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Torture Watch

By Dan Froomkin
12:25 PM ET, 05/19/2009

What's the latest torture news?

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times: "A coalition of left-wing advocacy groups filed legal ethics complaints on Monday against 12 former Bush administration lawyers, including three United States attorneys general, whom the groups accuse of helping to justify torture."

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank finds humor in the idea of holding Bush administration officials accountable for torture: "So, forced nudity for Ashcroft, the former attorney general who once ordered the covering of the bare breasts of the Lady Justice statue?... Waterboarding for Addington, Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, who haughtily brushed off lawmakers?" Hardy har har.

Emily Pierce and Tory Newmyer write for Roll Call (subscription required): "Instead of talking up their grand plans for changing the direction of the country and moving past the partisan bitterness, Congressional Democrats can't seem to get out of this debate over the harsh interrogations of terror suspects during President George W. Bush's first term.....

"'It's drowning out our message,' one senior House Democratic aide said. 'We are about to conclude a really productive work period, but torture is all you hear about.'

"Case in point: During the media frenzy over Pelosi's latest explanation of what the CIA told her about the waterboarding of detainees, reporters on Thursday laughed at one of their own when he asked the Speaker about a massive, controversial rewrite of health care policy — which just happens to be the Democrats' top priority this year.

"'Did you get booed?' Pelosi asked the lone journalist who tried to change the subject."

And while we're on the general subject, let me catch you up on the latest Cheney developments:

Robert Windrem writes in the Daily Beast that two U.S. intelligence officers confirm that former vice president Cheney's office suggested waterboarding an Iraqi prisoner in the spring of 2003. The prisoner was a former intelligence official for Saddam Hussein, who was suspected to have knowledge of a Saddam-al Qaeda connection.

Jonathan S. Landay writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "Then-Vice President Dick Cheney, defending the invasion of Iraq, asserted in 2004 that detainees interrogated at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp had revealed that Iraq had trained al Qaida operatives in chemical and biological warfare, an assertion that wasn't true.

"Cheney's 2004 comments to the now-defunct Rocky Mountain News were largely overlooked at the time. However, they appear to substantiate recent reports that interrogators at Guantanamo and other prison camps were ordered to find evidence of alleged cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein — despite CIA reports that there were only sporadic, insignificant contacts between the militant Islamic group and the secular Iraqi dictatorship....

"'The (al Qaida-Iraq) links go back,' he said. 'We know for example from interrogating detainees in Guantanamo that al Qaida sent individuals to Baghdad to be trained in C.W. and B.W. technology, chemical and biological weapons technology. These are all matters that are there for anybody who wants to look at it.'

"No evidence of such training or of any operational links between Iraq and al Qaida has ever been found, according to several official inquiries."

Walter Pincus wrote in Saturday's Washington Post that "senior intelligence officials...acknowledged that two al-Qaeda operatives, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Sheik Mohammed, had been questioned about alleged links between al-Qaeda and Iraq when the two men underwent CIA interrogation in 2002 and 2003. But the officials denied that the questioning on Iraq had included waterboarding."

But that's hardly a blanket denial. Waterboarding was by no means the only form of coercion used upon the CIA's detainees. And what about all the other people who passed through the black sites?

Walter Pincus writes in today's Washington Post about whining from within the CIA: "Harsh interrogations were only one part of its clandestine activities against al-Qaeda and other enemies, and agency members are worried that other operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan will come under review...

"The agency's defensiveness in part reflects a conviction that it is being forced to take the blame for actions approved by elected officials that have since fallen into disfavor."

Joby Warrick reported last week for The Washington Post that the CIA rejected Cheney's request to release documents that he says show that the agency's harsh interrogation methods helped thwart terrorist plots. The CIA cited "pending legal action" as the only reason for keeping the memos secret. But it turns out that legal action consists of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits from a variety of human rights groups. So the CIA won't release the memos to Cheney because other people are asking for them, too? Ridiculous.

Howard Fineman writes in Newsweek about Cheney's recent media visibility: "[I]t's good to have Cheney around. We need someone to tell us hard, unpleasant truths. And it is useful to remind ourselves of the mistake we made in thinking that he was the man to do it."

Marcy Wheeler writes in Salon about the "Torture 13" -- Bush officials who "exploited the federal bureaucracy to establish a torture regime." Cheney tops the list, followed by his counsel and chief of staff David Addington.

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