by Alan Gilbert
On December 21, the New York Times called editorially for the prosecution of torturers, based on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 600 page Executive Summary on torture. The Times says rightly that the US government will only be considered a defender of human rights if it acts against these powerful torturers under the law. And beyond the Senate report, it names Cheney and his minions as those who need to be prosecuted, though interestingly not President George W. Bush who is plainly guilty of ordering torture.
For the Times, in its effort to restore the law, criminal Presidents must apparently, no matter what their crimes, must go scot-free. But if the President need pay no attention, so much for the rule of law.
The Times and others need to shed their surviving obsequiousness to torture and murder… See here.
As intelligence professionals like Ray McGovern have long insisted, torture never gets useful information. Why then is it done?
In an article from Veterans Today, a journal of the “Clandestine Community,” Jim W. Dean underlines the likely planting of false information which leads to repulsive foreign policy decisions – the second Iraq aggression, the disgrace of black sites, the corrupting of the European community (the carefully blacking out of names of allies in the Senate Report by the solicitous CIA\Obama administration), and most importantly, the trashing of the law against torture as the centerpiece of international law and of American law. (h/t Darrol) It is this last point on which the Times‘ editorial finally touches.
Habeas corpus – the right of each prisoner to a day in court and not to be tortured – is, as Philip Soper argues, the central feature of a system of law as opposed to despotism. It is what had distinguished (somewhat, if one does not disregard genocide against indigenous people, the ordinary practice of slavery, Jim Crow and the like, which mark American history…) the US or English system of law from, say, the Chinese.
The Chinese Communists were modern revolutionaries, but their view and practice of law were from the Emperors. To be just now in Dharamsala, to hear from Ama Adhe about her torture – see here and here- where she ended up eating the leather off boots, and was one of three women, out of 400, who survived 3 years in a Chinese prison in the late 1950s (she went on to be brutalized for another 27 years; she has no hearing in her right ear so Yeshi, the translator had to sit to her left for the questions; she has the Dalai Lama’s spirit of compassion, wanting a happy life for the Chinese so long as Tibet is independent, and is a kind of angel…) is to understand how barbaric the Chinese rulers were and are.
The Chinese have but to point to American practices in the black sites and Guantanamo underlined in the 600 page Executive Summary of the Senate Torture Report – published against the will of Obama and the CIA under tremendous pressure from below and from some determined Senators – and there is no difference in kind…
But the clash between habeas corpus, enshrined in the Magna Carta in 1215 and then fought over for 400 years or the international agreements making an absolute ban on torture and which are also centerpieces of American law (and for which the Nuremburg and Tokyo tribunals, under American prosecutorial leadership, executed Nazi and Japanese war criminals after World War II), and these Chinese/ Bush-Cheney enacted/Obama-protected practices is noisome.
Writing for intelligence professionals, Jim Dean says that Israeli intelligence could plant false stories, and these would gain high currency in the US through torture. Here is the core of his account:
“’Here is why torture is a horrible problem, because corrupt interrogators can lead a person while they are interrogating them, telling them what they really want them to tell them and they will stop torturing them,’” he continued [no, ripping human bodies apart is horrible and not because of the bad information it elicits].
“’And then what will happen is that someone would submit a false report like the Israelis, and the US intelligence… will end up torturing two people to confirm it, and then the government actually gets hustled in doing something based on a completely false report,’” he explained.
“’And this actually makes it a threat to the national security, because corrupt insiders inside the government can rig events, like they had done for the Iraq war,… to initiate a war,’” the journalist noted.”
There is a large element of truth here: once a government goes in for torture, it does not get the truth and is extremely easy to manipulate, plant false information on from on high (most likely) and below.
Dean’s argument is the theory of disillusioned CIA critics of why the US invaded Iraq yet again (now we are on the third round with Obama…). For there is no plausible “national interest” in these elite aggressions. They have forfeited American strength and revealed the rottenness of American power, including its harms to most Americans.
But Dean’s explanation is too convenient, blaming Israel (however reactionary its genocide in Palestine) for what are plainly crimes executed in accordance with (fantasies about) American “interests”….
For the CIA, not Israel, under the urging of Bush and Cheney, enacted torture; the decent people both there (such as Ray McGovern) and in the FBI – Ali Soufan – have criticized these crimes relentlessly. McGovern even rightly calls for the abolition of the CIA. See here.
I conjoin with Dean’s comments a post I put up in 2009 on Mr. Cheney “What the Torturer Knew.” What is most clear about the barbarity of American torture is that the CIA torturers were even repulsed themselves by water boarding Abu Zubaydah 82 times, asking in the middle to stop. For this was the practice, as the Senate Report makes clear, of “ensuring” the prisoner knew nothing beyond what he had confessed not under torture, a criminal policy that took torture on many individuals, without any justifiable suspicion, to the max…. David Addington, Cheney’s “man,” stilled them: “Be Men!” But torture did not – ever, once – get any useful information (see the Torture Report and Andrew Sullivan here and the New York Times editorial below).
What it did do was seek for ties between Saddam and Al-Qaida. The US plan was to invade Iraq from the first day of the Bush administration – see the Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill’s memoir, The Price of Loyalty. O’Neill who had been in the Ford and Reagan administrations, was rightly confused by a cabinet discussion at the first meeting in January 2001 which assumed the administration would invade Iraq, making tactical plans…but failed to discuss: why?
Bush and his minions fixed on this policy without any clear justification. Cheney looked for any “prop” for his assertion of ties between Al-Qaida and Saddam; the “dark side” was his means.
But no such ties between Saddam and Al-Qaida existed…
Torture is also, as Elaine Scarry underlines in her remarkable book,The Body in Pain, a way of asserting domination, of threatening or trying to scare people widely.
But Richard Cheney is more frightening to Americans than to others. And in fact, his policy also yields justified hatred among many – recall theCount of Monte Christo and then ask: how many Monte Christos has the US minted at Guantanamo…
It was Cheney’s desire – underlined in his loathsome “Meet the Press” interview last Sunday here, a former Secretary of Defense, Ford Chief of Staff, V-P Mafioso, strutting and screaming – to get the information he already knew by torture.
So “What the Torturer Knew” – see below – is the primary and obvious aspect of torture. That the neocons, including Israelis or certain influential Straussians, ran Cheney is not obvious. That Cheney bought much of their lies/fantasies and sought to carry them out is clear.
That Israel is becoming, in its Occupation of Palestine, more and more of a depraved racist regime, murdering 426 children in Gaza last summer for one Israeli child murdered by Hamas rockets, is clear.
That Israel and the United States, its endless supplier of weapons like the named for genocide “Apache” helicopter, need to be stopped is clear.
But that the tail wags the dog, that the US, across administrations, does not benefit from its relation with Israel, is not clear. For a long time, the US played divide and rule in the Middle East to control the oil and establish military bases.
Now, with the arrival of nonviolent Palestinian resistance (BDS, in the villages and the like), with the increasing knowledge of Americans (AIPAC has given up on the campuses now; there is too much evidence about what Israel does, and “hasbara” – Israeli public relations – will not cover forced transfer, lies about negotiations, and wanton murders…).
Israel is becoming increasingly isolated even in America…
The American invasions of the Middle East starting with the first Gulf War reveal 25 years of decline, the latest with no boots on the ground except some mercenary “invisibles,” are signs of an unpromising, decadent, militarist addiction.
Better the US clean up its torture act; read the Senate Report and ask yourself – are “we” better, in kind, than the hideous IS – and the difficulty in the answer may startle you. For as Cheney said on Meet the Press, torturing innocents to death, hung up when their legs were broken, in stress positions, and anal rape, no biggie. The only criminals are those who did 9/11…See here.
Defending the Bill of Rights and human rights promise something different…
Nonetheless, Dean’s commentary does suggest one route by which those determined to plant false information can gull credulous CIA torturers (the latter are sometimes breathed on by Mr. Cheney to spread lies; one self-described “Troglodyte”/reactionary on the second floor of Langley described how frightened he was when Cheney came down and “breathed” on him).
But the Iraqi engineer “curveball” made up for German intelligence a story about mobile bioweapons laboratories. Germany, a comparatively civilized nation, did not use torture. though they “interrogated” him for a year and a half. The engineer wanted and got asylum in Germany. Yet both German and British intelligence warned the US about his “information.” See here.
Nonetheless, Bush and Powell also picked up and used this “information” in speeches pushing for aggression (as Cheney planted front page stories in the New York Times through access to Judith Miller – via his minion Scooter Libby – and then cited those Times‘s stories as “evidence” for Iraqi wmds).
It is mainly the danger of winds blowing from the top – the thuggish Cheney, the hapless and easily incited Bush – and the pressures of American militarism or war complex dominated politics funded at a trillion dollars a year (the official Pentagon and “intelligence” budgets) – pushing things ever to the Right. The latter is what I call the “right wing two step” in which one oligarchic party calls out for craziness hoping to win elections given a compliant mainstream press, coupled with the other oligarchic party putting up little fight – Obama’s bombing of Syria is the latest illustration.
Now Senator Mark Udall on the torture report, Obama on recognizing Cuba are counterexamples, which in their difficulty/exceptionalism – Udall and Obama no longer face elections – underline the point.
The Senate Report misleadingly concentrates on the CIA, leaves aside the criminal Bush administration. And the Times editorial restricts the matter too much. So I also include a piece by William Boardman on 12 top war criminals, CIA director George Tenet and Mitchell and Jesson, the “psychologist” novice interrogator/torture enthusiasts being but numbers 11 and 12 – see also here. It is worth taking in how extensive this program was (only Colin Powell objected to it, was apparently out of the loop…).
But while it is surely true, for example, that Jay Bybee or John Yoo should be disbarred, the act of rationalizing torture in a position of legal responsibility, if Americans still value the rule of law and the physical and moral security of citizens, is a war crime for which they should be tried….
Even Boardman thus adjusts somewhat to the “politics” of the powerful. But Obama, who represented some hope when he came into office, has become an accomplice to torture, and the next election (unless Rand Paul is nominated and holds onto some principle) will be, without a movement from below, between abettors of neo-cons/friends of torturers (Hillary supports Obama’s initial renunciation of water boarding, yet opposes bringing war criminals to justice…see here).
But enough pressure from below on Obama and the appointment of an independent prosector who does his job (unlike the one who, as the Timespointed out, was charged with finding acts of torture beyond those permitted by the Bush administration and scandalously brought no charges) may become possible.
I also link here to an article on the edits from the Senate Report by the CIA/Obama of names/places of allied torturers (Poland, for example, where one notorious black site was). This corrupt editing underlines the wreckage of international law, of which the absolute ban on torture is the centerpiece, brought about by the Bush administration. But there will be a fight in Europe to restore these things. And the UN special rapporteur on torture again called, with the Senate report, for trials of the Bush\Cheney administration under the Convention against Torture. Further, as theTimes’ editorial insists, the US needs to repudiate these actions across the board – Cheney and Bush and the others need to be confronted with trials and jail time (capital punishment is a barbaric American thing so probably, despite US legal precedent, they haven’t quite earned that…)…
Even Senator Feinstein, a collaborator with torturers, spoke up. Seehere. Even the Times, which under Bill Keller, propagated the euphemism “very harsh interrogations” and refused to look at torture, has now spoken out strongly against it.
It is only being a decent society, having law at all, which hangs in the balance…
New York Times
The Opinion Pages | EDITORIAL
Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD DEC. 21, 2014
Dick Cheney. CreditWin McNamee/Getty Images
Since the day President Obama took office, he has failed to bring to justice anyone responsible for the torture of terrorism suspects — an official government program conceived and carried out in the years after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
He did allow his Justice Department to investigate the C.I.A.’s destruction of videotapes of torture sessions and those who may have gone beyond the torture techniques authorized by President George W. Bush. But the investigation did not lead to any charges being filed, or even any accounting of why they were not filed.
Mr. Obama has said multiple times that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” as though the two were incompatible. They are not. The nation cannot move forward in any meaningful way without coming to terms, legally and morally, with the abhorrent acts that were authorized, given a false patina of legality, and committed by American men and women from the highest levels of government on down.
Americans have known about many of these acts for years, but the 524-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report erases any lingering doubt about their depravity and illegality: In addition to new revelations of sadistic tactics like “rectal feeding,” scores of detainees were waterboarded, hung by their wrists, confined in coffins, sleep-deprived, threatened with death or brutally beaten. In November 2002, one detainee who was chained to a concrete floor died of “suspected hypothermia.”
These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture.
So it is no wonder that today’sblinkered apologists are desperate to call these acts anything but torture, which they clearly were. As the report reveals, these claims fail for a simple reason: C.I.A. officialsadmitted at the time that what they intended to do was illegal.
In July 2002, C.I.A. lawyers told the Justice Department that the agency needed to use “more aggressive methods” of interrogation that would “otherwise be prohibited by the torture statute.” They asked the department to promise not to prosecute those who used these methods. When the department refused, they shopped around for the answer they wanted. They got it from the ideologically driven lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, who wrote memos fabricating a legal foundation for the methods. Government officials now rely on the memos as proof that they sought and received legal clearance for their actions. But the report changes the game: We now know that this reliance was not made in good faith.
No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report. Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation.
The American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch are to give Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. a letter Monday calling for appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate what appears increasingly to be “a vast criminal conspiracy, under color of law, to commit torture and other serious crimes.”
The question everyone will want answered, of course, is: Who should be held accountable? That will depend on what an investigation finds, and as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.
But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who orderedthe destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.
One would expect Republicans who have gone hoarse braying about Mr. Obama’s executive overreach to be the first to demand accountability, but with one notable exception, Senator John McCain, they have either fallen silent oractively defended theindefensible. They cannot even point to any results: Contrary to repeated claims by the C.I.A., the report concluded that “at no time” did any of these techniques yield intelligence that averted a terror attack. And at least 26 detainees were later determined to have been “wrongfully held.”
“Veterans Today, Military Affairs Journal of the Clandestine Community
Insiders mislead US based on false CIA interrogation reports: Analyst
US Senate Intelligence Committee released a report last week detailing CIA torture techniques.
Sun Dec 21, 2014 7:43AM GMT
A political commentator says “insiders” mislead the US government to make crucial decisions based on false information they receive from terror suspects under harsh tactics.
Speaking to Press TV on Thursday, Jim W. Dean, managing editor of Veterans Today from Atlanta, said the CIA uses very skilful interrogators who lead suspects into telling them what they want to hear.
“It has tremendous potential for abuse because if you get somebody like the Dick Cheney crowd looking for some kind of a justification for launching an attack or about an incoming threat, they can put out the word that they need confirmation on this or that and that they need to have the interrogators bring in people to confirm things,” Dean said.
“Here is what torture is a horrible problem, because corrupt interrogators can lead a person while they are interrogating them, telling them what they really want them to tell them and they will stop torturing them,” he continued.
“And then what will happen is that someone would submit a false report like the Israelis, and the US intelligence… will end up torturing two people to confirm it, and then the government actually gets hustled in doing something based on a completely false report,” he explained.
“And this actually makes it a threat to the national security, because corrupt insiders inside the government can rig events, like they had done for the Iraq war,… to initiate a war,” the journalist noted.
Dean said this is “one of the biggest threats that we face and they are always done by insider people.”
The US Senate Intelligence Committee released a report last week detailing torture techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency during the presidency of George W. Bush.
The report confirmed that the CIA used extreme methods such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, mock executions and threats that the relatives of the prisoners would be sexually abused.
An analysis of the report by the Nation Magazine showed that human experimentation was a “core feature” of the spy agency’s torture program.
“WEDNESDAY, MAY 20, 2009
What the Torturer Knew
The FBI interrogator Ali Soufan recently reported in testimony to the Senate that he connected with Abu Zubaydah by treating his wounds and talking to him. Abu Zubaydah gave him information which led to the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. As Soufan testified in answer to Senator Lindsay Graham from South Carolina who tried to defend Vice President Cheney, outsmarting people for information is tougher than beating them to a pulp. Graham used to know this – he once opposed torture. But now he said “these techniques have been used since the Middle Ages”; there must be, he tried to suggest, a reason. Thuggery – scaring the life out of many people by randomly brutalizing whomever one can lay one’s hands on – is, I am afraid, the ordinary reason of corrupt kings and princes. Waterboarding has been used since the Inquisition, as was burning Jewish teenagers at the stake (see Montesquieu, Spirit of the Laws, book 26). Thus, the mark of law and civilization at all – as opposed to tyranny – is the absolute ban on waterboarding and torture. The rump elements of the Republican Party have zealously become the partisans of Torquemada.
In one of now “Judge” Jay Bybee’s torture memos released recently by Obama, it reports that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a month. This was plainly crazy even for torturers and the CIA men who did the job apparently complained about it. Zubaydah was waterboarded over 80 times. But Soufan had procured the only information Zubaydah had. What the torturer wanted wasn’t information from Zubaydah; what the torturer wanted was what the torturer already knew.
Vice President Cheney wanted Zubaydah or anybody else (didn’t matter who) to give up the information that Al-Qaida had ties with Saddam. The fact that this claim was untrue and bizarre – Al Qaida is a fanatical offshoot of the Sunnis and Saddam was secular and locked up and killed fanatical and other Sunnis and Shia – did not interfere. Cheney is way smart compared to most bureaucrats and politicians, but he works best through silence and intimidation. His own ignorance was not obstacle. If he forced enough torture, he could get a “justification” for aggressing against Iraq. And Cheney knew with a passion that this must be right. He even went down into the lower floors of the CIA to breathe on lower level CIA officers and get the information he wanted. He would break his subordinates in order to break the prisoners.
Cheney, Rice and Bush are all still quick to summon up 9/11. But not only did they give up the search for Osama Bin Laden; they used “enhanced interrogation,” that is torture, to try to force what they already knew out of the tortured. That is the only thing torture is good for. Note the particular criminality of the torture – it was not a bizarre response to 9/11; it was an obsessively calculated action to justify a long planned aggression against Saddam. All the excuses for the criminals cannot hide the fact that what they did was not an attempt to gain information about 9/11. That was not what Cheney knew, and Ali Soufan had already done this. Note: even the threadbare rationalizations for torture of the American establishment and the Democratic Party (these people were desperate and had lost their bearings because of 9/11) do not justify this policy. Gaining information to prevent an attack from Al-Qaida had nothing to do with the torture. Instead, it was designed to confirm a war which the “Cheney-Rumsfeld” cabal had determined on long before 9/11. Secretary of Commerce Paul O’Neill in his book with Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty tells the fascinating story that he walked into his first cabinet meeting with Bush and the others were discussing the tactics of going to war with Iraq. Weren’t you supposed, he wondered, to discuss whether and why to go to war first? He had been in the Ford and Reagan administrations and also wondered what happened to cabinet discussions of policy. Under the influence of Rove and Cheney, cabinet discussions under George W. Bush only focused on politics. Perhaps that is a reason for the singular disasters in every aspect of public policy which the Bush-Cheney regime achieved. In any case, what the torturer did to these “high value detainees in secret prisons” later became the American way at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Bagram. The torturer used naked power to enact his own fantasies, which had nothing to do with protecting the United States against another 9/11.
In addition, the use by the CIA of the techniques of the psychologists Mitchell and Jesson, who advised the SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program for American soldiers who might be captured was also an offshoot of Cheney’s move to “dark side.” But as sloppy as Cheney (instilling fear substitutes for finding out anything) or perhaps a blowhard intimidated by Cheney, CIA chief George Tenet could not be bothered to find out whether either of these “psychologists” had ever done an interrogation. They hadn’t. The FBI agent Ali Soufan knew how to get information. In contrast, the torturer knew already what he would elicit from prisoners. Questioning suspects had nothing to do with it. He would see to it that the screws were applied to them until they gave up what he knew.
The CIA did not succeed with Zubaydah (though apparently they made him quite crazy) or Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. It did succeed with Al-Libi, who recently died in a prison in Syria under mysterious circumstances. Under torture, Al-Libi told the CIA what Cheney wanted to hear. Colin Powell then prepared his February 16, 2003 UN speech, trying to weed out some believable claim among the Cheney/neocon fantasies by going to CIA headquarters for four days and throwing away papers in disgust. Powell tried to resist the craziness, but his obsequiousness to the President meant that he had ultimately to choose something that the torturer knew. He settled on Al-Libi’s words under torture (he may or may not have known that Al-Libi was tortured). He gave a speech in which the only true things he said were his name and that he was Secretary of State of the United States. As his assistant in the State Department, Richard Haas (one of many decent civil servants who resigned from the Bush administration) later said, “It was the most embarrassing speech he gave in his life.”
The torturer knew what he wanted. But there was a huge anti-war movement of which I was a part, largely unaddressed in the mainstream press. The invasion of Iraq – an act of aggression, without even a UN Security Council sanction – was never a popular war. Even the initial blitzkrieg and careful close-up photographing of the toppling of a statue of Saddam deeply impressed only the mainstream or access media, the talking heads who all say what will get the President and Vice-President to give them access. The New York times via Judith Miller printed the words of Ahmed Chalabi (the corrupt Iraqi exile the neocons, especially Cheney relied on) on the front page. Cheney then invoked the New York Times on Meet the Press the same day: “Even the Times agrees.” Everyone needs to say what the Vice President already knew.
There is something deeply dishonorable about a war waged at all costs, with threadbare stories justifying it. The administration could not find weapons of mass destruction. It could not find ties to Al-Qaeda. Still what the torturer knew possessed others even prestigious Democratic Senators like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden who feared to be thought weak on “national security.” What the torturer knew passed for American wisdom even in the mainstream news downplaying and distorting protests. Months and months passed, and later there was a stolen election (exit polling which has never been wrong in Presidential elections indicated that Kerry had won). For another four years, the torturer sailed on.
What the torturer knew was a lie that served the torturer. What the torturer knew betrayed what had been decent in American policy (at least the CIA tortured in the dark, though foreign minions) and had made America comparatively respected in the world. What torture obtains is the fantasy that the torturer knew. That is the only truth in the show “24.” which is television for the torturer. That torture elicits only the torturer’s fantasies is the truth about torture. That it reveals only the degradation of the torturer – Cheney strove long to remain silent and hidden – is also the truth about torture. Unless President Obama appoints a bipartisan commission to gather the facts or Attorney General Holder appoints a special prosecutor, torture will remain the truth about the United States of America. Barack Obama is decent and knows better than this. He courageously released the 4 torture memos unredacted over the yelps of four former CIA heads. The legal side of the case – that American officials plainly tortured and that the legal advice on which they supposedly authorized the torture was thrown together after the torture had already been ordered and occurred, and would not, if a student had thrown it together hastily late at night, have passed a beginning law school class – is now clear internationally and even here at home. It remains to be seen whether Obama will reveal more information about torture, or whether the Democrats will slide back into acquiescence. Will what the torturer knew be enshrined in an American police state in which citizens can be indefinitely detained and tortured at the whim of a President – as Jose Padilla was turned “into a chair” according to his lawyers in his three and a half years under torture in a West Virginia brig? Or will we the people, finally, demand that the law to take its course?
Reader Supported News
Obviously guilty: two presidents and much of two administrations
According to recent polling, something like half of all Americans who were asked questions weighted to support torture answered that the torture was “justified.” The good news here is that something like half of all Americans, responding to push-poll type questions, still aren’t willing to say the government is justified in torturing in their name.
The more serious question is why “respected” polling organizations use biased questions and why “respected” news organizations report the results uncritically. ABC News/Washington Post asks about “treatment of suspected terrorists” (no hint that innocents were tortured). Pew frames the question with “the September 11th terrorist attacks” (no hint the torture went on for years after). CBS News uses a false choice, “sometimes justified” versus “never justified,” as well as calling the victims “suspected terrorists.” HuffPost also uses “suspected terrorists” and adds “details about future terrorist attacks” to load the question further (no hint that no such person with such details has yet been identified).
In other words, we have dishonest polling organizations asking dishonest questions that dishonest media report as if they were not dishonest. And still something like half of the manipulated poll-takers are unwilling to endorse torture. That is a source of hope. Especially if some pollster would ask people if they think torture is legal anywhere?
Or maybe some pollster could ask people if they know how many times Bush and members of his administration have been convicted as war criminals for committing torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of people. The answer is: once. In 2012, the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission tried Bush and seven others in absentia. Bush and the others refused to participate. Kuala Lumpur’s attempts to arrest Bush in Canada were blocked by the Canadian government.
George Bush and Dick Cheney knew perfectly well that what they wanted others to do in their name was both torture and illegal; that’s why they went to such lengths to get compliant lawyers to call it something else and say that other thing was legitimate. So the list has to begin with them. Where it ends is a long way beyond 10. Everyone on the list is almost surely a participant or accomplice in years of torture. Each, at a minimum, needs to be publicly examined under oath, subject to all relevant law, including perjury.
Top 10 Government Torturers, 2001-2014
- George Bush. As president, he’s accountable for all the acts of his administration, especially the ones he ordered and/or approved. An anonymous CIA spokesmansays Bush “fully authorized torture.”Karl Rove says Bush knew about and approved of torture, and participated in it, as did Rove. Dick Cheney says Bush knew and approved. In early 2008, Bush vetoed legislation designed to control the CIA, including a ban on waterboarding. Congress failed to over-ride the veto. Bush was convicted in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.
- Dick Cheney. The vice president says he knew, he approved, and he would “do it again in a minute.” He has famously promoted “the dark side.” He was convicted in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.
- Condoleezza Rice, National Security Advisor, knew, approved, and participated. She has pleaded bad memoryto Congress, but still publicly defends torture now. Her assistant and successor, Stephen J. Hadley, was either in the loop or unbelievably feckless, as were an unknown number of staffers and members of the National Security Council.
- Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, knew, approved, and participated, even though he’s a Life Boy Scout. Why should Card, who accuses Barack Obama of misleading the American people, continue as president of Franklin Pierce University? Card’s successor, Joshua Bolten, and an unknown number of other White House staffers are almost surely accomplices. The son of a CIA father, Bolten is a lawyer who teaches at Princeton despite his ties to torture as well as a contempt of Congress citation for stonewalling in another matter. Bolten is also co-chair of the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, a non-profit organization that’s supposedly helping a country the U.S. has tortured for the better part of two centuries.
- Alberto Gonzales. As White House Counsel, and later as Attorney General, he not only knew, approved, and participated, he was one of the main legal apologistsfor the torture regime. His successors, Harriet Miers, an especially close Bush aide, and Fred Fielding, a Watergate survivor thought by some to be Deep Throat, both likely knew and remained silent about official torture. Fielding stonewalled Senate requests for documents relating to torture. Gonzales was convicted in Kuala Lumpur in 2012. Why should they not be disbarred?
- Jay Bybee. As an Assistant Attorney General under the late (but guilty) John Ashcroft, Bybee was in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel, the office that decides what’s legal, subject to reversal only by the attorney general or the president. Bybee was the midwife of Bush torture policy justifications, a number of legal memoranda that allowed the Bush administration to claim that torture and other crimes were legal. These are generally known as the “Torture Memos” and illustrate the workings of a fine legal mind operating without conscience. Before some of his torture memos became public, Bybee was confirmed to a lifetime appointment as a federal judge. In 2013, Judge Bybee ruled, in an apparently gross conflict of interest, that government personnel should be immune from any liability for torture. Why should he not be disbarred? Or impeached? Bybee was convicted in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.
- John Yoo. Working in the Office of Legal Counsel under Bybee, Yoo was the prime author of several of the torture memos, built on the philosophical premise that there are no constraints on the president’s power as commander-in-chief (a legal coup d’etat effectively rendering the Constitution irrelevant and the president omnipotent, all done in secret). In 2005, Yoo publicly affirmedthe authority of the president to order the crushing of an innocent child’s testicles. In 2009, Barack Obama revoked Yoo’s torture memos, but in 2010 a secret proceeding in the Justice Department “cleared” Yoo of wrongdoing. These days, Yoo continues to protect torturers in the White House, while shifting any blame to the CIA. He continues to teach lat at the University of California, Berkeley. Why should he not be disbarred? He was convicted in Kuala Lumpur in 2012.
- David Addington. Legal counsel (and later chief of staff) to Dick Cheney, Addington was by many accountsamong the hardest of the hardliners driving to the dark side, backed by Cheney’s full authority. He knew, he approved, and he participated in U.S. torture program and their legal fig leaves. His predecessor as chief of staff, lawyer Scooter Libby, also knew, approved, and participated in torture. He was convicted of perjury about other government crimes and disbarred (temporarily). Addington is now a vice president at the Heritage Foundation. He was convicted in Kuala Lumpur in 2012. Why should he not be disbarred?
- Donald Rumsfeld. As Secretary of Defense, Rumsfeld knew, approved and participated in torture programswherever the military went. Abu Ghraib. Bagram. Guantanamo. And other places, some unknown. Rumsfeld expresses no remorse, least of all in the documentary “The Unknown Known.” Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, knew, approved, and participated in torture programs, seeking information to justify the waron Iraq. He is now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. William Haynes, general counsel for the Defense Department, knew, approved, and participated in torture programs. For trying Guantanamo prisoners, Haynes designed the military commissions that were later ruled unconstitutional. In a 2002 memo, Haynes blocked further waterboarding of Guantanamo prisoners, citing the Armed Forces “tradition of restraint.” Rumsfeld and Haynes were convicted in Kuala Lumpur. Why should Haynes not be disbarred?
- James Mitchelland Bruce Jessen. Private contractors and PhD psychologists who call themselves Dr., Mitchell and Jessen were paid $81 million (on a $180 million contract) to torture people. Both are retired Air Force officers on government pension. Reportedly the CIA has indemnified them against liability for any crimes they’ve committed. They were hands-on torturers and know, literally, where at least some of the bodies are buried. CIA general counsel John Rizzo (who also knew, approved, and participated in torture) called Mitchell and Jessen’s techniques “sadistic and terrifying.” No one knows how many private contractors, like Blackwater and others, tortured, disappeared, or murdered people, but they should be brought to account.
- George Tenet. The Clinton-appointed head of the CIA is awash in torture-guilt, but that pales compared to his role in lying the U.S. into an aggressive war in Iraq, one of the highest war crimes. In 2004, Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he should give back. In 2007 he was still saying, “We don’t torture people.” His successors, especially Porter Gossand Michael Hayden, may have tidied up the CIA a bit, but they held no one accountable for the crimes they continued to deny. The new Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, forced Goss out at the CIA in favor of Negroponte’s deputy Hayden, then still a four-star Air Force general. As ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte wasimmersed in the dirty wars of Central America and all the unaddressed crimes the U.S. sponsored there. In 2004, when the CIA inspector general reported that the CIA was violating the Convention Against Torture, assistant attorney general Steven Bradbury in the Office of Legal Counsel wrote three more “torture memos” to quash the inspector general’s concern. The new CIA head, John Brennan, remains in denial and cover-up mode.
How does any nation recover from being a rogue state?
Even though this top 10 list includes way more than 10 people guilty of participating in torture, it’s by no means an exhaustive list of all the government workers with greater or lesser culpability for crimes against humanity over the past three presidencies. Kidnapping, euphemistically called extraordinary rendition, grew popular in the Clinton administration and there’s no reason to believe our government has abandoned the practice, any more than the government has given up torture, illegal detention, or assassination. The U.S. may be less of a rogue state now than it was a decade ago, but it’s still far from an honorable member of the international community that accepts accountability under international law.
To be clear, torture has long been a chronic, low level vein of criminality by U.S. government operatives, with bipartisan collusion at least since the beginning of the Cold War. Torture (and murder) was endemic to the American Indian Wars of the 19th century and to U.S. military predation in the Philippines (1899-1913), where Mark Twain described the troops as “our uniformed assassins.”
The U.S. Defense Department, formerly the War Department, has considered torture one of its options during its entire existence, used sparingly perhaps by the U.S. government but encouraged among our proxies around the world. Starting in 1946, the School of the Americas (now known euphemistically as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) has periodically trained the military officers of Latin American dictatorships in the uses of torture in peacetime.
The CIA and its proxies have used torture on an as-needed basis since the CIA was created in 1947. The CIA’s Phoenix Program in Viet-Nam combined torture and assassination in a years-long terror campaign against the Viet Cong (also terrorists). What the CIA did in Laos, Cambodia, and elsewhere is less well known (if known at all) but not less ugly and criminal. Some sense of official atrocity can be inferred from the CIA torture manuals supplied to Central American dictatorships during the Reagan administration.
Even in the context of longstanding, institutionalized official torture — Torturers ‘R’ US, in effect — the Bush administration took American government crime to a new level not seen in official circles since a similar panic produced the Salem witch killings. What George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their accomplices did out of blind fear was to embrace torture as right and just. Previously, even the structure of torture programs reflected guilty knowledge that the practice is abhorrent, hence better done by others on our behalf whether in Iran or Argentina, Iraq or Guatemala, wherever perceived witches threatened supposed American interests.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights is a British lawyer named Ben Emmerson. Regarding the CIA torture report, he issued a statement saying, in part:
“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.
The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.
“International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes.
“As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice… States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.
“It is no defence for a public official to claim that they were acting on superior orders…
“However, the heaviest penalties should be reserved for those most seriously implicated in the planning and purported authorisation of these crimes… There is therefore no excuse for shielding the perpetrators from justice any longer.
The US Attorney General is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible.
“Torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction. The perpetrators may be prosecuted by any other country they may travel to. However, the primary responsibility for bringing them to justice rests with the US Department of Justice and the Attorney General.” [emphasis added]
The Obama administration has a moral and legal duty to bring American war criminals of three administrations to justice. Not to do so is to continue to use American exceptionalism as a justification for the worst crimes against humanity. The national precedent is to honor those most responsible for government crimes, but what honor is there in that?”