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Torture Watch

By all rights, journalist Mark Danner's recent exposé -- based on a confidential report from the International Red Cross that definitively classified the CIA's treatment of terror suspects as torture -- should have spurred government officials into action. At the very least, it should have permanently changed the public discourse.

But so far, not so much.

Peter Finn writes in The Washington Post: "The ACLU called on Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. yesterday to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate allegations of torture at CIA secret prisons, following the leak last weekend of a secret report by the International Committee of the Red Cross....

"Although Holder described waterboarding as torture during his confirmation hearings, the Obama administration has shown little willingness to support an investigation of interrogation techniques undertaken while George W. Bush was president....

"'Allegations of crimes is not a discretionary matter,' said Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the ACLU. Romero argued that Holder must act to meet the obligations of his office.

"The civil liberties groups also said time is running out for any criminal investigation into the interrogation of the first major terrorism suspect captured after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein, a Saudi-born Palestinian better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Zubaida."

Legal blogger Brian Tamanaha writes: "Those who suggest that such an investigation would be political have matters exactly upside-down: given the ample credible evidence that the law has been violated, it would be political to decide to not conduct a criminal investigation."

And Matt Corley reports for Thinkprogress.org on Danner's appearance on C-Span yesterday, in which Danner "took the press to task for engaging in a 'semantic debate' over whether the U.S. committed torture under the Bush administration.

"'One can continue to talk about torture is in the eye of the beholder, etc etc, but frankly, nobody of any legal reputation believes that,' said Danner. Later in the interview, he added that he was 'frustrated by the practices of the press' that are 'interfering with a clear debate'."

Said Danner: "We're debilitated in that by some degree by the practices of the American press, frankly, which is that as long as the president or people in power continue to cling to a definition that they assert is the truth — as President Bush did when it came to torture, he said repeatedly the United States does not torture — the press feels obliged to report that and consider the matter as a question of debate."

By Dan Froomkin  |  March 18, 2009; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Looking Backward , Torture  
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Comments

Torture is being a modern day progressive, with Democrats in control of both Congress and the White House, and watching as they all work overtime to avoid being seen as anything left of center. I thought the post-Iraq new blood would help the Dems find their spine, but it seems the old guard doesn't give up that easily. Not that they see any reason to, what with the Obama administration selling out real progressives like Chris Dodd at the drop of a hat. It seems to me that if you're going to be labeled a leftist loon no matter what you do, you might as well live up to it and invigorate your base in the process.

Sorry for being mostly O/T. I'm really angry about the whole Dodd thing this morning.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 18, 2009 1:03 PM | Report abuse

the Obama administration has shown little willingness to support an investigation of interrogation techniques undertaken while George W. Bush was president....
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I'm gaining new respect for President Obama everyday.. If this was the change he was talking about.. not going after the other party for political points.. then I'm all for it.

Posted by: sovine08 | March 18, 2009 1:46 PM | Report abuse

"not going after the other party for political points.."

Once you have evidence of at least some level of wrongdoing, doesn't it become political NOT to investigate?

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 18, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Once you have evidence of at least some level of wrongdoing, doesn't it become political NOT to investigate?
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I don't think so. Look if Khalid Shekih Mohammed, the guy who planned 9/11, is responsible for the deaths of 3000 innocent people, the guy who sawed the head off of Daneil Pearl, feels he was mistreated.. he can sue the Federal government. He might even win.. though I doubt he'll collect anything before we tie him to a bed and execute him by way of lethal injection...

Posted by: sovine08 | March 18, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Bush and Cheney will properly be prosecuted for abuses, crimes and treason before it is all said and done.

Posted by: jfern03 | March 18, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Actually, Obama is being very smart about Bush. Of course the former president is a criminal and performed egregious criminal acts. But Obama is right in thinking the country isn't ready to go through the fury that would erupt from the Republicans if the current administration went after Bush. Obama would be able to get no legislation passed with Congress spitting at each other from opposite sides of the room. Waiting for the public pressure to build as more evidence of the Bush administration's crimes emerges, especially their role in 911, is the smartest route Obama could take. Let the public cry for Bush's head first, then act.

Posted by: shaman7214 | March 18, 2009 3:06 PM | Report abuse

No one cares about the torture and murder of human beings by the American people through their proxies. The endless narcissim of the American people will confine them to squabbling over scraps of food left by the AIG banquet. Americans don't give a damn how the rest of the world percieves us. We just want that bonus money back so we can buy hookers and beer.

Posted by: davidbn27 | March 18, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Well, maybe a sexual indiscretion is cause for impeachment, whereas sending a country to war under false pretenses, massive wiretapping of ordinary americans, and torture are hardly worthy of even as much as an investigation?

It will happen again, unless we expose it and change the rules. Watergate is proof of that.

Posted by: jfern03 | March 18, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

The Obama administration's invocation of "state secrets" to prevent a trial on illegal wiretapping by the Bush administration indicates a desire to retain some powers of the imperial presidency. The "state secrets" thing is based on a ruling some 60 years ago by the Supreme Court. The government's case was built on lies but, when presented with the lies, the Court refused to review the case. The ruling can be read other ways, but is generally interpreted as saying that only the government can decide which cases can be tried - that the government can declare ANY case to involve "state secrets" without presenting any evidence of such to the court. It gives the Executive final say over what the Judiciary can do.

Posted by: dickdata | March 18, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

@sovine08: "the guy who sawed the head off of Daneil Pearl"

I'm glad you've presented a torture-induced confession as fact, since it goes straight to the heart of this whole debate. People will say anything under torture. It's an entirely unreliable method of getting at the truth. Our intelligence services believe KSM was the mastermind but they don't believe he was the murderer despite his confession to the contrary. In this case the wrongly-accused is almost certainly still guilty of an associated crime so the difference seems like splitting hairs. However it could just as easily have been someone turned in by an angry or jealous neighbor who would confess to killing Daniel Pearl or Jesus himself just to make the pain stop.

Like many before you, you've mistaken opposition to torture as support for KSM/terrorists. I have no problem locking any of them away for life or giving them the death penalty, AFTER we've gone through the minimal effort of demonstrating to a court that they are involved in terror. This same phenomenon occurs domestically when confused people complain about "criminals' rights". It's not about giving rights to criminals, it's about making sure we don't deny the rights of innocent people.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 18, 2009 3:55 PM | Report abuse

@sovine08: "the guy who sawed the head off of Daneil Pearl"

I'm glad you've presented a torture-induced confession as fact, since it goes straight to the heart of this whole debate. People will say anything under torture. It's an entirely unreliable method of getting at the truth. Our intelligence services believe KSM was the mastermind but they don't believe he was the murderer despite his confession to the contrary. In this case the wrongly-accused is almost certainly still guilty of an associated crime so the difference seems like splitting hairs.
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In other words KSH might not be guilty of killing Pearl BUT is guilty of killing 3000 other people. What's your point??? My point is since he was the mastermind of 3000 other deaths.. to use interogation methods IN HIS CASE.. where we wouldn't normally use on others to prevent other 9/11 is something we shouldn't be trying to convict CIA guys over. As far as waterboarding being effective.. it all comes down to IF we can verify it. Any information told by a prisoner I feel is questionable UNLESS it can be verified... Cause why should we trust ANYTHING they say just on it's face value??? Whether we "torture" them or NOT.. wouldn't you expect them to lie???

Posted by: sovine08 | March 18, 2009 4:54 PM | Report abuse

Dan:
I believe that professors Tamanah, Balkin, Ledermen, as well as yourself through your blog, have done a real service for the country and the rule of law. It is interesting to me that more of our fellow citizens seem to be more concerned about illegal wiretapping than torture. Perhaps that is because the wiretapping impacts so many more people. But torture? Torture in our name? How in the world did we sink so low so quickly? We, us, our government precluded the Red Cross from even seeing these men, and they are human beings, at the various black sites. The Red Cross!We are a stronger, safer, more secure country if we adhere to the rule of law. I have been honored to receive the Ridenhour Prize for truth telling next month at the National Press Club. In my opinion, we need to determine how and why we violated the Constitution. We need not only the Congress, the Courts,the Executive Branch to conduct appropriate investigations and appropriate hearings. And we also need the Fourth Estate. The press plays a vital role in preserving our freedoms and civil liberties. We have to get to the point where we determine, who, why, and how and say never again, never again.

Posted by: tammbusiness | March 18, 2009 5:15 PM | Report abuse

@sovine08: "In other words KSH might not be guilty of killing Pearl BUT is guilty of killing 3000 other people. What's your point???"

I didn't say that, I only know for sure that intelligence agencies believe he masterminded the kidnapping of Pearl. Regardless, I explained the whole point in the last 90% of my previous post.

"to use interogation methods IN HIS CASE.. where we wouldn't normally use on others to prevent other 9/11 is something we shouldn't be trying to convict CIA guys over."

First, you're taking the government's word at face value that he and two others were the only ones tortured. We've exposed enough lies from that era to reasonably assume that, without documentation, this is a lie as well. We could know for sure if there was an investigation, of course.

Second, I see few people wanting to go after the CIA guys. They are small fish who like it or not were following orders. We already know that these orders came directly from the White House, despite the oft-repeated claims of it being "a few bad apples", and now we need to know exactly what happened and what was authorized. Following up on solid leads is not a fishing expedition.

Finally, putting the word torture in quotation marks indicates that you are at odds with the vast majority of civilized societies throughout the centuries in terms of what constitutes torture. It's unfortunate that you can't or won't see the deeper troubling issues with this shameful episode of our history.

"Any information told by a prisoner I feel is questionable UNLESS it can be verified... Cause why should we trust ANYTHING they say just on it's face value??? Whether we "torture" them or NOT.. wouldn't you expect them to lie???"

If you expect them to lie either way, why even bother with torture? Interrogators - the people who do this kind of stuff for a living - know that getting into people's heads is exponentially more effective than using brute force in gaining information. If the issue is to get them to say something, *anything* that can be verified or disproven conclusively, why would you choose the inferior method? It starts to become an inescapable conclusion that the primary motive of torture supporters is revenge. And that just doesn't cut it in our society.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | March 18, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

First, you're taking the government's word at face value that he and two others were the only ones tortured.
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It wasn't the government that said it.. it was what was LEAKED!!! If the government was going to lie why wouldn't they say no one was waterboarded?? Does the government really help itself admitting 3 instead of saying 6 or 8???

Second, I see few people wanting to go after the CIA guys. They are small fish who like it or not were following orders. We already know that these orders came directly from the White House
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Yeah they don't want the guys who did it because POLITICALLY what good is that? But IF you believe Nuremberg "following orders" is no defense.. these are the ones who will get nailed. And you think Bush or Cheney will get indicted?? Please.. They will have a long list of lawyers that will argue this was legal. This will take years to sort through.. and you will find Democrats knew exactly what was going on to.. we are in the middle of an economic disaster and you want to throw this on the flames. This is why Obama is the smart one and wants nothing to do with it. You can dream but Bush/Cheney will never be charged with any crime.

If you expect them to lie either way, why even bother with torture?
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Because with no duress.. why would KSM tell us anything? And you can't verify NOTHING!!! The Times reported this.. but of course if you don't believe anything anyone says.. unless it is against Bush.. I guess you won't believe this either... "In June 2008 a "New York Times" article claimed citing unnamed CIA officers that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was held in a secret facility in Poland near Szymany Airport, about 100 miles north of Warsaw and it was there where the he was interrogated and the waterboarding was applied before Khalid Sheikh Mohammed began to cooperate."

Posted by: sovine08 | March 18, 2009 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Once you have evidence of at least some level of wrongdoing, doesn't it become political NOT to investigate?
-------

Obama has brought on John Brennan, and today appointed a Rummy acolyte as head of operations in Afgahnistan.

The advice to do so is coming in part from the treason-torture guard who lost Iraq and Afgahnistan, under Bush, via the Pentagon and intelligence community. How many in the CIA, advising Obama, were loyal to the failed neocon Hayden, and the crazy Cheney?

Why would anyone expect anything different?

Maybe Panetta will make changes, maybe he won't, but either way, until some courageous, intelligent leadership emerges, America will continue to lose.

Larger point is the wars will continue to drain the country, any expanded efforts declining, until this Pentagon garbage is removed, and for good.


I guarantee it, I call it, right now.

Obama has also shown an unwillingness to go after the Wall Street crooks, either by a lack of awareness, or bad advice, or a failure to understand the need to do so.

Paul Krugman reffered to the administration as being without anchor, not offering a real touchstone -- and this is, in part, how it's fleshing out.

But again, maybe someone will step up, and take these people on, it's early, and Obama isn't insane, like Cheney, so he can make changes.

Anyway, the whole thing declines until that group, those people who think and plan like Brennan, are out.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 18, 2009 10:27 PM | Report abuse

Second, I see few people wanting to go after the CIA guys. They are small fish who like it or not were following orders
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This was the Neuremberg excuse.

So you understand what you're saying, your reasoning?

If this is the best our intelligence can offer as an excuse("the devil made me do it"), if this is their defense, they're not capable of doing intelligence work.


This isn't some small internal matter, these are unqualifed people, unable to protect the nation, unable to protect the nation's economy and provide defense, unable to formulate workable policy -- it's seen in their inability to problem solve, and reason, intelligently.

Why is this country in such a mess, anyway?

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | March 18, 2009 10:34 PM | Report abuse

To anyone who thinks torture-induced confessions are worth anything get a pro to water-board you and see how long it takes for you to confess to anything including being involved with 9/11 or Rush Limbaugh is a known commie and was in on it too. I give you about 3 minutes. And you'll be crying, no, begging for them to stop. Give it a try and see how long you hold out. I'm thinking they should demo it at the next CPAC convention. Or better yet, how about giving free rides to the Republican caucus in Congress.

Posted by: mickster1 | March 19, 2009 1:10 AM | Report abuse

Danner has delivered key insight: Yes, when a President pays words games that obscure the facts, as long as the media responds by pretending it's a matter of debate, instead of, say, doing some REPORTING and getting the facts and reporting that and reporting that the President's statements are simply not supported by fact, as long as that's the case, it will be very difficult to present an outrage as an outrage.

When fact-checking resigns and turns into stenography, quoting both sides as if they had equal merit in a "debate", the public is simply misinformed. Is there a gravity "debate"? How about a Holocaust "debate"? Aren't some things simply facts? What does it take to get this reported when the question is did we torture?

Posted by: jpk1 | March 19, 2009 7:34 PM | Report abuse

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