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The Unknown Whistleblower June 4, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Genocide, History, Imperialism, Torture, Vietnam, War, Whistle-blowing.
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Roger’s note: torture and corrupt imperial aggression didn’t begin with George W. Bush (1492 might be a good place to start).  Here we have documented Vietnam War the torture regime (under presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon) and the beginning of the murderous (and counterproductive) doctrine and strategy of massive bombing that is alive and well in Iraq and Syria today (along with its little brother drone killing machine).

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The Secret Origins of the CIA’s Torture Program and the Forgotten Man Who Tried to Expose It

 

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Daniel Ellsberg (left) and his less well known colleague Anthony Russo (r) were charged with theft and unauthorized possession of classified documents under the Espionage Act in 1971, but were eventually acquitted. (File)

The witness reported men being hung by the feet or the thumbs, waterboarded, given electric shocks to the genitals, and suffering from extended solitary confinement in what he said were indescribably inhumane conditions. It’s the sort of description that might have come right out of the executive summary of the Senate torture report released last December. In this case, however, the testimony was not about a “black site” somewhere in the Greater Middle East, nor was it a description from Abu Ghraib, nor in fact from this century at all.

The testimony came from Vietnam; the year was 1968; the witness was Anthony J. Russo, one of the first Americans to report on the systematic torture of enemy combatants by CIA operatives and other U.S. agents in that long-gone war. The acts Russo described became commonplace in the news post-9/11 and he would prove to be an early example of what also became commonplace in our century: a whistleblower who found himself on the wrong side of the law and so was prosecuted for releasing the secret truth about the acts of our government.

Determined to shine a light on what he called “the truth held prisoner,” Russo blew the whistle on American torture policy in Vietnam and on an intelligence debacle at the center of Vietnam decision-making that helped turn that war into the nightmare it was. Neither of his revelations saw the light of day in his own time or ours and while Daniel Ellsberg, his compatriot and companion in revelation, remains a major figure for his role in releasing the Pentagon Papers, Russo is a forgotten man.

That’s too bad. He shouldn’t be forgotten. His is, unfortunately, a story of our times as well as his.

The CIA Interrogation Center, Saigon

Before him sat the enemy.  VC.  Vietcong. He was slender, a decade older than the 28-year-old American, and cautious in his initial responses.  The American offered him a cigarette. “Smoke?”

Anthony Russo liked to befriend his subjects, finding that sharing a cigarette or a beer and congenial conversation could improve an interview’s results.

This man’s all right, Russo thought — unlike the one he had interviewed when he first arrived in Saigon. That prisoner hadsat before him, quivering in fear, pleading for his life.“Are you going to kill me?” the distraught man had said repeatedly, his thumbs red and bulbous from being strung up.

Torture was not something Russo had anticipated when he took the job. A civilian with a rank equivalent to major working for the RAND Corporation, he had arrived in the South Vietnamese capital on February 22, 1965, and was briefed on his mission. Russo was to meet the enemy face-to-face and figure out what made them tick. On that first day, he could hear General Richard Stilwell, chief of staff of Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV), barking orders from the next room: “You get every goddamn plane in the air that you can!”

Russo thought the war would be over in a few weeks,months at worst.

Instead of the limited conflict he expected, years slipped by. Bombs fell, villages were decimated, the fabric of Vietnamese life assaulted. Russo persisted with his interviews ofVietcong prisoners, witnessing the after-effects of torture in nearly every instance.

It’s hard to pinpoint just when the shift occurred in the young man who came to Southeast Asia to “promote democracy.” But as one tour of duty extended to two, contact with the enemy changed not their hearts and minds, but his. On the eve of the 1968 Tet Offensive, he returned to the United States intent on challenging the war, a chance he would get, helping his friend and RAND co-worker Daniel Ellsbergwith the Pentagon Papers.

That secret history of U.S. decision-making in Vietnam, a massive compilation of internal government memoranda and analyses, had been quietly commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1967 to assess what had gone wrong in Vietnam. Ellsberg leaked the Papers to the press in mid-1971, setting off a political firestorm and First Amendment crisis. He would be indicted on charges of espionage, conspiracy, and theft of government property, and would face a maximum penalty of 115 years in prison. Charges were also brought against Russo, who was suspected of complicity, after he refused to testify before a grand jury. He was jailed for 47 days for contempt and faced a possible sentence of 35 years in prison if convicted.

Ellsberg’s leak led to a Supreme Court decision on prior restraint, a landmark First Amendment case. Though all the charges were ultimately dropped, the leak and its aftermath had major political fallout, contributing to the demise of the presidency of Richard Nixon and forming a dramatic chapter on the path to U.S. defeat in Vietnam.

Ellsberg became a twentieth-century hero, applauded in print and film, his name nearly synonymous with the Pentagon Papers, but Russo, the young accomplice who goaded Ellsberg to go public, has been nearly forgotten. Yet he was, according to Ellsberg, the first person to document the systematic torture of enemy combatants in Vietnam. If no one knows this, it’s because his report on the subject remains buried in the vaults of the RAND Corporation, the think tank that did research for the Pentagon in Vietnam. Similarly, while the use of unprecedented airpower against the civilian populations of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia inspired international calls for war crimes trials in the 1970s, Russo’s exposure of the fabrication of data that propped up that air war remains but a footnote in Vietnam War historiography, unknown to all but a handful of academics.

He has remained “the other conspirator.” Ellsberg later conceded that he probably wouldn’t have thought of releasing the Papers if Russo hadn’t prodded him to “put that out” and helped copy them in a series of all-night sessions. But Russo would take a backseat to Ellsberg, who had snuck the massive set of documents out of RAND headquarters and released them to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and 18 other news organizations.

The two of them would become the antiwar movement’s odd couple. Ellsberg was articulate, suave, and fashionable; Russo opted for hippie attire, long hair, and impossibly bushy sideburns, a style of dress that fit with his growing political radicalism. Russo and his attorney, Leonard Weinglass, devised a bold — some said reckless — defense strategy focused on using expert witness testimony to put the U.S. prosecution of the war on trial. Weinglass would emerge as a star attorney on the case, even — in the opinion of some observers — eclipsing Ellsberg’s senior lawyer, Leonard Boudin. But his client kept getting into trouble: scrawling a wiseacre comment on evidence before the court, handing a prosecution witness a press release that accused him of war crimes, peppering his statements to the press with movement jargon. In the end, Russo’s leftwing antics would help marginalize him and bury the story he had to tell.

The Think Tank

It all started in a nondescript mid-century building on Main Street in sunny Santa Monica, California. There, the RAND Corporation, a quasi-private think tank with a cozy relationship with the Air Force and Washington power brokers, dreamed up study projects for the Department of Defense.

RAND, an acronym for “research and development,” was launched in 1946 as a private research arm of the Army Air Forces, whose successor, the Air Force, would remain its primary financial backer and client for years to come.  The think tank’s work ranged from weapons development to advanced strategic thinking on how to wage — or avert — nuclear war.  RAND theorists would set the parameters for strategic defense thinking for decades, with the likes of Herman Kahn, once dubbed the “heavyweight of the megadeath intellectuals”; Thomas Schelling, Nobel laureate in economics for his work on game theory and the originator of “tacit bargaining”; and Albert Wohlstetter, the godfather of RAND’s nuclear strategists who devised the concepts of “second strike,” “fail safe,” and what he called the “delicate balance of terror” (aka “deterrence”).

In 1961, as President John F. Kennedy launched a counterinsurgency effort that would see its first expression in Vietnam, the think tank took on the study of guerilla war, falling into an easy alliance with the Department of Defense and Robert S. McNamara, the numbers man at its head. Thinking he could apply a systems analysis approach to national defense, Secretary of Defense McNamara had turned to the leader in the field for ideas and manpower. From RAND, he recruited heavily to help lead the counterinsurgency charge in Vietnam, creating a team popularly known as “McNamara’s Whiz Kids.” And he turned to RAND for an answer to an essential strategic question: “What makes the Vietcong tick?”

“M&M” would become the institution’s shorthand for the Vietcong Motivation and Morale Study that resulted, an attempt to apply social science to the study of enemy motivation. Russo was eager to join the effort. Elizabeth Gibbs, who married him in 1964, said that her young husband was preoccupied with the threat of guerilla war and wanted to see action on the front lines of the counterinsurgency effort.

Fascinated by flight, Russo had pursued aeronautical engineering in a cooperative work-study program run by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and NASA’s Langley Research Center, where he worked on the first Mercury space capsule.  He then went to graduate school at Princeton, specializing in plasma physics. After just a year there, however, he took up the study of national defense policy at its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, receiving master’s degrees in both engineering and public affairs in 1964. An ambitious academic, he also exhibited an unruly, prankster side.  In one of his moments of youthful excess — a story he liked to tell — he cemented a commode to a Virginia war memorial, an act that might be considered a foreshadowing of things to come.

At Princeton, Russo studied under four men he called “heavyweights”: Oskar Morgenstern, an originator with Schelling of game theory; Cold War theorists Klaus Knorr and George Kennan; and Richard Falk, an expert on international law and the lone dove among Russo’s mentors. Falk argued against the move to RAND. But Russo, impressed by the think tank’s influence in the highest echelons of U.S. policymaking, jumped at the opportunity. Within six months he had secured an assignment to Vietnam.

Russo arrived in Saigon in February 1965 and met Leon Goure, his boss and future nemesis, just as the U.S. bombing campaign against North Vietnam was beginning and only two weeks before the first United States Marines landed at Danang.  His job was to meet the enemy.

The M&M

“How many people in your village work for the Front?”

“Everyone in the village works for the Front,” the prisoner responded in Vietnamese, translated by the young man at Russo’s side.  His village was in the Cu Chi district, an area near Saigon under Vietcong control. Russo would later describe it as the birthplace of southern resistance to the French and then American armies. Despite their vastly superior arms, the South Vietnamese Army and its American allies rarely ventured into the prisoner’s village for fear of the VC’s deadly resistance methods.  

“How was your village defended?” he asked.

“It had pit traps with bamboo spikes, grenade booby traps.  It was surrounded by bamboo hedges,” the prisoner responded and then explained in detail how the villagers organized their resistance.

Physically fit and tall, Russo towered over the former cadre.  He felt anything but complacent, however, about the enemy he faced, having barely escaped a bomb that had recently exploded in a Saigon restaurant where he was planning to have dinner.

“Why does the Vietcong use terrorism against women and children?” Russo asked.  Until now, he had been careful to call the enemy military by its homegrown name, “the Front,” rather than the pejorative “Vietcong.” Emotion must have caused him to break protocol.

He was part of the second M&M study team. Joseph Zasloff and John Donnell, analysts from the initial team, had reported their results in Washington at a meeting attended by Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs John T. McNaughton and Henry Rowen (who would later head RAND). They described the Vietcong as a unified, disciplined army that already acted as an alternative government in large swaths of SouthVietnam with widespread support from the population, prompting a shocked McNaughton to comment that it sounded as if the U.S. had signed up with the wrong — and losing — side. Daniel Ellsberg, who then worked for McNaughton, witnessed the exchange.

The Zasloff-Donnell report, however, came too late for an audience that had already made up its mind. The previous March, President Lyndon Johnson’s National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy had urged an expanded war even as the president campaigned for a full term in office with a promise to keep American soldiers out of Vietnam. Meanwhile, within the military, a struggle for dominance was underway, with Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis LeMay, instrumental in the founding of RAND, agitating for a bigger role for air power.

Then came the Tonkin Gulf incident in August 1964. As presented by President Lyndon Johnson, the destroyer USS Maddox was innocently sailing through the Gulf of Tonkin when attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats followed, two nights later, by a second attack on the Maddox and the USS Turner Joy.  Johnson orderedmilitary action “in reply,” and Congress quickly passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution giving the president carte blanche to repeatedly intensify the war. The claim of two separate attacks would, however, prove untrue, as Daniel Ellsberg would attest. It had been his first night on the job in the Pentagon.

At RAND, the stage was set for Leon Goure, an analyst acclaimed for his work on Soviet civil defense preparations. Goure had toured Vietnam and visited RAND’s Saigon operation in 1964. Upon his return to the U.S., he proposed that the M&M project be redefined with a critical twist. No longer would it focus solely on an assessment of enemy motivation and morale. It would now identify what kinds of weaponry would be most likely to demoralize that enemy, with an emphasis on air power.

A meeting with his friend LeMay cemented the deal. He would later report that “by the strings he pulled, LeMay assured continuation of the project” under Goure’s lead. At that time, the Air Force still provided two-thirds of RAND’s funding, a connection the new lead analyst made no attempt to hide.

The Answer Is Always Bombing

Susan Morrell could scarcely believe it. As RAND’s Saigon-based administrative assistant, it fell to her to pick up her new boss at the airport on his arrival. Making the Vietnam version of small talk on the way back to town, she asked Goure if he planned to use the existing protocol for enemy interviews or wanted to start over from scratch.

“I’ve got the answer right here,” he responded with a pat on his briefcase.

“What do you mean?” asked Morrell.

“When the Air Force is footing the bill, the answer is always bombing.”

Decades later, Morrell told RAND historian Mai Elliott that it was a moment seared into her memory and in those early days she wasn’t the only RAND staffer to observe Goure’s special affinity for the Air Force. At their first meeting, for instance, Russo remembered Goure commenting on that service’s unhappiness with the Zasloff-Donnell study.  Zasloff himself was still in Saigon when Goure arrived and would soon accuse his successor of pandering to the Air Force. Half a century later, in a phone interview just before his death, Zasloff still lamented that his intelligence data hadn’t changed the course of the war and Goure’s had.

Goure’s work on Soviet civil defense was then widely known. In 1961, he claimed that the Soviets had trained 50 million citizens in civil defense procedures, were readying a massive system of bomb shelters to ride out a nuclear conflagration, and so were preparing to absorb a preemptive nuclear strike. His research seemed to have frightening implications: U.S. reliance on what was then called mutual assured destruction, or MAD, to stop a nuclear war suddenly appeared insufficient. The Soviets could strike preemptively if they thought national survival after a nuclear attack was possible. Kennedy stepped into the heated debate in July 1961 with a call for a $207 million appropriation for civil defense. That October, he began to encourage Americans to build their own private shelters for protection from nuclear fallout. Goure became a sought after expert.

In fact, his work would be challenged by New York Times journalist Harrison Salisbury, who questioned Goure’s sources, found observers who vigorously challenged his conclusions, and made his own 12,000-mile trip across the Soviet Union and found them unsubstantiated.  But nothing, it seemed, could crack Goure’s reputation in Washington.

The year 1961 had been a seminal moment for Russo, too.  His lifelong friend and future technology consultant William Grossmann recalled them driving to their NASA jobs together, one day in Russo’s white 1959 Ford convertible, the next in Grossmann’s white Chevy convertible — and on weekends, sharing heady conversation and wooing girls. The two like-minded Southerners had each taken stands against segregation, while worrying about the bomb, totalitarianism, and the “containment” of Communism. They were impressed that Kennedy had forced the Russians to stand down in the Cuban missile crisis. The same, both believed, could happen in Vietnam. On arrival in Saigon, Russo wrote Grossmann that the Vietnamese “are going to have to get used to it. We’re going to have to be the policemen for a while.”

Russo found himself at the epicenter of American intelligence-gathering in Vietnam. RAND’s Saigon villa became the requisite “prestige stop” for anyone with an interest in the war. By day, it served as a command center; at night, it hosted dinner parties for visiting luminaries, high-ranking figures in the military, the CIA, and members of the press. Goure was the star attraction. In that initial critical period of massive escalation, he provided the perfect mix of optimistic analysis and an engaging personality and so became the “go to” intelligence man in town.

Though Goure wrote research memoranda, RAND’s usual stock in trade, it was on the briefing circuit that he truly shone. His message, reported directly to Westmoreland,the top military commander in Vietnam, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of Defense McNamara, and others at the Pentagon, was unambiguous: the Vietcong were losing their resolve in the face of U.S. military might, especially airpower. Goure quickly established himself as the Air Force’s best pitchman.

It’s hard to overstate his influence. McNamara was so enamored of his message that, on first hearing him in June 1965, he offered to up the M&M budget on the spot from $100,000 to $1,000,000. As one analyst later quipped, the secretary of defense “lapped up Goure’s analysis like good scotch.” Journalists repeated his claim that the Vietcong were heading for defeat as the daily body count became a staple of war coverage.

Russo, who attended some of Goure’s Saigon briefings, remembered how he liked to brag that RAND had “the best damned intelligence in Saigon.” It would take some time for Russo to realize that his boss’s prescription for military success didn’t match the data.

The Cadre from Cu Chi

Intent on answering McNamara’s question about what made the Vietcong tick, Russo focused on his interviews with enemy prisoners. With full access and a small team of Vietnamese interviewers under his supervision, he visited detention sites all over South Vietnam, including the CIA’s National Interrogation Center in Saigon. Of all the interviews he conducted, the one with that cadre from Cu Chi would most deeply challenge his assumptions about Vietnam. He kept a copy of it, which he published in the left-leaning magazine Ramparts in October 1972, and spoke about it whenever he could, including at his Pentagon Papers trial.

He never knew the prisoner’s name; he was identified in the transcript only as AG132. Over the course of two days in May 1965, Russo sat in his cell listening to his views on Vietnamese history, the political forces at play in his country, and Vietcong organizing strategy and tactics. When the cadre blamed the Americans for the deaths of women and children, Russo took a new tack, initiating what he called a “friendly chat” about world politics, the American role in Vietnam, and the civil rights movement in the U.S.

“Even though I don’t know first hand what it means to be burned out, pillaged, and raped, I grew up knowing it had happened to my ancestors,” Russo would later say.  While there is no record of how Russo described his personal history to that cadre, his comments to me years after in private interviews and public conversation provide a window onto what he might well have said. Unemployed and with time on his hands in 1990, Russo held daily court at the Boulangerie, a cafe on Main Street in Santa Monica, just blocks from the RAND Corporation. There, he regaled a small audience with old stories and political analysis.

With a twinkle in his eye, he would say that the short answer to why he got involved with the Pentagon Papers was that the British had burned his hometown of Holland, Virginia, to the ground. He was proud to call it a hotbed of sedition.

While he liked to portray himself as the descendent of America’s first revolutionaries, his Civil War heritage was harder to reconcile. Race was the first issue to challenge his personal worldview. Russo attended a segregated high school and then hung out with black friends he had met working at the local golf course.  By the time he got to Virginia Polytechnic, the battle over court-mandated school integration had engulfed the state, with Senator Harry F. Byrd leading the segregationist charge. When Russo got Lionel Hampton to play for a school dance he organized, the university dean, anticipating that a black musician would attract a mixed crowd, demanded that the audience be segregated. Russo defied the order and black and white attendees packed the event.

“We integrated Burrus Hall,” Russo would say.  “I see that as my first political act.  We stood up for justice.”

He had a way of telling and retelling the stories that were most important to him, so I suspect that he told the Cu Chi cadre of his own experience with civil rights in the South. And perhaps, even under those circumstances — and even through a translator –made the prisoner laugh, as he had a way of telling a spirited tale.

Whatever he said, it appeared to affect the cadre as he hoped it would for he scribbled in the margin of his notebook, “The chat proved to be very successful and the subject’s attitude changed visibly.” Their talk then turned back to the situation at hand and the cadre accused the Americans and their South Vietnamese allies of blocking the election, agreed upon in the 1954 Geneva Accords that ended the French War, an election which would almost assuredly have brought Communist leader Ho Chi Minh to power and reunified Vietnam. A group of schoolteachers from his village, AG132 told Russo, had been imprisoned simply for writing a petition demanding those elections and peace.

The prisoner added that local government officials were, in his opinion, directed and controlled by the Americans who had the same intentions as the French colonialists before them. “The concrete evidence,”said the cadre, “makes the Americans identical to the French. But much more clever.”  He summed the situation up this way: “The aims of the Americans are very nice. They fight for freedom and equality. It is very nice to talk about a free world, but I have not seen any good deeds. All I saw was evil.”

By the end of the interview, AG132 had confronted every issue that would later prove troublesome to Russo, including the indiscriminant bombing campaigns, the use of chemical defoliants, and torture.

The cadre’s analysis clearly unsettled the young American, who saw himself as a liberator, not an occupier. In an interview with filmmaker Peter Davis, he would later acknowledge how disturbed he was when the prisoner insisted that the Vietnamese hated the Americans and admitted that he then tried to defend his country, to show that “everything about America wasn’t bad.”

“He was very disdainful of me, but I was fascinated by him,” Russo said.  By the end, “I had a great deal of admiration for him. He recited a poem for me. It was very moving to hear him recite this poem right in the middle of this interrogation room in a jail where I knew people had been tortured, if not killed.”

AG132, Russo later testified, had been tortured on multiple occasions. Historical research, including the work of Alfred McCoy, an expert on CIA torture practices, buttresses Russo’s statements about the brutal treatment of Vietcong prisoners. McCoy, for instance, quotes a military intelligence veteran who told a 1971 House subcommittee that, during his 18-month stint in Vietnam, not a single Vietcong suspect had survived the interrogations he witnessed.

Russo’s interview with AG132 took place only three months after he landed in Saigon. Though he would return to it again and again in the ensuing years, some time would pass before he became convinced that he was actually on the side of the aggressor.

His wife remembers him still defending U.S. intentions in Vietnam in the spring of 1965. By that summer, however, Russo and other RAND analysts were questioning their boss’s methodology and intentions. They still found themselves reaching conclusions nearly identical to those of Zasloff and Donnell: that the Vietcong represented peasant aspirations and weren’t likely to be bested by air power or any other kind of U.S. military action.

On a sweltering June day in 1965, Russo and Goure were together when word came in that the most powerful bombers in the U.S. arsenal, B-52s, had been approved for use in Vietnam. Russo knew airplanes and understood full well the kind of destruction B-52s would bring with them. For Goure, the decision was advocacy put into action and he would extol the B-52’s power to destabilize the enemy in his next report. In it, he was careful to note that civilians should be warned of such bombings by leaflets dropped in advance of a raid to insure against any popular backlash.

A month later, Russo would meet an old man at a detainment center clutching one of those warning leaflets. His village had been warned, just as Goure had said, but the bombers came a day early, wiping out nearly all of its inhabitants. “Why?” he cried.  It was a moment Russo would not forget.

Breaking the Enemy

Torture hadn’t been part of the job description when Russo signed on at RAND.  Of the first victim he met, he said, “I never will forget. He was washed out, looked very sad. He told the translator that he had been hung up by his thumbs and that they beat him real bad. They thought he had thrown a bomb,” though he proclaimed his innocence.

“That was one of the first interviews that I did. It was very sobering. I saw that a person could be broken badly.” The interview tape then goes silent for more than a minute as Russo struggled to regain his composure.

He reported the incident to the American captain who was his contact there only to experience the first of many official brush-offs when it came to torture. Russo said prisoners were tortured “as a matter of course” and reported specific forms of abuse including men being hung by the feet or thumbs, waterboarding, electric shocks to the genitals, and solitary confinement in “a dark cell, a dark, dank, dirty — very dirty cell.”

It is no accident that the torture methods he documented are strikingly similar to those revealed in the December 2014 Senate torture report. Vietnam was the first testing ground for what historian McCoy termed a new paradigm in the practice of torture developed by the CIA. The Agency had launched a multi-billion dollar research program on human cognition in search of techniques to protect U.S. forces in the event of capture by the Soviets. Finding that a potent combination of sensory deprivation and “self-inflicted pain” was more effective than centuries-old methods of physical torture and produced profound psychological regression in their test subjects, the CIA applied the same techniques to enemy interrogation. While they emphasized destruction of the psyche, physical brutalization was also employed. In Vietnam, this included electric shocks, beatings, rape, and the deaths of prisoners in “pump and dump” procedures, named for the process of pumping detainees for information and then dumping their bodies. Russo was witnessing the beginnings of what would become institutionalized CIA torture practices that would span four decades and four continents.

When asked about torture performed by Americans, Russo said a “CIA man” at the National Interrogation Center in Saigon told him in great detail on numerous occasions about the Agency’s torture techniques, including in one case the hanging of a man by his feet while a “piano wire noose was slipped around his genitals.” The CIA operative, he said, grinned as he told him that the prisoner never talked.

Russo documented every instance of torture he encountered. He later wrote that the interview reports were full of “embarrassing stories of atrocities and crimes against humanity” and he argued bitterly with Goure over his boss’s order to “sanitize” the interview transcripts by removing all mention of abuse. Though Russo defied the order, Goure controlled the final drafts.

Then there was the torture paper that Ellsberg has repeatedly said was the first to document American complicity in the routine use of torture and one of three papers that would ultimately get Russo fired. That document was either squashed in internal review or it remains classified, presumably buried somewhere in the think tank’s archives.

There is no reliable information on how much of RAND’s Vietnam-era work still remains off limits to the public. The think tank responded to a 2013 request of mine for Russo’s and other missing reports by saying that the “documents you have requested have not been cleared for public release and are not available.”

Making Russo’s missing torture report public, if it still exists, would provide eyewitness data supporting the burgeoning body of evidence that CIA torture practices have a long and sordid history beginning in Vietnam.

Trouble with the Data

Goure had fabricated his data to emphasize the efficacy and importance of air power and his analysts knew it. At the RAND villa, an open split developed, with Russo leading the group who wanted to expose their boss. He and his roommate, analyst Douglass Scott, spent long nights discussing “what to do about Leon.” Finally, with a third analyst, Russell Betts, they wrote the head of RAND’s Social Science department in the spring of 1966 about the improprieties they had found in Goure’s research methodology.

A succession of three RAND envoys came to Saigon to investigate and by summer a controversy raged on both sides of the Pacific. Russo and Scott had been particularly incensed that Goure signed their names to a February 1966 memorandum that again cited the benefits of air power, which was increasingly targeting rural villages, and proposed that the refugee crisis offered “a major opportunity to pacify” the population. It also pointed out that the chemicals that came to be known as Agent Orange could control movement of the population while also denying food to the guerillas. Russo and Scott fought to get their names removed without success. Around the time their whistleblowing letter hit Santa Monica, Goure amplified his arugument, proposing that the U.S. adopt a deliberate program to generate refugees.

Meanwhile, Goure’s prescriptions for success were being passed up the chain of command. The president’s phone records show McNamara using the February report to offer encouragement to Johnson that the American counterinsurgency operation was working. Influential Washington columnist Drew Pearson would capture Goure’s effect on the president in his famous May 1966 comment: “For the first time [he] sees light at the end of the tunnel.”

At this point, RAND’s leadership knew that Goure’s data, relied upon by both the Pentagon and President Johnson, was questionable at best and decided to pull Goure from the M&M study. The think tank couldn’t, however, get rid of him. He had secured his position with a direct line to the White House through National Security Adviser Walt Rostow, a hawk, architect of Vietnam policy, and staunch Goure supporter. Thanks in part to him, President Johnson, who reportedly sometimes carried a summary of Goure’s conclusions in his pocket for discussions with journalists, would continue to ride a wave of optimism in this period.

Though Russo never let his wife in on his conflict with Goure — he was, Gibbs said, too conscious of his secrecy oath to disclose such problems — she saw a changed man when he visited her in Bangkok on leave in November 1965.He wasmorose and withdrawn. When they returned to Santa Monica at the end of his first tour of duty in September 1966, Russo set to work at RAND headquarters trying to counter the most pernicious aspects of what he’d witnessed. Off work, he took to the hills of Topanga Canyon on his motorcycle, leaving Gibbs home alone. They would soon divorce.

Outside of RAND, the flaws in Goure’s analysis would gradually be noted. Westmoreland expressed his first doubts in late 1965 and McNamara began to worry when the general upped his request for new ground troops to 410,000 that winter. In February 1966, the secretary of defense confided to a few journalists that “no amount of bombing can end the war,” though he continued to maintain a façade of confidence in the war effort.

The bombing levels were by then unprecedented in the history of air power. From March 1965 through November 1968, Operation Rolling Thunder unleashed 800 tons of munitions a day on North Vietnam, a total of a million bombs, rockets, and missiles. Even more bombs were dropped in the South with estimates ranging from seven million to eight million tons of them, not to mention 70 million liters of defoliants, as well as napalmand other anti-personnel weapons.  Then, of course, there was the massive bombing of neighboring Laos and later Cambodia.

Yet victory never came into view. Instead of drawing down, the administration only intensified the air war, sidelining the doubters, including — as he grew ever more disillusioned — McNamara himself. In August 1967, he testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the air raids had not broken Vietcong morale and that, short of the “virtual annihilation of North Vietnam and its people,” the air war could not succeed. Johnson quickly forced him out of the administration. At his farewell luncheon, a Johnson aide reported that the secretary of defense’s voice broke and there were tears in his eyes as he spoke of the futility of the air war. Later, he would acknowledge more than two million Vietnamese deaths. 

Knowing the cause was lost, McNamara had by then ordered the production of the Pentagon Papers, the secret history that he hoped would avert future such disasters.

The Second Tour of Duty

Back in Santa Monica, Russo wrote a critical evaluation of the Motivation and Morale Study, which is still classified. He was also drafting an argument against the defoliation program, already in its sixth year, when, in September 1967, he was called back to Vietnam for a six-month tour of duty.

He found Saigon changed — Americanized, overrun with prostitution and corruption, expensive and dirty. Goure at least was gone, removed from the M&M crew in April by RAND’s new president Henry Rowen, who had been at that Zasloff and Donnell debriefing years earlier.

Once again, Russo felt hopeful that fact-based intelligence could rule the day. His cost analysis of defoliation, written in what he called “RAND systemspeak,” showed that while the chemicals sprayed did little to deprive revolutionary forces of food, they were having a profoundly destructive impact on the civilian population.  He estimated that for every pound of food that defoliation denied a guerilla, 100 pounds were denied to civilians. But when he got his moment to brief Westmoreland’s scientific advisor on the subject, he was dismissed in under 15 minutes. Frustrated but undeterred, he set to work disproving a RAND socio-economic study that claimed widespread peasant support for the U.S. backed South Vietnamese army. Again, his work would not be well received.

Russo left Saigon just as the Tet Offensive, a vivid demonstration of the enemy’s resilience, began to unfold on January 30, 1968. He said he could see wrecked planes beneath him as he passed over Danang Air Base.

It’s likely that he wrote the missing torture report in the early months of 1968, a period when the CIA’s use of torture expanded dramatically under the notorious Phoenix Program.

During Russo’s stint in Vietnam, the CIA actually oversaw three separate operations that employed torture: its own interrogation centers, 40 provincial interrogation centers run by Vietnamese with CIA training and supervision, and a training program that schooled 85,000 Vietnamese police in torture techniques, part of a worldwide operation. Russo left Vietnam shortly after the Agency brought the three operations under one counterinsurgency umbrella. The Phoenix Program, designed to destroy the “civilian infrastructure” of the National Liberation Front, would be one of its major operations.

William Colby, the chief of “pacification” in Vietnam who would later become the CIA’s director, informed a House Operations Subcommittee in July 1971 that the Phoenix Program had killed 20,587 Vietcong suspects. Other sources quote figures as much as four times higher. Russo’s paper had done nothing to stop the carnage.

In May 1968, the new head of RAND’s economics department fired him. Associates were told to keep their distance from him during the six-month grace period he was given to find other employment. Ellsberg was the only RAND associate who argued for his reinstatement.  

Meanwhile, though relieved of leadership of the M&M, Goure held onto a job at RAND, even returning to Vietnam in 1968 as head of a new study of enemy infiltration rates. He would finally leave in 1969 to become the director of Soviet studies at the University of Miami. There, he would contribute his “expertise”to another front in the war against Communism: Cuba.

In fact, Goure’s “best damned intelligence” had proved to be an intelligence debacle for the ages. After Ellsberg and Russo took the Pentagon Papers public, Russo was eager to expose one thing that mammoth document hadn’t: how a single think tank under contract to the government and far from the public eye, along with its highly touted expert in counterinsurgency warfare, had disastrously affected policy from behind the scenes.

His two Ramparts exposés (one aptly titled “The RAND Papers”) and his testimony at his trial were generally ignored by the mainstream media. Goure’s reputation remained remarkably unsullied and he would continue to be a player in the formulation of foreign policy. In 1980, for example, he was invited onto a panel of advisers to presidential hopeful Ronald Reagan. In 1991, by then the director of Soviet studies at Science Applications International Corporation, he participated in an International Security Council round table discussion of future Russian military policy. Past and future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was in attendance.

Much of his work, however, was conducted in the shadows. He died in 2007. Stanford University holds the Goure Papers collection, a testament to his enduring legacy. Anthony Russo would not fare so well.

Charged With Espionage

“Russo weeps as he tells jury about change in views on war,” read the New York Times headline on the 66th day of the Pentagon Papers trial when Russo told the story of the Cu Chi cadre to the jury.

He had already published the cadre interview in Ramparts. Now, he again turned to the Vietcong prisoner who had come to symbolize for him all that was wrong with U.S. policy in Vietnam. As he would confide to filmmaker Peter Davis, the memory of that prisoner never left him. He was convinced that if other Americans met their enemy, if he could give that enemy a human face, the public would fully abandon Washington’s efforts to destroy them.

He compared the depersonalization of the Vietnamese to the Nazi depiction of the Jews. “If you don’t know who the Vietnamese people are, it is much easier to be racist.  It’s much easier to kill them.  This really is a lesson from World War II. Racist attitudes made it possible to manifest hatred and to undertake the extermination campaigns. Well, this really is what the United States is doing in Vietnam. The United States is exterminating the Vietnamese. And the United States couldn’t do this, no American, no human being could do this, if he really knew who the Vietnamese are.”

In the trial’s aftermath, Russo would be progressively marginalized, his claims about the M&M study ignored or written off as the ravings of a leftwing radical. But in its heady days, he reveled in his whistleblower role. Ten months after it began, prosecutor David Nissen’s case was in shambles. Revelations that the government wiretapped the defendants had resulted in a Supreme Court-ordered stay and then mistrial in its first round. And it had only got worse.

Soon enough, the press revealed that President Nixon’s right-hand man, John Erlichman, had introduced presiding trial judge William Byrne, Jr., to the president in his home and had discussed his possible appointment as FBI director — a clear impropriety in the middle of an espionage case. And then it hit the news that convicted Watergate conspirators G. Gordon Liddy and E. Howard Hunt, Jr., had burglarized the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

On April 30, 1973, just days after the first news of that burglary, which tied the Pentagon Papers case to Watergate, a set of dominoes lay on the prosecution table. Each domino was labeled — Hunt, Liddy, Erlichman, Byrne, and so on — the last domino had Nixon’s name. It was Russo’s prank.

On May 1st, Erlichman’s domino fell when the news broke that he had admitted to the FBI his knowledge of the break-in at the office of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.  On May 2nd, the last domino did indeed fall.  It was revealed that President Nixon had been informed of that break-inat least a week before the court knew about it.

On May 11th, Judge Byrne dismissed all charges against Ellsberg and Russo.

Postscript: Validation by RAND

Seventeen years later, Russo told me that a single realization had changed his mind about the war. He had, he said, been misinformed about the Vietcong. “They were not the enemy we were told they were.”

I asked what had most surprised him in his interviews with Vietnamese prisoners.

“The extent to which they cared about principle,” he answered. “The extent to which they had legitimacy, every reason in the world to be fighting. They were very admirable and very likeable. Very likeable. Natural friends of Americans.”

As for his participation in the release of the Pentagon Papers, he summed up his reasons in a single sentence: “It would have been un-American not to do it.”

Russo died in 2008 before RAND verified his claims about the Motivation and Morale Study in an extensive history written by Mai Elliott (herself a former M&M interviewer and interpreter) under contract to RAND and published in 2010. Her book, RAND in Southeast Asia: A History of the Vietnam War Era, forms a fitting sequel to the Pentagon Papers, with a carefully documented tale of how intelligence can go terribly wrong.

Elliott’s book validates nearly all of Russo’s claims. It confirms, for instance, that Goure did act as a pitchman for the air war, selling a prescription for military success that didn’t faintly match the data at hand. It details Goure’s outsized influence on policymakers and Russo’s claim that evidence of torture by U.S. forces and allies was systematically removed under Goure’s orders. She even quotes former RAND President Gus Shubert’s admission that the assignment of Goure to the Motivation and Morale Study appeared to represent collusion between his RAND predecessor and the Air Force, which he termed a “disgrace.”

In the end, Elliott, and by extension RAND, corroborate and elaborate on nearly every claim Russo made in his 1972 Ramparts articles. Only one of Russo’s charges was rejected: that the think tank was complicit in war crimes.

Never one to mince words, Russo called the M&M a “whitewash of genocide” and “a justification of genocide cloaked in the mantle of RAND social science,” accusations that echoed growing popular sentiment for war crimes trials and that must have held terrible personal resonance for a man whose name is there in black and white, attached to the call for the ever greater use of air power, defoliation, and the displacement of rural populations as tools of war.  

Today, Anthony Russo is gone, his report on torture disappeared, and his legacy perhaps doomed to obscurity.  RAND, meanwhile, continues to churn out studies for the military; the Air Force continues to drop bombs and fire missiles from Iraq to Afghanistan, Pakistan to Yemen; the CIA continues to cover-up its torture policies. But Russo’s spiritual descendants, whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning of WikiLeaks fame, John Kiriakou who exposed CIA torture,and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden live on, each putting his freedom on the line just as Russo did. Whether or not any of the whistleblowers of the post-9/11 era knew Russo’s story, they benefitted from a tradition he, Ellsberg, and others of their generation had helped to pioneer.

It’s a testament to the explosive nature of Russo’s revelations that, almost 50 years later, RAND still keeps his report on CIA torture in Vietnam a secret — as the Pentagon Papers might be today if he had not convinced Daniel Ellsberg to make them public. It’s a tribute to Russo that his critical evaluation of the Motivation and Morale Study remains classified as well.

Call it an irony, but Dwight D. Eisenhower, the president who articulated the domino theory that brought Russo to Vietnam, crafted the words that might be most fitting for his epitaph years before he arrived in Vietnam. In his 1961 farewell address, Eisenhower focused on twin internal threats: “the military-industrial complex,” which he first named, and its forgotten corollary: that public policy could become the captive of a “scientific-technological elite.” Russo, who railed against RAND’s secret and deadly influence until his dying day, couldn’t have said it better.

 [Note: Special thanks go to Peter Davis for his use of his interview with Anthony Russo, provided courtesy of the University Archives & Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts, Boston: Hearts and Minds collection, 1970-1974.]

Barbara Myers is a journalist, educator, and activist. She has written for the Miami Herald and edited and produced multi-media for the San Francisco Chronicle. In the 1970s, she worked with the Indochina Peace Campaign in Los Angeles, where she attended the Pentagon Papers trial and first met the subject of her TomDispatch story, Tony Russo.

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Modeling CIA Torture, ISIS Waterboarded Those It Captured: Report August 30, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Torture.
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Sources quoted by the Washinton Post say ISIS “knew exactly how it was done” as it employed brutal techniques also approved by Bush administration

Anti-torture demonstrators performed a mock waterboarding outside the White House during the Bush years to protest CIA use of the technique. (Photo: flickr)

The Washington Post reports on Thursday that at least four individuals taken captive by the Islamic State were tortured and that the group—also known as ISIS—appeared to be modeling the CIA’s use of torture as it employed waterboarding as one of the painful techniques they used.

Worldwide condemnation followed revelations that in the aftermath of 9/11, the Bush administration approved the CIA to torture suspected terrorists during interoggations conducted at secret ‘Black Sites’ – or clandestine holding facilities.

Among those subjected to the brutal treatment by ISIS, according to sources quoted in thePost‘s reporting, was American journalist James Foley who was subsequently executed by the group.

From the Post:

“They knew exactly how it was done,” said a person with direct knowledge of what happened to the hostages. The person, who would only discuss the hostages’ experience on condition of anonymity, said the captives, including Foley, were held in Raqqah, a city in the north-central region of Syria.

James Foley was beheaded by the Islamic State last week in apparent retaliation for U.S. airstrikes in Iraq where the militant group has seized large swaths of territory. The group, which also controls parts of Syria, has threatened to kill another American, journalist Steven J. Sotloff. He was seen at the end of a video showing Foley’s killing that was released by the militant group. Two other Americans are also held by Islamic State.

A second person familiar with Foley’s time in captivity confirmed Foley was tortured, including by waterboarding.

“Yes, that is part of the information that bubbled up and Jim was subject to it,” the person said. “I believe he suffered a lot of physical abuse.”

Foley’s mother, Diane, said in a brief phone interview Thursday that she didn’t know her son had been waterboarded.

The FBI, which is investigating Foley’s death and the abduction of Americans in Syria, declined to comment. The CIA had no official comment.

As the Huffington Post‘s Jack Mirkinson points out:

Waterboarding became perhaps the most notorious method of torture practiced by American interrogators in the years after September 11th.

Interestingly, while the Post has, like most mainstream outlets, typically been reluctant to call methods such as waterboarding “torture” when it was practiced by Americans, the paper had no apparent problem calling what ISIS did to Foley “torture.”

“A second person familiar with Foley’s time in captivity confirmed Foley was tortured, including by waterboarding,” the Post wrote.

Still, the paper has not followed the New York Times in vowing to use the word “torture” more firmly in its articles.

One unnamed “U.S. official” quoted by the Post scoffed at the idea that there could be any comparison between the torture conducted by ISIS and the torture conducted by U.S. military or intelligence agents.

“ISIL is a group that routinely crucifies and beheads people,” the unnamed official said. “To suggest that there is any correlation between ISIL’s brutality and past U.S. actions is ridiculous and feeds into their twisted propaganda.”

But early reactions on Twitter were not niave to the implications of the news relative to the consistent and continued defense of torture by U.S. officials—and members of the U.S. media—when it was conducted by the CIA against their perceived enemies:

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Rendition Victims Urge Obama to Declassify Senate Torture Report

‘You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.’

Abdul Hakim Belhadj, one of the 10 signatories to the rendition letter. (Photo: Libya Herald)

As officials continue to delay the release of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on post-9/11 CIA interrogation techniques, 10 victims of CIA rendition and torture have signed an open letter (pdf) to President Obama asking him to declassify the heavily redacted report.

The 500-page summary of the report, which includes details about secret overseas prisons, waterboarding of suspected enemy combatants, and rendition — the practice of sending a terrorist suspect covertly to be interrogated in a foreign country  — was so extensively redacted as to render it “impossible to understand,” as one critic put it. The report was expected to be released in August, but has been delayed and is currently thought to be sitting on President Obama’s desk while negotiations over declassification continue.

The signatories to the letter want these blackouts removed, in order to force a public reckoning with and official acknowledgement of their experiences.

“Despite living thousands of miles apart and leading different lives today, a shared experience unites us: the CIA abducted each of us in the past and flew us to secret prisons for torture,” reads the letter, which was coordinated by the international human rights group Reprieve. “Some of us were kidnapped with our pregnant wives or children. All of us were later released without charge, redress or apology from the US. We now want the American public to read that story, in full, and without redactions… You must now take responsibility for telling the world — and more importantly the American people — the whole truth about rendition and American torture.”

The letter, which details prolonged confinement in small boxes and dark spaces, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and “bombardment with noise and weapons,” continues:

Torture, we thought, was something only dictators did. Colonel Gaddafi’s thugs were infamous for maiming and killing political opponents in Libya. In Egypt activists often disappeared. Moroccan interrogation techniques include “bottle torture,” where bottles are used to violate prisoners. We understood the Syrian regime’s brutality well before it murdered thousands of its citizens.

Before our abductions, though, none of us imagined the torturers standing over us one day would come from the United States.

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.

In advance of an August 29 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) filing deadline, Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has reportedly asked for an additional one-month delay due to “ongoing negotiations” between the Committee, the Obama administration, and the CIA regarding declassification.

Earlier this week, the ACLU filed a FOIA lawsuit demanding the CIA release all three reports about “its post-9/11 program of rendition, secret detention, and torture of detainees” — the 6,000-page Senate Select Committee Intelligence Committee report; the CIA’s report in response, defending the agency’s actions; and a report commissioned by former CIA  Director Leon Panetta, which is reportedly consistent with the Committee’s investigative report findings, but contradicts the CIA’s response to the SSCI.

The Guardian reports:

While Feinstein and the CIA have reached the nadir of their relationship — the CIA intends to attack her report’s credibility — there are concerns that the CIA has weighed the scale in favor of secrecy. Obama allowed it to lead the declassification review, despite its interest in keeping the report secret. McClatchy reported this week that the main declassification interlocutor with Feinstein, top intelligence lawyer Robert Litt, represented CIA clients in private practice in undisclosed lawsuits.

“We believe the public should know the full story of what took place in the CIA’s secret prisons and that all of these documents – the Senate report, the CIA response, and the Panetta review should be released to the public,” said Jameel Jaffer, the deputy legal director of the ACLU, which filed the freedom-of-information case.

“It’s disappointing that the government is seeking further delay, but, given Senator Feinstein’s assurances, we’re hopeful that all of the documents will be released with very limited redactions in September.”

The Lawless Roads: America’s Ever-Expanding Torture Matrix April 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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, www.opednews.com, April 8, 2012

In two brief posts over the past week, Scott Horton at Harper’s gives us a harrowing sketch of the entrenchment and ever-spreading expansion  of the Torture Matrix that now sits enthroned at the very heart of the  American state. This entrenchment and expansion has been carried out —  enthusiastically, energetically, relentlessly — by the current  president of the United States: a progressive Democrat and recipient of  the Nobel Peace Prize.
Horton notes the uncovering of the Zelikow Memo, written by one of the chief factotums of the Bush Administration,  Philip Zelikow. While serving as a State Department lawyer in 2006,  Zelikow wrote a legal brief that demolished the written-to-order  “torture memos” by White House lawyers, which sanctioned the widespread  use of torture techniques that were — and still are — clearly war  crimes. As Horton points out, the Zelikow memo did not even address the most brutal tortures instigated by the Bush administration, but confined  itself to the so-called “torture lite” methods (many of which are still  in use today). Yet even here, Zelikow clearly demonstrated “that the use of these techniques would constitute prosecutable felonies — war  crimes.” The existence of the Zelikow memo proves that there was indeed  official recognition throughout the highest reaches of government that  war crimes were being committed at the order of the White House and the  intelligence agencies. Horton goes on:

“In order for a prosecution to succeed, a  prosecutor would have to show that the accused understood that what he  was doing was a crime. In United States v. Altstoetter, a case in which  government lawyers were prosecuted for their role in, among other  things, providing a legal pretext for the torture and mistreatment of  prisoners, the court fashioned a similar rule, saying that the law  requires “proof before conviction that the accused knew or should have  known that in matters of international concern he was guilty of  participation in a nationally organized system of injustice and  persecution shocking to the moral sense of mankind, and that he knew or  should have known that he would be subject to punishment if caught.”The Zelikow memo satisfies both of these elements — it makes clear that the  techniques the Justice Department endorsed constituted criminal conduct, and it applied the “shock the conscience” test of American  constitutional law to help reach that conclusion. It could therefore be  introduced as Exhibit A by prosecutors bringing future charges.”

Horton also provides a succinct background to the other “torture  memos” that Bush attorneys wrote in support of the criminal operation — a perpetrators’ paper trail that is actually much more extensive than  is usually known.
This memo has been in the possession of the  Obama Administration since its first day in office. It was in the  possession of the special prosecutor that Obama’s Justice Department  appointed to look into the torture system — a special prosecutor who  found that there was nothing to prosecute. Horton writes:

“Spencer Ackerman, whose persistence is to be credited for the publication of Zelikow’s memo, astutely pressed its author to answer this question: Why, in light of Zelikow’s findings,  did the special prosecutor appointed by Eric Holder to investigate the  legality of CIA interrogation techniques fail to bring charges?”‘I don’t know why Mr. Durham came to the conclusions he did,’ Zelikow says, referring to the Justice Department  special prosecutor for the CIA torture inquiry, John Durham. ‘I’m not  impugning them, I just literally don’t know why, because he never  published any details about either the factual analysis or legal  analysis that led to those conclusions.'”

To reiterate: one of the chief insiders of the right-wing Republican  Bush White House believes that the war crimes ordered by the Bush White  House deserve prosecution. The chief insiders of the progressive  Democratic Obama White House believe these war crimes should not be  prosecuted.
Then again, why should Barack Obama want to prosecute torture — when he is successfully arguing for it to be applied not  only to the American population at large? In another post, Horton writes of Obama’s great success at the Supreme Court: the ruling that allows all Americans to be strip-searched when taken into custody  for even the most minor infractions. The purpose of this, as Horton  points out, is clearly to humiliate and “break” the citizen — who is,  you might recall, entirely innocent in the eyes of the law at that  point. In fact, as Horton notes, the U.S. military itself recognizes the strip search as a torture technique that American pilots might face if  captured by heinous rogue states. Horton:

“…the Supreme Court has decided on the  claim of Albert Florence, a man apprehended for the well-known offense  of traveling in an automobile while being black. Florence was hustled  off to jail over a couple of bench warrants involving minor fines that  had in fact been paid — evidence of which he produced to unimpressed  police officers. He was then twice subjected to humiliating strip  searches involving the inspection of body cavities. Florence sued,  arguing that this process violated his rights.
“There is very  little doubt under the law about the right of prison authorities to  subject a person convicted or suspected of a serious crime to conduct a  strip search before introducing someone to the general prison  population. But does the right to conduct a strip search outweigh the  right to dignity and bodily integrity of a person who committed no crime whatsoever, who is apprehended based on a false suspicion that he  hadn’t discharged a petty fine — for walking a dog without a leash, say,  or turning a car from the wrong lane? Yes. In a 5-4 decision, the Court  backed the position advocated by President Obama’s Justice Department,  upholding the power of jailers against the interests of innocent  citizens. As Justice Anthony Kennedy reasons in his majority opinion (in terms that would be familiar to anyone who has lived in a police  state), who is to say that innocent citizens are really innocent? ‘[P]eople detained for minor offenses,’ he writes, ‘can turn out to be  the most devious and dangerous criminals.’ ….
“The decision  reflects the elevation of the prison industry’s interest in maintaining  order in its facilities above the interests of individuals. And it does  so by systematically misunderstanding the reasons behind strip searches. Kennedy insists that they are all done for the aim of fostering order,  and he backs up this position with exemplary bits of pretzel logic. For  instance, he suggests that a person stopped for failing to yield at an  intersection may well have heroin taped to his scrotum, and may attempt  to bring it into the prison to which he is taken. In advancing such  rationales, the Court ignores the darker truth about strip searches:  they are employed for the conscious humiliation and psychological  preparation of prisoners, as part of a practice designed to break them  down and render them submissive.
“Just as the Florence decision  was being prepared, the Department of Defense released a previously  classified training manual used to prepare American pilots for  resistance to foreign governments that might use illegal and immoral  techniques to render them cooperative. Key in this manual are the  precise practices highlighted in Florence. Body-cavity searches are  performed, it explains, to make the prisoner ‘feel uncomfortable and  degraded.’ Forced nudity and invasion of the body make the prisoner feel helpless, by removing all items that provide the prisoner with  psychological support. In other words, the strip search is an essential  step in efforts to destroy an individual’s sense of self-confidence,  well-being, and even his or her identity. The value of this tool has  been recognized by authoritarian governments around the world, and now,  thanks to the Roberts Court, it will belong to the standard jailhouse  repertoire in the United States.”

To reiterate: the Obama Administration vigorously defended the  introduction of this authoritarian practice into every place of  incarceration in the United States. The fact that this draconian  stricture will fall most heavily on African-Americans cut no ice with  the historic, epoch-shaking first minority president in American  history. (But why should it? By almost every measure — employment,  housing, wealth, poverty programs, community support, voting rights,  civil rights, etc. — African-Americans have been sent reeling backwards by the policies of the Obama Administration.)
Obama has  adamantly refused to prosecute clear, credible and copious allegations  of war crimes by his predecessor. He is now applying acknowledged  torture techniques to the general American population. And as William  Blum reminds us in his latest “Anti-Empire Report,” Obama is still  carrying out torture on a massive, systematic scale in the gulag he  commands — despite the pervasive progressive myth that he has formally  ended “torture” in the American system. Blum:

“…the executive order concerning torture, issued January 22, 2009 — ‘Executive Order 13491 — Ensuring Lawful Interrogations’ — leaves loopholes, such as being applicable only ‘in any armed conflict.’ Thus, torture by Americans outside  environments of ‘armed conflict,’ which is where much torture in the  world happens anyway, is not prohibited. And what about torture in a ‘counter-terrorism’ environment?
“One of Mr. Obama’s orders  required the CIA to use only the interrogation methods outlined in a  revised Army Field Manual. However, using the Army Field Manual as a  guide to prisoner treatment and interrogation still allows solitary  confinement, perceptual or sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation, the  induction of fear and hopelessness, mind-altering drugs, environmental  manipulation such as temperature and perhaps noise, and possibly stress  positions and sensory overload. …

“Just as no one in the Bush  and Obama administrations has been punished in any way for war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other countries they waged illegal war  against, no one has been punished for torture. And, it could be added,  no American bankster has been punished for their indispensable role in  the world-wide financial torture. What a marvelously forgiving land is  America. This, however, does not apply to Julian Assange and Bradley  Manning. …
“I’d like at this point to remind my dear readers of  the words of the ‘Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,’ which was drafted by the United  Nations in 1984, came into force in 1987, and ratified by the United  States in 1994. Article 2, section 2 of the Convention states: ‘No  exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency,  may be invoked as a justification of torture.’
Such marvelously  clear, unequivocal, and principled language, to set a single standard  for a world that makes it increasingly difficult for one to feel proud  of humanity. We cannot slide back.”

No exceptions whatsoever — not even an eternal “War on  Terror.” This is indeed clear language — and it is indisputably the law of the land, as the constitutional law professor in the White House  well knows. But this no longer means anything. As we noted here a couple of years ago, in an excerpt from a “conversation during Civil War”:

“But in days past, I was a lawyer. Yes, a lawyer, can you believe it? It seems ” ridiculous now, doesn’t it? An  orderly system meant to govern human society, to establish justice, to  advance the progress and enlightenment of the human race. Yet that  system, that civil cosmos — to which I was so passionately committed —  embraced and protected the most wretched evils, entrenched the powerful  in their unjust privilege, oppressed the poor and weak most relentlessly and wickedly, yet at every step — at every step — sang hosannas to  itself as some kind of divinity. The ‘Law’ — oh, what a hush of  reverence surrounded that word, how deeply that reverence and respect  penetrated the heart. Well, my heart, anyway. But in these last few years we have seen — in intense, concentrated, microscopic view —  the truth about the law, a truth which too often escaped us in the slow  unrolling of peacetime. The truth that there is no law, no Platonic Form out there to which we give paltry representation. There is only power:  power in conflict with power, power seeking to drive out power, to  establish its dominance, maintain its privilege. Power … acquiesces to law — sometimes — but it never, never bows to it. Power goes along with the law when it is convenient to do so, when it is not too restrictive, when it demands little more than the occasional sacrifice — for the  powerful are certainly not above throwing one of their own to the mob  when circumstances require. But when it comes to the crisis, power  shreds the law like a filthy rag and has its own way. And then you see  that the law is nothing but a rag, to be torn and patched and fitted to  power’s aims. The worst atrocities I have seen or heard of in this war  have been committed wholly and completely under the law. This thing I  held in such reverence was, is, nothing but a scrap soaked with blood  and sh*t.”

Or, pertaining more directly to the case at hand, and under-girding some of Blum’s points, including his insights on rendition, is a piece I wrote in 2011:

“There is of course a myth that Barack  Obama has ‘ended’ the practice of torture. This is not even remotely  true. For one thing, as we have often noted here, the Army Field Manual  that Obama has adopted as his interrogation standard permits many  practices that any rational person would consider torture. For another, we have no way of verifying what techniques are actually  being used by the government’s innumerable ‘security’ and intelligence  agencies, by the covert units of the military — and by other entities  whose very existence is still unknown. These agencies are almost  entirely self-policed; they investigate themselves, they report on  themselves to the toothless Congressional ‘oversight’ committees; we  simply have to take these organizations — whose entire raison d’etre is deceit, deception, lawlessness and subterfuge — at their word. And  of course, we have no way of knowing what is being done in the torture  chambers of foreign lands where the United States often ‘outsources’ its captives, including American citizens.
“Finally, even if the  comforting bedtime story of Obama’s ban of torture techniques in  interrogation were true, there remains his ardent championing of the  right to seize anyone on earth — without a warrant, without producing  any evidence whatsoever of wrongdoing — and hold them indefinitely,  often for years on end, in a legal limbo, with no inherent rights  whatsoever, beyond whatever narrowly constricted, ever-changing, legally baseless and often farcical ‘hearings’ and tribunals the captors deign  to allow them. Incarceration under these conditions is itself an  horrendous act of torture, no matter what else might happen to the  captive. Yet Obama has actively, avidly applied this torture, and has  gone to court numerous times to defend this torture, and to expand the  use of this torture …

“….Murder, cowardice, torture,  dishonor: these are fruits — and the distinguishing characteristics —  of the militarized society. What Americans once would not do even to  Nazis with the blood of millions on their hands, they now do routinely  to weak and wretched captives seized on little or no evidence of  wrongdoing at all. We are deep in the darkness, and hurtling deeper,  headlong, all the time.”

Obama Ignores Torture July 28, 2009

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Published on Tuesday, July 28, 2009 by The Times Union (New York) by Helen Thomas
Secrecy is endemic in all governments. It goes with the turf, especially if their leaders hope to hide illegal or immoral behavior, such as torture of foreign prisoners.Many Americans heaved a sigh of relief last January when President Barack Obama banned the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

It made the administration look more humane than the Bush-Cheney team. But that is not the whole story.

Obama left unaddressed the possibility of torture in secret foreign prisons under our control as in Abu Ghraib in Iraq or Bagram in Afghanistan, not to mention the ‘black sites” sponsored by our foreign clients in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Thailand and other countries.

“The United States will not torture,” Obama said in his directive. But he has been silent on the question of whether the U.S. would help others do the torturing.

Members of Congress knew a lot about U.S. torture practices. But Republicans loyal to the Bush administration and Democrats, too, played along and kept silent at the horror of it all.

Why did no bells ring for the U.S. lawmakers — particularly those privy to the brutality — when briefed on the abusive treatment of the captives. Did they owe more allegiance to the CIA than to the honor of our country?

There are hair-raising reports of methods that Americans — including private contractors — have used to coerce information from our prisoners.

They include slamming a prisoner against a wall; denying him sleep and food; waterboarding him under so-called enhanced interrogation; and keeping him in a crate filled with insects.

I remember when President Ronald Reagan, marveling at the courage of American soldiers, used to say: “Where do we get such men?” And I have to ask: “Where did we get such people who would inflict so much pain and ruthlessness on others?”

William Rivers Pitt, a best-selling author who wrote “The Greatest Sedition is Silence,” recently raised the emotional question of whether U.S. adoption of torture has debased the international standards for treatment of prisoners and that our enemies may now feel that they can torture Americans. Pitt specifically expressed concern about Army Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan last month.

American military leaders had warned President Bush over and over that U.S. torture of prisoners could boomerang against our troops. But he would not listen.

Obama has blocked publication of pictures of the harsh treatment of prisoners from our two ongoing wars — in Iraq and Afghanistan — but the word still gets around.

© 2009 Hearst Newspapers

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail: helent@hearstdc.com.  Among other books she is the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. 

Feingold Pushes AG to Hold Torture Architects Accountable July 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney.
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Published on Thursday, July 16, 2009 by The Capital Times (Wisconsin) by John Nichols

Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, the chief Senate critic of executive excess and wrongdoing during both Republican and Democratic administrations, wants Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a prosecutor to investigate the CIA’s harsh interrogation program.

But Feingold wants Holder to do it right.

The chair of the Constitution Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee is concerned that the appointment of a prosecutor by Holder, which now seems increasingly likely, come with a charge by the attorney general “to focus on holding accountable the architects of the CIA’s interrogation program.”

In a letter to Holder, Feingold, who also sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote:

“Dear Attorney General Holder:

“Recent news stories indicate that you have reviewed the highly classified 2004 CIA Inspector General report on the CIA’s interrogation program, and that as a result you are considering appointing a prosecutor to investigate individuals who may have gone beyond the legal authorization for that program provided by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Department of Justice. I write to encourage you to do so, but also to urge you to focus on holding accountable the architects of the CIA’s interrogation program. While allegations that individuals may have even gone beyond what was justified by those now-public OLC memos are extremely disturbing, we should not lose sight of the fact that the program itself — as authorized — was illegal, not to mention immoral and unwise.

“As I said in a letter to President Obama in April, the OLC documents make clear that the details of this program were authorized at the highest levels of government, which is where the need for accountability is most acute. Those who developed, authorized and provided legal justification for the interrogations should be held responsible.

“I understand this is a difficult decision for you, and I want to assure you that you will have my full support if you take this important step in furtherance of the rule of law.”

This is an essential message, and an essential step in the process.

Official Washington does not like accountability.

Holder will be under pressure to organize a narrow inquiry that focuses on the misdeeds of underlings.

But this investigation needs to go where the real wrongdoing took place.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney was a principal proponent of harsh interrogation during the Bush/Cheney years and has since emerged as the primary defender of the initiative.

When asked about the use of torture tactics late last year, Cheney told “ABC News,” “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency, in effect, came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.”

That is an invitation — from Cheney himself — to, as Feingold suggests, investigate the extent to which illegal activity was “authorized at the highest levels of government” and to “(hold) accountable the architects of the CIA’s interrogation program.”

Americans should tell the attorney general to accept this invitation, and the Credo Action Project of the progressive long-distance phone service, Working Assets, is offering them an opportunity to do just that with a new campaign to tell Eric Holder to start his torture investigation with Dick Cheney. Check it out.

© 2009 The Capital Times

John Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation and associate editor of The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin. A co-founder of the media reform organization Free Press, Nichols is is co-author with Robert W. McChesney of Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy – from The New Press. Nichols’ latest book is The Genius of Impeachment: The Founders’ Cure for Royalism.

Everyone Should See ‘Torturing Democracy’ May 31, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Democracy, Torture.
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torturingdemocracy
 
Published on Saturday, May 30, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

In all the recent debate over torture, many of our Beltway pundits and politicians have twisted themselves into verbal contortions to avoid using the word at all.

During his speech to the conservative American Enterprise Institute last week — immediately on the heels of President Obama’s address at the National Archives — former Vice President Dick Cheney used the euphemism “enhanced interrogation” a full dozen times.

Smothering the reality of torture in euphemism of course has a political value, enabling its defenders to diminish the horror and possible illegality. It also gives partisans the opening they need to divert our attention by turning the future of the prison at Guantanamo Bay into a “wedge issue,” as noted on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times.

According to the Times, “Armed with polling data that show a narrow majority of support for keeping the prison open and deep fear about the detainees, Republicans in Congress started laying plans even before the inauguration to make the debate over Guantanamo Bay a question of local community safety instead of one about national character and principles.”

No political party would dare make torture a cornerstone of its rejuvenation if people really understood what it is. And lest we
forget, we’re not just talking about waterboarding, itself a trivializing euphemism for drowning.

If we want to know what torture is, and what it does to human beings, we have to look at it squarely, without flinching. That’s just what a powerful and important film, seen by far too few Americans, does. Torturing Democracy was written and produced by one of America’s outstanding documentary reporters, Sherry Jones. (Excerpts from the film are being shown on the current edition of “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS — check local listings, or go to the program’s website at PBS.org/Moyers, where you can be linked to the entire, 90-minute documentary.)

A longtime colleague, Sherry Jones and the film were honored this week with the prestigious RFK Journalism Award from the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights. Torturing Democracy was cited for its “meticulous reporting,” and described as “the definitive broadcast account of a deeply troubling chapter in recent American history.”

Unfortunately, as events demonstrate, the story is not yet history; the early chapters aren’t even closed. Torture still is being defended as a matter of national security, although by law it is a war crime, with those who authorized and executed it liable for prosecution as war criminals. The war on terror sparked impatience with the rule of law — and fostered the belief within our government that the commander-in-chief had the right to ignore it.

Torturing Democracy begins at 9/11 and recounts how the Bush White House and the Pentagon decided to make coercive detention and abusive interrogation the official U.S. policy on the war on terror. In sometimes graphic detail, the documentary describes the experiences of several of the men held in custody, including Shafiq Rasul, Moazzam Begg and Bisher al-Rawi, all of whom eventually were released. Charges never were filed against them and no reason was ever given for their
years in custody.

The documentary traces how tactics meant to train American troops to survive enemy interrogations — the famous SERE program (“Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape”) — became the basis for many of the methods employed by the CIA and by interrogators at Guantanamo and in Iraq, including waterboarding (which inflicts on its victims the terror of imminent death), sleep and sensory deprivation, shackling, caging, painful stress positions and sexual humiliation.

“We have re-created our enemy’s methodologies in Guantanamo,” Malcolm Nance, former head of the Navy’s SERE training program, says in Torturing Democracy. “It will hurt us for decades to come. Decades. Our people will all be subjected to these tactics, because we have authorized them for the world now. How it got to Guantanamo is a crime and somebody needs to figure out who did it, how they did it, who authorized them to do it… Because our servicemen will suffer for years.”

In addition to its depiction of brutality, Torturing Democracy also credits the brave few who stood up to those in power and said, “No.” In Washington, there were officials of conviction horrified by unfolding events, including Alberto Mora, the Navy’s top civilian lawyer, Major General Thomas Romig, who served as Judge Advocate General of the US Army from 2001 to 2005 and Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, a former senior prosecutor with the Office of Military Commissions.

Much has happened since the film’s initial telecast on some public television stations last fall. Once classified memos from the Bush administration have been released that reveal more details of the harsh techniques used against detainees whose guilt or innocence is still to be decided.

President Obama has announced he will close Guantanamo by next January, with the specifics to come later in the summer. That was enough to set off hysteria among Democrats and Republicans alike who don’t want the remaining 240 detainees on American soil — even in a super maximum security prison, the kind already holding hundreds of terrorist suspects. The president also triggered criticism from constitutional and civil liberties lawyers when he suggested that some detainees may be held indefinitely, without due process.

But in an interview with Radio Free Europe this week, General David Petraeus, the man in charge of the military’s Central Command, praised the Guantanamo closing, saying it “sends an important message to the world” and will help advance America’s strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In another revealing and disturbing development, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, has suggested what is possibly as scandalous a deception as the false case Bush and Cheney made for invading Iraq. Colonel Wilkerson writes that in their zeal to prove a link between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein during the months leading up to the Iraq war, one suspect held in Egypt, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, was water tortured until he falsely told the interrogators what they wanted to hear.

That phony confession that Wilkerson says was wrung from a broken man who simply wanted the torture to stop was then used as evidence in Colin Powell’s infamous address to the United Nations shortly before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Colin Powell says the CIA vetted everything in his speech and that Wilkerson’s allegation is only speculation. We’ll never know the full story — al-Libi died three weeks ago in a Libyan prison. A suicide.

Or so they say.

No wonder so many Americans clamor for a truth commission that will get the facts and put them on the record, just as Torturing Democracy has done. Then we can judge for ourselves.

As the editors of the magazine The Christian Century wrote this week, “Convening a truth commission on torture would be embarrassing to the U.S. in the short term, but in the long run it would demonstrate the strength of American democracy and confirm the nation’s adherence to the rule of law… Understandably, [the President] wants to turn the page on torture. But Americans should not turn the page until they know what is written on it.”

Bill Moyers is managing editor and Michael Winship is senior writer of the weekly public affairs program Bill Moyers Journal, which airs Friday night on PBS. Check local airtimes or comment at The Moyers Blog at www.pbs.org/moyers. Research provided by editorial producer Rebecca Wharton.

Yoo’s Views Make Philly News May 20, 2009

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by Amy Goodman

The Philadelphia Inquirer, one of that city’s two major daily newspapers, is in the news itself these days after hiring controversial former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo as a monthly columnist.

Letters and e-mails critical of the Inquirer are pouring in. “How in the world could John Yoo’s legal analysis of anything be informative?” wrote Lisa Ernst of Philadelphia. “What next? An investment advice column by Bernie Madoff?” Will Bunch of the rival Philadelphia Daily News wrote, “It’s not about muzzling John Yoo from expressing his far-out-of-the-mainstream opinion in the many venues that are available to him, but whether a major American newspaper should give Yoo, his actions, and the notion of torture advocacy its implied endorsement by handing him a megaphone.”

Yoo served from 2001 to 2003 as a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel in the Bush Justice Department, where he worked under Jay Bybee. There, Yoo authored or co-authored “torture memos,” the legal advice given to the Bush White House authorizing harsh interrogation practices. Yoo defined torture in one memo: “The victim must experience intense pain or suffering of the kind that is equivalent to the pain that would be associated with serious physical injury, so severe that death, organ failure, or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body function will likely result.”

Judge Baltasar Garzon of the Spanish National Court is moving ahead with an investigation of “The Bush Six,” which includes Yoo and Bybee, as well as former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; William J. Haynes II, then general counsel to the Department of Defense; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; and David Addington, the chief of staff under former Vice President Dick Cheney. These six could possibly face criminal charges in Spain for enabling torture at Guantanamo and elsewhere. They might think twice before traveling abroad to Spain or other European nations. Yoo, Bybee and another Bush Justice Department attorney, Steven G. Bradbury, face an investigation into their conduct by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility. The Justice Department could forward the report to state bar associations, where the attorneys could be disciplined, possibly disbarred. Bybee, now a federal judge, could be impeached.

The disbarment strategy has been embraced by grass-roots activists as well. The group DisbarTortureLawyers.com said, “On Monday, May 18, 2009, a broad coalition of organizations dedicated to accountable government, and representing over one million members, filed disciplinary complaints with state bar licensing boards against … twelve attorneys for advocating the torture of detainees during the Bush Administration.”

Disbarment would certainly be a problem for many of these people, perhaps costing them their jobs. But the detention and interrogation practices that gained their official sanction, from the highest level of the executive branch, have had much more serious and far-reaching consequences for hundreds, if not thousands, of people around the globe.

John Sifton is a human-rights investigator who recently wrote a piece titled “The Bush Administration Homicides.” He concludes that “an estimated 100 detainees have died during interrogations, some who were clearly tortured to death.” He told me: “These aggressive techniques were not just limited to the high-value detainee program in the CIA. They spread to the military with disastrous results. They led to the deaths of human beings … when there’s a dead body involved, you can’t just have a debate about policy differences and looking forward or looking backward.”

Bunch told me: “Philadelphia is a city of 4 million people. John Yoo grew up here, but he doesn’t even live here now. And to think this is a voice that’s reflective of the community, frankly, [is] an insult to true conservatives that the best voice they can get on the editorial page is somebody who’s famous for being a torture advocate.”

I was in Philadelphia this past weekend and got to hear Grammy Award-winning soul singer John Legend give the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, his alma mater. He said in his speech: “As a nation and as a world, we need more truth. Let me repeat that. We need more truth. … Too often, in business and in government, people are rewarded for having the answer that the person they report to wants them to have:  ‘Yes, sir. We can provide mortgages to people who have no down payment and can’t afford the monthly payments.’ …  ‘Yes, ma’am. I can write a legal brief to justify torture.’ ” The students listened with rapt attention.

There are many Philadelphians who can write and inspire debate that leads people to action. John Yoo has done enough harm.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December

How Torture Trapped Colin Powell May 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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Ray McGovern

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, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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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.

by Marcy Wheeler

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.

Marcy Wheeler writes her blog, emptywheel, for FireDogLake.com

The NYT Sums up Obama’s Civil Liberties Record in One Paragraph May 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties.
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Among progressives, Democrats, liberals, Obama supporters and the like, there seems to be some debate about the extent to which Obama deserves criticisms for what he has done thus far in the realm of civil liberties, restoration of Constitutional principles, and reversing the severe imbalance between “security” and liberties — major planks of his two-year-long campaign and among the most frequent weapons used to criticize the Bush presidency.  On that topic, here is the first paragraph of this New York Times article this morning by David Sanger, summing everything up:

President Obama’s decisions this week to retain important elements of the Bush-era system for trying terrorism suspects and to block the release of pictures showing abuse of American-held prisoners abroad are the most graphic examples yet of how he has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.

Here’s how the NYT describes the article on its front page:

The opening paragraph of this Washington Post article today says much the same thing: 

As a candidate for president, Barack Obama offered himself as a clear alternative to Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. Governing has proven muddier.

Both articles quote the hardest-core Bush supporters as heaping praise on Obama for what he has done in the area of “national security,” terrorism and civil liberties (“Pete Wehner, a member of Karl Rove’s staff in the Bush White House [and a current National Review writer] applauded several of Mr. Obama’s decisions this week”).  Indeed, all week long, and even before that, the greatest enthusiasm for Obama’s decisions on so-called “terrorism policies” and civil liberties (with some important exceptions) has been found in the pages of The Weekly Standard and National Review.

Can anyone deny what the NYT and Post are pointing out today?  This is what happened this week alone in the realm of Obama’s approach to “national security” and civil liberties:

Monday – Obama administration’s letter to Britian threatening to cut off intelligence-sharing if British courts reveal the details of how we tortured British resident Binyam Mohamed;

Tuesday – Promoted to military commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChyrstal, who was deeply involved in some of the worst abuses of the Bush era;

Wednesday – Announced he was reversing himself and would try to conceal photographic evidence showing widespread detainee abuse — despite the rulings from two separate courts (four federal judges unanimously) that the law compels their disclosure;

Friday –  Unveiled his plan to preserve a modified system of military commissions for trying Guantanamo detainees, rather than using our extant-judicial processes for doing so.

It’s not the fault of civil libertarians that Obama did all of those things, just in this week alone.  These are the very policies — along with things like the claimed power to abduct and imprison people indefinitely with no charges of any kind and the use of the “state secrets privilege” to deny torture and spying victims a day in court — that caused such extreme anger and criticisms toward the Bush presidency.

What would it say about a person who spent the last seven years vehemently criticizing those policies to suddenly decide that the same policies were perfectly fine or not particularly bothersome when Obama adopts them?  How could that be justified?  What should one say about a person who vehemently objected to X when Bush did it, but then suddenly found ways to defend or mitigate X when Obama does it?  Just re-read that first paragraph from the NYT article today. What should a rational person say in response to what it describes?

It is absolutely true that there have been some important steps Obama has taken in the right direction that George Bush and John McCain would never have entertained, including banning interrogation techniques outside of the Army Field Manual, barring CIA secret prisons, guaranteeing International Red Cross access to all detainees, and releasing numerous Bush era OLC memos.  He deserves praise for those decisions and has received it here.   But other than the OLC memos, those steps all came in the very first week of his presidency in largely symbolic form.  At the time, in the first week, I wrote that Obama’s first-week executive orders “meet or actually exceed even the most optimistic expectations of civil libertarians for what he could or would do quickly,” but:

This is why the understandable enthusiasm (which I definitely share) over Obama’s pleasantly unexpected commitment in the first few hours of his presidency to take politically difficult steps in the civil liberties and accountability realms should be tempered somewhat.  There is going to be very concerted pressure exerted on him by establishment guardians such as Hiatt (and the Brookings Institution, Jack Goldsmith and friends), to say nothing of hard-line factions within the intelligence community and its various allies, for Obama to take subsequent steps that would eviscerate much of this progress, that render these initial rollbacks largely empty, symbolic gestures. Whether these steps, impressive as they are, will be symbolic measures designed to placate certain factions, or whether they represent a genuine commitment on Obama’s part, remains to be seen. Much of it will depend on how much political pressure is exerted and from what sides.

Obama deserves real praise for devoting the first few days of his presidency to these vital steps — and doing so without there being much of a political benefit and with some real political risk.  That’s genuinely encouraging. But ongoing vigilance is necessary, to counter-balance the Fred Hiatts, Brookings Institutions and other national security state fanatics, to ensure that these initial steps aren’t undermined.

Since that first week, Obama has engaged in one action after the next to preserve many of the key prongs, and the essential architecture, of the Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and civil liberties.  That’s just factually true.  What’s the point of closing Guantanamo if we’re going to continue to keep people indefinitely in cages with no trial in Bagram, or if we simply transport a modified version of Guantanamo justice to the U.S.?  How can a President who repeatedly promised vast transparency embrace the most extremist Bush/Cheney secrecy powers?   How can a person who campaigned on the vow to end “Scooter Libby justice” and restore the rule of law take one extreme step after the next to shield from judicial scrutiny some of the most serious, brutal and highest-level crimes of the last eight years?

It’s certainly true that there are other issues besides civil liberties and national security policies that are important.  The fact that he’s been horrible in these areas doesn’t mean he hasn’t been good in others.  One can argue, if one likes, that these civil liberties issues don’t really matter (a representative of Center for American Progress joined with two conservatives to claim exactly that yesterday on CNN), or one can argue that all that matters is that we fix the banking crisis and implement a new health care policy.  But I never heard any Bush critics — not one — say anything like that when these issues were front and center in the case against the Bush presidency.

Nobody who spent the last many years devoting themselves to opposing Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and civil liberties wanted to have to do the same in an Obama presidency.  If you doubt that, just look at how intense was the celebratory praise directed at Obama from those factions in the first week.  But unless the opposition of the last eight years was really just a cynical means for opportunistically weakening and demonizing Republican opponents rather than opposing policies that one genuinely found dangerous and wrong, then the actions of Obama are leaving no other choice but to object and object strenuously.  As the first paragraph of today’s NYT article put it, this week alone provided “the most graphic examples yet of how [Obama] has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.”  If nothing else, refraining from objecting will ensure that this continues further and further.

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Yesterday morning, I was on WNYC’s The Takeway discussing (briefly) the issue of Obama’s military commissions and, more extensively, drug policy and decriminalization in Portugal.  That can be heard here.

UPDATE:  The Wall St. Journal Editorial Page today:

President Obama’s endorsements of Bush-Cheney antiterror policies are by now routine . . . . Mr. Obama deserves credit for accepting that the civilian courts are largely unsuited for the realities of the war on terror. He has now decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Dick Cheney . . . Meanwhile, friends should keep certain newspaper editors away from sharp objects. Their champion has repudiated them once again.

Meanwhile, Law Professor Julian Ku notes that Obama Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal spent years arguing that military commissions generally (not merely Bush’s specific version) were oppressive and un-American (h/t).  But now, thanks to Obama’s embrace of them, Katyal is going to have to defend Obama’s military commissions in court from challenge by the ACLU and other groups.  At least Katyal has the excuse that defending exactly that which he spent years excoriating is his job.  Obama supporters who are doing the same don’t have that excuse.

UPDATE II:  Illustrating the irrationality that is used, Obama defenders are making the following two arguments to justify what he did on military commissions:

(1) Obama had no choice because he can’t obtain convictions of accused terrorists in civilian courts because so much of the evidence was obtained by Bush’s torture and thus can’t be used;

(2) Obama’s military commissions are better than Bush’s because Obama’s commissions won’t allow evidence obtained by torture.

Aren’t those two propositions completely contradictory?  If Obama’s military commissions (like civilian courts and courts-martial) won’t allow evidence obtained via torture, then why can’t he use our normal court system to try accused terrorists?

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.