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Torture Watch

Catching you up on the torture beat:

R. Jeffrey Smith wrote in Sunday's Washington Post that Senate intelligence committee investigators are looking into whether CIA interrogators working in secret prisons exceeded their instructions from the Justice Department. "The issue has attracted scrutiny because of President Obama's statement April 22 that those involved would be immune from prosecution if they 'carried out some of these operations within the four corners of legal opinions or guidance that had been provided from the White House,'" Smith writes.

Smith discloses the existence of "a classified 2005 study by the [CIA]'s lawyers of dozens of interrogation videotapes." The study, "which the Senate intelligence committee demanded to see in 2005 but did not receive until last year, assessed the legality of interrogations that occurred between April and December 2002. Its conclusions have not been disclosed, and the CIA destroyed the videotapes in late 2005."

That certainly sounds interesting.

And Smith also reports on what could be another explosive document release: "Government officials familiar with the CIA's early interrogations say the most powerful evidence of apparent excesses is contained in the 'top secret' May 7, 2004, inspector general report, based on more than 100 interviews, a review of the videotapes and 38,000 pages of documents. The full report remains closely held, although White House officials have told political allies that they intend to declassify it for public release when the debate quiets over last month's release of the Justice Department's interrogation memos.

"According to excerpts included in those memos, the inspector general's report concluded that interrogators initially used harsh techniques against some detainees who were not withholding information. Officials familiar with its contents said it also concluded that some of the techniques appeared to violate the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the United States in 1994.

"Although some useful information was produced, the report concluded that 'it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks,' according to the Justice Department's declassified summary of it."

In other words, as Greg Sargent blogs for, the report "found no proof that torture foiled any terror plots on American soil — directly contradicting [former vice president Dick] Cheney’s claims."

Speaking of Cheney, Eugene Robinson writes in his Washington Post opinion column today: "Can't we send Dick Cheney back to Wyoming?...

"For the final act of his too-long public career, Cheney seems to have decided to become an Old Faithful of self-serving nonsense."

But Cheney's got at least one potential buyer -- right there next to Robinson on the op-ed page, where Richard Cohen pens some link-bait headlined "What if Cheney's Right?" He writes: "If even a stopped clock is right twice a day, this could be Cheney's time."

Robinson chatted with Liz Cheney about torture this morning on MSNBC.

In other news, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi -- whose torture-induced confession fueled Bush's propaganda campaign for war in Iraq, is dead.

Peter Finn writes in The Washington Post: "A former CIA high-value detainee, who provided bogus information that was cited by the Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq war, has died in a Libyan prison, an apparent suicide, according to a Libyan newspaper....

"In their book 'Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War,' Michael Isikoff and David Corn said Libi made up the story about Iraqi training after he was beaten and subjected to a 'mock burial' by his Egyptian interrogators, who put him in a cramped box for 17 hours. Libi recanted the story after being returned to CIA custody in 2004.

"When President George W. Bush ordered the 2006 transfer to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, of high-value detainees previously held in CIA custody, Libi was pointedly missing. Human rights groups had long suspected that Libi was instead transferred to Libya, but the CIA had never confirmed where he was sent.

"'I would speculate that he was missing because he was such an embarrassment to the Bush administration,' said Tom Malinowski, the head of the Washington office of Human Rights Watch. 'He was Exhibit A in the narrative that tortured confessions contributed to the massive intelligence failure that preceded the Iraq war.'"

I wrote on April 7 that the International Red Cross report on the CIA's black sites, based on interviews with the 14 "high value" detainees transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006, also expressed "grave concerns" about what happened to all the other detainees who passed through the secret CIA prisons who we still don't know about. Libi was one of them.

Torture memo author John Yoo has a new gig. He writes in his new Philadelphia Inquirer opinion column on Sunday that empathy has no place in a Supreme Court Justice.

Philadelphia Daily News blogger Will Bunch is outraged at the Inquirer. He writes that "while promoting public discourse is a goal of newspaper commentary, it should not be the main objective. The higher calling for an American newspaper should be promoting and maintaining our sometimes fragile democracy, the very thing that Yoo and his band of torture advocates very nearly shredded in a few short years. Quite simply, by handing Yoo a regularly scheduled platform for his viewpoint, the Inquirer is telling its readers that Yoo's ideas -- especially that torture is not a crime against the very essence of America -- are acceptable."

But wait. According to former Democratic representative Harold Ford, who now makes his living as a "centrist" pundit, maybe torture's not so bad. Here he is yesterday on MSBNC's Hardball: "I think if you ask the majority of Americans if they were opposed to the water boarding of some of these high-level terrorists or those who orchestrated terrorist attacks, I think you would be hard-pressed to find many Americans, many Democrats even, who would be that outraged by it."

(Reality check: Recent polls show that, even in the absurd ticking time-bomb scenario, the public is at best evenly split on the issue. And I assure you many of us are more than outraged.)

When Ford started talking about opportunities "to gain information that would prevent the destruction of an American city," even host Chris Matthews shot back: "That's Cheney talk."

Manu Raju writes for Politico: "For Democrats pushing an investigation into potential criminal wrongdoing in the war on terrorism, the GOP now has a two-word response: Nancy Pelosi.

"Republicans say new revelations about a CIA briefing Pelosi received in 2002 have given them their best shot yet at blocking a sprawling probe into Bush administration interrogation techniques by allowing them to insist that its targets would include the speaker of the House."

But John Nichols writes for the Nation that reports that Pelosi and other Democratic leaders were at least somewhat aware of Bush's torture regime are not new -- and simply add to the arguments on behalf of a "comprehensive inquiry into potentially criminal abuses of power." Nichols writes: "Pelosi should agree to testify, thoroughly, cooperatively and under oath. George Bush, Dick Cheney and all of their aides and lawyers should be expected to do the same."

And Eric Alterman writes for the Nation: "More than eighty years ago, in his argument with Walter Lippmann about the proper role of the press in a democracy, John Dewey warned that 'a class of experts is inevitably so removed from common interests as to become a class with private interests and private knowledge.'

"It would be difficult to imagine a more telling--and disturbing--manifestation of Dewey's prediction than the current torture debate in Washington. Even after the disgraceful performance of so many armchair warriors during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, who would have dared predict the willingness, nay, eagerness, of respected journalists and pundits to argue in favor of purposeful ignorance?"

By Dan Froomkin  |  May 12, 2009; 12:40 PM ET
Categories:  Torture  
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Mr. Cheney has a history of cherry-picking the facts that he wants us to see and hiding the ones that are damning?

Is he offering to let us see ALL the records? or just the two that he has hand-picked?

Posted by: vigor | May 12, 2009 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Harold Ford is, unfortunately, correct that a majority of Americans would not object to torturing "terrorists". I, thankfully, am not a part of that majority.

Anyone, whether Pelosi, Rockefeller, Powell, Yoo, or CIA agent who had knowledge of the U.S. government torturing their captives and did not vehemently and publicly speak out should be investigated and/or prosecuted!

Shame on the Philadelphia Inquirer for putting the low-life John Yoo on the payroll. But, isn't that to be expected of the same Main Stream Media that supported tortures and invasions while knowing that the torturers and invaders were lying to the American people. Isn't this the same MSM that aided and abetted the torturers and liars?

Posted by: frazeysburger | May 12, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

It never ceases to amaze me that American citizens approve of interrogation techniques for captured terrorists that would have them frothing at the mouth and screaming for blood if those same techniques were applied to members of our armed forces by another country. Approval of such interrogation techniques for detainees is tacit approval for them to be used on our service men and women in the future.

Posted by: blpeyton | May 12, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

Pelosi submits bill to the House retroactivly making torture of any kind legal for U.S. troops to use. "If you don't like it, you'll be arrested", she was heard to say. She then clicked her heels, saluted smartly, and goose stepped out of the chamber.

Posted by: davidbn27 | May 12, 2009 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Torture memo author John Yoo has a new gig. He writes in his new Philadelphia Inquirer opinion column on Sunday that empathy has no place in a Supreme Court Justice.


And then they wonder why newspapers are going broke.

Maybe people really don't want to be associated with this trash.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | May 12, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Why exactly didn't Dick release these memos when he had control of them? The Bush administration didn't hesitate to declassify material when it was in their political interest (e.g. Valerie Plame), but refused to disclose documents that would vindicate their arguments on the most contentious issue of the day? That strikes me as unlikely. And I don't buy the argument that it would have compromised our national security by revealing our methods to terrorists. When I saw Judge Coughenour speak last year (one of the District Court judges from the Western District of WA), he told us about Ahmed Ressam (the "Millenium Bomber"). The gist of his story was that Ressam was prepared for far worse interrogation than he actually received. In fact, he only started cooperating because of the solicitude the FBI agent in charge showed him. During the course of his trial (the sentencing of which was delayed repeatedly to get as much info out of him as possible), he was turned over to "another agency," which used much harsher methods. He promptly ceased cooperating. The point is this: there is so much propaganda out there about how nasty we are among foreign jihadis that nothing we reveal could be worse than what they already fear. So, as far as I am concerned, the position that Dick couldn't have released these without harming our national security is ludicrous. Besides, if the torture was discontinued after nine months as they claim, then releasing them after that would have the same effect as Obama releasing them (i.e. none - how could information about methods no longer in use harm us?). The only conclusion I can come to is that Dick wouldn't release them because they knew it would embarrass the administration. And now? Now, the onus is on Obama because if he doesn't release the memos, Dick's argument can never be disproved. If he does release them (assuming they actually exist) and they got some actionable intelligence, there is no way to prove they couldn't have gotten the information through legal methods. Think about it this way: if someone wants to know what I had for breakfast, they could torture it out of me (and I would surely break quickly), or they could just ask. If they resort to torture, they can point and say, "Look! Torture worked!" The logic behind Dick's argument is so pathetically inadequate, it makes me ill.

Posted by: silence309 | May 12, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Just hang the traitors get this over with.

Posted by: jfern03 | May 12, 2009 6:21 PM | Report abuse

I would be more than happy to find out what Pelosi knew and when she knew it. And, if she signed off on torture in any way then she should have the consequences of a tribunal the same as those who ordered and conducted the torture. Here's a new right-wing meme. Investigate torture allegations and maybe you can take Pelosi down.

This is as clear a case why we need an independent prosecutor as ever. The Congress cannot conduct this investigation since its own leadership may be under investigation. The Justice Department cannot conduct the investigation since many of the people working there also worked there during the time when torture was approved. The military and CIA cannot conduct the investigation since they are the people who carried out the torture.

Posted by: fletc3her | May 12, 2009 8:45 PM | Report abuse

So Harold Ford thanks maybe torture's not so bad.

Lincoln said: "whenever I hear anyone defending slavery, I feel a powerful impulse to see it tried on him personally".

Which suggests a way for Ford to find out himself whether torture is so bad. So he could speak from knowledge, you know. Not be tormented by doubts.

Posted by: jpk1 | May 12, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

So it's now the GOP talking point that if Pelosi knew, then we can't investigate torture.

What total nonsense!

When did the possibility of complicity to a crime ever mean that therefore a crime didn't happen? Could you believe anything dumber than that?

Just when you thought the Republic party could not possibly marginalize itself any further, now this.

Posted by: jpk1 | May 12, 2009 9:02 PM | Report abuse

I've been thinking about the history of the use of torture in our legal system. For many decades prior to the Miranda decision is happened from time to time that suspects in criminal cases were subjected to "harsh" interrogation. They usually confessed. The majority of people said they didn't mind using "the third degree" on murderers and rapists. They never seemed to notice that many of those confessions turned out to be false, and some of the people who had been accused turned out to be innocent. I don't remember the defenders of "victims rights" apologizing afterward and admitting that those suspects in fact weren't criminals.

I see the same arguments being made now. "I don't mind these techniques being applied to terrorists who want to murder innocent people." So what about the thousands of cases we don't hear about of people who aren't terrorists who have been tortured, who "confessed" and "gave up information" that was not true? I don't hear Liz Cheney talking about them.

Posted by: Acharn | May 12, 2009 9:49 PM | Report abuse

Now that Lizzie has taken up her father's idiotic cause, she's proving to have the same amount of sense and class as the old felon himself.

Posted by: whizbang9a | May 12, 2009 11:47 PM | Report abuse

The term "intelligence memo" is a bit vague here, as it is unclear if this is a report of specific interrogation, or of "finished" analysis, such as a National Intelligence Estimate, that synthesizes all sources.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that this document does show information obtained from the subject. To be useful, it has to be more than just the interrogation report, but also has to show how the information was validated. That creates problems, because there might be means of validation, such as communications or imagery intelligence, that should remain classified. Further, the report may not have an "after action review" considering whether other interrogation methods might have been used to elicit information.

Unfortunately, I don't see a way that Cheney's claim can be validated just on two documents. It really would call for evaluation based on all-source intelligence, by an expert panel with complete classified access, which would consider alternatives, and choices as they were made.

The gorilla in the room here is that intelligence services, worldwide, have moved away from torture in the last 60 years or so, as a means of obtaining reliable information. CIA training manuals, such as KUBARK, advised that the fear of torture was more effective than torture itself, and that pain actually might strengthen resistance. Nazi Germany got better results through other interrogation methods.

Torture has been useful in coercing propaganda confessions; see the Biderman report from Korea and the experience of Vietnam POWs. Coerced confessions do not equate to reliable intelligence.

Before anyone starts in with "Club Med" accusations, I am not suggesting that all interrogation is noncoercive sweetness and light. Pressure can be applied, but pain is not, by any means, the only way to apply pressure.

Posted by: HCBerkowitz | May 14, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

The object of contention is not that the CIA has used methods to obtain information about our enemies intentions and the policies they have adopted, but is in fact that our enemies don't have any limitations for their spying and spreading lies just like Madam Pelosi.

Posted by: a4853916 | May 18, 2009 2:38 PM | Report abuse

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