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Report: Senate Report on CIA Will Sidestep Look at Bush ‘Torture Team’ October 19, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: The United States government and military violate international law on a daily basis; the Bush/Cheney torture regime, which Obama has outsourced to Bagram and god knows where else, is one of its most blatant manifestations.  Obama’s “we need to look forward not backward” excuse for violating his oath to defend the constitution does credit to Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka.  The next time you are before a judge accused of a crime, please remind her that it is time to look forward and not backward.  Your charges are sure to be dropped.

 

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According to sources who spoke with McClatchy, five-year inquiry into agency’s torture regime ignores key role played by Bush administration officials who authorized the abuse

 rumsfeld_bush_cheneyFrom left: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, and Dick Cheney. Thanks to an Obama adminstration that insisted on “looking forward, not backward” on torture, and a Senate investigation that has limited its scope to the mere “action or inactions” of the CIA, neither these men nor the others who helped authorize the torture program will likely ever face prosecution for what experts say were clear violations of domestic and international law. (Photo: Wikimedia/Public domain)

According to new reporting by McClatchy, the five-year investigation led by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee into the torture program conducted by the CIA in the aftermath of September 11, 2001 will largely ignore the role played by high-level Bush administration officials, including those on the White House legal team who penned memos that ultimately paved the way for the torture’s authorization.

Though President Obama has repeatedly been criticized for not conducting or allowing a full review of the torture that occured during his predecessor’s tenure, the Senate report—which has been completed, but not released—has repeatedly been cited by lawmakers and the White House as the definitive examination of those policies and practices. According to those with knowledge of the report who spoke with McClatchy, however, the review has quite definite limitations.

The report, one person who was not authorized to discuss it told McClatchy, “does not look at the Bush administration’s lawyers to see if they were trying to literally do an end run around justice and the law.” Instead, the focus is on the actions and inations of the CIA and whether or not they fully informed Congress about those activities. “It’s not about the president,” the person said. “It’s not about criminal liability.”

Responding to comment on the reporting, legal experts and critics of the Bush torture program expressed disappointment that high-level officials in the administration were not part of the review. In addition to the president himself, Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, others considered part of what it sometimes referred to as the “Torture Team,” include: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote many of the specific legal memos authorizing specific forms of abuse.

“If it’s the case that the report doesn’t really delve into the White House role, then that’s a pretty serious indictment of the report,” Elizabeth Goitein, the co-director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at the New York University Law School, said to McClatchy. “Ideally it should come to some sort of conclusions on whether there were legal violations and if so, who was responsible.”

And Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, indicated that limiting the report to just the actions of the CIA doesn’t make much sense from a legal or investigative standpoint. “It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction. It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”

As Mclatchy‘s Jonathan S. Landay, Ali Watkins and Marisa Taylor report:

The narrow parameters of the inquiry apparently were structured to secure the support of the committee’s minority Republicans. But the Republicans withdrew only months into the inquiry, and several experts said that the parameters were sufficiently flexible to have allowed an examination of the roles Bush, Cheney and other top administration officials played in a top-secret program that could only have been ordered by the president.

“It doesn’t take much creativity to include senior Bush officials in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s not hard to link an investigation into the CIA’s torture to the senior officials who authorized it. That’s not a stretch at all.”

It’s not as if there wasn’t evidence that Bush and his top national security lieutenants were directly involved in the program’s creation and operation.

The Senate Armed Services Committee concluded in a 2008 report on detainee mistreatment by the Defense Department that Bush opened the way in February 2002 by denying al Qaida and Taliban detainees the protection of an international ban against torture.

White House officials also participated in discussions and reviewed specific CIA interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003, the public version of the Senate Armed Services Committee report concluded.

Several unofficial accounts published as far back as 2008 offered greater detail.

Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld relentlessly pressured interrogators to subject detainees to harsh interrogation methods in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, McClatchy reported in April 2009. Such evidence, which was non-existent, would have substantiated one of Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003.

Other accounts described how Cheney, Rumsfeld, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Secretary of State Colin Powell approved specific harsh interrogation techniques. George Tenet, then the CIA director, also reportedly updated them on the results.

“Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft said after one of dozens of meetings on the program, ABC News reported in April 2008 in a story about the White House’s direct oversight of interrogations.

News reports also chronicled the involvement of top White House and Justice Department officials in fashioning a legal rationale giving Bush the authority to override U.S. and international laws prohibiting torture. They also helped craft opinions that effectively legalized the CIA’s use of waterboarding, wall-slamming and sleep deprivation.

Though President Obama casually admitted earlier this, “We tortured some folks.” — what most critics and human rights experts have requested is an open and unbiased review of the full spectrum of the U.S. torture program under President Bush. And though increasingly unlikely, calls remain for those responsible for authorizing and conducting the abuse to be held accountable with indictments, trials, and if guilty, jail sentences. In addition, as a letter earlier this year signed by ten victims of the extrajudicial rendition under the Bush administration stated, the concept of full disclosure and accountability is key to restoring the credibility of the nation when it comes to human rights abuses:

Publishing the truth is not just important for the US’s standing in the world. It is a necessary part of correcting America’s own history. Today in America, the architects of the torture program declare on television they did the right thing. High-profile politicians tell assembled Americans that ‘waterboarding’ is a ‘baptism’ that American forces should still engage in.

These statements only breed hatred and intolerance. This is a moment when America can move away from all that, but only if her people are not sheltered from the truth.

As McClatchy notes, a redacted version of the report’s summary—the only part of it expected to be released to the public—continues to be under review. Its release date remains unclear.

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Isn’t “Laying Blame for the Past” What we Used to Think of as “Justice”? April 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Howard A. Rodman

www.huffingtonpost.com, April 17, 2009

President Obama did something which should be commonplace but which, in this terrible time, is now thought of as optional for high officials, which is to say, he obeyed the law. The law in this case required him, in response to an ACLU lawsuit, to disclose the Torture Memos, prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel under the Bush administration. (It is a sad testimony that doing as the law requires is, in our political climate, an act of bravery.)

The Torture Memos show an attention to the detail of pain reminiscent of The 120 Days of Sodom. They reveal that at the highest level we were a government of sadists, supported by a covey of lawyers (Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Bradbury, Rizzo, Gonzaleslook at their faces, look at them) who felt their job was to come up with legal justifications for that sadism.

Yet even while the memos provide incontrovertible evidence of war crimes, President Obama ‘split the difference’ by stating that the torturers would not be held accountable for their actions. He said,

“This is a time for reflection, not retribution… nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

 

Imagine this last statement trotted out (for instance) by the Phil Spector defense. Would you take it seriously? Would you buy it? Or would you laugh hysterically and forward it to Paul Slansky?

Isn’t “laying blame for the past” exactly what our justice system was designed to do? Isn’t that the basis of every criminal case in every criminal court in the nation?

The idea that criminal acts must, indeed should, go unpunished, if–and only if–they are committed by the ruling class or government officials, is at the heart of what’s wrong with our republic. It is as appallingly true with respect to the looting of the economy as it is with respect to the war crimes these memos disclose. (Note to NPR: if Sylvia Poggioli were kidnapped off the streets of Rome, put in a coffin-sized container, deprived of sleep for eleven consecutive nights, had her head slammed against a wall, were made to feel as if she were drowning, would you say that she had been subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques”? Or might you use the word torture?)

Obama, the ICRC Report and Ongoing Suppression April 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Glenn Greenwald

Following up on the latest extremist Cheney/Addington/Yoo arguments advanced by the Obama DOJ in order to shield Bush lawbreaking from disclosure and judicial review — an episode I wrote about in detail yesterday, here — it’s worthwhile to underscore the implications of Barack Obama’s conduct.  When Obama sought to placate his angry supporters after he voted for the Bush/Cheney FISA-telecom immunity bill last June (after vowing the prior December to support a filibuster of any such legislation), this is what he said (h/t notavailable):

[The FISA bill] also firmly re-establishes basic judicial oversight over all domestic surveillance in the future. It does, however, grant retroactive immunity, and I will work in the Senate to remove this provision so that we can seek full accountability for past offenses.

So candidate Obama unambiguously vowed to his supporters that he would work to ensure “full accountability” for “past offenses” in surveillance lawbreaking.  President Obama, however, has now become the prime impediment to precisely that accountability, repeatedly engaging in extraordinary legal maneuvers to ensure that “past offenses” — both in the surveillance and torture/rendition realm — remain secret and forever immunized from judicial review.  Put another way, Obama has repeatedly done the exact opposite of what he vowed he would do:  rather than “seek full accountability for past offenses,” he has been working feverishly to block such accountability, by embracing the same radical Bush/Cheney views and rhetoric regarding presidential secrecy powers that caused so much controversy and anger for the last several years. 

And note the pure deceit on the part of Senate Democrats who justified telecom immunity by continuously assuring the public that the Bush officials who ordered the illegal surveillance (as opposed to the telecoms who broke the law by enabling it) would still be subject to legal accountability.  It was obvious at the time (as was often pointed out) that they were outright lying when they said this — because all sorts of legal instruments had been invoked (such as “state secrets” and “standing” arguments) to protect those government officials from that accountability (legal instruments Democrats knowingly left in place), and now it is Barack Obama who is leading the way in ensuring that the assurances given by Senate Democrats — don’t worry that we immunized the phone companies because Bush officials, who were the truly guilty parties in the illegal spying, will still be subject to legal accountability — never materialize.

On a very related note:  last night, The New York Review of Books published the full report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (.pdf), which documented in detail the brutal torture to which the 14 “high-value” detainees whom we disappeared into our CIA “black sites” were subjected and demanded “that the US authorities investigate all allegations of ill-treatment and take steps to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate.”  As Scott Horton notes, the ICRC does not call for investigations and prosecutions easily, but rather, “only where the evidence of criminal conduct is manifest.”   Yet Obama’s handpicked CIA Director, Leon Panetta, continues to demand that there be no investigations of any kind, let alone prosecutions.  As a CIA spokesperson told the New York Times yesterday in response to the ICRC report:  

Mr. Panetta “has stated repeatedly that no one who took actions based on legal guidance from the Department of Justice at the time should be investigated, let alone punished.”  The C.I.A.’s interrogation methods were declared legal by the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.

Accompanying the ICRC report was an article by Mark Danner, the superb journalist who obtained the ICRC Report and disclosed it.  In his article, Danner describes the grave dangers from preserving ongoing secrecy surrouding Bush/Cheney crimes (h/t bystander; emphasis added):

Barack Obama may well assert that “the facts don’t bear [Cheney] out,” but as long as the “details of it” cannot be revealed “without violating classification,” as long as secrecy can be wielded as the dark and potent weapon it remains, Cheney’s politics of torture will remain a powerful if half-submerged counter-story, waiting for the next attack to spark it into vibrant life.

As Danner explains, it is simply impossible for Obama to “turn the page” on (let alone reverse) the dark Bush/Cheney era of war crimes while he simultaneously turns himself into the prime agent suppressing the facts surrounding those crimes and vigorously shielding the criminals from all investigation and accountability.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

“You can’t sweep unlawful activities under the table” February 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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general-tagubaReuters/Larry Downing.  Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by U.S. military personnel, May 11, 2004.

By Mark Benjamin, www.salon.com, February 21, 2009

Abu Ghraib investigator Antonio Taguba talks to Salon about why he backs a commission to examine Bush torture policies.

Feb. 20, 2009 | WASHINGTON — President Obama vowed that “the United States will not torture” only two days into his new administration. But one big question Obama hasn’t answered is whether and how to investigate notorious Bush-era interrogation and detention policies. On Thursday, 18 human rights organizations, former State Department officials and former law enforcement and military leaders asked the president to create a nonpartisan commission to investigate those allegedly abusive detention practices.

Retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, who investigated the famed abuses at Abu Ghraib, signed on to the effort. He explained his support in an interview with Salon. Taguba agrees with many attorneys who think it would be difficult, and perhaps impossible, to prosecute former Bush administration officials. A nonpartisan fact-finding commission, however, might provide some degree of accountability for official U.S. detention and interrogation policies that Taguba called misguided and illegal.

Taguba would like to see a broad mandate for the commission, including a study of administration claims that abuse gleans good intelligence, which he fervently disputes. And while he believes the commission should look at the decisions of military and civilian policymakers, he has a particular interest in getting to the bottom of civilian leaders’ claims for the legality of the administration’s interrogation and detention policies, which he called “despicable and questionable.” The retired general would also like to see the commission empowered to make recommendations for the future, to help ensure such abuses never occur again.

You are best known for doing an honest investigation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. You suffered some consequences for that. Is that fair to say?

As far as consequences are concerned, the report and testimony were not going to be well received. I followed my conscience and integrity — the best I could do to honor the Army uniform I had the privilege of wearing for over 34 years.

They parked you at the back of the Pentagon in retribution, right?

I was disappointed in my assignment back to the Pentagon to be on Rumsfeld’s staff. I was suspicious about the assignment. But I served at the pleasure of the president and performed as expected. It was conveyed to me by close friends that I had to be watched closely by senior leaders.

Can you describe this torture commission that you and others are advocating?

I would not refer to it as a torture commission. [It remains to be decided] if it is to be a truth and reconciliation commission, or a presidential commission, or a congressional commission, or a private commission … Interest groups have talked about establishing a special prosecutor in that regard. I feel we have to come to terms with policies that have gained such notoriety and have been debated about whether they were in the best interest of our national security, and whether those who created these policies were pressured by their senior leadership.

Are you advocating one particular flavor of a commission, or are you simply advocating for an investigation in general?

“Investigation” is a good term, but not one I would subscribe to. [I support] a structured commission with some form of authority with clear objectives and a follow-on action plan. I’m not looking for anything that is prosecutorial in nature, unless a suspected violation of relevant laws occurred, which should be referred to the Department of Justice.

That was going to be my next question. Why not?

Because it would be difficult. In my opinion, our military prosecuted those who were involved in torture or unlawful interrogation. And I think our military has come to terms with that. We are an institution that prides itself on taking corrective action immediately, admitting to it, and holding ourselves accountable. And we have done that. But I am not so sure that our civilian authorities in government have done that for themselves.

Is there still a lot of dirty laundry out there that we don’t know about?

I think so. This notion that a lot of constitutional legal experts — lawyers with great intellect, well-educated — came up with such despicable and questionable legal findings that were contrary to the definition of defending the Constitution? And then they framed this as if the executive branch had the authority to extend beyond the Constitution to establish a policy of torture and illegal detention?

The argument against a commission is that it would turn into a political catfight between Democrats and Republicans. What is your response to that?

I think we have to satisfy the American public at large. Some of those that were tortured were innocent. How do we come to terms with those that were cruelly mistreated and were innocent, never charged, were illegally detained and never compensated for their suffering? This is not a political issue, but a moral and ethical dilemma which has far-reaching implications.

Proponents of coercive interrogation argue that it works. I can’t find an experienced interrogator who thinks torture is an effective way of gathering quality intelligence. Should the efficacy of torture be a part of this commission’s work?

I think so. You have two sides here. One says, “We had to do it.” The other says, “It never actually worked.” You have to consider this in those terms. Some of those activities were actually not effective and those who thought so were in the academic or pristine settings of their offices. What would they know?

Should people receive amnesty for coming forward and participating in a commission of this type?

If you want people to talk, you need to give them that immunity. I would submit to you that issuing a subpoena to people like [former counsel to the vice president David] Addington, [former Justice Department attorneys John] Yoo and [Jay] Bybee or [former Pentagon general counsel Jim] Haynes will not work. They are not going to come up and talk freely because they want to save their reputations and write books about it. They know their positions and so do the public. They know that it was illegal.

But you have other folks, soldiers, for example, or civilian contractors who are willing to address why things happened and who gave them the authority to do these things.

What else should I have asked you?

This is a comment. In the opinion of some legal experts, it would be extremely difficult to stand up a commission and question those in government because they were supposedly acting in the interest of national security. What do we say to the soldiers who committed wrongdoings with regard to detention operations who were also acting in the interest of national security and who are now in jail or who have been punished? If the military can hold themselves accountable, why can’t the civilian authorities be as well? Why can’t they hold themselves accountable as well?

So, you’ve got low-level soldiers in jail. Why not take a look at the people who put those policies together in the first place?

When the policymakers create a policy, you have to account yourself for the consequences unintended or intended. The question we ought to ask these civilian authorities is, What was your intent in creating those illegal policies? What was the intent? Was the intent in the interest of national security, which is broad and contestable? What was the intent and what were the lawful precedents, if any, that led them to these highly questionable opinions?

It seems to me that if we don’t do some sort of review, this thing will just continue to come out in dribs and drabs and sort of haunt us forever. Do you agree with that?

I agree with that. You can’t sweep unlawful activities under the table and just forget about it. I feel strongly about this because we have future generations who will be the beneficiaries of these actions. We have a president who declared that torture is illegal. He signed executive orders repudiating torture and unlawful interrogation practices.

We have a lot of unanswered questions on accountability, questions that need to be answered and hold responsible officials — civilians and military — accountable. These include contractors. We ought not to refer to accountability as a bumper sticker or to be used loosely. We have an integrity issue to contend with if we are to prevent this matter from recurring.