, do you think we’re going to see any arrests? Do you think—well, President Obama has said they’re not going after CIA interrogators, questioners. What do you think?
MARK BENJAMIN: No, I don’t think we’re going to see any arrests. And I think that the significance of what the Obama administration has done over the last few days or announced over the last few days has been largely missed, which is, if you look at the President’s statements and you combine them with the statements of Rahm Emanuel, the Chief of Staff, and Eric Holder, the Attorney General, if you put those together, you will see that over the last couple of days the Obama administration has announced that no one, not the people who carried out the torture program or the people who designed the program or the people that authorized the program or the people who said that it was legal even though they knew that it frankly wasn’t, none of those people will ever face charges. The Attorney General has announced that not only that, the government will pay the legal fees for anybody who is brought up on any charges anywhere in the world or has to go before Congress. They will be provided attorneys.
And not only that, they have given this blanket immunity, if you will, in return for nothing. I mean, in other words, you know, as you said at the top of the program, Obama yesterday—President Obama was at the CIA and called these things “mistakes,” even though they were very carefully designed, and hasn’t demanded anything in return for this immunity. I mean, you know, in other words, it’s not like the Obama administration said, “Hey, let’s take a close look at this, and let’s have some people come forward and testify, and let’s take a close look at this program and see if the claims of former Vice President Dick Cheney are really true, that we really did get some good information out of this program, it really was effective.” The Obama administration has demanded nothing and has announced, you know, effectively that the story is over and nobody will be held to account ever.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you, Mark Benjamin of Salon.com in Washington, DC; Katherine Eban in New York at the firehouse studio, vf.com, your pieces appear. But before I say goodbye to you, Karen Dorn Steele, I wanted to ask you about one other issue that is very close to here in Spokane, and it’s the issue of the Hanford Reservation, for which your coverage, “Wasteland,” won a George Polk Award.
Anatomy of Bush’s Torture ‘Paradigm’ April 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, against all enemies, al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, andrew card, anti-torture, carl levin, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, david addington, detainee abuse, Dick Cheney, doj, donald rumsfeld, enhanced interrogation, eric holder, executive order, geneva conventions, George Bush, george tenet, habaes corpus, human rights, human rights violations, international red cross, iraq detaines, jack goldsmith, james schlesinger, John Ashcroft, John McCain, John Walker Lindh, john yoo, justice department, military commissions, office legal counsel, olc, prisoners of war, radack, ray mcgovern, ricardo sanchez, richard clarke, richard myers, roger hollander, senate armed services, special prosecutor, steven bradbury, suspected terrorists, Taliban, torture, torture memos, torture techniques, waterboarding, william j. haynes
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www.consortiumnewscom, April 14, 2009
The prose of the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on torture seems colorless. It is at the same time obscene — almost pornographic.
The 41-page ICRC report depicts scenes of prisoners forced to remain naked for long periods, sometimes in the presence of women, often with their hands shackled over their heads in “stress positions” as they are left to soil themselves.
The report’s images of sadism also include prisoners slammed against walls, locked in tiny boxes, and strapped to a bench and subjected to the drowning sensation of waterboarding.
How could it be that we Americans tolerate the kind of leaders who would subject others to systematic torture — yes, that’s what the official report of the international body charged with monitoring the Geneva agreements on the treatment of prisoners concludes — torture.
Over the past week I have been asked to explain how this could have happened; who authorized the torture in our name? The Red Cross report lacks the earmarks of rogues or “rotten apples” at the bottom of some barrel.
This is what I have been telling those who ask:
Rather than Harry Truman’s famous motto on his Oval Office desk, “The Buck Stops Here,” this was a case of “The Buck Starts Here.” President George W. Bush set the tone and created the framework, with strong support from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The first hints of what was in store came from the President himself in the White House bunker late on Sept. 11, 2001, at a meeting with his closest national security advisers after his TV address to the nation about the terrorist attacks that morning.
The vengeful bunker mentality prevailing at that meeting comes through clearly in the report of one of the participants, Richard Clarke in his book, Against All Enemies. Describing the President as confident, determined, forceful, Clarke provides the following account of what President Bush said:
“We are at war.… Nothing else matters. … Any barriers in your way, they’re gone.”
When, later in the discussion, Secretary Rumsfeld noted that international law allowed the use of force only to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush nearly bit his head off.
“No,” the President yelled in the narrow conference room, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”
‘Taking the Gloves Off’
In the weeks that followed, the air in Washington hung heavy with demons of retribution. Afghanistan was invaded in October 2001, and during a prisoner uprising on Nov. 25, a CIA officer was killed there.
A young American citizen, John Walker Lindh, was discovered among the prisoners in the area. There was not the slightest evidence that Lindh had anything to do with the killing.
But documents show that U.S. Joint Special Operations troops were told that the office of the Defense Secretary’s counsel (William J. Haynes II, was Pentagon general counsel at the time) had authorized an Army intelligence officer “to take the gloves off and ask whatever he wanted” of Lindh.
Despite urgent intervention by Justice Department ethics attorney Jesselyn Radack, Lindh was not properly read his rights. Instead, the FBI agent on the scene ad-libbed in an offhand way, “You have the right to an attorney. But there are no attorneys here in Afghanistan.”
Lindh had been seriously wounded in the leg. Despite that, U.S. troops put a hood over him, stripped him naked, duct-taped him to a stretcher for days in an unheated and unlit shipping container, and threatened him with death.
Parts of his humiliating ordeal were captured on film (a practice that became tragically familiar with the photos of Abu Ghraib).
In her book, Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of John Walker Lindh, attorney Radack comments that official documents pertaining to this case provide “the earliest known evidence that the Bush Administration was willing to push the envelope on how far it could go to extract information from suspected terrorists.”
(Because she protested, Radack was fired as Justice Department legal ethics advisor, put under criminal investigation, and even added to the “no-fly” list.)
End-Run Around Geneva
But the Bush administration was just getting started.
On Jan. 18, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised the President that the Justice Department had issued a formal legal opinion concluding that the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) does not apply with respect to al Qaeda.
Gonzales added that he understood that Bush had “decided that GPW does not apply and, accordingly, that al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are not prisoners of war under the GPW.”
On Jan. 19, 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told combat commanders that the President had “determined that al-Qaeda and Taliban individuals under the control of the Department of Defense are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the President to reconsider his decision and to conclude, instead, that the GPW does apply to both al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Powell’s protest was couched in bureaucratic politeness, rather than in anger and outrage. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Cowardice in the Time of Torture.”]
The next step took the form of the fateful memorandum of Jan. 25, 2002, signed by Alberto Gonzales but drafted by counsel to the Vice President David Addington. That memo outlined for the President “the ramifications of your decision and the Secretary’s [Powell’s] request for reconsideration.”
It described a “new paradigm” that, the writers claimed “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners, and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
Gonzales and Addington urged the President to disregard Powell’s misgivings and move ahead. But they cloaked their argument in lawyerly language that obscured what was to come.
The lawyers argued that it was “appropriate” and “consistent with military necessity” to waive Geneva regarding the treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, but they inserted assurances that the prisoners would be treated “humanely” and “in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”
Brushing aside Powell’s objections, President Bush adopted the Gonzales/Addington language and signed a memorandum to that effect on Feb. 7, 2002. The memo went to Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.
The memo amounted to an executive order, although it was not labeled as such. In it, the President alludes fulsomely to Justice Department opinions and recommendations, as well as “facts” supplied by the Defense Department.
Bush then takes clear responsibility for the decision to spurn Geneva: “I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. … I determine that Taliban detainees … do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva … and that al Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.”
The Feb. 7, 2002, memo bears the Orwellian title “Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” In it, Bush lifts verbatim the language from the Gonzales/Addington memo of Jan. 25, 2002, and makes it his own.
Bush claimed, for example, “the war against terrorism ushers in a new paradigm [that] requires new thinking in the law of war.”
Bush then tries to square a circle, directing (twice in the two-page memo) that “detainees be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”
The smoking-gun memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, was released to the media, together with other documents, by Gonzales on June 22, 2004, but it did not receive the attention it deserved until recently.
On Dec. 11, 2008, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released, without dissent, the summary of their committee’s report on the abuse of detainees.
The report’s first subhead was: Presidential Order Opens Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques, and the first words of the first sentence of the first paragraph were, “On Feb. 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating…”
Referring to the “President’s order,” the first paragraph adds that “the decision to replace well-established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees.”
“Conclusion Number One” of the Senate Armed Services Committee report states: “Following the President’s determination [of Feb. 7, 2002], techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions … were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”
Once Bush had opened the door with his Feb. 7, 2002, memo, other actions followed to implement the President’s “new paradigm.”
White House lawyers worked with Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel to develop constitutional theories about expansive presidential powers that effectively let Bush operate beyond the law.
The OLC traditionally is the office that tells presidents the limits of their constitutional authorities. However, in this case, Yoo collaborated with Gonzales, Addington and other White House lawyers in hammering out arguments that the administration could use to implement harsh interrogations of al Qaeda suspects.
On Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo and his OLC superior, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, issued an opinion that so narrowly defined “torture” that it cleared the way for a variety of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, which creates a near-drowning experience.
As the legal framework for Bush’s torture policies took shape, senior officers and lower-level participants in the interrogations understood that the basis for the newly permitted harsh tactics stemmed from a presidential decision.
In a report on Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger indicated that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq, instituted a “dozen interrogation methods beyond” the Army’s standard practice under the Geneva Convention.
Sanchez said he based his decision on “the President’s memorandum,” which he said allowed for “additional, tougher measures” against detainees, according to the Schlesinger report.
An FBI e-mail of May 22, 2004, from a senior FBI agent in Iraq stated that President Bush had signed an Executive Order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.
The FBI official sought guidance in confronting an unwelcome dilemma. He asked if FBI personnel in Iraq were required to report the U.S. military’s harsh interrogation of detainees when such treatment violated Bureau standards but fit within the guidelines of a presidential Executive Order.
In sum, abundant evidence indicates that the torture techniques applied in the jail cells and interrogation chambers — the “alternative set of procedures” about which Bush boasted publicly on Sept. 6, 2006 — resulted directly from Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo and implementing actions by his administration.
Interrogators also were egged on by comments from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld regarding the “tough” treatments they favored.
One fig leaf left covering the otherwise exposed role of Bush and his top aides remains the clever inclusion of the word “humane” in the memo that made possible what the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned as “inhuman” treatment of terror suspects in U.S. custody.
There’s also the-Justice-Department-told-me-it-was-legal excuse, though the evidence is now clear that the Bush administration essentially stage-managed the Yoo-Bybee opinions.
For instance, when the Yoo-Bybee opinions were withdrawn by Bybee’s OLC successor, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, Addington and other administration officials successfully pressured Goldsmith to resign and then welcomed a new OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, who reinstated the key opinions in May 2005.
And – as the evidence built of illegal torture in 2006 – the Bush administration pushed the “Military Commissions Act” through the Republican-controlled Congress with phrasing that granted a degree of retroactive immunity.
The law states that “no person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.”
That provision was interpreted as a broad amnesty for U.S. officials, including President Bush and other senior executives who may have authorized torture, murder or other violations of human rights.
The law also granted Bush the authority “to interpret the meaning and the application of the Geneva Conventions.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Shame on Us All.”]
However, there remain legal questions about whether the law’s language would prevent prosecutions under pre-existing anti-torture laws.
The sudden appearance of the damning report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, initially given to the CIA’s acting general counsel on Feb. 14, 2007, greatly complicates any rotten-apples-at-the-bottom-of-the-barrel-type disingenuousness.
In a departure from the usual diplomatic parlance, the ICRC minces not a word in referring to those who authorized torture. In the report itself, the Red Cross calls on current U.S. authorities “to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, to prevent such abuses from happening again.”
What do you suppose is holding Attorney General Eric Holder back from appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate, with a view toward rubbing out, once and for all, this shameful stain on our collective conscience?
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. An Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 years, he now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
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Tags: al-Qaeda, cia, Colin Powell, condolezza rice, constitution, convention against torutre, detainees, Dick Cheney, eric holder, george tenet, glenn greenwald, goerge bush, Guantanamo, intrrogation, John Ashcroft, justice department, mukasey, nuremberg, paul drugman, Qahtani, roger hollander, ronald reagan, rule of law, simulated drowning, susan crawford, torture, treaties, waterboarding
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Glenn Greenwald, www.salon.com
(updated below - Update II)
It seems fairly easy — even for those overtly hostile to the basic rules of logic and law — to see what conclusions are compelled by these clear premises:
Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.
The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved. . . .
The meetings were held in the White House Situation Room in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Attending the sessions were Cheney, then-Bush aides Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.
The administration of US President George W. Bush authorized the CIA to waterboard Al-Qaeda suspects according to two secret memos issued in 2003 and 2004, The Washington Post reported Wednesday.
President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee for attorney general said unequivocally Thursday that waterboarding is torture . . .
Early on he was asked whether waterboarding, a technique that makes a prisoner believe he is in danger of drowning, constitutes torture and is illegal.
“If you look at the history of the use of that technique, ” Holder replied, “we prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam. . . . Waterboarding is torture.”
The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a “life-threatening condition.”
“We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.”
“Torture is a crime,” Mr. Mukasey said in an interview Friday . . . .
1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture. . . .
1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
1. The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.
Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention. It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.
This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
“No one is above the law.”
These premises — conclusively established by undisputed news reports and the statements of the person about to become the country’s top law enforcement officer as well as a top Bush official – are clear, and the conclusions they compel are inescapable. The Bush administration authorized, ordered and practiced torture. The U.S., under Ronald Reagan, legally obligated itself to investigate and prosecute any acts of torture committed by Americans (which includes authorization of torture by high level officials and also includes, under Article 3 of the Convention, acts of “rendering” detainees to countries likely to torture, as the Bush administration unquestionably did).
All of the standard excuses being offered by Bush apologists and our political class (a virtual redundancy) – namely: our leaders meant well; we were facing a dangerous enemy; government lawyers said this could be done; Congress immunized the torturers; it would be too divisive to prosecute — are explicitly barred by this treaty (i.e., binding law) as a ground for refusing to investigate and prosecute acts of torture.
This is also why the standard argument now being offered by Bush apologists (such as University of Chicago Law Professor Eric Posner, echoing his dad, Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner in Chicago) as to why prosecutions are unnecessary — namely: there is “prosecutorial discretion” that should take political factors into account in order not to prosecute — are both frivolous and lawless. The Convention explicitly bars any such “discretion”: ”The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall . . . submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.” The principal purpose of the Convention is to remove the discretion involved in prosecuting acts of torture and to bar the very excuses which every torturing society proffers and which our own torturing society is now attempting to invoke (“we were dealing with real threats; there were ‘exceptional circumstances’ that justified it; we enacted laws legalizing the torture; our leaders meant well; we need to move on”).
International treaties which the U.S. signs and ratifies aren’t cute little left-wing platitudes for tying the hands of America. They’re binding law according to the explicit mandates of Article VI of our Constitution. Thus, there simply is no way to (a) argue against investigations and prosecutions for Bush officials and simultaneously (b) claim with a straight face to believe in the rule of law, that no one is above the law, and that the U.S. should adhere to the same rules and values it attempts to impose on the rest of the world. Last week, Paul Krugman stated about as clearly as possible why this is so:
I’m sorry, but if we don’t have an inquest into what happened during the Bush years — and nearly everyone has taken Mr. Obama’s remarks to mean that we won’t — this means that those who hold power are indeed above the law because they don’t face any consequences if they abuse their power.
It’s just as simple as that. Once Eric Holder stated unequivocally that waterboarding is torture, and once a top Bush official used the word “torture” to describe what the U.S. did at Guantanamo using authorized techniques other than waterboarding, the “discretion” to investigate and prosecute disappeared– at least for people who believe in the most basic precepts of the rule of law and equality under it, Western principles of justice established at Nuremberg, and the notion that the U.S. is bound by the treaties it signs. There simply is no way to argue against investigations and prosecutions (and no way to argue that we should use torture-obtained evidence against Guantanamo detainees) without fully rejecting all of those principles.
While many Americans, especially American political elites, may be eager to overlook the implications of immunizing Bush officials for these crimes (as citizens typically are eager to avoid having their leaders branded as torturers and war criminals), it’s rather difficult to understand how people think that we’re going to “send a message to the world” about the restoration of American values as we deliberately protect the people who have systematically tortured and thereby transparently violate the core provisions of this Convention. Doesn’t that conduct rather clearly send the exact opposite message?
It seems to me that these facts imply that if Barack Obama, or his administration, believe that there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of the Bush administration have committed torture, then they are legally obligated to investigate; and that if that investigation shows that acts of torture were committed, to submit those cases for prosecution, if the officials who committed or sanctioned those acts are found on US territory. If they are on the territory of some other party to the Convention, then it has that obligation. Under the Convention, as I read it, this is not discretionary. And under the Constitution, obeying the laws, which include treaties, is not discretionary either.
It’s just not possible to argue with that. In light of Holder’s testimony, the “if” component of Hilzoy’s argument — “if Barack Obama, or his administration believe that there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of the Bush administration have committed torture . . . .” — is now a certainty. In Slate, Dahlia Lithwick and Phillipe Sands made a similar argument regarding Bush official Susan Crawford’s statement that the U.S. “tortured” Mohammed al-Qahtani: ”These states [who are parties to the Convention] must take any person alleged to have committed torture (or been complicit or participated in an act of torture) who is present in their territories into custody. The convention allows no exceptions.”
While those who argue that the U.S. was right to torture because it’s the U.S. that did it are expressing a repugnant form of exceptionalism, at least they’re being honest — far more so than those who argue that Bush officials shouldn’t be investigated or prosecuted while paying deceitful lip service to “the rule of law” and the idea that “no one is above the law.”
UPDATE II: Several commenters note, correctly, that the U.S. Senate, in 1994, ratified the Convention by specifying that its provisions were not self-executing, but instead, required specific legislation implementing its provisions. As this 2004 Report from the Congressional Research Service (.pdf) details (beginning at page CRS-4), Congress enacted legislation to do exactly that, with minor reservations not relevant to the argument here.