Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Torture Watch 10/8/09

There are several important pieces on torture from that past month or two that I haven't featured yet, so here they are.

While The New York Times news desk has been gutless in covering torture, often refusing to use the word or pretending that defining torture is some great mystery, its editorial board has been fantastic.

From 9/2/09, the short and superb "Dick Cheney’s Version":

After the C.I.A. inspector general’s report on prisoner interrogation was released last week, former Vice President Dick Cheney settled into his usual seat on Fox News to express his outrage — not at the illegal and immoral behavior laid out in the report, of course, but at the idea that anyone would object to torturing prisoners. He was especially vexed that the Obama administration was beginning an investigation.

In Mr. Cheney’s view, it is not just those who followed orders and stuck to the interrogation rules set down by President George Bush’s Justice Department who should be sheltered from accountability. He said he also had no problem with those who disobeyed their orders and exceeded the guidelines.

It’s easy to understand Mr. Cheney’s aversion to the investigation that Attorney General Eric Holder ordered last week. On Fox, Mr. Cheney said it was hard to imagine it stopping with the interrogators. He’s right.

The government owes Americans a full investigation into the orders to approve torture, abuse and illegal, secret detention, as well as the twisted legal briefs that justified those policies. Congress and the White House also need to look into illegal wiretapping and the practice of sending prisoners to other countries to be tortured.

Mr. Cheney was at the center of each of these insults to this country’s Constitution, its judicial system and its bedrock democratic values. To defend himself, he offers a twisted version of history:

• He says Mr. Bush’s Justice Department determined that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” ordered by the president were legal under American law and international treaties like the Geneva Conventions.

In reality, those opinions were based on a corrupt and widely discredited legal analysis cooked up after the White House had already decided to use long-banned practices like waterboarding. Mr. Cheney was an architect of the decision to “get tough” with prisoners, as the bureaucrats often say to soften the outrage of this policy.

• He insists the inspector general’s findings were “completely reviewed” by the Justice Department and that any follow-up investigation would be improper and unnecessary.

In reality, Mr. Bush’s attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, did not appoint an independent investigator after receiving the inspector general’s report, which was completed in 2004. The Justice Department decided there was only one narrow case worth pursuing, involving a civilian contractor — hardly a surprise from a thoroughly politicized department whose top officials set the very rules they were supposed to be judging. Mr. Gonzales’s team did not look into allegations that some interrogators broke those rules. Mr. Cheney may not care about that, but Mr. Holder rightly does.

• Mr. Cheney claims that waterboarding and other practices widely considered to be torture or abuse “were absolutely essential” in stopping another terrorist attack on the United States after Sept. 11, 2001.

Mr. Cheney is right when he says detainees who were subject to torture and abuse gave up valuable information. But the men who did the questioning flatly dispute that it was duress that moved them to do so.

Deuce Martinez, the C.I.A. officer who interrogated Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, engineer of the 9/11 mass murders, said he used traditional interrogation methods, and not the infliction of pain and panic. And, in an article on the Times Op-Ed page, Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent who oversaw the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, another high-ranking terrorist, denounced “the false claims” about harsh interrogations. Mr. Soufan said Mr. Zubaydah talked before he was subjected to waterboarding and other abuse. He also said that “using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions.”

Every week, it seems, new disclosures about this sordid history dribble out. This week, Physicians for Human Rights analyzed what the inspector general’s report said about the involvement of C.I.A. physicians and psychologists in the abuse of prisoners. It said they not only monitored torture, like waterboarding, but also kept data on the prisoners’ reaction in ways that “may amount to human experimentation.”

Getting at the truth is not going to be easy. The C.I.A. destroyed evidence — videotapes of interrogations — and is now refusing to release its records of the questioning of its prisoners. It also is asking the courts to keep secret the orders Mr. Bush gave authorizing the interrogations, and the original Justice Department memos concluding that they were legal.

Americans need much more than glimpses of the truth. They should not have to decide whether to believe former interrogators, whom they do not know, or Mr. Cheney, who did not hesitate while in office to mislead them when it suited his political aims.

I'm afraid I've quoted the whole thing, since I didn't see what I could cut. Related pieces, "The Torture Papers" (8/25/09) and "Justice Delayed" (9/12/09), are also quite good. I have to say, after all the idiocy and mendacity from most Beltway types on torture, seeing a prominent media outlet state clear facts with a clear moral position is very refreshing.

I've heard several people point out that destruction of the video tapes would normally be taken as an admission of guilt by the Justice Department or a judge, and an investigation and possible prosecution would follow accordingly. It's ridiculous no one's been called to account for their destruction (at least yet). Of course, the Beltway twits don't care.

Next up is the stellar "Fear was no excuse to condone torture" by Charles C. Krulak (commandant of the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999) and Joseph P. Hoar (commander in chief of U.S. Central Command from 1991 to 1994).

In the fear that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Americans were told that defeating Al Qaeda would require us to ``take off the gloves.'' As a former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps and a retired commander-in-chief of U.S. Central Command, we knew that was a recipe for disaster.

But we never imagined that we would feel duty-bound to publicly denounce a vice president of the United States, a man who has served our country for many years. In light of the irresponsible statements recently made by former Vice President Dick Cheney, however, we feel we must repudiate his dangerous ideas -- and his scare tactics.

We have seen how ill-conceived policies that ignored military law on the treatment of enemy prisoners hindered our ability to defeat al Qaeda. We have seen American troops die at the hands of foreign fighters recruited with stories about tortured Muslim detainees at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib. And yet Cheney and others who orchestrated America's disastrous trip to ``the dark side'' continue to assert -- against all evidence -- that torture ``worked'' and that our country is better off for having gone there.

In an interview with Fox News Sunday, Cheney applauded the ``enhanced interrogation techniques'' -- what we used to call ``war crimes'' because they violated the Geneva Conventions, which the United States instigated and has followed for 60 years. Cheney insisted the abusive techniques were ``absolutely essential in saving thousands of American lives and preventing further attacks against the United States.'' He claimed they were ``directly responsible for the fact that for eight years, we had no further mass casualty attacks against the United States. It was good policy . . . It worked very, very well.''

Repeating these assertions doesn't make them true. We now see that the best intelligence, which led to the capture of Saddam Hussein and the elimination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was produced by professional interrogations using non-coercive techniques. When the abuse began, prisoners told interrogators whatever they thought would make it stop.

Torture is as likely to produce lies as the truth. And it did.

What leaders say matters. So when it comes to light, as it did recently, that U.S. interrogators staged mock executions and held a whirling electric drill close to the body of a naked, hooded detainee, and the former vice president winks and nods, it matters.

The Bush administration had already degraded the rules of war by authorizing techniques that violated the Geneva Conventions and shocked the conscience of the world. Now Cheney has publicly condoned the abuse that went beyond even those weakened standards, leading us down a slippery slope of lawlessness. Rules about the humane treatment of prisoners exist precisely to deter those in the field from taking matters into their own hands. They protect our nation's honor.

To argue that honorable conduct is only required against an honorable enemy degrades the Americans who must carry out the orders. As military professionals, we know that complex situational ethics cannot be applied during the stress of combat. The rules must be firm and absolute; if torture is broached as a possibility, it will become a reality. Moral equivocation about abuse at the top of the chain of command travels through the ranks at warp speed...

Do read the rest. I've featured one of their other op-eds before, "It's Our Cage, Too: Torture Betrays Us and Breeds New Enemies" (5/17/07). These pieces are extremely important because many career military personnel oppose torture and human rights abuses for moral and practical reasons, and directly contradict the bullshit Dick Cheney and the gang are trying to sell. (It was nice to see some retired generals take on the Cheneys' scaremongering on Gitmo, too.)

On 9/10/09, Andy Worthington published a lengthy interview with Lawrence Wilkerson (Colin Powell's former chief of staff) that offers useful perspective on the climate in the Bush administration before the Iraq War. According to Wilkerson, they knew pretty early on that many of the men captured in Afghanistan were innocent or had little information (as we've covered here many times before). Remember that Senate report that found that abusive techniques were used to find an Iraq-al Qaeda link? Apparently, it's helped bring some matters into focus for Wilkerson:

[T]he regular meetings were one of my sources of knowing how chaotic the vetting was, and how chaotic the imprisonment was, and how adamant Rumsfeld was — and I’ve come to find now that Donald would not have been adamant without the Vice President’s cover — about not letting any of these guys go, for any reason whatsoever. I also know that one of the motivations for this was not just his obstreperousness, or his arrogance, which was manifested most of the time, but it was the fact that they wanted all of these people questioned vigorously, and they wanted to put together a pattern, a map, a body of evidence, if you will, from all these people, that they thought was going to tell them more and more about al-Qaeda, and increasingly more and more about the connection between al-Qaeda and Baghdad.

I even think that probably, in the summer of 2002, well before Powell gave his presentation at the UN in February 2003, their priority had shifted, as their expectation of another attack went down, and that happened, I think, rather rapidly. I’ve just stumbled on this. I thought before that it had persisted all the way through 2002, but I’m convinced now, from talking to hundreds of people, literally, that that’s not the case, that their fear of another attack subsided rather rapidly after their attention turned to Iraq, and after Tommy Franks, in late November as I recall, was directed to begin planning for Iraq and to take his focus off Afghanistan...

From later on:

[T]he problem is that this is a national security issue, and there are so many more challenging issues — as one official put it to me the other day — on which the President has already shown some ankle, whether it’s about talking to Iran or whether it’s his rather pronounced silence vis-à-vis North Korea, or whether it’s something as minuscule as lifting some travel restrictions on Cuban Americans for Cuba. They don’t believe they can show another square centimeter of ankle on national security, because the Republicans will eat their lunch, and every time I’m told this I die laughing. I say, your guys are captured by the Sith Lord, Dick Cheney, you’re captured by Rush Limbaugh, whose real radio audience is about 2.2 million, and whose employer, Clear Channel, lost $3.7 billion in the second quarter of this year. I said, when are you gonna wake up? These are kooks. And Cheney is the kook leader. But [Nancy] Pelosi and [Harry] Reid are such feckless leaders they haven’t got any spine. We have no leadership in the legislative branch on either side of the aisle… I become exasperated. There’s just no courage, there’s no moral courage whatsoever in the Democratic Party.

I disagree with Andrew Sullivan on some other matters, but he's done some great work on the torture beat. He wrote an Atlantic cover piece that's a letter to George W. Bush on the subject:

I have come to accept that it would be too damaging and polarizing to the American polity to launch legal prosecutions against you, and deeply unfair to solely prosecute those acting on your orders or in your name. President Obama’s decision thus far to avoid such prosecutions is a pragmatic and bipartisan one in a time of war, as is your principled refusal to criticize him publicly in his first months. But moving on without actually confronting or addressing the very grave evidence of systematic abuse and torture under your administration poses profound future dangers. It gives the impression that nothing immoral or illegal took place. Indeed, since leaving office, your own vice president has even bragged of these interrogation techniques; and many in your own party threaten to reinstate such policies in the future. Their extreme rhetoric seems likely to shape—to contaminate—history’s view of your presidency, indeed of the Bush name, and the world’s view of America. But my biggest fear is this: in the event of a future attack on the United States, another president will feel tempted, or even politically compelled, to resort to the same brutalizing policy, with the same polarizing, demoralizing, war-crippling results. I am writing you now because it is within your power—and only within your power—to prevent that from happening...

I believe that if you review the facts of your two terms of office, you will be forced to realize that, whatever your intentions, you undermined this fundamental American principle. You may not have intended that to occur. But you were the commander in chief and president, and these were presidential-level decisions. The responsibility for all of this is yours—before the American people and before the court of history. And you need finally to own these decisions, to take full responsibility for them, to account for them, to explain them, and, yes, to apologize for their scope and brutality.

I don't think this will happen, and think that Bush's vanity - the idea of him doing something great, of taking responsibility - is more likely to produce results than any 'sense of honor.' But Bush may not recognize the difference, and credit Sullivan for trying. If you haven't followed the torture story too closely, his piece, while long, provides a good overview.

Scott Horton continues to be a valuable resource, with "Seven Points on the CIA Report" (8/25/09) and "Six Questions for David Cole, Author of The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable" (8/28/09) particularly useful. Meanwhile, Torture Team Trading Cards may prove a good way to keep the spirits up for weary human rights activists.

Finally, Marcy Wheeler and Spencer Ackerman continue to track day to day developments and add to the overall picture. Bless 'em.

1 comment:

Suzan said...

Thanks for following this so closely, Bat.

And thank you even more for running as much of the info that you have.

Everyone should be taking notes.