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Context of 'May 9, 2009: Former Kennedy Official Criticizes Lawyers for Allowing Torture under Bush'

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Historian Ernest May.Historian Ernest May. [Source: Belfer Center]An eminent historian finds serious flaws in a historical treatise about former President John F. Kennedy. The book, The Kennedy Tapes: Inside the White House During the Cuban Missile Crisis, was written in 1997 by conservative historians Ernest May and Philip D. Zelikow, and purports to be an unprecedentedly accurate representation of the events of 1962’s Cuban Missile Crisis based on transcriptions of recorded meetings, conferences, telephone conversations, and interviews with various participants. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/2000] Zelikow is a former member of George H. W. Bush’s National Security Council and a close adviser to future National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [US Department of State, 8/5/2005] May is a Harvard professor. Both will participate heavily in the creation of the 2004 report by the 9/11 Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 387-393] Almost three years after the Kennedy book’s publication, Sheldon M. Stern, the historian for the John F. Kennedy Library from 1977 through 1999, pores over it and the May/Zelikow transcripts. In the original edition, May and Zelikow admitted that their final product was not perfect: “The reader has here the best text we can produce, but it is certainly not perfect. We hope that some, perhaps many, will go to the original tapes. If they find an error or make out something we could not, we will enter the corrections in subsequent editions or printings of this volume.” But when Stern checks the book against the tapes, he finds hundreds of errors in the book, some quite significant. Stern concludes that the errors “significantly undermine [the book’s] reliability for historians, teachers, and general readers.” May and Zelikow have corrected a few of the errors in subsequent editions, but have not publicly acknowledged any errors. Stern concludes, “Readers deserve to know that even now The Kennedy Tapes cannot be relied on as an accurate historical document.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/2000] One error has then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy talking about the planned “invasion” of Russian ships heading to Cuba, when the tapes actually show Kennedy discussing a far less confrontational “examination” of those vessels. May and Zelikow imply that the Kennedy administration was discussing just the kind of confrontation that it was actually trying to avoid. Another error has CIA Director John McCone referring to the need to call on former President Dwight D. Eisenhower as a “facilitator,” where McCone actually said “soldier.” May and Zelikow will be rather dismissive of Stern’s findings, saying that “none of these amendments are very important.” Stern will express shock over their response, and respond, “When the words are wrong, as they are repeatedly, the historical record is wrong.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 42]

Entity Tags: Kennedy administration, Philip Zelikow, John F. Kennedy, Sheldon M. Stern, Robert F. Kennedy, Ernest May, John A. McCone, 9/11 Commission, George Herbert Walker Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Dwight Eisenhower

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ted Sorenson.Ted Sorenson. [Source: Living Dialogues (.com)]Ted Sorenson, a former speechwriter and chief adviser to President John F. Kennedy, says that too many American lawyers stood idly by while the US conducted illegal torture and violated the Constitution. Sorenson, giving the commencement address at his alma mater, the University of Nebraska College of Law, urges the graduates to act with courage and integrity during their own careers. Sorenson says that the use of torture and other illegal tactics actually weakens US national security. “Yes, torture gets results,” he says. “It has resulted in easier, swifter, more successful recruitment for terrorist organizations among the millions of young Islamic fanatics who are willing to use the one weapon against which an open society such as ours has no sure defense—suicide bombing. It also resulted in a sharp decline in America’s standing among allies who might otherwise have provided intelligence and other forms of help. It has cost us the respect of other countries that we enjoyed, which protected us against attacks from abroad.” Few military leaders support torture, Sorenson says: “They know that the moral authority of the United States, its traditional ability to occupy the moral high ground in an international conflict, is an important part of our security. More important than the worthless statements extracted from torture’s victims who will cry out anything to halt it.” Sorenson is harshly critical of the lawyers who facilitated the Bush administration’s torture policies: “Intellectually and morally dishonest lawyers [in the Department of Justice] disgraced not only their country but their profession” in claiming that waterboarding and other forms of torture were legal, he says. “In a country based on the rule of law, in which no man is above the law, whatever his rank or title, no man can undertake, authorize, or immunize unlawful conduct.” He advocates investigation and prosecution for those who authorized and employed torture. “Our current wonderful president cannot promise the CIA practitioners of torture that they will not be prosecuted,” he says. “With all those now exposed of complicity in torture pointing fingers of blame at each other, it is clear that the guilty include political ideologues, cowardly bureaucrats, and inexperienced psychologists, all of whom plead ignorance of the law. But what about the lawyers?” [Lincoln Journal-Star, 5/9/2009]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Ted Sorenson, US Department of Justice, John F. Kennedy

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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