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Incoming: More Torture Documents

Despite the Obama administration's best attempts to block the release of key documents and photographs -- and otherwise stymie investigations into the Bush torture legacy -- it looks like some more significant disclosures are coming down the pike.

Scott Shane writes in the New York Times that

Mr. Obama cannot control the courts, and lawsuits are turning out to be the force driving disclosures about brutal interrogations....

In new responses to lawsuits, the C.I.A. has agreed to release information from two previously secret sources: statements by high-level members of Al Qaeda who say they have been mistreated, and a 2004 report by the agency's inspector general questioning both the legality and the effectiveness of coercive interrogations.

The Qaeda prisoners' statements, made at tribunals at the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were previously excised from transcripts of the proceedings, but they will be at least partly disclosed by this Friday, according to a court filing. The report by the inspector general, whose secret findings in April 2004 led to a suspension of the C.I.A. interrogation program, will be released by June 19, the Justice Department said in a letter to a federal judge in New York.

It's really hard to overstate how much we still don't know about the post-9/11 abuses of the Bush regime. But every little bit counts. These may be big bits. And as Shane reports, there's yet more on deck.

The releases expected this month will not begin to exhaust the anticipated disclosures on interrogation. The Justice Department's long-awaited ethics report on the lawyers who wrote the interrogation memorandums is set for release this summer. A criminal investigation of the destruction of interrogation videotapes by John H. Durham, a federal prosecutor, is still under way.

Meanwhile, Peter Finn writes in The Washington Post:

The Obama administration pressed ahead yesterday with its plans to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, flying a detainee to New York to face federal trial despite bipartisan opposition in Congress to bringing such prisoners to the United States for trial, resettlement or continued detention.

Ahmed Ghailani pled not guilty yesterday to capital charges in the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. Finn explains:

Human rights groups, which earlier expressed dismay about President Obama's announcement that some suspects would be tried in reformed military commissions, welcomed Ghailani's transfer. But Republicans and some military groups, who were cheered by the prospect of renewed military tribunals, sharply attacked the decision to hold any trials in the United States.

Ray Lilley writes for the Associated Press that the Pacific archipelago of Palau has

agreed to accept 17 Chinese Muslims who have languished in legal limbo at Guantanamo Bay, indicating a resolution to one of the major obstacles to closing the U.S. prison camp....

Two U.S. officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. was prepared to give Palau up to $200 million in development, budget support and other assistance in return for accepting the Uighurs and as part of a mutual defense and cooperation treaty that is due to be renegotiated this year.

AFP reports:

President Barack Obama risks creating "future Guantanamos" by continuing his predecessor's policy of indefinitely holding Al-Qaeda suspects, a prominent Democrat warned on Tuesday.

Senator Russ Feingold said he was "troubled" by Obama's policies, warning the practice of holding some suspected terrorists indefinitely risked being "effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice."

Feingold warned the current administration risked mimicking the policies of the Bush administration, which "claimed the right" to detain anyone, anywhere, he said....

Speaking during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the consequences of "prolonged detention," Feingold said that could set "the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with potentially disastrous consequences for our national security."

Daphne Eviatar writes for the Washington Independent:

Witnesses debated the legality of detaining suspected terrorists picked up around the world – as opposed to detaining "combatants" on a clear "battlefield," as international law allows. But much of the hearing's testimony focused on how a policy of indefinite detention of suspects who are presumed "dangerous," yet the United States refuses to try as criminals, will affect the nation's moral standing in the world and its ability to fight al-Qaeda....

The tension between whether the United States is fighting a "war" or trying to track down and prosecute violent criminals has created a rift — with human rights advocates and some military and national security experts on one side, and the Obama administration, which on this issue seems aligned more closely with Congressional Republicans, on the other.

And in a separate story, Eviatar hones in on what I, too, found the most amazing part of the hearing.

[I]t was actually Richard Klingler, a former lawyer in the Office of White House Counsel under President George W. Bush and former general counsel on the National Security Council staff, who presented the dilemma most starkly in his testimony.

Klingler noted that prolonged detention was "already widespread," well beyond Guantanamo, and set to continue "on a wide scale." From his prepared remarks:

The extent of the current Administration's continued use of war powers against terrorist organizations is hard to overstate. The Obama Administration has pursued nearly every aspect the prior Administration's conduct of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and against terrorist networks globally. As a formal matter, this Administration has embraced nearly all the components of wartime and related Executive powers asserted by its predecessor and then subject to controversy.

His nine-point list is pretty sobering stuff.

In yet more related developments, Perry Bacon Jr. writes in The Washington Post that a Senate provision barring the release of photos showing abuse of detainees has become one of several key issued holding up a bill to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

David Corn writes for Mother Jones about the Senate Intelligence Committee's stealth probe into the CIA's detainee and interrogation program and suggests that the committee

is in the position--and perhaps has the obligation--to answer this question: did Cheney tell senior members of Congress the truth about the Bush administration's use of harsh interrogation practices (a.k.a. torture) during hush-hush briefings on Capitol Hill?...

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the current chair of the intelligence committee, is not saying whether her probe will cover Cheney's participation in these briefings.

And Joan Walsh blogs for Salon about her debate with Liz Cheney last night on CNN:

[S]upport for closing Gitmo is bipartisan, I told Liz. It's mainstream opinion. The Cheney family position on Guantánamo is the one that's eccentric and extreme. Let's be clear about that. I think she started yelling at me around then, even though, according to CNN's new "Great Debate" feature, we were both supposed to let each other finish a 30-second opening statement.

By Dan Froomkin  |  June 10, 2009; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Torture  
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Comments

I said from the start that Pres. Obama knew these documents would be made public, but his APPEARING to fight it, made the military/CIA feel better about it.

Pres. Obama is pretty savy that way. ;)

Posted by: TeriB | June 10, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

The "problems" inherent in preventive detention will swing on definitions, and can be easily dealt with, through the tribunals, provided the U. S. is willing to be contrite, magnanimous, and generous.

Call each of the detainees before a tribunal, and let the tribunal sort them out. Those who choose to claim that they were not enemies of the U. S. when they were improperly detained can claim compensation for wrongful detention, as well as compensation for their families for their loss to their families due to detention, and punitive compensation for torture, UNLESS the U. S. can prove that they were properly detained "Beyond reasonable doubt", and, when torture is claimed, prove beyond doubt that torture was not used. Compensation to be generous, say $50,000 for each year or part of a year of detention, with multipliers for hardship to family, loss of probable earnings, and double or treble damages for torture. The detainee gets released to his home country, and paid in installments over ten or twenty years. In the event he is subsequently caught attacking the U. S. he loses any further compensation.

Most of the detainees will be willing to go home and be rich, and however much they dislike the U. S. will probably do no more than grumble to their friends.

Those detainees whom the U. S. can prove were criminals don't qualify, but must be tried in U. S. courts (NOT Tribunals) and those detainees whom the U. S. can prove to be combatants get POW status.

Now all we have to deal with is thw POWs since the criminals we can convict can be held properly as criminals (maybe). Give the POWs a chance to declare that they will no longer be at war with the U. S., and accept parole, then pay them for the jobs they should have been offered as POW's (perhaps $20,000 to $30,000 a year) and let them go home as paroled POW's. The ones who decide that they are not willing to accept parole remain POWs to be detained. Then detain them somewhere remote, like Shemya Island, or the Marianas Islands. Let them work at agricultural jobs, or other non military or defense related jobs, like mowing the grass on military bases. Because they are POWs by their own choice, the detention is quite proper.

All a matter of definition, contrition, magnanimity, and generosity.

After all, we got quiet in Iraq by bribing our enemies, why not get rid of Guantanamo's detainees the same way?

Posted by: ceflynline | June 10, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Teri B. I think that long-term Obama strategy is to allow the vast majority of the collective "torture documents" to eventually become public over the course of his predidential term. It'll be a slow, drip, drip, drip of revelations over a long period of time. (Ironic when we're talking about waterboarding, huh?)

Some will become public as a result of court actions (as pointed out by Dan). However, if there are lengthy "gaps" in the disclosure of new torture revelations, I predict the Obama administration with then selectively disclose new facts about torture committed by the US (and approved - although probably actually driven by - the Cheney administration). Such a disclosure schedule will keep the torture issue in the puiblic's eye over a long period of time, until - viola - abvout a year before the 2012 election, the entire shameful story will be out in the open for all to see. This horrendous chapter in American history will then be used by the Obama campaign against any and all Republican candidates who supported (and continue to support to this day) Guantanamo and U.S. torture policy.

It is pretty craven strategy, politically. But Cheney, Bush and their minions (and the Republican Party which continues to apologize for, and refuses to distance itself from, these misguided policies) will have no one but themselves to blame.

If the Republicans were smart, they'd lance the boil that is the "torture debate" so the party can put it behind them. But they appear to be going in the opposite direction.


Posted by: Buster3 | June 10, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

I am deeply saddened by the elimination of the rule of law in this country. I guess the people with the most guns will always win in America. I'd better start stockpiling now.

Posted by: davidbn27 | June 10, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

The reason I don't think that President George W. Obama is going to let all of the Bush-era documents/photos out is that he wants to detain people indefinitely without hearings or charges, but legally. Since that is inherently unconstitutional, it's going to require a pretty docile, non-aroused public to be able to carry that off. Letting bad stuff get published is counter-productive.

Posted by: dickdata | June 10, 2009 2:55 PM | Report abuse

There's a "war on drugs" too - do we get to indefinitely imprison drug cartel suspects without trial? What if we declare war on excessive executive compensation?

How about domestic terrorists? Do they get tried by special tribunals outside the normal judicial system?

Do we really want the ability of the executive branch to imprison people to depend upon the political beliefs of the accused?

Posted by: Common_Sense_Not_Common | June 10, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

The commenters on this blog site who believe that President Obama has a good heart and really wants the truth about torture to leak out slowly are more than likely the same people who knew that people were being tortured on their behalf and chose to ignore it. The American public is as guilty as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney!

Posted by: frazeysburger | June 10, 2009 4:38 PM | Report abuse

If Obama signs any law that guts or takes away from the FOIA, he can consider me a political enemy. I supported him, begrudgingly, and even gave money to his deceitful campaign, but that will be the last straw for me. This would be a travesty and an affront to our civil liberties.. More so since he aparantly lied when he campaigned for transparency. He will be rightly viewed as a go-along-to-get-along coward. Disgusting!!

Posted by: danielburns | June 10, 2009 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Of course Obama isn't going to release any more data. It's not necessary to make any statements about the torture, the courts should and will expose the war criminals for all their criminal actions. End of Discussion.

Posted by: sailorflat | June 10, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

"Of course Obama isn't going to release any more data. It's not necessary to make any statements about the torture, the courts should and will expose the war criminals for all their criminal actions. End of Discussion."

WHEN the courts do drag out the information, and it leads to the indictment and conviction of high level Bush Administration officials, possibly including the President and Vice President, it will be seen as justice, rather than Political revenge.

George was unlucky that he DIDN'T get impeached.

Posted by: ceflynline | June 10, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand the people like "frazeysburger" who think the American people are to blame. I for one have followed this whole sordid affair of Congressional negligence and Executive conspiracies over the last eight years and every crime and cover-up has at least been exposed by one or more journalists, but the wider media and political elites haven't wanted to stick their necks out for political and financial reasons. That means the system is broken, so how are the American people to blame? Do you expect John and Jane Does to be marching in the streets and crying for impeachment and resignations? It may have to come to that, but most of us are struggling to pay the rent too much to storm Washington. Maybe when we're all unemployed we'll take a cheap bus to D.C. and protest or do some civil disobedience, but don't blame the populace for not doing Congress' job, and don't think voting them out will get hearings and accountability by their rookie replacements.

Basically, we've been screwed and the culprits are hiding in plain sight, until the new Prez gets enough of the current crises under control to tackle Commissions and investigations. Obama learned from Clinton not to over-reach or bluff with a week hand, but I think he'll show resolve and grit when the going gets tough. We better hope he does. We'll certainly get to see, as long as the nut-job haters don't cut his term short, like they did to the Kennedys and MLK. God forbid!

Posted by: russgeer | June 10, 2009 11:58 PM | Report abuse

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