Bipartisan Report On Torture After 9/11

In case anyone still had any doubt that George Bush and Dick Cheney should be tried as war criminals, a bipartisan report confirms the long-standing criticism of torture being used under them:

A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that “it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture” and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.

The sweeping, 577-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been “the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.” The study, by an 11-member panel convened by the Constitution Project, a legal research and advocacy group, is to be released on Tuesday morning.

Debate over the coercive interrogation methods used by the administration of President George W. Bush has often broken down on largely partisan lines. The Constitution Project’s task force on detainee treatment, led by two former members of Congress with experience in the executive branch — a Republican, Asa Hutchinson, and a Democrat, James R. Jones — seeks to produce a stronger national consensus on the torture question.

While the task force did not have access to classified records, it is the most ambitious independent attempt to date to assess the detention and interrogation programs. A separate 6,000-page report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s record by the Senate Intelligence Committee, based exclusively on agency records, rather than interviews, remains classified.

“As long as the debate continues, so too does the possibility that the United States could again engage in torture,” the report says.

The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

Interrogation and abuse at the C.I.A.’s so-called black sites, the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba and war-zone detention centers, have been described in considerable detail by the news media and in declassified documents, though the Constitution Project report adds many new details.

It confirms a report by Human Rights Watch that one or more Libyan militants were waterboarded by the C.I.A., challenging the agency’s longtime assertion that only three Al Qaeda prisoners were subjected to the near-drowning technique. It includes a detailed account by Albert J. Shimkus Jr., then a Navy captain who ran a hospital for detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison, of his own disillusionment when he discovered what he considered to be the unethical mistreatment of prisoners.

But the report’s main significance may be its attempt to assess what the United States government did in the years after 2001 and how it should be judged. The C.I.A. not only waterboarded prisoners, but slammed them into walls, chained them in uncomfortable positions for hours, stripped them of clothing and kept them awake for days on end.

The question of whether those methods amounted to torture is a historically and legally momentous issue that has been debated for more than a decade inside and outside the government. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote a series of legal opinions from 2002 to 2005 concluding that the methods were not torture if used under strict rules; all the memos were later withdrawn. News organizations have wrestled with whether to label the brutal methods unequivocally as torture in the face of some government officials’ claims that they were not.

In addition, the United States is a signatory to the international Convention Against Torture, which requires the prompt investigation of allegations of torture and the compensation of its victims.

Like the still-secret Senate interrogation report, the Constitution Project study was initiated after President Obama decided in 2009 not to support a national commission to investigate the post-9/11 counterterrorism programs, as proposed by Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and others. Mr. Obama said then that he wanted to “look forward, not backward.” Aides have said he feared that his own policy agenda might get sidetracked in a battle over his predecessor’s programs.

The panel studied the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at the C.I.A’s secret prisons. Staff members, including the executive director, Neil A. Lewis, a former reporter for The New York Times, traveled to multiple detention sites and interviewed dozens of former American and foreign officials, as well as former detainees.

Mr. Hutchinson, who served in the Bush administration as chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration and under secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said he “took convincing” on the torture issue. But after the panel’s nearly two years of research, he said he had no doubts about what the United States did.

“This has not been an easy inquiry for me, because I know many of the players,” Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview. He said he thought everyone involved in decisions, from Mr. Bush down, had acted in good faith, in a desperate effort to try to prevent more attacks.

“But I just think we learn from history,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “It’s incredibly important to have an accurate account not just of what happened but of how decisions were made.”

He added, “The United States has a historic and unique character, and part of that character is that we do not torture.”

The panel found that the United States violated its international legal obligations by engineering “enforced disappearances” and secret detentions. It questions recidivism figures published by the Defense Intelligence Agency for Guantánamo detainees who have been released, saying they conflict with independent reviews.

Many on the right justified these actions belieing they were necessary for our national security. Therefore I will repeat the line above which points out:  The use of torture, the report concludes, has “no justification” and “damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.” The task force found “no firm or persuasive evidence” that these interrogation methods produced valuable information that could not have been obtained by other means. While “a person subjected to torture might well divulge useful information,” much of the information obtained by force was not reliable, the report says.

 

Andrew Sullivan’s Defense of Barack Obama

Yesterday I referred to Andrew Sullivan’s article on Barack Obama in Newsweek. It is worth repeating more of what he wrote in response to the common attacks from the right wing:

The right claims the stimulus failed because it didn’t bring unemployment down to 8 percent in its first year, as predicted by Obama’s transition economic team. Instead, it peaked at 10.2 percent. But the 8 percent prediction was made before Obama took office and was wrong solely because it relied on statistics that guessed the economy was only shrinking by around 4 percent, not 9. Remove that statistical miscalculation (made by government and private-sector economists alike) and the stimulus did exactly what it was supposed to do. It put a bottom under the free fall. It is not an exaggeration to say it prevented a spiral downward that could have led to the Second Great Depression.

You’d think, listening to the Republican debates, that Obama has raised taxes. Again, this is not true. Not only did he agree not to sunset the Bush tax cuts for his entire first term, he has aggressively lowered taxes on most Americans. A third of the stimulus was tax cuts, affecting 95 percent of taxpayers; he has cut the payroll tax, and recently had to fight to keep it cut against Republican opposition. His spending record is also far better than his predecessor’s. Under Bush, new policies on taxes and spending cost the taxpayer a total of $5.07 trillion. Under Obama’s budgets both past and projected, he will have added $1.4 trillion in two terms. Under Bush and the GOP, nondefense discretionary spending grew by twice as much as under Obama. Again: imagine Bush had been a Democrat and Obama a Republican. You could easily make the case that Obama has been far more fiscally conservative than his predecessor—except, of course, that Obama has had to govern under the worst recession since the 1930s, and Bush, after the 2001 downturn, governed in a period of moderate growth. It takes work to increase the debt in times of growth, as Bush did. It takes much more work to constrain the debt in the deep recession Bush bequeathed Obama.

The great conservative bugaboo, Obamacare, is also far more moderate than its critics have claimed. The Congressional Budget Office has projected it will reduce the deficit, not increase it dramatically, as Bush’s unfunded Medicare Prescription Drug benefit did. It is based on the individual mandate, an idea pioneered by the archconservative Heritage Foundation, Newt Gingrich, and, of course, Mitt Romney, in the past. It does not have a public option; it gives a huge new client base to the drug and insurance companies; its health-insurance exchanges were also pioneered by the right. It’s to the right of the Clintons’ monstrosity in 1993, and remarkably similar to Nixon’s 1974 proposal. Its passage did not preempt recovery efforts; it followed them. It needs improvement in many ways, but the administration is open to further reform and has agreed to allow states to experiment in different ways to achieve the same result. It is not, as Romney insists, a one-model, top-down prescription. Like Obama’s Race to the Top education initiative, it sets standards, grants incentives, and then allows individual states to experiment. Embedded in it are also a slew of cost-reduction pilot schemes to slow health-care spending. Yes, it crosses the Rubicon of universal access to private health care. But since federal law mandates that hospitals accept all emergency-room cases requiring treatment anyway, we already obey that socialist principle—but in the most inefficient way possible. Making 44 million current free-riders pay into the system is not fiscally reckless; it is fiscally prudent. It is, dare I say it, conservative.

On foreign policy, the right-wing critiques have been the most unhinged. Romney accuses the president of apologizing for America, and others all but accuse him of treason and appeasement. Instead, Obama reversed Bush’s policy of ignoring Osama bin Laden, immediately setting a course that eventually led to his capture and death. And when the moment for decision came, the president overruled both his secretary of state and vice president in ordering the riskiest—but most ambitious—plan on the table. He even personally ordered the extra helicopters that saved the mission. It was a triumph, not only in killing America’s primary global enemy, but in getting a massive trove of intelligence to undermine al Qaeda even further. If George Bush had taken out bin Laden, wiped out al Qaeda’s leadership, and gathered a treasure trove of real intelligence by a daring raid, he’d be on Mount Rushmore by now. But where Bush talked tough and acted counterproductively, Obama has simply, quietly, relentlessly decimated our real enemies, while winning the broader propaganda war. Since he took office, al Qaeda’s popularity in the Muslim world has plummeted.

Sullivan also responded to attacks from the left which can be seen in the full article. Sullivan does respond to the most vocal opponents, who make up a tiny minority. The Obama administration is also bracing for further criticism from the left over  his proposed budget. While there are reasons to object to some of Obama’s policies, most liberals seem to understand the limitations of what Obama can accomplish in our political system. Plus we realize that no matter what objections we have to Obama’s policies, none of these issues would be made better by having a Republican in the White House.

Cheney Fears Being Tried For War Crimes

Unindicted war criminal Dick Cheney is afraid of being tried for war crimes according to former Colin Powell chief-of-staff Lawrence Wilkerson. It also appears that he won’t have any friends left among former members of the Bush administration once they read In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir.

“I think he’s just trying to, one, assert himself so he’s not in some subsequent time period tried for war crimes and, second, so that he somehow vindicates himself because he feels like he needs vindication. That in itself tells you something about him,” Wilkerson told ABC News, explaining that Cheney may have “angst” because of receiving deferments instead of serving in the Vietnam War like Wilkerson and others in the administration.

“He’s developed an angst and almost a protective cover, and now he fears being tried as a war criminal so he uses such terminology as ‘exploding heads all over Washington’ because that’s the way someone who’s decided he’s not going to be prosecuted acts: boldly, let’s get out in front of everybody, let’s act like we are not concerned and so forth when in fact they are covering up their own fear that somebody will Pinochet him,” Wilkerson said alluding to the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested for war crimes.

Wilkinson also described Cheney as being power-hungry:

Wilkerson adds, “Something happened to Dick Cheney and it wasn’t just 9/11,” which Cheney cites as deeply changing him. Wilkerson said the former vice president always “coveted power” and that Cheney was “fully expecting that he was going to be vice-president” when he headed up the search team for Bush.

“I can’t speak to the psychosomatic or the genetic problems with heart attacks or whatever, but I can speak to power,” Wilkerson said. “He wanted desperately to be president of the United States … he knew the Texas governor was not steeped in anything but baseball, so he knew he was going to be president and I think he got his dream. He was president for all practical purposes for the first term of the Bush administration.”

Posted in George Bush, Iraq, Torture. Tags: . 8 Comments »

Osama bin Laden Captured by Painstaking Intelligence Work, Not By Torture

It is a common behavior of the right wing to take any real world events and try to twist them to support their warped beliefs. The classic example of this was the right wing using the 9/11 terrorist attack as justification for the Iraq war. Now they are trying to turn the news over the killing of Osama bin Laden into justification for torture. Torture is a technique developed to force false confessions–not to obtain accurate information. The information actually provided by water boarding was trivial, and not the reason that bin Laden was found.  After all, if water boarding was the solution, why didn’t Bush find bin Laden a long time ago?

Defenders of the interrogation technique raised the issue, earning write-ups in several high-profile publications, including The New York Times and Time magazine. It was also put forward in most bin Laden-related news interviews with Obama officials. The problem, those officials stress, is that questioning the effectiveness of waterboarding in the bin Laden case oversimplifies a complex issue to which there may not be any concrete answers.

“There is no possible way to know for sure,” said one senior Obama administration official. “Even if waterboarding did produce something — and that is debatable, the timeline seems very unclear — it is impossible to say whether interrogation absent it would have produced the same thing. It might have. Lots of detainees provided [intelligence].”

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor was more directly dismissive. “I think this is a distraction from the broader picture, which is that this achievement was the result of years of painstaking work by our intelligence community that drew from multiple sources,” he said. “It’s impossible to know whether information obtained by EITs [enhanced interrogation techniques] could have been obtained by other forms of interrogation.”

By most accounts, harsh interrogation measures including waterboarding did not play a role in helping to track bin Laden’s whereabouts or his associates. According to the Times, in 2002 and 2003 “interrogators first heard about a Qaeda courier who used the nom de guerre Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti” — the same courier who would ultimately lead the CIA to bin Laden’s location. But, the Times reported, “his name was just one tidbit in heaps of uncorroborated claims.”

The full post discusses the issue further. This has also been reviewed in detail at multiple other blogs, such as here , here, and here. The information was obtained by painstaking intelligence work. In the real world, unlike an episode of 24, there are no simple solutions.

 

United States Performed Experiments On Detainees

Physicians for Human Rights charges that there were violations of medical ethics during the torture of detainees under the Bush administration, with victims used for experimentation:

Medical professionals who were involved in the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogations of terrorism suspects engaged in forms of human research and experimentation in violation of medical ethics and domestic and international law, according to a new report from a human rights organization.

Doctors, psychologists and other professionals assigned to monitor the C.I.A.’s use of waterboarding, sleep deprivation and other “enhanced” interrogation techniques gathered and collected data on the impact of the interrogations on the detainees in order to refine those techniques and ensure that they stayed within the limits established by the Bush administration’s lawyers, the report found. But, by doing so, the medical professionals turned the detainees into research subjects, according to the report, which is scheduled to be published on Monday by Physicians for Human Rights.

The data collected by medical professionals from the interrogations of detainees allowed the C.I.A. to judge the emotional and physical impact of the techniques, helping the agency to “calibrate the level of pain experienced by detainees during interrogation, ostensibly to keep it from crossing the administration’s legal threshold of what it claimed constituted torture,” the report said. That meant that the medical professionals crossed the line from treating the detainees as patients to treating them as research subjects, the report asserted.

These practices likely violate both domestic and international prohibitions against involuntary human experimentation, including those  based on the  Nuremberg Code.

More at Truthout and The American Prospect.

Schwarzenegger, Powell, and Petraeus Defend Obama on Stimulus And Terrorism

The Sunday interview shows a few cases of Republicans breaking from the party line and supporting Barack Obama’s policies. Arnold Schwarzenegger along with Democrat Ed Rendell discussed how the stimulus was successful, including at creating private sector jobs, on This Week. They also agreed that the Republicans won the spin war in discrediting this successful program, with Schwarzenegger calling his fellow Republicans hypocrites:

“I find it interesting that you have a lot of the Republicans running around and pushing back on stimulus money and saying this doesn’t create any new jobs, and then they go out and do photo-ops and they’re posing with the big check and they say, ‘Isn’t this great! Look the kind of money I provide here for the state! And this is great money to create jobs, and this has created 10,000 new jobs, and this has created 20,000 new jobs,’” Schwarzenegger said on ABC’s “This Week.” “It doesn’t match up.”

Asked by “This Week” host Terry Moran if that amounted to hypocrisy, Schwarzenegger responded: “Exactly.”

On Face the Nation Colin Powell disagreed with Dick Cheney’s claims that we are less safe under Obama:

Claims that the United States is less safe under President Obama are not credible, former Secretary of State Colin Powell said on “Face the Nation” Sunday.

He also challenged criticism by some (including former Vice President Dick Cheney, who say that by not using extreme interrogation techniques such as waterboarding on terror suspects the United States is more vulnerable.

“The point is made, ‘We don’t waterboard anymore or use extreme interrogation techniques.’ Most of those extreme interrogation techniques and waterboarding were done away with in the Bush administration,” Powell said. “They’ve been made officially done away with in this current administration.”

Gen. David Petraeus disagreed with Dick Cheney regarding torture and  closing Guantanamo on Meet the Press:

Appearing on Meet the Press, the general made a compelling case against torturing terrorist detainees, saying he found it far more pragmatic and beneficial to stick to methods authorized by the army field manual.

“I have always been on the record, in fact, since 2003, with the concept of living our values. And I think that whenever we’ve perhaps taken expedient measures, they’ve turned around and bitten us in the backside. We decided early on, in the 101st airborne division, we just said, we decided to obey the Geneva Conventions…

“In the cases where that is not true [where torture takes place or international human rights groups aren’t granted access to detention sites] we end up paying a price for it, ultimately,” he added. “Abu Ghraib and other situations like that are non biodegradable. They don’t go away. The enemy continues to beat you with them like a stick…. Beyond that, frankly, we have found that the use of interrogation methods in the army field manual that was given the force of law by Congress, that that works.”

Petraeus wasn’t done there. In another contrast with former Vice President Cheney — as well as the vast majority of congressional Republicans — he reiterated his support for closing Gitmo, albeit without a date-specific time frame.

“I’ve been on the record on that for well over a year, saying it should be closed,” he said. “But it should be done in a responsible matter. So I’m not seized with the issue that it won’t be done by a certain date. In fact, I think it is prudent to insure that as we move forward with that, the remaining detainees are relocated and so forth… is really thought through and done in a very pragmatic and sensible manner.”

Dick Cheney turned on the Olympics…

Dick Cheney turned on the Olympics last night but quickly turned it off. He was disappointed when he realized snowboarding was on, not waterboarding.

(Current Facebook status with version with shortened version on Twitter)

Dick Cheney Asks To Be Prosecuted For Violation of Federal Law

Many people have already pointed out that Dick Cheney’s discussion of his role in promoting water boarding on Sunday is essentially a confession to war crimes. Scott Horton questions if he wants to be prosecuted:

“I was a big supporter of waterboarding,” Cheney said in an appearance on ABC’s This Week on Sunday. He went on to explain that Justice Department lawyers had been instructed to write legal opinions to cover the use of this and other torture techniques after the White House had settled on them.

Section 2340A of the federal criminal code makes it an offense to torture or to conspire to torture. Violators are subject to jail terms or to death in appropriate cases, as where death results from the application of torture techniques. Prosecutors have argued that a criminal investigation into torture undertaken with the direction of the Bush White House would raise complex legal issues, and proof would be difficult. But what about cases in which an instigator openly and notoriously brags about his role in torture? Cheney told Jonathan Karl that he used his position within the National Security Council to advocate for the use of waterboarding and other torture techniques. Former CIA agent John Kiriakou and others have confirmed that when waterboarding was administered, it was only after receiving NSC clearance. Hence, Cheney was not speaking hypothetically but admitting his involvement in the process that led to decisions to waterboard in at least three cases.

What prosecutor can look away when a perpetrator mocks the law itself and revels in his role in violating it? Such cases cry out for prosecution. Dick Cheney wants to be prosecuted. And prosecutors should give him what he wants.

Whether or not Cheney wants to be prosecuted, he should be tried for his violation of the law. If the actions he described on television are allowed to go unpunished there is no reason for any future president or vice-president to fear repeating Dick Cheney’s crimes.

SciFi Weekend: Dollhouse; Doctor Who and the Enterprise; Caprica; Lost; and 24

Hollow Man wrapped up the present day story on Dollhouse. As I anticipated, it was somewhat disappointing. It is very common for genre shows with complicated mythologies to be unable to provide a satisfactory conclusion for all the twists on a weekly show. Note their are major spoilers here.

The revelation last week that Boyd was Clyde’s evil partner in the development of Rossum provided a good shocker to end the episode, but it is very difficult to make sense of this. Even if you buy the story that Caroline/Echo is necessary to develop an immunity to having minds wiped, Boyd went about this in a strange way. Rather than have Echo in his own lab, or have Adelle actively working under his direction, he allowed someone as important as Echo repeatedly risk her life as an active. Perhaps this is why Boyd initially acted as his handler, but there this also complicated matters even more by having him out in the field as well.

The episode provided a fake happy ending. Rossum’s main frame was blown up and it looked like the good guys had won. If viewers were to stop watching after this episode there would be different conclusions for those who only watched it on television as opposed to those who have also viewed Epitaph One, which was only released on DVD. Those only viewing on television would so far see the happy ending. In two weeks they would see the apocalyptic future which has been hinted at in the series finale, Epitaph Two.

It is not difficult to understand that the destruction of Rossum in Hollow Man was not a solution. We already know that their mainframe is actually human minds connected around the world and destroying only one site probably would not destroy all of Rossum’s information on mind wiping technology. It is also possible that once the technology was possible others would develop it.

If anyone is hoping that the Dollhouse story will continue elsewhere, such as in comics, Joss Wheden says that this is the end.

In the 1980’s an unauthorized cross over book was published, The Doctor and the Enterprise. TrekMovie.com reviewed some books and interviews with Russell T. Davies and found an actual televised cross over was actually under consideration. A cross over with Star Trek:  Enterprise was seriously being considered in 2004 until Enterprise was canceled. There was also consideration of having The Doctor on board the Enterprise for the 2009 Easter special, “puncturing all that Starfleet pomposity with this sheer Doctor-ness”

There have been many Doctor Who references on Star Trek which have been accumulated here. There have also been references to Star Trek on Doctor Who, with some listed here.

Caprica debuts on January 22.  Executive producer Jane Espenson discussed the show with Airlock Alpha:

“Caprica” itself takes place more than 50 years before the events depicted in “Caprica,” and Friday’s premiere will essentially be the same episode that was released on DVD last year and online late last year, but there will be some differences with added scenes and some other adjustments here and there as “Caprica” goes into series mode.

“Obviously, in the pilot, they were reeling from this immediate attack,” Espenson said of a terrorist attack that affects the main character families of the Graystones and the Adamas. “But our show is going to pick up about a month after. And people will be back in your normal mode, where they can joke and laugh and try to cheer each other up.”

One thing that may never be explained explicitly but what Espenson and her crew had to think about, is how the Twelve Colonies can be on separate planets. Espenson said she worked with “Battlestar” science consultant Kevin Grazier to develop it, and basically the colonies will be a part of a cluster of stars.

“It’s all worked out,” Espenson said. “They are an easy shuttle flight distance from each other, without all crowding into the same orbit.”

Two of the colonies will actually orbit Ragnar, which was featured in the “Battlestar Galactica” pilot, she said. At least one other colony won’t actually be on a planet, but on on a “band” of material situated in a life zone between two uninhabitable planets.

Before the final season of Battlestar Galactica, a picture of the cast based upon the Last Supper was released (posted here). A Last Supper picture has also been released in US Weekly for the final season of Lost, with Locke in the center.

Jack is back, and Katee Sackhoff is also joining the cast. I know some of my liberal friends look down on 24 for its portrayal of torture. Personally I enjoy 24 as escapist fantasy and look down on pro-torture conservatives who are unable to tell the difference between television and reality

Prosecutor Appointed To Investigate Torture

There are a couple of updates to this morning’s post on the recommendations for an investigation into abuse of terror suspects. Attorney General Eric Holder is appointing a prosecutor to investigate cases where the CIA and contractors might have violated laws regarding torture.

Documents which were recently declassified following a suit filed by the ACLU provide examples of the conduct which should be investigated, including threats by interrogators to kill the children and sexually assault the mother of one suspect.

In one instance cited in the new documents, Abd al-Nashiri, the man accused of being behind the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded, handcuffed and threatened with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also threatened al-Nashiri’s mother and family, implying they would be sexually abused in front of him, according to the report.

The interrogator denied making a direct threat.

Another interrogator told alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, “if anything else happens in the United States, ‘We’re going to kill your children,'” one veteran officer said in the report.

Death threats violate anti-torture laws.

Update: Looking back at the reports of the appointment of a special prosecutor, there is one major problem. The investigation is extremely limited and ignores the people who should really be investigated–those who ordered the use of torture.

Posted in Terrorism, Torture. Tags: , . No Comments »