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This article, by Fisnik Abrashi, was posted to Truthout, May 16, 2009.
"Hitler gave anti-Semitism a bad name," as many high-born Europeans used to say, yearning for the good old days when all right-thinking people could disparage Jews in public. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is similarly giving torture an odious reputation, all in his zeal to prove himself the rightest thinking guy in America. By the time he's finished with his mouthy defense of "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques," no one with any sense will want to have anything to do with them, at least not where others can see or hear.
Cheney's signature success with torture came when the CIA sent al-Qaeda operative Ibn al-Shayk al-Libi to Egypt, where he "confessed" that Saddam Hussein had trained al-Qaeda in chemical weapons. Al-Libi's statement, extracted under torture, was the smoking gun that Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell all used to sell their pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. So, don't tell Cheney that "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" do not work. They damned sure do if your goal is to get the propaganda you want to go to war.
Few in Congress or the mass media have pushed Cheney on this "great success." Fewer still have seen that that Bush and Cheney's illegal use of torture to sell their pre-emptive war in Iraq was probably their single greatest crime. Why the reluctance? Why do so many Americans refuse to see the obvious?
In large part because Congress, the corporate media, and even the general public were to some degree complicit in the crime. Whatever the CIA told Congressional leaders about waterboarding, sensory and sleep deprivation, stress positions, or sending captives to other counties for interrogation, only the mentally challenged had any excuse for not knowing from the public record at the time the rough outlines of how far Bush and Cheney had stepped beyond the law.
As early as February 2002, the Bush administration publicly announced that it would not abide by the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of enemy captives. Dick Cheney spoke openly of going to "work the dark side." Donald Rumsfeld and others talked of "taking off the gloves" with detainees like John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban and the first known victim of the administration's turn toward torture.
President Bush even used his State of the Union address in January 2003 to let everyone in on the game. "All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries," he said. "And many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: They are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies."
In these and dozens of similar boasts, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the others proudly told the world what they were doing. And, very much like the Good Germans of an earlier time, Congress and the media went along, as did most of the American public. Even worse, almost no one questioned the validity of all the so-called intelligence that the administration's methods produced.
"We clearly know that there were in the past and have been contacts between senior Iraqi officials and members of al-Qaeda going back for actually quite a long time," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told PBS' Jim Lehrer on September 25, 2002. "We know too that several of the [al-Qaeda] detainees, in particular some high-ranking detainees, have said that Iraq provided some training to al-Qaeda in chemical weapons development."
"We've learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases," President Bush told an audience in Cincinnati on October 7, 2002.
Saddam Hussein's regime "aids and protects terrorists, including members of al-Qaeda," Vice President Cheney told an audience in Arlington, Virginia, on January 30, 2003. "He could decide secretly to provide weapons of mass destruction to terrorists for use against us."
"I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda," Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council on February 5, 2003. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story."
We now know from several sources that these selling points for invading Iraq came primarily from torturing al-Libi in Egypt. We also know from the recent report of the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Bush administration pushed the torturers from the beginning to find such a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. That was one of the major purposes of the entire effort, as only those on the inside truly understood.
But, even before the invasion, anyone paying attention should have been able to see that the administration's "evidence" had to be tainted the moment Mr. Bush stepped beyond the Geneva Conventions and began "working the dark side."
Having failed to catch the crime at the time, many major media figures and members of Congress are understandably reluctant to accuse Bush and Cheney of criminal conduct and bring them to trial now. How much easier just to forget the whole sordid mess and get on with the nation's business. But, if Congress and the media do, they will fail again, as Mr. Cheney's spirited defense of torture and unlimited presidential power will come back to haunt us all in the secret memos of a new administration not so many years from now.
This article, by Mark Danner, accompnied his posting of the confidential ICRC report on the US Treatment of 14 high value detainees [reproduced below], to the New York Review of Books, April 30, 2009.
When we get people who are more concerned about reading the rights to an Al Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans, then I worry.... These are evil people. And we're not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.
If it hadn't been for what we did—with respect to the...enhanced interrogation techniques for high-value detainees...—then we would have been attacked again. Those policies we put in place, in my opinion, were absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US....(Former Vice President Dick Cheney, February 4, 2009 (1))
1.When it comes to torture, it is not what we did but what we are doing. It is not what happened but what is happening and what will happen. In our politics, torture is not about whether or not our polity can "let the past be past"—whether or not we can "get beyond it and look forward." Torture, for Dick Cheney and for President Bush and a significant portion of the American people, is more than a repugnant series of "procedures" applied to a few hundred prisoners in American custody during the last half-dozen or so years—procedures that are described with chilling and patient particularity in this authoritative report by the International Committee of the Red Cross.(2)Torture is more than the specific techniques—the forced nudity, sleep deprivation, long-term standing, and suffocation by water," among others—that were applied to those fourteen "high-value detainees" and likely many more at the "black site" prisons secretly maintained by the CIA on three continents.
Torture, as the former vice-president's words suggest, is a critical issue in the present of our politics—and not only because of ongoing investigations by Senate committees, or because of calls for an independent inquiry by congressional leaders, or for a "truth commission" by a leading Senate Democrat, or because of demands for a criminal investigation by the ACLU and other human rights organizations, and now undertaken in Spain, the United Kingdom, and Poland..(3) For many in the United States, torture still stands as a marker of political commitment—of a willingness to "do anything to protect the American people," a manly readiness to know when to abstain from "coddling terrorists" and do what needs to be done. Torture's powerful symbolic role, like many ugly, shameful facts, is left unacknowledged and undiscussed. But that doesn't make it any less real. On the contrary.
Torture is at the heart of the deadly politics of national security. The former vice-president, as able and ruthless a politician as the country has yet produced, appears convinced of this. For if torture really was a necessary evil in what Mr. Cheney calls the "tough, mean, dirty, nasty business" of "keeping the country safe," then it follows that its abolition at the hands of the Obama administration will put the country once more at risk. It was Barack Obama, after all, who on his first full day as president issued a series of historic executive orders that closed the "black site" secret prisons and halted the use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" that had been practiced there, and that provided that the offshore prison at Guantánamo would be closed within a year.
In moving instantly to do these things Obama identified himself as the "anti-torture president" no less than George W. Bush had become the "torture president"—as the former vice-president, a deeply unpopular politician who has seized the role of a kind of dark spokesman for the national id, was quick to point out. To a CNN interviewer who asked Mr. Cheney in March whether he believed that "by taking those steps...the president of the United States has made Americans less safe," Cheney replied:
I do. I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11. I think that's a great success story.(4)
To which President Obama a few days later answered, "I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney." He went on:
I think that Vice President Cheney has been at the head of a movement whose notion is somehow that we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests.... That attitude, that philosophy has done incredible damage to our image and position in the world.(5)
The President spoke of justice and reputation and the attitudes of Muslims toward Americans. And he spoke of "the facts"—which, he said of Mr. Cheney, "don't bear him out." It is clear that the President, a former professor of constitutional law and self-professed "optimistic guy" who, when asked whether those who have tortured should be punished, speaks of his preference for "looking forward" over "looking backward," appreciates the political importance of the "great success story" being shaped by Cheney and others out of the recent past, a "success story" that the new president, with his overly "legalistic" concern for the Constitution, is said to be wantonly and foolishly destroying.
Cheney's story is made not of facts but of the myths that replace them when facts remain secret: myths that are fueled by allusions to a dark world of secrets that cannot be revealed. At its heart is the recasting of President George W. Bush, under whose administration more Americans died in terrorist attacks than under all others combined, as the leader who "kept us safe," and who was able to do so only by recognizing that the US had to engage in "a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business." To keep the country safe "the gloves had to come off." What precisely were those "gloves" that had to be removed? Laws that forbid torture, that outlaw wiretapping and surveillance without permission of the courts, that limit the president's power to order secret operations and to wage war exactly as he sees fit.
The logic here works both ways: if "taking the gloves off" was a critical part of the "great success story" that has "kept the country safe," then those who put the gloves on—Democrats who, in the wake of the Watergate scandal during the mid-1970s, passed laws that, among other things, limited the president's freedom to order, with "deniability," the CIA to operate outside the law—must have left the country vulnerable. And if by passing those restrictive laws three decades ago Democrats had left the country defenseless before the September 11 terrorists, then putting the gloves back on, as President Barack Obama on assuming office immediately began to do, risks leaving the country vulnerable once more.
Thus another successful attack, if it comes, can be laid firmly at the door of the Obama administration and its Democratic, "legalistic" policies. Especially in the case of "the ultimate threat to the country," as the former vice-president put it two weeks after leaving office, of
a 9/11-type event where the terrorists are armed with something much more dangerous than an airline ticket and a box cutter—a nuclear weapon or a biological agent of some kind. That's the one that would involve the deaths of perhaps hundreds of thousands of people, and the one you have to spend a hell of a lot of time guarding against.
I think there's a high probability of such an attempt. Whether or not they can pull it off depends [on] whether or not we keep in place policies that have allowed us to defeat all further attempts, since 9/11, to launch mass-casualty attacks against the United States....
If you release the hard-core Al Qaeda terrorists that are held at Guantánamo, I think they go back into the business of trying to kill more Americans and mount further mass-casualty attacks. If you turn them loose and they go kill more Americans, who's responsible for that?
Who indeed? Mr. Cheney's politics of torture looks, Janus-like, in two directions: back to the past, toward exculpation for what was done under the administration he served, and into the future, toward blame for what might come under the administration that followed.
Put forward at a time when Republicans have lost power and popularity—and by the man who is perhaps the least popular figure in American public life—these propositions seem audacious, outrageous, even reckless; yet the political logic is insidious and, in the aftermath of a future attack, might well prove compelling. We are returning here to old principles, the post–cold war national security politics that Karl Rove, scarcely four months after the September 11 attacks, set out bluntly before his colleagues at the Republican National Committee: "We can go to the country on this issue"—the "War on Terror," Rove said, because voters "trust the Republican Party to do a better job of protecting and strengthening America's military might and, thereby, protecting America." And in 2002 and 2004, just as Rove had predicted, Republicans gathered a rich harvest from this "politics of fear," establishing and adding to majorities in both houses of Congress and managing to reelect a president who had embroiled the country in a deeply unpopular war in Iraq.
Cheney's politics of fear—and the vice-president is unique only in his willingness to enunciate the matter so aggressively—is drawn from the past but built for the future, a possibly post-apocalyptic future, when Americans, gazing at the ruins left by another attack on their country, will wonder what could have been done but wasn't. It relies on a carefully constructed narrative of what was done during the last half-dozen years, of all the disasters that could have happened but did not, and why they did not, and it makes unflinching political use of the powers of secrecy. As the former vice-president confided to the CNN correspondent John King,
John, I've seen a report that was written based upon the intelligence that we collected then that itemizes the specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through these programs. It's still classified. I can't give you details of it without violating classification, but I can say there were a great many of them.
Attacks prevented, threats averted, lives saved—all secret and all ascribed to a willingness to do the "tough, mean, dirty, nasty" things that needed to be done. Things the present "anti-torture president" is just too "legalistic" to do. Barack Obama may well assert that "the facts don't bear him out," but as long as the "details of it" cannot be revealed "without violating classification," as long as secrecy can be wielded as the dark and potent weapon it remains, Cheney's politics of torture will remain a powerful if half-submerged counter-story, waiting for the next attack to spark it into vibrant life.
2."Key to what we did" in the "War on Terror," the former vice-president told CNN, "was to collect intelligence against the enemy. That's what...the enhanced interrogation program was all about." It was not about punishment or pain or degradation but rather about intelligence. The question was, how to gather vital intelligence most efficiently and yet do it—as the former vice-president insists it was done—"legally" and "in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles." These "techniques" would not be torture but rather "enhanced interrogation" or "extreme interrogation," or, in President George W. Bush's favored phrase, almost beautiful in its utter and perfect neutrality, "an alternative set of procedures." These "procedures" were "designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations." (6)
Working through the forty-three pages of the International Committee of the Red Cross's report, one finds a strikingly detailed account of horrors inflicted on fourteen "high-value detainees" over a period of weeks and months—horrors that Red Cross officials conclude, quite unequivocally, "constituted torture." It is hard not to reflect how officials concerned about protecting the country arrived at this particular "alternative set of procedures," and how they convinced themselves, with the help of attorneys in the White House and in the Department of Justice, that these "procedures" were legal. Thanks especially to pathbreaking reporting by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker, to the historical work of Alfred W. McCoy, and now to a partially released report by the Senate Armed Services Committee and a series of leaked and declassified memos by the Bush Justice Department, we have a fairly extensive record of the intricate bureaucratic mechanics of how the program came to be. We can find its roots in various CIA studies of sensory deprivation and induced psychosis and "learned helplessness," some of them more than four decades old, and, in the case of the particular "alternative set of procedures," in the work of consultants and psychologists who had been involved in shaping and administering the SERE ("Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape") "counter-resistance" program developed by the US military.(7)
The effort began early in the days after the September 11 attacks. By December 2001, according to the Senate Armed Services Committee report, the general counsel in the Department of Defense "had already solicited information on detainee 'exploitation' from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions." Two months later, on February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention in effect didn't apply to prisoners in the "War on Terror." This decision cleared the way for the adaptation of SERE techniques to interrogation of prisoners in the "War on Terror." As the authors of the Senate Armed Services Committee report explain:
During the resistance phase of SERE training, US military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures...designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is "based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years."
The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy's SERE school, it included waterboarding.(8)
An awareness of this history makes reading the International Committee of the Red Cross report a strange exercise in climbing back through the looking glass. For in interviewing the fourteen "high-value detainees," who had been imprisoned secretly in the "black sites" anywhere from "16 months to almost four and a half years," the Red Cross experts were listening to descriptions of techniques applied to them that had been originally designed to be illegal "under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Conventions." And then the Red Cross investigators, as members of the body designated by the Geneva Conventions to supervise treatment of prisoners of war and to judge that treatment's legality, were called on to pronounce whether or not the techniques conformed to the conventions in the first place. In this judgment, they are, not surprisingly, unequivocal:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel and inhuman or degrading treatment.
In view of the roots of the "alternative set of procedures," this stark judgment might be dismissed as the chronicle of a verdict foretold. Both "torture" and "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" are declared illegal under the Third Geneva Convention, to which the Supreme Court ruled in June 2006 that—President Bush's February 2002 memorandum notwithstanding—the United States in its treatment of all prisoners must adhere. They are also illegal under the Convention Against Torture of 1984, to which the United States is a signatory, and illegal under the War Crimes Act of 1996 (though the Military Commissions Act of 2006 makes an attempt to shield those who applied the "alternative set of procedures" from legal consequences under this law). What is more, as the report concludes,
The totality of the circumstances in which the fourteen were held effectively amounted to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and enforced disappearance, in contravention of international law.
It is a testament as much to the peculiarities of the American press—to its "stenographic function" and its institutional unwillingness to report as fact anything disputed, however implausibly, by a high official—that the former vice-president's insistence that these interrogations were undertaken "legally" and "in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles" continues to be reported without contradiction, and that President Bush's oft-repeated assertion that "the United States does not torture" is still respectfully quoted and, in many quarters, taken seriously. That they are so reported is a political fact, and a powerful one. It makes it possible to contend that, however adamant the arguments of the lawyers "on either side," the very fact of their disagreement makes the legality of these procedures a matter of partisan political allegiance, not of law.
In the long months of confinement, I often thought of how to transmit the pain that a tortured person undergoes. And always I concluded that it was impossible. (Jacobo Timerman. (9))
Whatever the tangled history of the techniques described in the ICRC report—whatever the sources in Communist China or Soviet Russia or wherever else they might be traced—what was done in the end was quite simple. In setting out after September 11 to "do whatever it takes" in the "tough, mean, dirty, nasty business" of protecting the country against "evil people," Bush administration officials were modern people treading a timeless road. However impressive the advanced degrees of the consultants they hired, the techniques of "enhanced interrogation" are in their essence ancient, for they play on emotions and physical realities that are basic and unchanging. Consider, for example, the "crude but effective" methods of the Soviet State Political Directorate (GPU):
They consisted usually of tying the victim in a strait-jacket to an iron bunk. The strait-jacket was his only clothing; he had no blanket, no food and was unable to go to the lavatory. With a gag in his mouth and a stopper in his rectum he would be given periodic beatings with rubber poles. (10)
Brutal stuff; hard to imagine Americans, however intent on "collecting intelligence against the enemy," engaging in such things. And yet as one looks again at those "crude but effective" procedures, one notices certain unchanging necessities. There is, for example, the basic need to keep the subject helpless and restrained, here accomplished with forced nudity and a straitjacket. In the "black sites," the same end was achieved by forced nudity and what the Red Cross terms, in its chapter of the same name, "prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles." One of the fourteen detainees, for example, tells the Red Cross investigators that
he was kept for four and a half months continuously handcuffed and seven months with the ankles continuously shackled while detained in Kabul in 2003/4. On two occasions, his shackles had to be cut off his ankles as the locking mechanism had ceased to function, allegedly due to rust.
This technique, like other of the "alternative set of procedures" detailed by the Red Cross, seems to have been consistently applied to many of the fourteen "high-value" detainees. Walid bin Attash told the Red Cross investigators that
he was kept permanently handcuffed and shackled throughout his first six months of detention. During the four months he was held in his third place of detention, when not kept in the prolonged stress standing position [with his hands shackled to the ceiling], his ankle shackles were allegedly kept attached by a one meter long chain to a pin fixed in the corner of the room where he was held.
As with the GPU set of procedures, prisoners were kept naked, deprived of blankets, mattresses, and other necessities, and deprived of food. As for "the stopper in the rectum," it was supplied by the GPU to deal with the practical if unpleasant problem of how to cope, in the case of a person who is naked and entirely under restraint and at the same time experiencing prolonged and extreme pain, with the inevitable consequences of his bodily functions. The Americans at the "black sites," who had also to face this unpleasant necessity, particularly when holding detainees in "stress positions," for example, forcing them for many days to stand naked with their hands shackled to a bolt in the ceiling and their ankles shackled to a bolt in the floor, developed their own equivalent:
While being held in this position some of the detainees were allowed to defecate in a bucket. A guard would come to release their hands from the bar or hook in the ceiling so that they could sit on the bucket. None of them, however, were allowed to clean themselves afterwards. Others were made to wear a garment that resembled a diaper. This was the case for Mr. Bin Attash in his fourth place of detention. However, he commented that on several occasions the diaper was not replaced so he had to urinate and defecate on himself while shackled in the prolonged stress standing position. Indeed, in addition to Mr. Bin Attash, three other detainees specified that they had to defecate and urinate on themselves and remain standing in their own bodily fluids.
One turns, finally, to those "periodic beatings with rubber poles" that the GPU administered. No rubber poles are to be found in the Red Cross report. Once again, though, as with the stopper in the rectum and the diapers, the rubber poles simply represent the GPU's practical solution to a problem shared by the CIA at the "black sites": How can one beat a detainee repeatedly without causing debilitating or permanent injury that might make him unfit for further interrogation? How, that is, to get the pain and its effect while minimizing the physical consequences?
Where the GPU responded by developing rubber poles, the CIA created its plastic collar, "an improvised thick collar or neck roll," as the Red Cross investigators describe it in Chapter 1.3.3 ("Beating by use of a collar"), that "was placed around their necks and used by their interrogators to slam them against the walls." Though six of the fourteen detainees report the use of the "thick plastic collar," which, according to Khaled Shaik Mohammed, would then be "held at the two ends by a guard who would use it to slam me repeatedly against the wall," it is plain that this particular technique was perfected through experimentation. Indeed, the plastic collar seems to have begun as a rather simple mechanism: an everyday towel that was looped around the neck, the ends gathered in the guard's fist. The collar appeared later and brought with it other innovations:
Mr. Abu Zubaydah commented that when the collar was first used on him in his third place of detention, he was slammed directly against a hard concrete wall. He was then placed in a tall box for several hours (see Section 1.3.5, Confinement in boxes). After he was taken out of the box he noticed that a sheet of plywood had been placed against the wall. The collar was then used to slam him against the plywood sheet. He thought that the plywood was in order to absorb some of the impact so as to avoid the risk of physical injury.
How to inflict pain without causing injury that might inhibit or prevent further interrogation? And how to do so in such a way that the pain inflicted might be said not to be akin to that "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"? This was of course the legal definition of torture concocted by White House and Justice Department lawyers (and codified in what has come to be known as the "Torture Memo," written by John Yoo and signed by Jay Bybee on August 1, 2002). The challenging task set before these lawyers was to somehow "make legal" a set of techniques that had originated in a program developed expressly to prepare soldiers for techniques that were illegal, and thereby to offer officials and interrogators a "golden shield" that would suffice to convince them they would be protected from legal consequences.)
In answer to these questions, and with the benefit of experimentation, especially on Mr. Abu Zubaydah, one of the first of the alleged "big fish" al-Qaeda captives, the CIA seems to have arrived at a method that is codified by the International Committee of the Red Cross experts into twelve basic techniques, as follows:
Suffocation by water poured over a cloth placed over the nose and mouth...
Prolonged stress standing position, naked, held with the arms extended and chained above the head...
Beatings by use of a collar held around the detainees' neck and used to forcefully bang the head and body against the wall...
Beating and kicking, including slapping, punching, kicking to the body and face...
Confinement in a box to severely restrict movement...
Prolonged nudity...this enforced nudity lasted for periods ranging from several weeks to several months...
Sleep deprivation...through use of forced stress positions (standing or sitting), cold water and use of repetitive loud noises or music...
Exposure to cold temperature...especially via cold cells and interrogation rooms, and...use of cold water poured over the body or...held around the body by means of a plastic sheet to create an immersion bath with just the head out of water.
Prolonged shackling of hands and/or feet...
Threats of ill-treatment, to the detainee and/or his family...
Forced shaving of the head and beard...
Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food from 3 days to 1 month after arrest...
As the Red Cross writers tell us, "each specific method was in fact applied in combination with other methods, either simultaneously or in succession." A clear picture of this cumulative effect comes from the three long excerpts of interviews with detainees published as annexes at the end of the report, which I have quoted from and discussed at length in my earlier article.(11) To understand the effect one must remember what all experienced torturers know: dramatic results can be achieved with simple techniques. Forced standing, for example:
Ten of the fourteen alleged that they were subjected to prolonged stress standing positions, during which their wrists were shackled to a bar or hook in the ceiling above the head for periods ranging from two or three days continuously, and for up to two or three months intermittently.... For example, Mr. Khaled Shaik Mohammed alleged that, apart from the time when he was taken for interrogation, he was shackled in prolonged stress standing position for one month in his third place of detention.... Mr. Bin Attash for two weeks with two or three short breaks where he could lie down in Afghanistan and for several days in his fourth place of detention.... Mr. Hambali for four to five days, blindfolded with a type of sack over his head, while still detained in Thailand....
This prolonged forced standing is, again, an ancient technique, and a favorite, notably, of the Soviet intelligence services. It can be difficult, when gazing at the stark descriptions of these procedures, to understand their effect. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, for example, when approving in December 2002 a series of interrogation techniques that included forced standing for up to four hours, famously scribbled in the lower margin, beneath his initials: "However, I stand for 8–10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours? D.R." Secretary Rumsfeld, who no doubt was standing at his desk when he scrawled these words, professed to have difficulty comprehending the difference between working at a standing desk in one's office—signing documents, talking on the telephone, speaking to subordinates, drinking coffee—and standing naked in a very cold room with hands shackled to the ceiling for hours and days at a time.
One can gain a hint of the difference simply by rising and standing motionless with one's hands extended directly overhead and trying to maintain the position for, say, thirty minutes. Then imagine maintaining it for several hours, or days, or weeks. The physical effects, as described in a notorious study of Communist interrogation methods by two psychologists, are dramatic:
After 18 to 24 hours of continuous standing, there is an accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the legs. This dependent edema is produced by the extravasation of fluid from the blood vessels. The ankles and feet of the prisoner swell to twice their normal circumference. The edema may rise up the legs as high as the middle of the thighs. The skin becomes tense and intensely painful. Large blisters develop, which break and exude watery serum.... (12)
This medical observation is confirmed in the accounts of at least two of the detainees in the ICRC report, including that of Khaled Shaik Mohammed:
...I was kept for one month in the cell in a standing position with my hands cuffed and shackled above my head and my feet cuffed and shackled to a point in the floor. Of course during this month I fell asleep on some occasions while still being held in this position. This resulted in all my weight being applied to the handcuffs around my wrists resulting in open and bleeding wounds.... [Scars consistent with this allegation were visible on both wrists as well as both ankles.] Both my feet became very swollen after one month of almost continual standing. (13)
I fundamentally disagree with Dick Cheney.... The facts don't bear him out. (President Barack Obama, 60 Minutes, March 22, 2009)
One fact, seemingly incontrovertible, after the descriptions contained and the judgments made in the ICRC report, is that officials of the United States, in interrogating prisoners in the "War on Terror," have tortured and done so systematically. From many other sources, including the former president himself, we know that the decision to do so was taken at the highest level of the American government and carried out with the full knowledge and support of its most senior officials.
Once this is accepted as a fact, certain consequences might be expected to follow. First, that these policies, violating as they do domestic and international law, must be changed—which, as noted, President Obama began to accomplish on his first full day in office. Second, that they should be explicitly repudiated—a more complicated political process, which has, perhaps, begun, but only begun. Third, that those who ordered, designed, and applied them must be brought before the public in some societally sanctioned proceeding, made to explain what they did and how, and suffer some appropriate consequence.
And fourth, and crucially, that some judgment must be made, based on the most credible of information compiled and analyzed and weighed by the most credible of bodies, about what these policies actually accomplished: how they advanced the interests of the country, if indeed they did advance them, and how they hurt them. For at this point, President Obama's assertion that "the facts don't bear [Cheney] out" remains simply that: an assertion. To that assertion Mr. Cheney and others, including President Bush, respond and will continue to respond with claims of "specific attacks that were stopped by virtue of what we learned through these programs"—about which, of course, they "can't give you details...without violating classification." And when public officials do cite specific cases—as President Bush himself did in describing the use of the "alternative set of procedures" on Abu Zubaydah, who, the President claimed, "was a senior terrorist leader" who "provided information that helped stop a terrorist attack being planned for inside the United States"—other officials, many of them also "in a position to know," leak differing versions to reporters which seem to demonstrate that the claims that were made are exaggerations and worse. (14)
Unfortunately, these contrary accounts, however convincing—and in the case of Abu Zubaydah they have been very convincing—generally come from unnamed officials and cannot serve as definitive proof, or as a sufficiently credible repudiation of what former officials, including the President of the United States, still assert. Far from ending the discussion about whether torture really was, as Cheney insists, "absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack," these ongoing battles between extravagant claims and undermining leaks will ensure that it persists.
It is because of the claim that torture protected the US that the many Americans who still nod their heads when they hear Dick Cheney's claims about the necessity for "tough, mean, dirty, nasty" tactics in the war on terror respond to its revelation not by instantly condemning it but instead by asking further questions. For example: Was it necessary? And: Did it work? To these questions the last president and vice-president, who "kept the country safe" for "seven-plus years," respond "yes," and "yes." And though as time passes the numbers of those insisting on asking those questions, and willing to accept those answers, no doubt falls, it remains significant, and would likely grow substantially after another successful attack.
This political fact partly explains why, when it comes to torture, we seem to be a society trapped in a familiar and never-ending drama. For though some of the details provided—and officially confirmed for the first time—in the ICRC report are new, and though the first-person accounts make chilling reading and have undoubted dramatic power, one can't help observing that the broader discussion of torture is by now in its essential outlines nearly five years old, and has become, in its predictably reenacted outrage and defiant denials from various parties, something like a shadow play. (15)
News of the "black sites" first appeared prominently in the press—on the front page of TheWashington Post —in December 2002. (16) A year and a half later, after the publication and broadcast of the Abu Ghraib photographs—the one moment in the last half-dozen years when the torture story, thanks to the lurid images, became "televisual"—a great wave of leaks swept into public view hundreds of pages of "secret" documents about torture and the Bush administration's decision-making regarding it. (17) There have been many important "revelations" since, but none of them has changed the essential fact: by no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it.
The reports on American torture now fill a shelf next to my desk, beginning with the Taguba Report in 2004, still perhaps the best of them, and then going on to include the ICRC report on Abu Ghraib, the Schlesinger Report, the Fay/Jones Report, the Church Report, the Schmidt Report, and now the Armed Services Committee Report, the full text of which will soon break into the news in all its glory, telling us in much more conclusive detail a story the major outlines of which we already know. More revelations will come from this, and more news, particularly about the mechanics by which prominent senior officials approved use of the "alternative set of procedures" and closely monitored their day-to-day application. We will continue in an endless round-robin of revelation, in which we tell ourselves we are learning something new though in fact, when it comes to the central problem of torture—what we as a society should do about it and whether we will in fact do anything—we are in the end simply repeating to ourselves things, however increasingly detailed and awful, that we already know.
Meantime a number of organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union in a powerful letter by its director, Anthony Romero, have called on Attorney General Eric Holder—who in his confirmation hearings said bluntly that "waterboarding is torture"—to appoint a special prosecutor to look into possible violations of the law under the Bush administration's interrogation program. As I write, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, has called for the establishment of a kind of "truth commission" that will gather information, in part by trading immunity from prosecution for former officials for their truthful testimony, about "how our detention policies and practices...have seriously eroded fundamental American principles of the rule of law." And the chair of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, and its ranking member, Senator Christopher Bond of Missouri, have announced their own investigation into "how the CIA created, operated, and maintained its detention and interrogation program" and—what is crucial—their intention to make "an evaluation of intelligence information gained through the use of enhanced and standard interrogation techniques."
5.That is the central, unanswered question: What was gained? We know already a good deal about what was lost. On this subject President Obama in his 60 Minutes response was typically eloquent:
I mean, the fact of the matter is after all these years how many convictions actually came out of Guantánamo? How many terrorists have actually been brought to justice under the philosophy that is being promoted by Vice President Cheney? It hasn't made us safer. What it has been is a great advertisement for anti-American sentiment. Which means that there is constant effective recruitment of Arab fighters and Muslim fighters against US interests all around the world.... The whole premise of Guantánamo promoted by Vice President Cheney was that somehow the American system of justice was not up to the task of dealing with these terrorists.... Are we going to just keep on going until the entire Muslim world and Arab world despises us? Do we think that's really going to make us safer?
This is as clear and concise a summary of the damage wrought by torture as one is likely to get. Torture has undermined the United States' reputation for respecting and following the law and thus has crippled its political influence. By torturing, the United States has wounded itself and helped its enemies in what is in the end an inherently political war—a war, that is, in which the critical target to be conquered is the allegiances and attitudes of young Muslims. And by torturing prisoners, many of whom were implicated in committing great crimes against Americans, the United States has made it impossible to render justice on those criminals, instead sentencing them—and the country itself—to an endless limbo of injustice. That limbo stands as a kind of worldwide advertisement for the costs of the US reversion to torture, whose power President Obama has tried to reduce by announcing that he will close Guantánamo.
The question is how to set beside this damage to the country's interests—some of which can be measured by polling data in Muslim countries, by rises in recruitment to violent jihadist groups, and so on—against the claims that attacks have been averted. As is so often the case, the categories are not commensurable. Confronted with former Vice President Cheney's arguments, President Obama says "the facts don't bear him out," but the facts he points to appear to be facts about the political damage caused by torture, or about the difficulties it poses to the country in trying to prosecute prisoners. He appears not to be speaking about the same facts that the former administration officials do—facts that they claim prove that torture, in averting attacks and protecting the country, saved lives.
Investigating what kind of intelligence torture actually yielded is not a popular task: those who oppose torture do not like to admit that it might, in any way, have "worked"; those who support its use don't like to admit that it might not have. It is a regrettable but undeniable fact that torture's illegality, or the political harm it may do to the country's reputation, is not sufficient to discourage the willingness of many Americans to countenance it. However one might prefer that this be an argument about legality or morality, it is also an argument about national security and, in the end, about politics. However much one agrees with President Obama that Cheney's "notion" that "somehow...we can't reconcile our core values, our Constitution, our belief that we don't torture, with our national security interests," the fact is that many people continue to believe the contrary, and this group includes the former president and vice-president of the United States and many senior officials who served them.
There is a reason that the myth of the "ticking bomb" and the daring, ruthless US agent who will do anything to stop its detonation—anything including torture, a step that proves his commitment and his seriousness—is sacralized in popular culture, and not only in television dramas like 24 but in Dirty Harry and the other movies that are its ancestors. The story of the ticking bomb and the torturing hero who defuses it offers a calming message to combat pervasive anxiety and fear—that no matter what horrible threats loom, there are those who will make use of untrammeled government power to protect the country. It also appeals to uglier and equally powerful emotions: the desire for retribution, the urge to punish and to avenge, the felt need in the face of vulnerability to assert power. (18)
In this political calculus, liberals obsessed by "legalisms" are part of the problem, not part of the solution, and it is no accident that it is firmly in that camp that the former vice-president has been seeking to isolate the new president. Cheney's success in this endeavor will not be evident now—he is, after all, the most unpopular member of a deeply unpopular party—but the seeds he is so ostentatiously sowing could, if unchallenged by facts and given the right conditions, flourish dramatically in the future.
The only way to defuse the political volatility of torture and to remove it from the center of the "politics of fear" is to replace its lingering mystique, owed mostly to secrecy, with authoritative and convincing information about how it was really used and what it really achieved. That this has not yet happened is the reason why, despite the innumerable reports and studies and revelations that have given us a rich and vivid picture of the Bush administration's policies of torture, we as a society have barely advanced along this path. We have not so far managed, despite all the investigations, to produce a bipartisan, broadly credible, and politically decisive effort, and pronounce authoritatively on whether or not these activities accomplished anything at all in their stated and still asserted purpose: to protect the security interests of the country.
This cannot be accomplished through the press; for the same institutional limitations that lead journalists to keep repeating Bush and Cheney's insistence about the "legality" of torture make it impossible for the press alone, no matter how persuasive the leaks it brings to the public, to make a politically decisive judgment on the value of torture. What is lacking is not information or revelation but political credibility. What is needed is not more disclosures but a broadly persuasive judgment, delivered by people who can look at all the evidence, however highly classified, and can claim bipartisan respect on the order of the Watergate Select Committee or the 9/11 Commission, on whether or not torture made Americans safer.
This is the only way we can begin to come to a true consensus about torture. By all accounts, it is likely that the intelligence harvest that can be attributed directly to the "alternative set of procedures" is meager. But whatever information might have been gained, it must be assessed and then judged against the great costs, legal, moral, political, incurred in producing it. Torture's harvest, whatever it may truly be, is very unlikely to have outweighed those costs.
6.Such an investigation would have to begin with an inquiry into the broader issue of the Bush administration's detention policies after September 11. These policies, built on a cascading series of reverse incentives, filled United States facilities, from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib to the secret prisons, with tens of thousands of prisoners.
The reverse incentives began with the bounties of anywhere from several hundred to thousands of dollars offered by US Special Forces in Afghanistan for any "Al Qaeda or Taliban member" whom Afghans might bring to American soldiers—incentives that led to the imprisonment of hundreds of Afghan farmers and even of lower-level Taliban who offered nothing whatever in the form of intelligence but who nonetheless ended up imprisoned in Guantánamo, often for years. They were sent there by young US Army interrogators, many of them reservists with little training and no language skills, who found themselves with the awful responsibility of deciding whether or not to let these prisoners go—and who, whatever their doubts about the prisoners' value as intelligence sources, in the days after September 11 had no practical incentive to release them and every incentive not to. As Chris Mackey, the pseudonym of an Army reservist who served as an interrogator in Afghanistan in 2002, said:
In talking to some of the officers at Kandahar and Bagram...they all talk about how there was a great fear among them, those who were going to be putting their signatures to the release of prisoners, great fear that they were going to somehow manage to release somebody who would later turn out to be the 20th hijacker. So there was real concern and a real erring on the conservative side, especially early in the war.(19)
This pervasive and understandable concern, together with a lack of competent linguists and interrogators in the combat zone, led to a general policy of rounding up suspects that flooded Guantánamo with prisoners who simply should not have been there. Lawrence Wilkerson, a retired US Army colonel who at the time served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, confirms what other studies have shown: that because of "the utter incompetence of the battlefield vetting in Afghanistan" and "the incredible pressure coming down from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and others to 'just get the bastards to the interrogators,'" many or even most of those detained "were innocent of any substantial wrongdoing, had little intelligence value, and should be immediately released." Colonel Wilkerson goes on:
Several in the US leadership became aware of this improper vetting very early on.... But to have admitted this reality would have been a black mark on their leadership from virtually day one of the so-called Global War on Terror and these leaders already had black marks enough: the dead in a field in Pennsylvania, in the ashes of the Pentagon, and in the ruins of the World Trade Towers. They were not about to admit to their further errors at Guantánamo Bay. Better to claim that everyone there was a hardcore terrorist, was of enduring intelligence value, and would return to jihad if released.(20)
These initial errors, and the adamant refusal to correct or admit them, led to an overwhelmed, inefficient, and fundamentally unjust US detention system, one that displayed for the world, in televised images of orange-suited, shackled, and hooded prisoners at Guantánamo, and later naked, grotesquely contorted, and abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib, a kind of continuing lurid recruitment poster for al-Qaeda—a dramatic visual confirmation and reaffirmation of the very claims of an evil, repressive, imperialistic United States that lay at the heart of its ideology. Many studies have confirmed the essential truth that a great many prisoners, probably a majority, were unjustly held, without adequate cause or sufficient investigation.(21) Of the nearly eight hundred prisoners who have passed through Guantánamo, well over half have been released without charge, often after years of detention.
The initial panicked rush to "round up prisoners," which was replicated in Iraq during the first months of the insurgency in the summer and fall of 2003, led to what Wilkerson calls an "ad hoc intelligence philosophy" developed to "justify keeping many of these people, called the mosaic philosophy."
Simply stated, this philosophy held that it did not matter if a detainee were innocent. Indeed, because he lived in Afghanistan and was captured on or near the battle area, he must know something of importance.... All that was necessary was to extract everything possible from him and others like him, assemble it all in a computer program, and then look for cross-connections and serendipitous incidentals—in short, to have sufficient information about a village, a region, or a group of individuals, that dots could be connected and terrorists or their plots could be identified.
Thus, as many people as possible had to be kept in detention for as long as possible to allow this philosophy of intelligence gathering to work. The detainees' innocence was inconsequential.
I saw the consequences of this policy in Iraq, in the fall of 2003, when "neighborhood sweeps" and "cordon and capture operations" in "hot areas" led to wholesale arrests of young men. These men, about whom nothing was known apart from the fact that they were young and lived in a neighborhood deemed "hot," were flex-cuffed, hooded, and promptly sent to Abu Ghraib, where they...sat. Interrogators were overwhelmed, mostly with prisoners who simply had no intelligence to impart. The interrogators were well aware of this, of course, but in part because officers of the combat units who made the arrests sat on the boards that had to approve prisoner releases, it was almost impossible to release prisoners once they had been brought to Abu Ghraib. "Certain [Coalition Forces] military intelligence officers told the ICRC," according to a 2004 Red Cross report on Abu Ghraib, "that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake."(22)
As military interrogators described to me in some detail, these numbers overwhelmed the intelligence collection system that the wholesale arrests were intended to supply and fortify, leading interrogators to spend most of their time working through thousands of prisoners who had nothing to tell them—but who nonetheless could in most cases not be released and had to be interviewed, often repeatedly.
One soon begins to see a pattern: among officials at the top, panic and fear and incompetence lead to a compensating, self-justifying desire to "do whatever's necessary" to prevent attacks and finally to a consequent injustice inflicted on the innocents at the bottom that is both persistent and politically damaging. Thus the movement from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's call to "just get the bastards to the interrogators" to the overflow of innocent prisoners from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib, innocents who rendered unworkable the very system that the "get tough" directives were meant to snap into effective action.
Chris Mackey, the US Army interrogator, writes of "the gravitational laws that govern human behavior when one group of people is given complete control over another in a prison. Every impulse tugs downward."(23) All evidence suggests that in the days after September 11, 2001, the very officials who should have been ensuring that there were restraints put on such "gravitational laws" were instead doing all they could to augment them. Fear and a compensating desire to prove that nothing would be allowed to stand in the way of the all-important goal of protecting the country—especially not overly "legalistic" notions about international treaties and limitations on presidential power—were allowed to drive policy, and the country is still struggling to cope with the results.
7.We know a great deal about the Bush administration's policy of torture but we need to know more. We need to know, from an investigation that will study all the evidence, classified at however high a level of secrecy, and that will speak to the nation with a credible bipartisan voice, whether the use of torture really did produce information that, in the words of the former vice-president, was "absolutely crucial to getting us through the last seven-plus years without a major-casualty attack on the US." We already have substantial reason to doubt these claims, for example the words of Lawrence Wilkerson, who, as chief of staff to Secretary of State Powell, had access to intelligence of the highest classification:
It has never come to my attention in any persuasive way—from classified information or otherwise—that any intelligence of significance was gained from any of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay other than from the handful of undisputed ring leaders and their companions, clearly no more than a dozen or two of the detainees, and even their alleged contribution of hard, actionable intelligence is intensely disputed in the relevant communities such as intelligence and law enforcement.
It is important to note that a great many of those charged with the duty to "keep us safe" do not share the former president's view about the necessity of his "alternative set of procedures." Indeed, on September 6, 2006, a couple of hours before President Bush told the nation in his East Room speech about the "separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency" where the "alternative set of procedures" were used, and announced that the fourteen "suspected terrorist leaders and operatives" were being sent from the black sites to Guantánamo (where they would tell their stories at last to the Red Cross investigators), a very different event was taking place across the Potomac. At the Department of Defense, high-ranking officers and officials were introducing the new Army Field Manual for Human Intelligence Collector Operations— the newly rewritten manual for interrogators that was, as Lieutenant General John Kimmons, the Army deputy chief of staff for intelligence, pointed out, unique in a number of ways:
The Field Manual explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment.... To make this more imaginable and understandable to our soldiers...we have included in the Field Manual specific prohibitions. There's eight of them: interrogators may not force a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner; they cannot use hoods or place sacks over a detainee's head or use duct tape over his eyes; they cannot beat or electrically shock or burn them or inflict other forms of physical pain—any form of physical pain; they may not use water boarding, they may not use hypothermia or treatment which will lead to heat injury; they will not perform mock executions; they may not deprive detainees of the necessary food, water and medical care; and they may not use dogs in any aspect of interrogations.... (24)
Lieutenant General Kimmons's list of procedures is remarkable for including almost all of those that had come to light during the years of the Bush administration, either at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, or, now, at the "black sites." Indeed, just before his commander in chief's vivid defense to the country of the necessity of the "alternative set of procedures," the general was declaring that the military had expressly forbidden precisely those procedures—and was explaining, in answer to a reporter's question about whether the prohibitions didn't "limit the ability of interrogators to get information that could be very useful," precisely why:
I am absolutely convinced the answer to your first question is no. No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.
And moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress, through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility. And additionally, it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't afford to go there.
And yet the "loud rhetoric" of Dick Cheney, as Colonel Wilkerson remarks, "continues even now" and remains a persistent political fact in our debate about national security. What should be a debate about facts remains instead a debate fueled by reckless assertions about "still classified" intelligence and leaks that undermine those assertions. The debate over the supposed importance of intelligence provided by Abu Zubaydah, whose torture, including waterboarding, is related with awful immediacy in the ICRC report, is only the most prominent of these controversies. Though waterboarding has not been performed on prisoners in American custody since 2003, there is a reason we continue to talk about it. Though we have known about the Bush administration's policy of torture for five years, there is unquestionably more debate about it now than there ever has been. We are having, in a ragged way, the debate about ethics and morality in our national security policies that we never had in the days after September 11, when decisions were made in secret by a handful of officials.
Philip Zelikow, who served the Bush administration in the National Security Council and the State Department and then went on to direct the 9/11 Commission, remarked in an important speech three years ago that these officials, instead of having that debate simply called in the lawyers: the focus, that is, was not on "what should we do" but on "what can we do."(25)
There is a sense in which our society is finally posing that "what should we do" question. That it is doing so only now, after the fact, is a tragedy for the country—and becomes even more damaging as the debate is carried on largely by means of politically driven assertions and leaks. For even as the practice of torture by Americans has withered and died, its potency as a political issue has grown. The issue could not be more important, for it cuts to the basic question of who we are as Americans, and whether our laws and ideals truly guide us in our actions or serve, instead, as a kind of national decoration to be discarded in times of danger. The only way to confront the political power of the issue, and prevent the reappearance of the practice itself, is to take a hard look at the true "empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years," and speak out, clearly and credibly, about what that story really tells.
1. See John F. Harris, Mike Allen, and Jim VandeHei, "Cheney Warns of New Attacks," Politico, February 4, 2009.
2. See my article, "US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites," The New York Review, April 9, 2009, in which the ICRC report is extensively excerpted, and to which the present essay is a sequel. The report is based on extensive interviews, carried out in October and December 2006, with fourteen so-called "high-value detainees," who had been imprisoned and interrogated for extended periods at the "black sites," a series of secret prisons operated by the CIA in a number of countries around the world, including, at various times, Thailand, Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, and Morocco. Download the full text of the report.
3. Among others, the Senate Armed Services Committee has made public parts of its Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody and more of this will doubtless be released in coming days. Meanwhile, a Spanish judge sent to a prosecutor a case against Alberto Gonzales, the former White House counsel and attorney general, and five other senior Bush officials, including John Yoo and Jay Bybee. See Marlise Simons, "Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials," The New York Times, March 28, 2009. In the United Kingdom, the Crown Prosecution Service has begun an inquiry into allegations of the torture of Binyam Mohamed during his detention by the CIA. In Poland, prosecutors have reportedly begun an inquiry into allegations that the CIA made use of an abandoned military facility as a "black site" to torture prisoners.
4. "Interview with Dick Cheney," S tate of the Union With John King, CNN, March 15, 2009.
5. See "Obama on AIG Rage, Recession, Challenges," 60 Minutes, March 22, 2009.
6. See "President Discusses Creation of Military Commissions to Try Suspected Terrorists," September 6, 2006, East Room, White House, available at cfr.org. This is the most important speech President Bush gave on the "alternative set of procedures" and is analyzed at length in my previous article.
7. See, for the definitive account, Jane Mayer, "Outsourcing Torture," The New Yorker, February 15, 2005, and The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (Doubleday, 2008); and also Alfred W. McCoy, A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, from the Cold War to the War on Terror (Metropolitan, 2006).
8. See Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody, "Executive Summary and Conclusions," released December 11, 2008, p. xiii. Emphasis added.
9.See Jacobo Timerman, Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number (University of Wisconsin Press, 1981), p. 32.
10. See Robin Bruce Lockhart, Ace of Spies (1967; Penguin, 1984), p. 176.
11. See my "US Torture: Voices from the Black Sites," especially pp. 71–75.
12. See Lawrence E. Hinkle Jr. and Harold G. Wolff, "Communist Interrogation and Indoctrination of 'Enemies of the State,'" A.M.A. Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, Vol. 76, No. 2 (August 1956), p. 134.
13. The interpolated words in brackets are as they appear in the Red Cross report.
14. I discuss the Abu Zubaydah case more fully in my previous article. Nearly three years ago author Ron Suskind offered an extensive account of Abu Zubaydah and the exaggerations that officials had made about him, from President Bush on down—both about his rank and importance in al-Qaeda and about the value of the information he supposedly offered after the application of the "alternative set of procedures." See Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (Simon and Schuster, 2006), especially pages 99–101 and 115–118. The debate about the case has continued to be pursued furiously in the press, an indication of the strong feelings of many, mostly unnamed officials within the intelligence and law enforcement communities. See, most recently, Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots: Waterboarding, Rough Interrogation of Abu Zubaida Produced False Leads, Officials Say," The Washington Post, March 29, 2009.
15. Jane Mayer, in her article "The Black Sites," The New Yorker, August 13, 2007, and in her book, The Dark Side, published many of the details of abuse contained in the ICRC report, though not texts from the report itself.
16. See Dana Priest and Barton Gellman, "US Decries Abuse but Defends Interrogations: 'Stress and Duress' Tactics Used on Terrorism Suspects Held in Secret Overseas Facilities," The Washington Post, December 26, 2002.
17. In October of that year I published several hundred pages of those documents in my book Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (New York Review Books, 2004). A few months later Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel published their more comprehensive collection, The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib (Cambridge University Press, 2005).
18. These emotions affect government officials as well, as this description of those who insisted on the torture of Abu Zubaydah suggests: "They couldn't stand the idea that there wasn't anything new," the official said. "They'd say, 'You aren't working hard enough.' There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that 'He's going to talk, and if he doesn't talk, we'll do whatever.'" See Finn and Warrick, "Detainee's Harsh Treatment Foiled No Plots."
19. See "Interview: Chris Mackey and Greg Miller discuss their book, 'The Interrogators,'" Fresh Air, National Public Radio, July 20, 2004. See Chris Mackey with Greg Miller, The Interrogators: Inside the Secret War Against Al Qaeda (Little, Brown, 2004).
20. See Lawrence Wilkerson, "Some Truths About Guantánamo Bay," The Washington Note, March 17, 2009.
21. See, for example, Corine Hegland, "Who Is at Guantánamo Bay," National Journal, February 3, 2006.
22. See "Report of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Treatment by the Coalition Forces of Prisoners of War and Other Persons Protected by the Geneva Conventions in Iraq During Arrest, Internment and Interrogation," February 2004, reviewed in my article "Torture and Truth," The New York Review, June 10, 2004.
23. See Mackey and Miller, The Interrogators, p. 471.
24. See "DoD News Briefing with Deputy Assistant Secretary Stimson and Lt. Gen. Kimmons from the Pentagon," September 6, 2006.
25. See Philip Zelikow, "Legal Policy for a Twilight War," Annual Lecture, Houston Journal of International Law, April 26, 2007.
This article, by Jason Leopold, was posted to the Public Record, March 27, 2009
While Congress has focused primarily on the country’s economic turmoil and the lavish bonuses paid to Wall Street executives, a Senate Armed Services Committee report currently in the process of being declassified will force lawmakers to shift gears.
The Armed Services Committee will release--possibly as early as next week—its voluminous report on the treatment of alleged terrorist detainees held in U.S. custody and the brutal interrogation techniques they were subjected to, according to Defense Department and intelligence sources who described the report as the most detailed account to date of the roles senior Bush administration and Defense Department officials played in implementing a policy of torture at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other detention centers.
The full declassified version of the report is 200 pages, contains 2,000 footnotes, and will reveal a plethora of new information about the genesis of the Bush administration's interrogation policies. The investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete. The declassified version of his report will include a full account of the roles military psychologists played in assisting the Bush administration implement a policy of torture.
The committee released a 19-page summary of its investigation last year and voted last November to accept the full classified version of the report's findings. According to the executive summary, “efforts by administration officials to place responsibility for detainee abuses mostly on lower ranking military personnel as both inaccurate and misleading.”
The release of the full declassified version of the Armed Service's Committee report will also put additional pressure on the Obama administration to immediately launch a full-scale investigation into the Bush administration’s interrogation program. Last week, the ACLU called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to probe Bush administration officials who signed off on and approved the torture of prisoners.
But at his first prime-time news conference in February, Obama said in response to questions about the Bush administration's interrogation practices that no one is above the law but that he favored looking forward, not backward.
“What I have said is that my administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture that we abide by the Geneva Conventions and that we observe our traditions of rule of law and due process as we are vigorously going after terrorists that can do us harm,” Obama said.
"My view is also that nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing then people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen. But generally speaking I am more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”
Levin has asked Holder to appoint someone to further probe his report’s findings and make a recommendation to Holder on how to proceed. The attorney general hasn't yet responded. Matthew Miller, a Justice Department spokesman, said Friday he was working on obtaining a response to Levin's recommendation to Holder but Miller was unable to provide The Public Record with a response by the time this story was published. We will, however, update this report with Miller's response when we receive it.
In January, at a progressive media summit, Levin said, “There needs to be, I believe, an accounting of torture in this country.”
“I suggested to Eric Holder, who will be the next Attorney General despite the delay that took place today, that he select some people or hire an outside person who's got real credibility, perhaps a retired federal judge, to take all the available information, and there’s reams of it,” Levin said Jan. 21. “Look, the Vice President, the former Vice President of the United States, acknowledged that they engaged in torture. He says that waterboarding’s not torture, he’s wrong. Waterboarding is torture, period.
“And this administration and Eric Holder has said so. It’s torture and there’s other forms that they engaged in, so what needs to be done, I believe, in addition to finishing the investigation, is for the Attorney General, the new Attorney General, to identify some people in his office to take the existing documentation. The acknowledgment, folks, this is not a very difficult — this is almost like a case in court with an agreed upon statement of facts, that the previous administration acknowledges that they engaged in waterboarding, period. . .”
The Armed Serivces Committee investigation has already concluded that “members of [Bush’s] Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA’s interrogation program during that period.”
But the declassified committee report contains detailed information about those secret meetings. John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, participated in several of these meetings prior to writing a legal opinion authorizing interrogators to subject detainees to waterboarding and other brutal techniques.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who was National Security Adviser when interrogation methods were discussed, said that beginning as early as the summer of 2002 Yoo provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended and that the Department of Justice’s advice on the interrogation program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.”
Yoo met with Gonzales and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the August 2002 torture memos, according to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report.
Those meetings and the legal opinions that followed have also been scrutinized in a separate report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which spent four years reviewing the legal work of Yoo and other attorneys at the OLC. The OPR report, which is still classified, zeroed in on the meetings Yoo participated in and concluded that Yoo had breached “professional standards” by acting as an advocate for White House policy, according to Justice Department officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the report is still classified. SERE Techniques
The declassified report will include a full accounting of how the military’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program, which was meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, was reverse engineered and used against detainees during interrogations. SERE training techniques include stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation and, until recently, the Navy SERE school used the waterboard.
Already, the committee has revealed that discussion surrounding the use of SERE techniques on detainees began in the spring of 2002 and inquiries about the use of SERE methods were made in December 2001, well before the issuance of a legal opinion authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods.
“Resistance training (the “R” in SERE) was a subject of discussion,” Levin said in a statement last December accompanying an executive summary of his committee’s report. “We discovered that in July 2002, at the request of [Department of Defense] General Counsel Jim Haynes’s office, the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) - the DoD agency that oversees SERE training - provided Haynes’s office a list of techniques used in SERE school and an assessment of the psychological effect of using those techniques on students.
“In December 2002, Secretary of Defense [Donald] Rumsfeld authorized some of those same techniques for use against detainees at [Guantanamo]. We discovered that, in January 2003, SERE instructors traveled to [Guantanamo] and trained interrogators to hit detainees and put them in stress positions. And the investigation revealed that instructors from JPRA’s SERE school participated in at least one abusive interrogation and were present for others during a visit to Iraq in September 2003.
“Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there,” the Armed Services Committee report concluded.” Secretary Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 approval of Mr. Haynes’s recommendation that most of the techniques contained in [Guantanamo’s] October 11, 2002 request be authorized, influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq.”
The investigation found that the CIA’s interrogation program “included at least one SERE training technique, waterboarding.”
“Senior Administration lawyers, including Alberto Gonzales, Counsel to the President, and David Addington, Counsel to the Vice President, were consulted on the development of legal analysis of CIA interrogation techniques,” a declassified summary of the report said. “Legal opinions subsequently issued by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) interpreted legal obligations under U.S. anti-torture laws and determined the legality of CIA interrogation techniques.
“Those OLC opinions distorted the meaning and intent of anti-torture laws, rationalized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody and influenced Department of Defense determinations as to what interrogation techniques were legal for use during interrogations conducted by U.S. military personnel.”
Last June, Levin said he sent Jay Bybee, the former assistant attorney general at OLC who signed the infamous Aug. 1, 2002 torture memo, a list of questions about the implementation of SERE methods.
“In his response to my questions, Jay Bybee said that, in July 2002 – just before those two OLC opinions were issued and about the same time Jim Haynes’s office requested a list of SERE training techniques and information on the psychological effects of SERE (including waterboarding), the CIA provided OLC with an assessment of the psychological effects of SERE resistance training,” Levin said last December. “Jay Bybee wrote me that the assessment provided by the CIA was used to “inform” the August 1, 2002 OLC legal opinion that has yet to be made public. (CIA officials, including George Tenet and acting General Counsel John Rizzo declined to answer questions relating to both that assessment and the CIA’s interrogation program.)
“Judge Bybee’s answers provide insight into how senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques used in SERE training, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
Bybee’s legal work in this area was also harshly criticized by OPR, according to sources familiar with the contents of the watchdog's report. Bybee is now a judge on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
The investigation Levin's committee conducted concluded that a Feb. 7, 2002, action memorandum signed by George W. Bush that excluded “war on terror” suspects from Geneva Convention protections was responsible for the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
“Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody,” the committee’s report concluded.
“The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
Rumsfeld and Chertoff
Rice told Levin in written responses to his committee’s queries last September that the CIA’s interrogation program was reviewed by National Security Council principals and that Rumsfeld participated in that review.
Rice said that when the CIA sought approval of the interrogation program she asked Tenet to brief the principals and asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to “personally advise NSC Principals whether the program was lawful.”
John Bellinger, Rice’s Legal Advisor, told Levin that he asked CIA lawyers to seek legal advice not only from the OLC, but also from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, headed at the time by Michael Chertoff.
Chertoff reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the August 1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.
In February 2005, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become Homeland Security secretary, Chertoff said he provided the CIA broad guidance in response to its questions about interrogation methods, but never addressed the legality of specific techniques.
Abu Zubaydah’s Torture
The declassified report will also for the first time include a full account about the fierce objections the FBI had toward the CIA’s interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value” al-Qaeda detainee, and an in-depth accounting of the meetings and discussions that led to his torture..
According to documents Levin’s committee obtained from the Department of Justice, Daniel Levin, the former head of the agency’s Office of Legal Counsel, indicated that in 2002 "in the context of the Zubaydah interrogation, he attended a meeting at the National Security Council (NSC) at which CIA techniques were discussed.
Daniel “Levin stated that a DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney gave advice at the meeting about the legality of CIA interrogation techniques. Levin stated that in connection with this meeting, or immediately after it, FBI Director Mueller decided that FBI agents would not participate in interrogations involving techniques the FBI did not normally use in the United States, even though OLC had determined such techniques were legal," according to questions directed to Rice by Sen. Levin.
Daniel Levin was forced to resign in 2004 when Alberto Gonzales became Attorney General because he objected to waterboarding.
The CIA videotaped Zubaydah’s interrogations and the tapes were destroyed. Two weeks ago, author Mark Danner disclosed a report prepared by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), concluding that the abuse of 14 “high-value” detainees, including Zubaydah, “constituted torture.”
“In addition, many other elements of the ill treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” according to the ICRC report. Since the ICRC’s responsibilities involve ensuring compliance with the Geneva Conventions and supervising the treatment of prisoners of war, the organization’s findings carry legal weight.
The ICRC report also found that there was a consistency in many details from the detainees who were interviewed separately and that the first “high-value” detainee to be captured, Abu Zubaydah, appeared to have been used as something of a test case by his interrogators. Zubaydah was one of the prisoners whose interrogations were videotaped by the CIA.
In her responses to Sen. Levin’s questions regarding Zubaydah’s interrogation, Rice said she had “general recollection that FBI had decided not to participate in the CIA interrogations but I do not recall any specific discussions about withdrawing FBI personnel from the Abu Zubaydah interrogation.”
In the book The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind said Zubaydah was not the “high-value detainee” the CIA had claimed. Rather, Zubaydah was a minor player in the al-Qaeda organization, handling travel for associates and their families, Suskind wrote.
However, “Bush was fixated on how to get Zubaydah to tell us the truth,” Suskind wrote. Bush asked one CIA briefer, “Do some of these harsh methods really work?”
Zubaydah was strapped to a waterboard and, fearing imminent death, he spoke about a wide range of plots against a number of U.S. targets, such as shopping malls, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Yet, Suskind wrote, the information Zubaydah provided under duress was not credible.
According to Suskind, Zubaydah’s captors soon discovered that their prisoner was mentally ill and knew nothing about terrorist operations or impending plots. That realization was “echoed at the top of CIA and was, of course, briefed to the President and Vice President,” Suskind wrote.
Still, in public statements, President Bush portrayed Zubaydah as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States” and added: “So, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures” to get Zubaydah to talk.
The President did not want to “lose face” because he had stated his importance publicly, Suskind wrote.
The final conclusion of Levin’s investigation was that the “abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.”
“Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at [Guantanamo],” a declassified summary of his report said. “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.”
This article, by Jason Leopold, was posted to the Public Record, March 31, 2009
Doug Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, is best known for cooking up bogus prewar Iraq intelligence linking Iraq and al-Qaeda and 9/11.
But in addition to his duties to his duties stove piping phony intelligence directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Feith was also a key member of a small working group of Defense Department officials who oversaw the implementation of “enhanced interrogation techniques” at Guantanamo Bay that has been widely regarded as torture.
Last weekend, Spain’s investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon, who issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, ordered prosecutors to investigate Feith and five other senior Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at the prison facility.
On Sunday, Feith responded to the charges. He told the BBC he that "the charges as related to me make no sense.”
"They criticize me for promoting a controversial position that I never advocated," Feith claimed. But Feith’s denials ring hollow.
The allegations against Feith contained in the 98-page complaint filed in March 2008 by human rights lawyer Gonzalo Boye and the Association for the [Dignity] was largely gleaned from a lengthy interview Feith gave to international attorney and University College London professor Phillpe Sands. Sands is the author of “Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values.
The other Bush officials named in the complaint are: former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, Cheney’s counsel David Addington, and former Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, II. The charges cited in the complaint against these officials was also largely based on material Sands cited in his book about the roles they played in sanctioning torture.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who, as National Security Adviser, was part of a working group that included Haynes, Yoo, Addington and Gonzales, said interrogation methods were discussed as early as the summer of 2002 and Yoo provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended. She said the DOJ’s advice on the interrogation program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.”
Yoo met with Gonzales and Addington to discuss the subjects he intended to address in two August 2002 torture memos, according to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report. Feith’s was also included in the discussions.
Sands wrote that as early as 2002, “Feith’s job was to provide advice across a wide range of issues, and the issues came to include advice on the Geneva Conventions and the conduct of military interrogations.”
Feith told Sands that he “played a major role in” George W. Bush’s decision to sign a Feb. 7, 2002 action memorandum suspending the Geneva Conventions for al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.
The memo did say that prisoners had to be treated “humanely,” but Feith told Sands the verbiage needed “to be fleshed out.” “But it’s a fine phrase—‘humane treatment,’” Feith added. Still, even with the phrase intact, the Common Article 3 restrictions against torture and “outrages upon personal dignity” were removed. Feith said 2002 was a special year for him.
“This year I was really a player,” Feith told Sands.
“I asked him whether, in the end, he was at all concerned that the Geneva decision might have diminished America’s moral authority,” Sands wrote. “He was not. ‘The problem with moral authority,’ [Feith] said, was ‘people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.’”
“Douglas Feith had a long-standing intellectual interest in Geneva, and for many years had opposed legal protections for terrorists under international law” Sands wrote in his book. “He referred me to an article he had written in 1985, in The National Interest, setting out his basic view. Geneva provided incentives to play by the rules; those who chose not to follow the rules, he argued, shouldn’t be allowed to rely on them, or else the whole Geneva structure would collapse. The only way to protect Geneva, in other words, was sometimes to limit its scope. To uphold Geneva’s protections, you might have to cast them aside.”
In addition to Sands’ account, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union have released documents showing that Haynes regularly briefed Feith about a list of aggressive interrogation techniques for use against “high-value” Guantanamo detainees.
According to an executive summary of the Armed Services Committee report released last December, “techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval.”
In November 2002, Haynes sent Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memo stating that he “had discussed the issue [of enhanced interrogations] with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, and General [Richard] Myers and that he believed they concurred in his recommendation.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to release a declassified version of its report that will include a full account of Feith’s role in implementing a policy of torture at Guantanamo. The report is 200 pages, contains 2,000 footnotes, and will reveal a wealth of new information about the genesis of the Bush administration's interrogation policies, according to these sources. The investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete.
Other documents released last year show that Feith worked closely with Pentagon general counsel William Haynes II in 2002 on an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, against detainees at Guantanamo. One of the SERE techniques used against detainees was waterboarding.
Moreover, Feith and Haynes were members of a Pentagon "working group" that met from January through March 2003 and prepared a report for Rumsfeld stating what methods military interrogators could use to extract information from a prisoner at Guantanamo. Yoo worked on the legal memo for the group.
Early drafts of the report advocated intimidating prisoners with dogs, removing prisoners' clothing, shaving their beards, slapping prisoners in the face and waterboarding.
Though some of the more extreme techniques were dropped as the list was winnowed down to 24 from 35, the final set of methods still included tactics for isolating and demeaning a detainee, known as "pride and ego down."
Such degrading tactics violated the Geneva Convention, which bars abusive or demeaning treatment of captives.
Rumsfeld signed the Feith’s and Haynes final report on April 2, 2003, two weeks after Bush ordered U.S. forces to invade Iraq.
One year later, photos depicting U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were publicly released.
According to a report by a panel headed by James Schlesinger on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses in 2004, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez said Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo suspending Geneva Conventions, which Feith had said he was principally responsible for, led him to implement "additional, tougher measures" against detainees.
This article, by Pamela Hess, was published by the Associated Press, Februuary 20, 2009
WASHINGTON — The Pentagon says the Guantanamo Bay prison meets the standard for humane treatment laid out in the Geneva Conventions, according to a report for President Barack Obama, who has ordered the terrorist detention center closed within a year.
The report recommended some changes, including an increase in group recreation for some of the camp’s more dangerous or less compliant prisoners, according to a government official familiar with the study. The report also suggested allowing those prisoners to gather in groups of three or more, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has not officially been released.
Some of the hard-core prisoners are not currently allowed to meet with other prisoners for prayer or socialization and are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day. Alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed is among the prisoners who could be affected by the change. Prolonged social isolation has been known to harm mental health among prisoners.
The 85-page report by Adm. Patrick M. Walsh, the Navy’s second in command, was written in response to Obama’s Jan. 22 executive order to close the facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba within a year.
As a presidential candidate, Obama criticized the detention center that human rights groups and many in the international community widely condemned for harsh treatment of prisoners during the Bush administration. The military has defended its actions, saying prisoners have been treated humanely since the center was set up after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The report found the camp to be in compliance with the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3, the international rules that require the humane treatment of prisoners taken in unconventional armed conflicts, like the war on terrorism. The camp’s controversial force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strikes was also found to be compliant with the Geneva guidelines, a second government official confirmed.
Last month, the military judge in charge of deciding whether to charge Guantanamo detainees with crimes told The Washington Post at least one of the prisoners was tortured in 2002 and 2003, alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Mohammed al-Qahtani.
About 800 prisoners have been held there, many for years and nearly all without criminal charges. There are now around 250, including 17 from China who the United States wants to set free but cannot return to China for fear they will be tortured by the government.
Guantanamo was selected for legal reasons: as a military base, it is sovereign U.S. territory but, according to Bush administration lawyers, was outside the scope of the Constitution. That would allow prisoners to be prosecuted for war crimes using evidence that would be difficult to use in the U.S. civilian court system.
This article, by John Dean, was posted to AlterNet, January 24, 2009
Remarkably, the confirmation of President Obama's Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, is being held up by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who apparently is unhappy that Holder might actually investigate and prosecute Bush Administration officials who engaged in torture. Aside from this repugnant new Republican embrace of torture (which might be a winning issue for the lunatic fringe of the party and a nice way to further marginalize the GOP), any effort to protect Bush officials from legal responsibility for war crimes, in the long run, will not work.
It is difficult to believe that Eric Holder would agree not to enforce the law, like his recent Republican predecessors. Indeed, if he were to do so, President Obama should withdraw his nomination. But as MSNBC "Countdown" anchor Keith Olbermann stated earlier this week, even if the Obama Administration for whatever reason does not investigate and prosecute these crimes, this still does not mean that the Bush Administration officials who were involved in torture are going to get a pass.
With few exceptions, the discussion about what the Obama Administration will do regarding the torture of detainees during the Bush years has been framed as a domestic matter, and the fate of those involved in torturing has been largely viewed as a question of whether the Department of Justice will take action. In fact, not only is the world watching what the Obama Administration does regarding Bush's torturers, but other countries are very likely to take action if the United States fails to do so.
Bush's Torturers Have Serious Jeopardy
Philippe Sands, a Queen's Counsel at Matrix Chambers and Professor of International law at University College London, has assembled a powerful indictment of the key Bush Administration people involved in torture in his book Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. He explains the legal exposure of people like former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney's counsel and later chief of staff David Addington, former Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, the former Department of Defense general counsel Jim Haynes, and others for their involvement in the torture of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and CIA secret prisons.
After reading Sands's book and, more recently, listening to his comments on Terry Gross's NPR show "Fresh Air," on January 7, 2009 I realized how closely the rest of the world is following the actions of these former officials, and was reminded that these actions appear to constitute not merely violations of American law, but also, and very literally, crimes against humanity -- for which the world is ready to hold them responsible.
Here is what Professor Sands told Terry Gross on NPR: "In talking to prosecutors around the world, as I have done, they all recognize the very real political difficulties of taking on someone who has been Vice President of the United States, or President of the United States, or Secretary of Defense of the United States. But those arguments melt away as you go a little down the chain. And I don't think the same arguments would apply in relation to the man, for example, who was Vice President Cheney's general counsel, at the time the decisions were taken, David Addington ... I think he faces a very real risk of, you know, investigation for complicity in an act that amounts to torture ... " Later, referring to "international investigations," he added that Addington (and others) were at "serious risk of being investigated."
These are remarkable statements from a very well-informed man. Because we have a common publisher, I was able to contact him in London, and pose a few questions. I find his book, statements and responses to my questions chilling.
Q & A With Professor Philippe Sands
The following is my email exchange with Professor Sands:
John W. Dean: When talking to Ms. Gross you said you were not calling for such international investigations because we all need more facts. Given the fact that Judge Susan Crawford has now made clear that torture occurred, do you -- and others with your expertise and background -- have sufficient information to call for other countries to take action if the Obama Administration fails to act?
Philippe Sands: Last week's intervention by Susan Crawford, confirming that torture occurred at Guantanamo, is highly significant (as I explain in a piece I wrote with Dahlia Lithwick: "The Turning Point: How the Susan Crawford interview changes everything we know about torture"). The evidence as to torture, with all that implies for domestic and foreign criminal investigation, is compelling. Domestic and foreign investigators already have ample evidence to commence investigation, if so requested or on their own account, even if the whole picture is not yet available. That has implications for the potential exposure of different individuals, depending on the nature and extent of their involvement in acts that have elements of a criminal conspiracy to subvert the law.|
JD: If yes, can you share what you and others might do, and when?
PS: I am in the process of completing the epilogue to my book Torture Team, which will be published in May 2009. That will set out, in detail, what I learned when I made a return visit to the European judge and prosecutor with whom I met in the summer of 2007, as described in the book. Watch this space.
JD: If no, what would it take for those like you to call for all countries with potential jurisdiction to take action?
PS: More than 140 countries may potentially exercise jurisdiction over former members of the Bush Administration for violations of the 1984 Torture Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including the standards reflected in their Common Article 3. Whether they do so, and how they might do so, turns on a range of factors, including their domestic procedural rules. In the United Kingdom, one criminal investigation is already underway, in relation to the alleged treatment of Binyam Mohammed, a Guantanamo detainee who is a British resident. I doubt it will be the last. That said, having set out the relevant facts in one case [in my book], to the best of my abilities, I feel it will now be for others to take this forward as they consider appropriate.
JD: Also, when talking to Ms. Gross you said that you did not think that David Addington and others involved in torture were likely to be travelling outside the United States. Do you know for a fact that any country might take action? Have you discussed this with any prosecutors who could do so?
PS: This will be addressed in the epilogue to Torture Team.
JD: Do you believe that a failure of the Obama Administration to investigate, and if necessary, prosecute, those involved in torture would make them legally complicit in the torture undertaken by the Bush Administration?
PS: No, although it may give rise to violations by the United States of its obligations under the Torture Convention. In the past few days there have been a series of significant statements: that of Susan Crawford, of former Vice President Cheney's confirming that he approved the use of waterboarding, and by the new Attorney General Eric Holder that he considers waterboarding to be torture. On the basis of these and other statements it is difficult to see how the obligations under Articles 7(1) and (2) of the Torture Convention do not cut in: these require the US to "submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution". What happens thereafter is a matter for the prosecutor, who may decide that, in accordance with applicable standards ("authorities shall take their decision in the same manner as in the case of any ordinary offence of a serious nature under the law of that State") and the facts of the case, including the prospects for a successful prosecution, that proceeding to actual prosecution is not justified.
JD: Finally, you mentioned the case proceeding in the UK regarding possible torture of a British national. Is it possible that even an American ally like Great Britain could seek extradition, and undertake prosecution, of U.S. officials like Addington and Yoo for facilitating the torture of a citizen of Great Britain -- if the U.S. fails to act?
PS: It is possible. The more likely scenario, however, is that which occurred in Senator Pinochet's case: the unwitting traveller sets foot in the wrong country at the wrong time.
What Will The Obama Administration Do?
As all who have followed this issue know, President Obama hedged after he was elected as to what he may or may not do. So too did his Attorney General nominee. After Eric Holder declared waterboarding to be unlawful, no one on the Senate Judiciary Committee truly followed up as to what he was going to do, but it appears they are going to now press him on that point.
My question is how can the Obama Administration not investigate, and, if appropriate, prosecute given the world is watching, because if they do not, other may do so? How could there be "change we can believe in" if the new administration harbors war criminals -- which is the way that Philippe Sands and the rest of the world, familiar with the facts which have surfaced even without an investigation, view those who facilitated or engaged in torture?
One would think that people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Gonzales, Yoo, Haynes and others, who claim to have done nothing wrong, would call for investigations to clear themselves if they really believed that to be the case. Only they, however, seem to believe in their innocence -- the entire gutless and cowardly group of them, who have shamed themselves and the nation by committing crimes against humanity in the name of the United States.
We must all hope that the Obama Administration does the right thing, rather than forcing another country to clean up the mess and seek to erase the dangerous precedent these people have created for our country. A first clue may come when Holder resumes testifying.
The following report, by Jackie Northam, was broadcast on NPR, January 21, 2008
the verge of signing an executive order — perhaps as early as Thursday morning — setting a one-year deadline to close the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The still-unsigned executive order is expected to call for an immediate review of how to handle the approximately 245 prisoners who remain at Guantanamo. Some may be repatriated or sent to third nations.
About 60 detainees have already been cleared for release, but the outgoing Bush administration had little luck in finding a home for them.
The executive order will also cover the possibility that some prisoners will be transferred to facilities in the U.S.
Status Of Military Commissions In Doubt
It's not believed that the order will call for a halt to the troubled military commissions which were set up as a legal system to try the detainees. However, hours after taking office, Obama requested that all pending military hearings at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba be suspended for 120 days.
The new president wants a complete review of the military commissions used to try the detainees at the remote prison camp. The move was seen as the first step in closing Guantanamo.
Other executive orders are expected soon, including one that would establish new rules for interrogation methods.
From the start, the military commissions — designed solely for use in Guantanamo courtrooms — were widely criticized as inherently unfair to the detainees: The trials were mired in delays and plagued by legal challenges.
Throughout the presidential campaign, Obama pledged to close the detention camp and signaled that he was not happy with the commissions.
"I think, clearly, the new administration's legal review of military commissions began long before yesterday's inauguration," says Matthew Waxman, a professor at Columbia Law School and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs.
He says it is important that Obama made the decision to suspend the commissions quickly, because the longer the procedures were allowed to continue, the more difficult it would be for him to pull them back later.
21 Cases On Hold
Obama's decision immediately froze Tuesday's trial of a Canadian-born detainee, as well as the trial Wednesday of five men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 attacks. The five, who were facing the death penalty, protested the delay in their case. Earlier, they had said they wanted to be "martyrs."
The new president's decision effectively brings all 21 pending cases at Guantanamo to a halt until at least May 20, while the new administration studies the process.
Eugene Fidell, the president of the National Institute of Military Justice, says it's unlikely the commissions will be reconstituted.
"Obviously, the military commissions have been severely discredited everywhere — in our legal system, in the court of public opinion and around the world. So I find it hard to imagine that the Obama administration would exert itself to preserve their viability," Fidell says.
People involved with the Obama transition team say the order would also include repatriating some of the detainees — and transferring others into the United States. Ireland and Switzerland signaled on Wednesday that they may be willing to take some of the prisoners.
Geneve Mantri with Amnesty International says these moves by the Obama administration are positive steps.
"What we're really looking forward to seeing is what the administration puts in its place — what human rights safeguard it has, whether it has the safeguards we'd like to see in any legal system, and all the things that most people have criticized this process as lacking," Mantri says.
A 'Mare's Nest' Of Legal Woes
The Obama administration will have to decide what legal system should be used to prosecute the detainees and where they will be detained, says Fidell.
"The Bush administration left the Obama administration with a mare's nest of legal and practical problems. And it's going to take some time, and the best minds that the legal profession has, to sort those problems out," he says.
The new administration will also have to decide what to do with detainees whom the government does not have enough evidence to try — but whom U.S. intelligence agencies say are too dangerous to release. Waxman, the former detainee affairs official, says Obama will have to strike the right balance.
"In trying to navigate these policy dilemmas, the new president needs to balance on the one hand security, with on the other hand, not just civil liberties, but also legitimacy," he says.
Waxman says it's more important now to move competently, rather than quickly, in deciding what to do with Guantanamo.