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Torture, Rendition, and other Abuses against Captives in US Custody

Statements and Writings about Torture

Project: Prisoner Abuse in Iraq, Afghanistan and Elsewhere
Open-Content project managed by Derek, KJF, mtuck

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Brian Kilmeade.Brian Kilmeade. [Source: Chattahbox (.com)]Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of Fox News’s morning broadcast Fox and Friends, says he “feel[s] better” knowing that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009). “Guess what?” Kilmeade says. “Maybe if he were so scared of caterpillars [referring to militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida’s torture by insects—see August 1, 2002]… maybe he should have thought about that before he helped plot the taking down of 3,000-plus people on 9/11.” (Kilmeade is either unaware of, or ignoring, reports that show Zubaida may not have been a member of al-Qaeda and had no involvement in the 9/11 planning—see March 28, 2002, Shortly After March 28, 2002, and April 9, 2002 and After.) Kilmeade continues: “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I understand, was waterboarded 183 times. Did anyone care about that? Does anyone in America walk around going, ‘I’m really upset that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded 183 times.’ That makes me feel better.… It’s unbelievable that people care more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, uh, his health, than they would about the future attacks that are being hatched.” (Media Matters 4/20/2009)

Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) tells a Fox News interviewer that he opposed the release of four Bush-era Justice Department memos approving torture (see April 16, 2009). “I thought release of the memos was a bad idea,” he says. “It wasn’t necessary. It just helps our enemies. It doesn’t really help us.” Lieberman then says that one of the tactics considered the harshest, waterboarding, should always be available to US interrogators. Asked if he believes waterboarding is torture, Lieberman replies: “Well, I take a minority position on this. Most people think it’s definitely torture. The truth is, it has mostly a psychological impact on people. It’s a terrible thing to do.… I want the president of the United States in a given circumstance where we believe somebody we’ve got in our control may have information that could help us stop an attack, an imminent attack on the United States like 9/11 or, God forbid, worse, we ought to be able to use something like waterboarding.” Lieberman says he believes Bush officials’ claims that waterboarding worked to prevent terrorist attacks. (Khanna 4/21/2009) Two days later, Lieberman will write that he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding (see April 22, 2009).

Progressive reporter and pundit Spencer Ackerman, responding to former State Department official Philip Zelikow’s revelation of his opposition to the Bush administration’s torture policies (see April 21, 2009), calls Zelikow’s Zelikow’s article in which he explained why he opposed those policies “a delicate and thoughtful rejection of the Bush administration’s architecture of torture.” Ackerman then writes: “To ask an impolite question of Zelikow: why didn’t he resign? I know, resignations of senior officials are few and far between. But it seems like this is one of those issues—the entrenchment of a widespread system of abusive interrogations that are, you acknowledge, most likely illegal—that merits walking out the door. I’m not trying to play the critic, especially after he’s offered such a candid, honest view of his tenure. Nor do I mean to imply that resignation is an easy thing—particularly if you’re trying to change the system from within. But it still seems like a question worth asking.” (Ackerman 4/21/2009)

MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow.MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews former State Department official Philip Zelikow. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]Former State Department adviser Philip Zelikow (see February 28, 2005) reveals that in June 2005, he wrote a secret memo challenging the Bush administration’s legal reasoning behind its decision to authorize torture (see June 2005). Zelikow writes that until now he has never publicly discussed the memo, but with the recent release of four Office of Legal Counsel memos (see April 16, 2009), he feels he can now do so without fear of breaking the law. (Zelikow 4/21/2009) The memos were ordered destroyed by someone in the White House. Zelikow later says that while he has no proof, his “supposition at the time” was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the suppression. Cheney’s office had no authority to request that his memo be suppressed or destroyed, Zelikow will say: “They didn’t run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House counsel’s office or from NSC [National Security Council] staff.” Zelikow will say he never saw any written order pertaining to his memo being suppressed, but he knew of it: “It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it,” he will say. Zelikow will call his memo “a more direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department’s] own interpretation of American law.” (Baumann and Corn 5/6/2009) Discussing his memo with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, Zelikow recalls that when he first read the memos, he was struck by how “deeply unsound” the legal reasoning in them was. “I wasn’t sure that the president and his advisers understood just how potentially questionable and unreasonable many lawyers and judges would find this reasoning.… They [the memos’ authors] were using an interpretation of how to comply with that standard that I didn’t think any judges or lawyers outside of the administration would find plausible, and I wasn’t sure other folks realized just how implausible it was.” Maddow asks if Zelikow believes, as she does, that the White House wanted “to erase any evidence of the existence of a dissenting view within the administration because it would undercut the legal authority of the advice in those memos, the advice that those techniques would be legal”; Zelikow responds: “That is what I thought at the time. I had the same reaction you did. But I don’t know why they wanted to do it.” (MSNBC 4/21/2009)

Former Bush White House press secretary Ari Fleischer says he has no problem with certain methods of torture documented in recently released Bush administration memos (see April 16, 2009). “I don’t know what I think about waterboarding,” Fleischer says. “I think waterboarding is pretty close to the line. But I’m not an expert in it, and I think, when it comes to that, you really can’t go by what a layman has come to learn by reading newspapers.… [S]leep deprivation, I have no problem with. I think it’s all is how it’s conducted and to what extent things go (see April 21, 2009). [I]f you read those documents, it was conducted with medical people being present to make certain that it didn’t enter the area where you go from a harsh technique—and I think it’s appropriate to be harsh with people after September 11 who might be able to prevent the next attack.” Even so, Fleischer says he is not a proponent of torture. Asked by interviewer Anderson Cooper, “If it works, do you think, then, it’s justified?” Fleischer replies, “No, I don’t.” (CNN 4/21/2009)

Senator John Ensign (R-NV) calls the recently released Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009 and April 21, 2009) a “Democrat partisan” report. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asks Ensign if he is shocked that those torture practices were based on techniques used by Chinese Communists to elicit false confessions from American prisoners of war (see 1957). Ensign accuses Matthews of being “inflammatory.” Matthews says he is not being inflammatory because he is reading directly from the report. At that point, Ensign says: “Chris, the reason I said it is because you didn’t preface that with saying that was a Democrat report. That was a Democrat partisan report. And you have to understand where the people who were doing that report—where their ideology comes from.” Matthews retorts: “Well, apparently, Senator John McCain [R-AZ] is part of what you call a ‘Democrat report.’ It’s the full committee report.… [I]t’s the Armed Services Committee report. It went through three months of review by the Defense Department, until its final release just yesterday. It seems to me this was vetted, sir. And you say this was some Democrat report.” Ensign responds: “The Democrats are in control of all of the committees. This was a Democrat majority report. This was not with the participation of the minority where the minority signed it, ‘Yes, we agree with these views.’” Before the interview, another MSNBC correspondent noted that both McCain and another Republican committee member, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), endorsed the report. And reporter Amanda Terkel, of the progressive news Web site Think Progress, reports that she spoke with a committee spokesman who confirmed that the full, unanimous committee released the report. When Matthews informs Ensign that McCain endorsed the report, Ensign says: “Well, I disagree with you. We had a discussion at lunch about this and many members of the [Senate Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee] completely disagreed with the report. That’s why I said it was a Democrat partisan report.” (Terkel 4/22/2009)

Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, reacting to the recent revelations about Bush administration torture policies (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009), writes: “Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link (see April 22, 2009). There’s a word for this: it’s evil.” (Krugman 4/22/2009)

Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity displays his angry support for torture and waterboarding on his show, in response to the controversy over the recently released Senate report on torture (see April 21, 2009). Hannity says: “Barack Obama is so weakening our defenses in every regard, sucking up to all the world’s dictators, that people are gonna die because of what Barack Obama is doing right now. People are going to die.” When a guest objects that Americans may die because of the Bush administration’s torture policies, and that American torture policies are “spawning terrorists,” Hannity accuses her of “blam[ing] America” for terrorism, and begins shouting: “They [terrorists] are not Americans! They are at war with us!” He then raises a football over his head and says, “Imagine this is [9/11 plotter] Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s head.” He slams it on the table and shouts: “Dunk it in water so we can save American lives! You bet!” (Media Matters 4/22/2009)

Fox News host Shepard Smith, clearly upset by the recent reports of torture (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009), shouts his opposition to such practices during an interview with former New York Times reporter Judith Miller. On the air, Smith declares: “We are America, we don’t torture! And the moment that is not the case, I want off the train! This government is of, by, and for the people—that means it’s mine. That means—I’m not saying what is torture, and what is not torture, but I’m saying, whatever it is, you don’t do it for me! I want off the train when the government starts—I want off, next stop, now!” Smith is as impassioned during the commercial break. “They better not do it,” he says. “If we are going to be Ronald Reagan’s Shining City on the Hill, we don’t get to torture. We don’t do it.” And on Fox’s online broadcast The Strategy Show, Smith allows profanity to emphasize his objection. Slamming his hand on a table, he shouts: “We are America! I don’t give a rat’s _ss if it helps. We are America! We do not f_cking torture!!” (Pitney 4/22/2009) In recent broadcasts, Fox contributors have either mocked the idea of torture (see April 17, 2009) or supported it outright (see April 20, 2009 and April 22, 2009).

The former US commander of Iraq prisons in 2003, retired Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, tells CBS News interviewers that she and her fellow senior officials were scapegoated by the Bush administration for the crimes and abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib prison. She says that every order concerning prisoner interrogations came from the top down. “These soldiers didn’t design these techniques on their own… we were following orders,” Karpinski says. “We were bringing this to our chain of command and they were saying whatever the military intelligence tells you to do out there you are authorized to do.” Karpinski’s interview is in response to the report just released by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which found that the torture policies carried out by the military came directly from the highest reaches of the Bush administration as early as 2002 (see April 21, 2009). The report also concludes that the Abu Ghraib abuses were a direct result of Bush administration policies, as were widespread abuses at Guantanamo Bay. After the Abu Ghraib scandal became well known, Karpinski was demoted to colonel and later retired. She says: “The line is clear. It went from Washington, DC. From the very top of the administration with the legal opinions through Bagram to Guantanamo Bay and then to Iraq via the commander from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And the contractors who were hired to do those things.” Asked about her assertion that she and the soldiers prosecuted for crimes committed at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005) were “scapegoated” by Bush officials, Karpinski says: “Scapegoat is the perfect word and it’s an understatement. Right now, with the hard, fast facts in those memos, the black and white proof, the administration is suggesting that those operatives should be immune from any investigations or persecution.” (Levi 4/22/2009)

Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, defends the Bush administration’s practices of torture by denying that anything authorized by the administration was, in fact, torture. Cheney, interviewed on MSNBC, is responding to the issues raised by the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009). “The tactics are not torture, we did not torture,” she says. To bolster her denial, Cheney says that the tactics are not torture because they were derived from training methods employed in the SERE program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). “Everything that was done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training,” Cheney says. “We did not torture our own people. These techniques are not torture.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress notes that in the May 30, 2005 torture memo (see May 30, 2005), then-Justice Department official Steven Bradbury wrote, “Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.” (Corley 4/23/2009)

House Minority Leader John Boehner, protesting the release of a Senate report on the torture of prisoners in US custody (see April 21, 2009), acknowledges, probably inadvertently, that the techniques used on those prisoners amounted to torture. “Last week, they released these memos outlining torture techniques,” Boehner tells reporters. “That was clearly a political decision and ignored the advice of their director of national intelligence and their CIA director.” Boehner says the report’s release is “inappropriate” because it will alert enemies as to the kind of tactics being used, and because knowledge of the techniques being used could “denigrate” the US and its allies. “This is another sideshow here in Washington,” Boehner says, referring to the ongoing controversy surrounding torture. “When it comes to what our interrogation techniques are going to be or should be, I’m not going to disclose, nor should anyone have a conversation about what those techniques ought to be. It’s inappropriate. All it does is give our enemies more information about us than they need.” Boehner cites the 9/11 attacks as justification for the use of torture, and for keeping knowledge of torture programs secret. Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel later attempts to clarify Boehner’s use of the word “torture,” saying: “It is clear from the context that Boehner was simply using liberals’ verbiage to describe these interrogation techniques. The United States does not torture.” (Grim 4/24/2009)

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a likely candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential candidacy, refuses to say whether waterboarding is or is not torture. Interviewed on Fox News, Gingrich calls the release of the four Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing and defending torture (see April 16, 2009) “a big mistake,” but adds, “I want to see the United States run the risk, at times, of not learning certain things in order to establish a standard for civilization.” When asked if waterboarding is torture, Gingrich refuses to give a straight answer. “I think it’s something we shouldn’t do,” he says, but then adds: “Lawyers I respect a great deal say it is absolutely within the law. Other lawyers say it absolutely is not. I mean, this is a debatable area.” When asked if waterboarding violates the Geneva Conventions, Gingrich again demurs, saying, “I honestly don’t know.” He then says, “I think—I think that there—I am exactly where Senator [John] McCain was.” McCain has long opposed the use of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009). (Khanna 4/26/2004)

As calls mount for the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee (see April 21, 2009), who signed off on two key Bush-era torture memos as the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), some friends of Bybee’s say that he now regrets signing the memos. “I’ve heard him express regret at the contents of the memo,” says a fellow legal scholar who refuses to allow his name to be published. “I’ve heard him express regret that the memo was misused. I’ve heard him express regret at the lack of context—of the enormous pressure and the enormous time pressure that he was under. And anyone would have regrets simply because of the notoriety.” The scholar adds: “On the primary memo, that legitimated and defined torture, he just felt it got away from him. What I understand that to mean is, any lawyer, when he or she is writing about something very complicated, very layered, sometimes you can get it all out there and if you’re not careful, you end up in a place you never intended to go. I think for someone like Jay, who’s a formalist and a textualist, that’s a particular danger.” Democratic lawmakers complain that Bybee won quick Senate confirmation for his judgeship (see February 5, 2003) in part because he did not discuss the memos during his confirmation hearings. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says, “If the Bush administration and Mr. Bybee had told the truth, he never would have been confirmed.” Leahy says that now, “the decent and honorable thing for him to do would be to resign.” ACLU senior official Jameel Jaffer says that whatever regrets or caveats Bybee may be experiencing are moot. “I don’t think the August 2002 memos reflect serious attempts to grapple in good faith with the law,” Jaffer says. “These are documents that are meant to justify predetermined ends. They’re not objective legal memos at all.” (Vick 4/25/2009; Shakir 4/25/2009)

The CIA tortured and brutalized prisoners for at least seven years without attempting to assess whether such tactics actually resulted in the acquisition of good intelligence, the press reports. Calls to conduct such an assessment of the agency’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” began as early as 2003, when the CIA’s inspector general began circulating drafts of a report that raised serious concerns about the various torture techniques being employed (see May 7, 2004). Neither the inspector general’s report or later studies examined the effectiveness of the interrogation tactics, or attempted to verify the assertions of CIA counterterrorism officials who insisted that the techniques were essential to the program’s results. “Nobody with expertise or experience in interrogation ever took a rigorous, systematic review of the various techniques—enhanced or otherwise—to see what resulted in the best information,” says a senior US intelligence official involved in overseeing the interrogation program. As a result, there was never a determination of “what you could do without the use of enhanced techniques,” the official says. Former Bush administration officials say the failure to conduct such an examination was part of a broader reluctance to reexamine decisions made shortly after the 9/11 attacks. The Defense Department, Justice Department, and CIA “all insisted on sticking with their original policies and were not open to revisiting them, even as the damage of these policies became apparent,” according to John Bellinger, then the legal advisor to former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, referring to burgeoning international outrage. “We had gridlock,” Bellinger says, calling the failure to consider other approaches “the greatest tragedy of the Bush administration’s handling of detainee matters.” (Miller 4/25/2009)

Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), a strong opponent of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009), says that the US must “move on” from the Bush era of torture and not investigate the Bush administration’s torture policies. McCain refuses to support Democratic calls to impeach former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who authored several of the torture memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), even as he acknowledges Bybee broke the law. McCain says: “He falls into the same category as everybody else as far as giving very bad advice and misinterpreting, fundamentally, what the United States is all about, much less things like the Geneva Conventions. Look, under President Reagan we signed an agreement against torture. We were in violation of that.” McCain says that “no one has alleged, quote, wrongdoing” on the part of Bush officials such as Bybee, saying only that they gave “bad advice” to Bush and other senior officials. (Frick 4/26/2009)

Judge Jay Bybee, who authored or signed a number of memos authorizing torture while the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004), defends his actions to the New York Times. Bybee has been a federal judge for over five years (see February 5, 2003); many civil libertarians and critics of the Bush administration want him to either step down from the bench or face impeachment (see April 21, 2009), and the Justice Department is investigating his professional conduct (see Before April 22, 2009). In recent days, Bybee’s friends and colleagues have reported his “regrets” over the memos (see April 25, 2009). Now, Bybee says while in hindsight he would have done some things differently, like clarifying and sharpening the analysis of some of his answers to help the public better understand the basis for his conclusions, the memos represent “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the narrow divide between harsh treatment and torture. Bybee’s memos gave a legal framework for the use of illegal interrogation tactics such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and enforced isolation. In a statement, Bybee says: “The central question for lawyers was a narrow one; locate, under the statutory definition, the thin line between harsh treatment of a high-ranking al-Qaeda terrorist that is not torture and harsh treatment that is. I believed at the time, and continue to believe today, that the conclusions were legally correct.” He had the support of other administration lawyers, he says. “The legal question was and is difficult. And the stakes for the country were significant no matter what our opinion. In that context, we gave our best, honest advice, based on our good-faith analysis of the law.” Bybee’s former colleague, law professor Christopher Blakesley, says he challenged Bybee on one of the memos in 2004, shortly after it became public knowledge. “I asked him how he could sign such an awful thing,” Blakesley recalls. Bybee refused to discuss the matter, and the two men have not spoken since. Blakesley says Bybee “has some basic flaws including being very na├»ve about leaders. He has too much respect for authority and will avoid a confrontation no matter what.” Some law clerks who worked with Bybee after he left the OLC recall him speaking about his involvement in some matters “so awful, so terrible, so radioactive” that he doubted the administration would ever disclose them. One of the then-clerks, Nina Rabin, says she finds Bybee’s position disturbing because he suggests a lawyer can be divorced from the policies being pursued under his legal rubric. “He definitely offered a view that was sanitized,” she says, “and I thought that was disingenuous in that it removed any responsibility on the part of the lawyer for what was happening.” (Lewis 4/28/2009)

Former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has returned to Stanford University to teach political science and serve as a senior fellow at the university’s conservative Hoover Institute (Gorelick 1/28/2009) , refuses to take any responsibility for the Bush administration’s torture policies. All she ever did, she tells students, was “convey… the authorization of the administration” (see Late 2001-Early 2002, April 2002 and After, Mid-May, 2002, July 17, 2002, September or October 2002, Summer 2003, May 3, 2004, and April 9, 2008). However, Rice adds, since President Bush authorized the torture program, it was by definition legal, no matter what domestic law or international treaties stipulated. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994), she says. “So that’s—and by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance. That’s what I did.” Asked if waterboarding constitutes torture, Rice responds: “I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.” Ali Frick, a reporter with the progressive news Web site Think Progress, writes in response: “Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture.… Rice’s opinion that a presidential authorization—‘by definition’—grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States—and its president—are bound by US statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions. Memo to Rice: Bush may have been ‘the Decider,’ but he didn’t have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.” (Frick 4/30/2009) In the same conversation, Rice seems to say that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the US than did Nazi Germany, and again denies that the US ever tortured anyone. A student asks, “Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced—” and Rice interjects, “Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.” “No, but they bombed our allies—” the student replies, and Rice once again interrupts: “No, just a second, just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon [referring to the 9/11 attacks].” The student observes, “500,000 died in World War II—” to which Rice replies, “Fighting a war in Europe.” The student continues, ”—and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.” Rice says, “We didn’t torture anybody here either.” (Duss 4/30/2009)

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to being part of a criminal conspiracy in regards to the Bush administration’s torture policies. Rice recently told students at Stanford University that she did not authorize any torture policies, she merely forwarded the authorization for them from higher up (see April 28, 2009). Dean tells MSNBC talk show host Keith Olbermann that she may have admitted to a criminal conspiracy. Dean calls Rice’s comments “surprising,” and says she has mired herself in the possibility of legal proceedings. “She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean says. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.… These kinds of statements are going to come back and be interesting to any investigator.” Dean says that President Obama will stand in violation of the Geneva Conventions if he refuses to prosecute those found responsible for the torture policies. “He is indeed in violation if the United States does not undertake investigation of this, or ultimately prosecution, if that’s necessary,” Dean says. “It’s not only the Geneva Convention, the Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994) also requires this. There are no exceptions with torture. There are no real things like ‘torture light.’ The world community I think is going to hold the United States responsible, and if we don’t proceed, somebody is going to proceed.” (Edwards and Byrne 5/1/2009; MSNBC 5/1/2009)

Misha Lerner asks his question for Condoleezza Rice.Misha Lerner asks his question for Condoleezza Rice. [Source: Ron Sachs / Forward]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is quizzed on the Bush administration’s use of torture as an interrogation method by a 10-year-old boy. Misha Lerner, a fourth grader at the Washington, DC, Jewish Primary Day School of the Nation’s Capital, asks, “How do you feel about the things the Obama administration has said about the ways you got information from prisoners?” Rice responds: “Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country. But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country.… I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die.… Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country.” Lerner later tells a reporter that he asked the question because he thought it would “be interesting to see her answer on it.” He had originally planned to ask Rice, “If you would work for Obama’s administration, would you push for torture?” but he was persuaded to “make it a little softer.” (MacGillis 5/4/2009; National Public Radio 5/4/2009; Gillick 5/6/2009) School official David Zimand, who helped Lerner and the other students formulate their questions, says he found the original wording “mind-boggling,” and asked Lerner to soften the wording a bit. However, Zimand says: “We let him ask the question. Misha’s not this crusading political person. He’s a quiet, shy, sweet, thoughtful little boy. And nobody put him up to this, either.” Zimand adds: “I told him, ‘I really want you to have an opportunity to ask this question, but I want to make sure we ask it in a way that will give her a chance to answer and to feel respected, even if we’re pressing her.‘… We reframed the question together. I said: ‘Are you comfortable with this? Is this a question you want to ask? Is it your question?’ And he said yes.” Lerner later says he is not sure he understands Rice’s response. The Bush administration used torture, he says, which “is basically like robbing someone. Like you put a gun to someone’s head and say, ‘Gimme the money,’ but you’re doing it with torture and information, not a gun and money.” Rice’s answer is not good enough, he says. (Gillick 5/6/2009)

Bryce Lefever, a former military psychologist who worked with the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape) program, says the techniques reverse-engineered from the program and used to torture terrorism suspects in US custody are justified. Lefever has worked with two military psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, since 1990, developing techniques for SERE training. That training helps prepare US soldiers to resist torture if they are captured by enemy forces and interrogated. Mitchell and Jessen helped create the torture program of interrogation used by the US against suspected terrorists (see January 2002 and After, April 16, 2002, and Mid-April 2002). Lefever himself served as a military psychologist at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where prisoners were routinely tortured and brutalized.
Patriots - Unlike many critics who have attacked the psychologists’ lack of ethics and concern, Lefever calls Mitchell and Jessen patriots. “I think the media ought to give us a big ol’ thank you for our efforts on behalf of America,” Lefever says. “There should be some recognition of the effort—the really extreme effort—that we’ve gone through to help.”
Ethically Compelled to Construct Torture Program - Lefever says the criticism of Mitchell and Jessen is unfounded and stems from a basic misunderstanding of the ethical mission of psychologists. “[T]he idea that they would be involved in producing some pain just seems at first blush to be something that would be wrong, because we ‘do no harm,’” he says, but “the ethical consideration is always to do the most good for the most people.” Because torturing a “few” prisoners might well produce intelligence that would help prevent another attack on the magnitude of 9/11, Lefever says, it was incumbent on Mitchell, Jessen, and himself to use their knowledge of SERE tactics to construct an interrogation program that might elicit such actionable intelligence. “America’s house was broken into on 9/11 and someone had to raise their hand to stop it,” he says. “And early on there was a sense of desperation in intelligence-gathering.” Lefever has no doubts that torture works to produce reliable intelligence. “You know, the tough nut to crack, if you keep him awake for a week, you torture him, you tie his arms behind him, you have him on the ground—anyone can be brought beyond their ability to resist.” Indeed, he says, it would have been unethical for him not to come forward: “America is my client; Americans are who I care about. I have no fondness for the enemy and I don’t feel like I need to take care of their mental health needs.” Mitchell, Jessen, and other military psychologists felt the same way, he says. “Anyone who wants to throw stones in this situation really needs to step back and figure out what they themselves would do in these situations and not just be ‘ivory tower’ critics,” he notes. “Most of the time they have no idea what they’re talking about.” (Spiegel 5/4/2009)
Accused of Abandoning Ethical Code - Psychologist Stephen Soldz, who writes for the organization Psychoanalysts for Peace and Justice, is highly critical of Lefever’s stance, accusing him of renouncing the psychologists’ code of ethics, and notes that Lefever implicitly acknowledges that SERE tactics were used on US detainees, an admission CIA and Pentagon officials have been loath to make. (Soldz 5/4/2009)

Experts say that the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario, which is often used to justify the use of torture, is fallacious. Many novels (see 1960), movies, and television shows, most recently Fox’s 24 (see Fall 2006), routinely portray a time-critical scene where the hero of the story must torture a prisoner to obtain information needed to avert an imminent attack, usually the “ticking time bomb” planted and ready to explode. Terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman says that such scenarios are dubious at best. “I’ve personally been told that they happen but I have to admit that in the years, in now the decade I have been told about it, I have become increasingly skeptical,” he says. “A ticking bomb becomes a default assumption which in turn becomes a legitimization or justification for torture. And in actual fact, even though people have told me about it, I have yet to see an actual documented case independently of what I was told.” Former CIA agent Michael Scheuer says that he knows of cases where torture elicited useful and critical information, but refuses to give specifics. CIA officials are unwilling or unable to provide details of the effectiveness of techniques such as waterboarding. Former military interrogator Matthew Alexander (see December 2-4, 2008) says of the CIA’s waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009), “What I get most out of the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is that any approach—I don’t care what it is—if you have to do it 183 times, it is not working,” he says. “When they did use the waterboard on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, what they were getting each time was the absolute minimum he could get away with. And that’s what you get when you use torture—you get the absolute minimum amount of information.” (Temple-Raston 5/5/2009)

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?” (Walton 5/9/2009)

In an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation, former Vice President Dick Cheney acknowledges that President Bush knew of the torture program as performed under his administration. However, he again says that in his view the practices employed by the US on enemy detainees did not constitute torture (see December 15, 2008). He also reiterates earlier claims that by dismantling Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, the Obama administration is making the country more vulnerable to terrorist attacks (see January 22, 2009, January 22, 2009, January 23, 2009, February 2009, March 17, 2009, March 29, 2009, April 20, 2009, April 21, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, and April 26, 2009), and reiterates his claim that classified documents will prove that torture was effective in producing actionable intelligence (see April 20, 2009).
Claims Documents Prove Efficacy of Torture - Cheney says: “One of the things that I did six weeks ago was I made a request that two memos that I personally know of, written by the CIA, that lay out the successes of those policies and point out in considerable detail all of—all that we were able to achieve by virtue of those policies, that those memos be released, be made public (see April 22, 2009). The administration has released legal opinions out of the Office of Legal Counsel. They don’t have any qualms at all about putting things out that can be used to be critical of the Bush administration policies. But when you’ve got memos out there that show precisely how much was achieved and how lives were saved as a result of these policies, they won’t release those. At least, they haven’t yet.” Host Bob Schieffer notes that Attorney General Eric Holder has denied any knowledge of such documents, and that other administration officials have said that torture provided little useful information. Cheney responds: “I say they did. Four former directors of the Central Intelligence Agency say they did, bipartisan basis. Release the memos. And we can look and see for yourself what was produced.” Cheney says the memos specifically discuss “different attack planning that was under way and how it was stopped. It talks [sic] about how the volume of intelligence reports that were produced from that.… What it shows is that overwhelmingly, the process we had in place produced from certain key individuals, such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida (see After March 7, 2003), two of the three who were waterboarded.… Once we went through that process, he [Mohammed] produced vast quantities of invaluable information about al-Qaeda” (see August 6, 2007). Opponents of Bush torture policies, Cheney says, are “prepared to sacrifice American lives rather than run an intelligent interrogation program that would provide us the information we need to protect America.”
Bush Knew of Torture Program - Cheney also acknowledges that then-President Bush knew of the torture program, saying: “I certainly, yes, have every reason to believe he knew—he knew a great deal about the program. He basically authorized it. I mean, this was a presidential-level decision. And the decision went to the president. He signed off on it.” Cheney concludes by saying that he would be willing to testify before Congress concerning the torture program and his administration’s handling of its war on terror, though he refuses to commit to testifying under oath. (Congressional Quarterly 5/10/2009; CBS News 5/10/2009 pdf file)

The CIA releases heavily redacted documents containing statements by Guantanamo detainees concerning their allegations of torture and abuse at the hands of CIA personnel. The documents are released as part of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The lawsuit seeks uncensored transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) that determine if prisoners held by the Defense Department at Guantanamo qualify as “enemy combatants.” Previously released versions were redacted so heavily as to contain almost no information about abuse allegations; the current versions, while still heavily redacted, contain some new information. ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, the lead attorney on the FOIA lawsuit, says: “The documents released today provide further evidence of brutal torture and abuse in the CIA’s interrogation program and demonstrate beyond doubt that this information has been suppressed solely to avoid embarrassment and growing demands for accountability. There is no legitimate basis for the Obama administration’s continued refusal to disclose allegations of detainee abuse, and we will return to court to seek the full release of these documents.” The ACLU press release notes, “The newly unredacted information includes statements from the CSRTs of former CIA detainees,” and includes quotes from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003); alleged high-level al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After); and accused terrorists Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see (November 2002)) and Majid Khan (see March 10-April 15, 2007). These statements include details about their treatment, which the ACLU refers to as “torture and coercion”:
Abu Zubaida - “After months of suffering and torture, physically and mentally, they did not care about my injuries that they inflicted to my eye, to my stomach, to my bladder, and my left thigh and my reproductive organs. They didn’t care that I almost died from these injuries. Doctors told me that I nearly died four times.… They say ‘this in your diary.’ They say ‘see you want to make operation against America.’ I say no, the idea is different. They say no, torturing, torturing. I say ‘okay, I do. I was decide to make operation.’”
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - “[And, they used to] drown me in water.”
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - “This is what I understand he [a CIA interrogator] told me: you are not American and you are not on American soil. So you cannot ask about the Constitution.”
Majid Khan - “In the end, any classified information you have is through… agencies who physically and mentally tortured me.” (American Civil Liberties Union 6/15/2009)

The Republican National Committee (RNC) releases a memo entitled “CIA IG Report Confirms Effectiveness of CIA Interrogation Program.” The memo is in response to the release of a 2004 CIA report detailing numerous instances of torture and abuse against detainees by CIA interrogators and contractors (see August 24, 2009). The RNC memo asserts that, far from detailing potential crimes and abuses, the report proves that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” program was effective in garnering critical intelligence from detainees. The memo reads in part: “Media coverage [of the report] seems to imply that CIA interrogators were constantly going beyond programmatic guidance, where the IG report found the reality to be that ‘there were few instances of deviations from approved procedures.‘… Additionally, the media today has latched on to the use of a gun in an interrogation, without usually reporting the other important element of that salacious story, which is that the interrogator was promptly disciplined for his actions.… Similarly going unreported today is that the release of the IG report should finally put to rest claims that the CIA interrogation program was not effective and did not produce actionable intelligence.” The memo notes that in the report, “[a]gency senior managers believe that lives have been saved as a result of the capture and interrogation of terrorists who were planning attacks, in particular, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, Hambali, and [Abd al-Rahim a]l-Nashiri.” In the report, an unidentified senior CIA official called the program “an absolute success.” (Goldfarb 8/24/2009) The RNC statement is contemporaneous with a similar statement from former Vice President Dick Cheney (see August 24, 2009).

Former CIA case officer Robert Baer, now an author and a columnist for Time.com, tells MSNBC host Alison Stewart that former Vice President Dick Cheney is wrong when he says just-released CIA documents prove that “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—works (see August 24, 2009). Baer says: “I’ve looked to the documents and there is no evidence that torture led to the disclosure of imminent attacks, ‘the ticking bomb,’ as they call it. There’s just no evidence there.… [W]hat Cheney said and what’s come out in these documents don’t prove anything at all.” Baer goes on to say that he has never seen torture work: “I’ve spent 21 years in the CIA. It isn’t—and watched other countries use torture and it never worked. In fact, there was a rule, a very fixed rule in the CIA—don’t accept tortured information because it’s unreliable. And that was across the board. It went from China to Zimbabwe to every country in the world. It’s unreliable.” The CIA was never equipped to perform torture, or what Baer “nicely” calls “hostile intelligence,” in the first place. The agency, Baer says, is “filled with liberal arts majors who go out and collect intelligence without coercion. So 9/11 comes along. The White House is desperate to do something. It turns to the CIA.… So, guys, like you and me, will go out and then all we know about torture is we watch “24”, and suddenly, these guys are put on the line and they improvise and they use mock executions. They threaten mothers and children and the rest of it. And it looks like the amateur hour because it is the amateur hour. This is not the role of the CIA to do abusive interrogations. I mean, if anybody should be doing them, it should be the military or the FBI.” Baer supports the release of the memos because, he says, “I’m afraid we’re going to be attacked again and everybody’s going to say, you know, under this administration, maybe and say, they do something, we have to start going back to torture. What we need to know is, was it really useful or wasn’t it? And no one’s answered that question in spite of what Vice President Cheney says.” (MSNBC 8/26/2009)

Law professor Benjamin Davis calls on former Bush administration officials to step forward and cooperate with the Justice Department investigation into torture, being led by prosecutor John Durham (see August 24, 2009). Davis makes his call after attending a debate called “After Guantanamo” at Case Western Reserve Law School. During that debate, he writes, “members of the former administration regaled the audience with stories about the mistakes made and the arrogance demonstrated by persons with whom they had worked on the issues of detention, interrogation, and military commissions.” Davis writes that “it would seem preferable for the former administration members to tell their stories to the federal prosecutor rather than to audiences at conferences.” He calls the stories “appalling,” citing incidents of “arrogant disdain for military lawyers” displayed by senior Bush officials, widespread ignorance of military law, “and the general indifference of those tasked with developing detention, interrogation, and military commission policy in the prior administration.” Davis calls on the former adminstration officials to go farther than they did at Case Western: “Names were not named in the conference, but names should be named to John Durham. He is permitted to ‘follow the facts wherever they lead,’ but if those lawyers, other civilians, and uniformed types who know where the dogs are buried refrain from coming forward, they will make the task more arduous than it needs to be. Everyone who has a story is a witness in piecing together what really went on. Every lawyer has also sworn an oath to be an officer of the court and is under an ethical duty to refrain from abetting crimes. Help John Durham find the facts.” He concludes by asking: “[B]eyond legal or ethical obligations, the real question is of what these architects of detention, interrogation, and military commission policy are made of. Are they made of the stuff that led Specialist Darby [Joseph Darby—see January 13, 2004] to clearly see what was wrong with detainee treatment in Abu Ghraib, thus prompting him to provide military investigators with the incriminating photos? Or are these persons made of the stuff of cowards that hope this will all go away if they do not say anything to anyone—posturing in public and cowering in private?” (Davis 9/18/2009)

Osama bin Laden’s killing by US forces on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011) reignites the debate about the usefulness of the torture techniques used by US intelligence. The debate centers on how US intelligence learned about bin Laden’s location and whether the torture of prisoners helped find him.
Courier Provides the Key Lead - According to Obama administration officials, bin Laden was located through US intelligence agencies’ “patient and detailed intelligence analysis” of “a mosaic of sources,” including evidence garnered from detained inmates at Guantanamo Bay. The first clue to bin Laden’s whereabouts came when US intelligence learned of an al-Qaeda courier that worked with bin Laden, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, who used the pseudonym “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” Ahmed is one of those killed during the Abbottabad raid. US intelligence had known of Ahmed since 2002, after a Kuwaiti detainee told interrogators about him, and it has taken this long for CIA and other intelligence officers to identify him, locate him, track his communications, and then follow him to the large and well fortified compound in Abbottabad.
Do Bush Administration Techniques Deserve Credit? - Some former Bush administration officials, such as former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and former Justice Department legal adviser John Yoo, claim that the Bush administration and not the Obama administration deserves the credit for finding bin Laden. According to a report in the Christian Science Monitor, “the former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, Jose Rodriguez, said the first important leads about Kuwaiti came from alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi, the third-ranking al-Qaeda leader at the time of his capture.” KSM was repeatedly waterboarded (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003). (richey 5/5/2011) Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey states that the path to bin Laden “began with a disclosure from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who broke like a dam under the pressure of harsh interrogation techniques that included waterboarding. He loosed a torrent of information—including eventually the nickname of a trusted courier of bin Laden.” (Mukasy 5/2/2011)
Rebuttal from CIA Director Panetta - However, according to information in a letter CIA Director Leon Panetta sends to Senator John McCain, these assertions are false or misleading. In the letter, Panetta says: “Nearly 10 years of intensive intelligence work led the CIA to conclude that bin Laden was likely hiding at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. There was no one ‘essential and indispensible’ key piece of information that led us to this conclusion. Rather, the intelligence picture was developed via painstaking collection and analysis. Multiple streams of intelligence—including from detainees, but also from multiple other sources—led CIA analysts to conclude that bin Laden was at this compound. Some of the detainees who provided useful information about the facilitator/courier’s role had been subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques. Whether those techniques were the ‘only timely and effective way’ to obtain such information is a matter of debate and cannot be established definitively. What is definitive is that that information was only a part of multiple streams of intelligence that led us to bin Laden. Let me further point out that we first learned about the facilitator/courier’s nom de guerre from a detainee not in CIA custody in 2002. It is also important to note that some detainees who were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques attempted to provide false or misleading information about the facilitator/courier. These attempts to falsify the facilitator/courier’s role were alerting. In the end, no detainee in CIA custody revealed the facilitator/courier’s full true name or specific whereabouts. This information was discovered through other intelligence means.” (Sargent 5/16/2011)
Officials Says Torture Techinques Played No Role - Also, nine US military interrogators and intelligence officials state in an open letter: “The use of waterboarding and other so-called ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques almost certainly prolonged the hunt for bin Laden and complicated the jobs of professional US interrogators who were trying to develop useful information from unwilling sources like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Reports say that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraq al-Libi did not divulge the nom de guerre of a courier during torture, but rather several months later, when they were questioned by interrogators who did not use abusive techniques.” (al 5/4/2011)

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