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The Foot-Dragging Continues

In the latest example of the extraordinarily and indefensible foot-dragging of the Obama administration when it comes to releasing information about the Bush torture legacy, the CIA yesterday -- under court order -- released a few tiny, additional fragments from still extensively blacked-out documents in which detainees described their brutal treatment in CIA custody.

Even those fragments include some shocking new revelations. For instance, Abu Zubaida, the first CIA detainee extensively tortured by direct order of the White House, is quoted as saying that his jailers apologized to him after they determined he wasn't the senior al-Qaeda figure President Bush and others had repeatedly insisted to the world that he was. And 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who Bush defenders still insist provided critically important information after being subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques," said he repeatedly lied to make his torturers happy.

Meanwhile, nothing in the newly un-redacted portions supports the earlier, Bush-era decision to keep them secret. And there are still vast portions being kept from the public -- now by the Obama administration -- for what look like equally specious reasons.

As I wrote last week, President Obama appears to be blatantly violating his promise not to "protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrassment to the government." And as I wrote yesterday, his position appears to be rooted not in legitimate national security concerns -- nor even in misplaced loyalty to holdovers in his administration -- but in the cold miscalculations of his political advisers.

What makes them miscalculations is the near-certainty that, bit by bit, most of this stuff will come out eventually. Whether that happens thanks to Obama or despite his willing and active participation in a cover-up is the only thing that's really in doubt.

Here are the newly-released versions of the transcripts. Here's the ACLU press release. You can compare the new version of the Zubaida transcript with the one released in 2007 to see the minor difference.

Peter Finn and Julie Tate write in The Washington Post:

An al-Qaeda associate captured by the CIA and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques said his jailers later told him they had mistakenly thought he was the No. 3 man in the organization's hierarchy and a partner of Osama bin Laden, according to newly released excerpts from a 2007 hearing.

"They told me, 'Sorry, we discover that you are not Number 3, not a partner, not even a fighter,' " said Abu Zubaida, speaking in broken English, according to the new transcript of a Combatant Status Review Tribunal held at the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

President George W. Bush described Abu Zubaida in 2002 as "al-Qaeda's chief of operations." Intelligence, military and law enforcement sources told The Washington Post this year that officials later concluded he was a Pakistan-based "fixer" for radical Islamist ideologues, but not a formal member of al-Qaeda, much less one of its leaders.

Indeed, it's hard to overstate just how central Zubaida was and still is to the Bush defense of torture. For background, please read my extensive March 30 post, "Bush's Torture Rationale Debunked."

Much of the information that remains blacked-out appears to be detailed descriptions of how the detainees were treated. Finn and Tate write, for instance:

Although little new information was released in the hearing transcript for Majid Khan, an alleged associate of Mohammed and a former resident of Baltimore, the extent of the redactions is more apparent in the latest document. When referring to his treatment at CIA "black site" prisons, the Pakistani's transcript is blacked out for eight consecutive pages. In the version released earlier, this entire section was marked by a single word: "REDACTED."

The continued classification is particularly puzzling considering how many details of their treatment was disclosed in April, when Mark Danner of the New York Review of Books Web-published a confidential report from the International Committee of the Red Cross, in which Zubaida, Mohammed and others described their experiences being subjected to forced nudity, isolation, bombardment with noise and light, deprivation of sleep and food, forced standing, repeated beatings and countless applications of cold water including, of course, waterboarding.

Julian E. Barnes and Greg Miller write in the Los Angeles Times:

Self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed told U.S. military officials that he had lied to the CIA after being abused, according to documents made public Monday. The claim is likely to intensify the debate over whether harsh interrogation techniques generated accurate information.

Mohammed made the assertion during hearings at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he was transferred in 2006after being held at secret CIA sites since his capture in 2003.

"I make up stories," Mohammed said, describing in broken English an interrogation probably administered by the CIA concerning the whereabouts of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. "Where is he? I don't know. Then, he torture me," Mohammed said of his interrogator. "Then I said, 'Yes, he is in this area.' "

Mohammed also appeared to say that he had fingered people he did not know as being Al Qaeda members in order to avoid abusive treatment. Although there is no way to corroborate his statements, Mohammed is one of the militants whom the CIA repeatedly subjected to the simulated-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

Also just unredacted: Mohammed's statement that the CIA explicitly told him that he had no constitutional rights.

"This is what I understand he told me: You are not American and you are not on American soil," Mohammed said in the military hearing. "So you cannot ask about the Constitution."

Ben Wizner, the lead ACLU lawyer in the lawsuit seeking an unclassified version of the transcripts, said the fact that the CIA had previously sought to classify that statement was extraordinary.

"Why would the Bush administration suppress [Mohammed's] statement that he was told by the CIA that he was not protected by the Constitution?" Wizner said. "This was suppressed to avoid embarrassment."

I should point out, by the way, that this is not the first time it's been abundantly clear that detainees made up stories to please their torturers. Fully three years ago, in his explosive book The One Percent Doctrine, investigative reporter Ron Suskind described at length how Zubaida "confessed" to made-up plots, thereby sending "thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each . . . target."

And the version of Zubaida's hearing transcript released in 2007 included the following exchange with the presiding officer:

Q. So I understand that during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue, is that correct?

A. Yes.

The CIA's decision to keep so much of these transcripts redacted is akin to CIA director Leon Panetta's move last week to block the release of documents that detail the videotaped interrogations of CIA detainees, including Zubaida.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board, commenting on that decision, wrote:

The director, in other words, confirms that with "enhanced interrogation techniques" we got a three-for-one deal: They did no good. We shamed ourselves. And in the process, we created a grave risk to national security.

How tragic that the evidence of mistreatment is so damning that the best way to protect our nation is to suppress it.

MSNBC's Rachel Maddow had ACLU lawyer Wizner on her show last night. "This is information the release of which will increase calls for criminal accountability -- and that is something the Obama administration has been fighting to avoid," Wizner said. "I think the disturbing trend right here, and we saw it last week as well, is that the Obama administration is now stepping back from transparency, because they see that it's an inevitable ingredient to accountability."

Meanwhile, AFP reports:

Former vice president Dick Cheney said Monday he hoped CIA chief Leon Panetta was "misquoted" in comments that Cheney appeared to be "wishing" for another attack on the United States, reports said.

The Central Intelligence Agency also scrambled to clarify that Panetta "does not believe the former vice president wants an attack," after The New Yorker magazine's report released on Sunday.

By Dan Froomkin  |  June 16, 2009; 12:20 PM ET
Categories:  Torture  
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"The Central Intelligence Agency also scrambled to clarify that Panetta 'does not believe the former vice president wants an attack'"

As if we need to be reminded yet again of the lopsided appropriation of spine strength between the parties. I'm surprised Harry Reid wasn't out there apologizing for Panetta and begging for Rush's forgiveness.

Is there anything more frustrating than being a non-GOP politically aware American?

Posted by: BigTunaTim | June 16, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Did it ever occur to anyone that the photos Obama is withholding could be used as evidence to try Cheney and Bush and a whole lot of others for torture? The president is a lawyer you know. Why don't you fill your space calling for the Bushies to be tried for war crimes? You're such a bunch of w___ing fools.

Posted by: Annandale2 | June 16, 2009 1:59 PM | Report abuse

If photos, videotapes, or any other materials are proof of crimes having been committed by the Bush administration then President Obama has an obligation to ask his Attorney General to begin an investigation. Instead he will be party to the cover-up of the most horrendous crimes committed by Americans! Case closed Obama apologists.

Posted by: frazeysburger | June 16, 2009 2:15 PM | Report abuse

Is there anything more frustrating than being a non-GOP politically aware American?

Posted by: BigTunaTim | June 16, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse
It's probably also frustrating not having any arms or legs.

I'm enjoying watching you guys vent your frustration. "You mean all those terrible allegation about the evilness of the Bush Administration was a poltically-motivated smear campaign!?! NO! I won't hear it! La-la-la-la-la! But-but-but, I BELIEVED in that stuff! I was HOOD-winked!"

Hehe, Obama will continue the effective Bush Administration war on terror policies. You're crying now because Mr. Obama won't leave America wide open to attack by following the foolish policies he campaigned on (and that a few die-hard fools still believe in).

GWB made a major mistake when he said History would vindicate him. Seems he only needed to wait until Mr. Obama took office.

Froomkin, go away and let Mr. Obama continue his excellent work.

Posted by: ZZim | June 16, 2009 2:39 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad Mr. Froomkin has stayed on this case with tenacity. I'm sure Mr. Obama regards Dan with the same loathing he feels for Paul Krugman. It is disappointing to watch Mr. Obama morph into a puppet led on by his handlers and an ego that just won't quit. This is not 1968 and there is no Bobby Kennedy on the horizon. But Mr. Obama and his team should not underestimate the wrath of liberal Democrats like myself who thought they were voting for a president who would get to the bottom of the torture debacle and still keep us safe. Someone more authentic than Barak could emerge in the next two years to do exactly that.

Posted by: cougartonyusa | June 16, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Did it ever occur to anyone that Obama's reasons for not pursuing charges against Bush administration malefactors just might be used as a future wedge for putting pressure on Republicans to reconsider their votes on issues that Obama considers prime acts in passage?

Posted by: vicsoir | June 16, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

In America there is such a thing as coninuance of government. Presidents don't come to power and immediately release the previouses guys dirty laundry for two good reasons.

1, Most of the people who carry out Presidential policies are not political appointees, and you can't hang 1/2 the government out to dry every 4 years and still get people who want to work for the common good. Nothing will ever get done. And most of these people do try in good faith to put their personal politics aside and serve abely whoever happens to be the President.


2, If you do it to the guy before you, the next guy is going to do it to you. Every wrong idea bounced around by Presidents is going to come out immediately. These guys are done when their times are up, so let them have a little piece and then 20 years down the road we can decide who was right and who was wrong. I would call this the golden rule of Presidential politics, i.e. do unto your predecessor what you would have the guy that comes after you do unto you.

People here seem to think Bush was some kind of horrific special case, and its simply not true. American Presidents have ordered all kinds of awfull things, from murders, torture, war on down the line.

Obama himself is not dropping 99% of the activities considered legal under Bush, including extraordinary rendition, assasination of forgeign leaders, violating other countries territorial sovergeinety. The list goes on and on. Obama has dropped one thing, i.e. water boarding.

Suppose Obama orders the U.S. Military to assasinate leader X, he gets caught and the Republicans come into office in 2012 screaming for blood. Should that President hang Obama out to dry? The correct answer is no.

Posted by: DCDave11 | June 16, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

also cougartonyusa, I am sorry but the President doesn't need you any more. You don't have enough votes to swing Obama an election in anything but a haywire primary season year where three anamolous events happened.

1, Wildly unpopular incumbant, leading to strong anti-incumbent feelings in the country, leading to people wanting someone with no experience in anything.

2, A complete overrepresentation of small caucus states in the Primary delegates. One that gave way outsized power to the hardened bitter core of liberals in states like Wyoming. Look for a big fight over this in the DNC.


3, The almost complete disenfranchisement of voters in two states where Obama was not popular in Florida and Michigan. You put Florida and Michigan where they normally vote in relationship to the other states, i.e. right before or on Super Tuesday and Obama drops out of the race.

So all three things were going for Obama and he won what like 50.3% of the votes in the democratic primary. In a sense it makes me happy you feel this entitled cause its going to be that much easier to beat you all down the 2011 primaries.

Posted by: DCDave11 | June 16, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Actually, zzim, the War on Terror was just a ruse for the likes of you to support Cheney's imperial dreams. He's the one who wanted to roll through Iraq and into Iran, with an eye on China. Terrorism was just his convenient excuse. In case you failed to understand this, loudly proclaimed "wars" are exactly the wrong way to pursue this kind of enemy, the cell-based groups who attack civilians. I bet you're all for the War on Drugs, too. Druges are now more available and cheaper than ever. How's that one working out for you?

I do agree with the Bush contention in this: fighting terrorists requires a new paradigm, stronger than traditional law enforcement, but quieter than conventional war. International action--meaning use of force, capture, detention and interrogation--based on charges of conspiracy, are a necessary part. So extraordinary rendition and prisons on foreign soil are an inevitable consequence. Where the Cheney/Bush team went so horrendously wrong is the scale with which they applied the idea. Rounding up people based on hearsay, not to mention the idiotic invasion of Iraq, and then making abuse of these prisoners a standard practice, ranges from dumb to criminal.

It's clear that Obama has adopted some of the Cheney/Bush team's ideas on executive privilege. Whether by the advice of his political team or not, he's plainly finding executive power a bit more intoxicating than his supporters (including me) hoped. I like his major policy initiatives, and I'll be watching closely to see what kind of solution he comes up with for closing Guantanamo (and shame on the chickenhawk senators who cry about imprisoning terrorists on US soil).

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 16, 2009 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Obama's political team might think it is not wise to look back but by not doing so Obama himself is violating the law. He is obligated to investigate torture under the UN conventions on torture. If he does not act he will become part of the crime.

The truth will come out and the torture that stained Bush's presidency will bleed right into Obama's.

the steady drips of information make a nice drum beat he will not be able to avoid.

Posted by: joejoe2000 | June 16, 2009 3:52 PM | Report abuse

President George W. Obama has already committed a war crime by blackmailing the British to supress evidence of torture. Supression of evidence of torture is a war crime. So Obama committed his first war crime even earlier in his administration than Bush. And we now have reporting that advice on legal decisions is being rendered by Obama's chief political operative, Axelrod. This is just as bad as Rove sitting in on NSC meetings.

Posted by: dickdata | June 16, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I love the way people keep telling Obama what he is obligated to do.. Obama doesn't HAVE to do anything. There will be no war crimes trial and no one will go to jail. Froomkin can keep beating his head against the war over this.. hey with his face how can it hurt??? But Obama is SMARTLY moving forward. Said it before and I'll say it again.. This is over...

Posted by: sovine08 | June 16, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Here's the thing, Bush/Cheney will pay for their crimes in the court of public opinion. Both want to be admired or at least respected by history, and neither is going to get their wish. They will be ostracized by the American public, and in jeopardy abroad. They will feel their guilt every day of their lives, whether they own it or not. And guilt seeks punishment. Just as O.J. eventually put himself in jail where he knew he belonged in the first place, Bush and Cheney will bring about their own punishment. And it won't be pretty.

Posted by: shaman7214 | June 16, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

Here's the thing, Bush/Cheney will pay for their crimes in the court of public opinion. Both want to be admired or at least respected by history, and neither is going to get their wish. They will be ostracized by the American public, and in jeopardy abroad. They will feel their guilt every day of their lives, whether they own it or not. And guilt seeks punishment. Just as O.J. eventually put himself in jail where he knew he belonged in the first place, Bush and Cheney will bring about their own punishment. And it won't be pretty.

Posted by: shaman7214 | June 16, 2009 6:55 PM | Report abuse

A prediction befitting a guy with the name shaman, shaman7214 ; ) .

Posted by: whizbang9a | June 16, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

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