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Torturing for Propaganda Purposes

Despite what you've seen on TV, torture is really only good at one thing: eliciting false confessions. Indeed, Bush-era torture techniques, we now know, were cold-bloodedly modeled after methods used by Chinese Communists to extract confessions from captured U.S. servicemen that they could then use for propaganda during the Korean War.

So as shocking as the latest revelation in a new Senate Armed Services Committee report may be, it actually makes sense -- in a nauseating way. The White House started pushing the use of torture not when faced with a "ticking time bomb" scenario from terrorists, but when officials in 2002 were desperately casting about for ways to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks -- in order to strengthen their public case for invading a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 at all.

The new report includes testimony from an Army psychologist at Guantanamo Bay who described increasingly relentless pressure from Washington in the summer of 2002 to use harsher methods on detainees. "[T]his is my opinion, even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between AI Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful in establishing a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq," Army Maj. Paul Burney told investigators. "The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link...there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results."

Does this sound over the top? Well, the idea that Bush White House would enthusiastically welcome information connecting Iraq and 9/11 obtained through torture is anything but hypothetical.

We learned four years ago that a confession extracted under torture by Egyptian authorities from Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured terror suspect who had been rendered to Egypt by the CIA, was the sole source for arguments Bush made in a key pre-Iraq war speech in October 2002. "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases," Bush said, uttering torture-inspired fiction. The same statements also provided a critical part of then-secretary of state Colin Powell's famous presentation to the United Nations, a month before the invasion.

The report also makes it clear that the decision to adopt techniques nearly universally acknowledged to be torture was made much earlier -- and in a much more calculated manner -- than the Bush administration led the public to believe.

The Armed Services Committee actually released the executive summary of this report last December. It concluded that the Bush administration's consistent blaming of the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere on "a few bad apples" was in fact a pack of lies. (See my December 12 column, Pack of Liars.) Instead, the committee found: "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."

The report pointed an accusing finger specifically at Bush, for opening the door with his Feb. 7, 2002, memo exempting war-on-terror detainees from the Geneva Conventions.

And it documented how the Bush torture techniques were reverse-engineered from a training program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, or SERE, intended to help soldiers resist the kinds of brutal interrogations used by the Chinese during the Korean War.

What's new in the expanded report released last night is a lot more detail about that perverse emulation of our enemies' worst behavior, as well as examples of how authorities ignored dissenters who warned that the techniques were illegal and counterproductive. And then there's the whole Iraq-propaganda angle.

Gordon Trowbridge writes for the Detroit News: "Senior Bush administration officials pushed for the use of abusive interrogations of terrorism detainees in part to seek evidence to justify the invasion of Iraq, according to newly declassified information discovered in a congressional probe.

Jonathan S. Landay writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "The Bush administration put relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

"Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. No evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime."

Landay supplements the Senate investigation with his own reporting: "A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that intelligence agencies and interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"'There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,' the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"'The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.'"

Joby Warrick and Peter Finn write in The Washington Post: "Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods -- and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded."

The report also "documents multiple warnings -- from legal and trained interrogation experts -- that the techniques could backfire and might violate U.S. and international law.

"One Army lieutenant colonel who reviewed the program warned in 2002 that coercion 'usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,' according to the Senate report. A second official, briefed on plans to use aggressive techniques on detainees, was quoted the same year as asking: 'Wouldn't that be illegal?'

"Once they were accepted, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations not only in CIA secret prisons, but also in Defense Department internment camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq, the report said."

Jess Bravin writes in the Wall Street Journal: "In the aftermath of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, lawyers at the Justice Department and elsewhere in the Bush administration sought to construct a 'new paradigm' for dealing with enemy prisoners, in the words of former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, who later served as attorney general.

"Even before the attacks, several of the lawyers working for the administration of former President George W. Bush had expressed strong views on issues such as the scope of presidential authority and the limits that international treaties place on U.S. actions."

The New York Times, in a story based on interviews with more than two dozen anonymous current and former senior officials, concludes that the top administration officials who approved torture tactics simply didn't understand their history, or that they didn't work.

Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti write: "In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

"This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

"According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans....

"The process was 'a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm,' a former C.I.A. official said."

Mark Benjamin writes for Salon that the report "torpedoes the notion that the administration only chose torture as a last resort."

Noting that Obama has ruled out prosecution of CIA officers who followed Justice Department guidelines, Jane Mayer blogs for the New Yorker that the new Senate report "raises questions about whether the C.I.A. was always operating with legal authorization.

"Take, for instance, the torment of Al Qaeda suspect Abu Zubaydah, the guinea pig for the C.I.A.’s most abusive interrogation techniques, who was critically injured in a gunfight and captured on March 28, 2002. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel authorized harrowing tactics for interrogating Zubaydah in the infamous 'Bybee Torture Memo' of August 1, 2002, which Obama released publicly last week. So, presumably, whatever happened to Zubaydah after August is indemnified by the Obama invisibility cloak. But what about what happened to Zubaydah in the four months before?...

"By June 2002—again, months before the Department of Justice gave the legal green light for interrogations—an F.B.I. special agent on the scene of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah refused to participate in what he called 'borderline torture,' according to a D.O.J. investigation cited in the Levin report....

"What did the F.B.I. see in the spring of 2002? And exactly who was involved? How high up was this activity authorized? Is it off-limits for criminal investigation?"

Blogger Marcy Wheeler suspects that the pressure from Cheney's office to link Iraq and 9/11 was one of the reasons Khalid Sheikh Mohammed got waterboarded 183 times and Abu Zubaydah got waterboarded 83 times. One of the four torture memos released last week noted that there were some sessions of waterboarding ordered from Washington that, as Wheeler puts it, "even the torturers considered excessive."

Yesterday was a big news day for torture. As I reported in this post, in a move sure to accelerate the push for a wide-ranging investigation of Bush administration misdeeds, President Obama yesterday said he is not opposed to some sort of "further accounting of what took place during this period," and said the prosecution of people high in the torture chain of command would be up to the Justice Department.

Sam Stein writes for Huffington Post about the media's focus on Obama's perceived reversal, rather than on the central issue. The media has been "focused almost exclusively on two specific angles: had Obama cowered to those liberal proponents of prosecuting Bush officials, and had he contradicted his own administration in expressing openness in doing so?

"In the process, the issue of launching an investigation -- which would have to be bipartisan in nature for Obama to support it -- was reduced into an overtly partisan and cynical frame. Issues of justice and morality boiled down into 'the left's' influence compared to 'the right.'"

Scott Horton blogs for the Daily Beast: "Members of the White House press corps struggled to explain the shift, many of them suggesting that Obama was pandering to his political base. But the winds of change blew in from an address just down Pennsylvania Avenue."

Horton writes that senior Justice Department lawyers were "incensed" at statements from top White House aides indicating that all prosecutions were off the table, "not because they disagreed with Obama’s apparent opposition to an investigation and prosecution, but because the statements violated well-established rules separating political figures in the White House from decisions about active criminal cases. The statements were viewed as a frontal assault on the autonomy and independence of the criminal-justice system....

"Now the White House misstep may in fact be propelling the process in the opposite direction. Another Justice Department official observed, 'The department is now in the process of making some very tough decisions about what to do with this extremely complex and difficult matter.... The only clear way out of this bind may now be to do what the critics suggest and appoint a special prosecutor.'"

I also wrote yesterday about Cheney's continued insistence that the tactics he still refuses to call torture worked.

Peter Baker writes in the New York Times that "President Obama’s national intelligence director told colleagues in a private memo last week that the harsh interrogation techniques banned by the White House did produce significant information that helped the nation in its struggle with terrorists.

"'High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country,' Adm. Dennis C. Blair, the intelligence director, wrote in a memo to his staff last Thursday."

That memo to the intelligence community was actually posted last week on the blog of the U.S. Naval Institute, an independent organization.

As I pointed out yesterday, I'm sure there are plenty of CYA memos from members of the intelligence community that assert the value of those techniques, but that doesn't make them accurate.

And Blair made a very important point in a statement issued last night: "[T]here is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means." And, he wrote: "The bottom line is these techniques have hurt our image around the world, the damage they have done to our interests far outweighed whatever benefit they gave us and they are not essential to our national security."

James Gordon Meek writes in the New York Daily News: "U.S. counterterrorism officials are reacting angrily to ex-Vice President Dick Cheney's claim that waterboarding 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed 183 times was a 'success' that produced actionable intelligence.

"'Cheney is full of crap,' one intelligence source with decades of experience said Tuesday.

"Another retired counterterrorism official who read reports when they arrived in Washington detailing the confessions of Mohammed, known as 'KSM,' said most of the information he coughed up during the waterboarding sessions involved things he thought his CIA-contract interrogators already knew, or were just his ideas for mayhem.

"'Most of the (cables) were reports of actions that KSM was only remotely thinking of undertaking - they didn't even reach the planning stage,' the retired counterterrorism official said. 'So it's a bit of a stretch for Bush administration officials to say these were attacks they had disrupted.'"

At Slate, Timothy Noah takes apart the assertion that KSM's torture resulted in the breaking up of a plot to fly a plane into a Los Angeles skyscraper. He looks at various administration statements and asks, "How could Sheikh Mohammed's water-boarded confession have prevented the Library Tower attack if the Bush administration 'broke up' that attack during the previous year?"

Dafna Linzer writes for ProPublica that at least three dozen people who were held in the CIA's secret prisons overseas appear to be missing. She has a list. For context, see my April 7 post, How Many Others Were Tortured?

And Craig Whitlock writes in The Washington Post: "European prosecutors are likely to investigate CIA and Bush administration officials on suspicion of violating an international ban on torture if they are not held legally accountable at home, according to U.N. officials and human rights lawyers."

By Dan Froomkin  |  April 22, 2009; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  Looking Backward , Torture  
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Comments

Excellent digest of the case. The common concern that there will be no prosecutions based on the criminal conduct described here is, I believe, baseless. When asked about his desire to prosecute, Obama has said only that he is focused on the future. Rahm Emmanuel hinted strongly there will be no prosecutions of those that relied on the memos and opinions that gave the green light to enhanced torture techniques. No statements by anyone in the administration foreclose the possibility (likelihood?) that a U.S. attorney will bring charges. This is particularly true of the "Bush 6," the policy makers who authored the memos. The CIA and army should be (and I believe have been) clearly instructed that the pre-Bush rules of are back in effect, the real wrong-doers here are not the interrogators, but those who gave the orders and made the policies. They are imminently vulnerable to investigations by Holder's DOJ, Congress, and the European courts that have already opened inquiries. Obama's role will be to merely stay out of the way.

Posted by: BentonWilliams1 | April 22, 2009 1:42 PM | Report abuse

Torture to frighten the American domestic population, IMO, but truly a psychological manifestation of Dick Cheney's fears and lack of intellectualism.


Our grandfather's handled the Nazis in WW2, somehow Cheney's kooks failed to make the connection, failed to understand HOW and WHY the west won, what they fought then, too.

We worry, say, about a terrorist country with a nuke, but if we can survive Cheney's truly moronic 'tards administering the US military, well, maybe we've addressed that problem.

It's about how we respond, isn't it?

And could Kim, or even Iran, be any DUMBER than Cheney?

No, IMO Cheney is the stupidest.

And they only think in terms of the next news cycle, they fail to undestand how this makes them vulnerable.

A news cycle that can't understand, or even control, really.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | April 22, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

@BentonWilliams1 - Hear, hear! I might add that I hope the prosecutions take place here, rather than overseas - if not, that will be a clear sign to the rest of the world that we can't be trusted to follow our own laws or any treaties we sign (i.e., the U.N. Convention Against Torture).

Posted by: apn3206 | April 22, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

thegreatpotatospamof2003 - I agree with your general point, but we need to be careful not to underestimate Cheney. I don't think he's stupid at all, but more like O'Brien in 1984 - extremely intelligent, but utterly amoral.

Posted by: apn3206 | April 22, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

Independent Prosecutor. Now.

Posted by: tgoglia | April 22, 2009 2:08 PM | Report abuse

You people are laughable.

I thank God you are not running things. If you were I'm sure speaking sternly to these enemies of the United States would be called torture.

You are pathetic. To call what was authorized torture tells us all just how naive and, dangerous you all are.

When they come for you and are doing the web video of your beheading then you MIGHT understand what torture is.

Posted by: AnAmerican5 | April 22, 2009 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Torturing to prevent terrorist attacks a la Jack Bauer is bad enough, but torturing to provide cover for justifying the Iraq War is beyond nauseating. It is horrifying that apparently politics trumped EVERYTHING in GW's administration. But sadly not surprising, considering Rove's tendency to politicize everything, from choosing US Attorneys to outing Valerie Plume. And lo and behold, there he is on Fox justifying what he did, along with Cheney. The war crimes trial should begin right now with them.

Posted by: cpusss | April 22, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

The CIA and army should be (and I believe have been) clearly instructed that the pre-Bush rules of are back in effect, the real wrong-doers here are not the interrogators
--------
I disagree, the interrogators who complied will simply cooperate with the next kook, isn't that obvious?

And the bigger point about Cheney -- his thinking is flawed, he lost he's stupid.

Maybe you don't get that, or maybe you're afraid of him.

But thanks, I appreciate your input.

I think he's the dumbest thing I 've ever seen.

Period.

ROTFLMAO.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | April 22, 2009 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Wow. Torturing to prevent terrorist attacks a la Jack Bauer is bad enough, but torturing to provide cover for justifying the Iraq War is beyond nauseating.
------------

This is true.

But it's also very narcissistic thinking on behalf of those who would put forward such a simplistic idea.

Can you imagine how angry the rest are with those kooks?

It must be like walking around with a bullseye on your backs.

Despite all the talk here about Cheney, he's still not in very good heart health, is he, he's only human, after all...

So, why are people so threatened by such a stupid man?

When he can't use the threat of violence, what does he have?

Not intellect if the minds of his staff are any indication.

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | April 22, 2009 2:34 PM | Report abuse

Dan, I just want to say thank you for your tireless efforts on this issue. Our nation will never be the same until we confront both the crimes committed by our public officials and the support of torture by everyday Americans who should have known better. American citizens can never again look down their noses at the German people who chose to look the other way during WWII -- as a nation we are guilty of the same crimes.

As we can see from the debate which still rages today, the pro-torture advocates still have a large following of popular opinion, which makes it that much more important for these cases to be prosecuted in the courts. Only as additional evidence comes to light -- such as the fact that one prisoner was waterboarded 183 times in a single month -- can this issue be fairly evaluated. If these torturers are indeed innocent, this is a decision to be made by a jury of their peers.

Fortunately our great nation still has a few patriots, like Mr. Froomkin, Ms. Mayer, Mr. Danner, and Mr. Hersh, who are willing to speak truth to power. Keep up the good work, Dan...

Posted by: jerkhoff | April 22, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

It is necessary to parse Obama's language just as closely as W's. Obama frequently begins complex ideas with, "I think ..." or "I prefer ..." It sounds like he is giving a bottom line statement, but he is not actually discussing policy, just his preferences. Such were his statements about prosecutions.

Obama appears to strongly believe in the separation and delegation of authority. He does not write congresses laws for them. He does not tell his Attorney General who to indict. This is a GOOD thing, but we are unused to it. He really appears to abide by the constitutional role of the President.

I'm sure that Justice Scalia is very happy, or would be if Obama was a Republican.

Posted by: ath28 | April 22, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse


Unless we know everything about the chain of command in these torture memos & hold them accountable, these tactics can be pulled off the shelf & used against American citizens someday.

Posted by: patriot76 | April 22, 2009 2:44 PM | Report abuse

"When they come for you and are doing the web video of your beheading then you MIGHT understand what torture is."

Modern day conservatives are, without a doubt, the most fearful, frightenable bunch of cowards our country has had the misfortune of enduring since... well, since their conservative grandfathers stomped around congress trying to flush the communists in the 50's.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 22, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Independent Prosecutor. Now.

Posted by: tgoglia | April 22, 2009 2:08 PM

[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[[]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]]

AMEN.

Posted by: patriot76 | April 22, 2009 2:48 PM | Report abuse

TRICKY DICK IS BACK!!!!

Posted by: patriot76 | April 22, 2009 2:49 PM | Report abuse

Cheney's very much like Richelieu, only the Cardinal had a better understanding of historical events. One commentary called Dick one of the ablest and most ruthless politicians this country has ever produced--I disagree. I think he's a horrible politician who has little charm and one basic technique of persuasion: bullying. However, I do think he's one of the best, and most ruthless, administrators, this country has ever produced. Cheney's strength is behind the scenes, out of view, isolated from political dealmaking. Cheney doesn't make deals.

That said, the man's paranoid and megalomanaiacal concept of events has done damage to this nation we can't yet calculate. His complete lack of grace is evidenced by how he's still speaking up.

Posted by: whizbang9a | April 22, 2009 2:53 PM | Report abuse

As we can see from the debate which still rages today, the pro-torture advocates still have a large following of popular opinion, which makes it that much more important for these cases to be prosecuted in the courts
---------
When we went through this the first time, during Bush's administration, first thing I thought was "Oh, these kooks are drowning in their own foam, believing their own PR."

I think it's a misconception they have popular support -- they can't see outside their own head, they define the world through their own narcissism, and they don't even know what that means. They're very simple, and very literal in their thinking -- hence, the Washington bubble, or really, IMO, the Washington pimple, ready to be drained.

Someone here wrote Cheney should still be regarded as a threat -- can you imagine being afraid of Dick Cheney, a guy who can't even READ, or understand WHY his nonsense theories of government fail?

Dick Cheney, who can't run a business, or a war?

People should fear Cheney because of VIOLENCE?

Posted by: thegreatpotatospamof2003 | April 22, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

So Cheney wants to release more documents. Since he was in neither the executive nor the legislative branch of the government, he probably thought he should be there for life so he is still barking out orders.

I think it is better for him to go hunting instead of mouthing off.

Posted by: steviana | April 22, 2009 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Torture - not to stop future attacks on US soil but for the sole purpose of finding a link between Saddam and 9/11?
I am not surprised one bit. It is even more despicable than first thought.

Posted by: lasker1895 | April 22, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Now that it has become public knowledge that the Bush gang approved torture, maybe people will start asking themselves,
what's the truth about 911? We have only the Bush administration's word for who's guilty, after all, and haven't they lied about everything else? Calling KSM the 'mastermind' only means they tortured him until he confessed to whatever they wanted him to, ditto the rest of the Guantanamo inmates. Not one person has been tried and convicted in a legitimate court of the 911 crime. No evidence has been presented. No jury allowed. Only assertions from the Bush gang that Arabs are the culprits. How dumb are we, to keep believing the first and biggest lie of them all, the one that enabled all the others?

Posted by: shaman7214 | April 22, 2009 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Excellent analysis and reporting regarding the most important subject of these times.

Posted by: rjoff | April 22, 2009 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Posted by AnAmerican5: "You are pathetic. To call what was authorized torture tells us all just how naive and, dangerous you all are.

OK, Mr. Patriot, put your money where your big, trembling-with-fear mouth is and have these methods used on YOU. One Bush apologist, Christopher Hitchens, did just that (had himself waterboarded) and guess what? He totally reversed himself and proclaimed it was TORTURE!

I guess you weren't paying attention in kindergarten: two wrongs don't make a right. Simple to understand, even for a simpleton.

Posted by: stephenlouis | April 22, 2009 3:24 PM | Report abuse

Yes, an important story, and perhaps the first plausible explanation for why the Bush administration chose to torture their captives (they must have known that the blowback would be immense): now I am surprised that Bush (or, more likely, Ari Fleischer) never trotted one of them out at a press conference to tell the assembled sheep that Saddam Hussein ordered 9/11.

Dan, is there any link between the period of time when this was being discussed and the missing White House emails?

Posted by: gposner | April 22, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

This stuff isn't all that new. Back in the mid-1980s, I came across an interrogation document the CIA was having translated into Spanish to send to some Central American friends. The exact nature of the original document escapes my memory -- it could well have been a SERE-style description of what the bad guys do to the good guys. But in the context it definitely came across as a set of helpful hints for prospective interrogators.

Naive as I was, I didn't think the confinement and constraint parts were too bad. But then came the part with snakes, rats and spiders.

Posted by: TexLex | April 22, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

One individual talks to a reporter about the mission of his unit. Do you think this major was the only individual their with a mission, or that he, the major, was in charge. Ha, Ha, Ha.

I pose a question for each of you ponder. You are entrusted with ensuring the safety of 300,000,000 million people shortly after a horrendous atrocity-What do you do to gain intelligence about those who wish your citizens harm?

What wou

Posted by: GM653 | April 22, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

AnAmerican5,

I tell you what is torture, knowing that our President was warned repeatedly that Al-queda was a threat to this country. And he was more interested in clearing brush than protecting this country. And i tell you what is worse than torture. Watching our President just a few months after our country was attacked, holding hands with the leader of the country were these terrorists came from. That my friend is torture............

Posted by: rharring | April 22, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Torture has almost always been used not elicit information, at which it does not do well, but confessions, at which it works almost perfectly (e.g., sorcery or betrayal, as in Orwell's 1984). The Bush regime claimed to seek information that would link al-Qaeda to Iraq, but what they really sought was a confession that would confirm their pre-established mindset. Thus they joined the long. sad train of history, which our Constitution attempts to confront.

Posted by: dgsmith21 | April 22, 2009 4:12 PM | Report abuse

GM653:

I would be interested in where you received your interrogation training.

Because at the Army Intelligence School we were taught early some very important points about the use of this garbage.

It. Is. Morally. Reprehensible.
It. Does. Not. Work.
It. Puts. Soldiers'. Lives. In. Danger.

That doesn't even address the fact that it violates most everything this nation is supposed to stand for. There was a reason that this stuff wasn't found in the Army training manual.

The terrorists achieved a huge strategic victory when the US stooped to using this stuff. In the name of defending the "homeland" (I hate that term), we cast aside everything that makes this country great and worth defending.

My sorry hide isn't what is worth defending, and neither is yours. Who we are as a people and a nation, and our founding ideals, are the things worth dying for. When you cast that aside, you've lost already. That's what the terrorists were trying to do in the first place.

Posted by: J-NC | April 22, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Thank God that President Obama ordered the release of the memos. Thanks, too, to journalists who have pursued the stories of government malfeasance. Justice requires that the key players in this sad episode be prosecuted and punished for their crimes. At the very least, they should be disbarred (if they are lawyers), have their Secret Service protection canceled, government health care canceled, and pensions revoked. Prison time would be icing on the cake. I am disgusted by the actions of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Woo, and others. They all belong in the Hall of Shame.

Posted by: davebeedon | April 22, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

You people are laughable.

I thank God you are not running things. If you were I'm sure speaking sternly to these enemies of the United States would be called torture.

You are pathetic. To call what was authorized torture tells us all just how naive and, dangerous you all are.

When they come for you and are doing the web video of your beheading then you MIGHT understand what torture is.

Posted by: AnAmerican5
************
Thank God you aren't running things.

If you were, we'd be torturing, invading sovereign nations, throwing our weight around and bullying the world like... the last eight years!

And see what an amazing success that's been.

Before you trot out that tired old wheeze about "Bush kept us safe," let's all remember that 9/11 happened on his watch-- not right after inauguration but frigging NINE MONTHS into his administration.

AFTER he'd been warned in an intelligence memo that Osama bin Laden was determined to attack within the US... and he did nothing but go on vacation for the month of August. Good thing he got his rest.
He was asleep at the switch and Americans died.

So-- you think it's okay to go around torturing (and calling it "enhanced interrogation") wherever we like. What if it was one of our soldiers? Would you be okay with a Muslim nation waterboarding a soldier, putting them into stress positions, keeping them awake for weeks at a time and even (Heaven forbid) killing them through excessive abuse?

If so, that's the world you want to build, AnAmerican. The world where brute force handles all our problems. You're so wrapped up in thinking of your political opponents as weak that you don't even know what strength is any more.

As I said, thank God you aren't running things, because then our nation really would be finished.

Posted by: drewbitt | April 22, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

and the same right wingnuts would be having a field day if a democratic president would have authorized torture. They would be acting like rabid hyenas. No, don't even go there, wingnuts.

Remember how balistic they went over Monica Lewinsky? Sheeeesh!

The really disturbing disclosure is that they (Bush/Cheney) were looking to use torture in order to find one friggin' lowlife to say that there was an AQ-Hussein link, to back up Bush's premeditated lie about the link - and couldn't get anyone to tell them what they wanted to hear.

Posted by: jfern03 | April 22, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Alright, GM653, here's a partial answer to your question. I'd make sure I have no advisers practicing magical thinking - i.e., believing that torture provides useful information. If you haven't read and heard what experienced interrogators have to say about eliciting information from captives, you might want to do so. An excellent place to start is Matthew Alexander's "How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq." For a historical perspective, the Salem witch trials and the career of the "Witchfinder General" Matthew Hopkins are worth reviewing.

Posted by: apn3206 | April 22, 2009 5:08 PM | Report abuse

With apologies to Godwin, et al...

As the length of a thread increases over time, the probability of a 911 Truther attempting to hijack the discussion approaches 1.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 22, 2009 5:19 PM | Report abuse

The timing of the torture is especially important--especially in view of the fact that the ticking-bomb scenario is the only serious justification that has been invoked for torture--as it's believed that information goes cold in a matter of hours, since any information possessed by a captured operative is assumed to be compromised as soon as he's captured.

But these people were tortured several months after capture. The first memo authorizing torture was issued on Aug. 1, 2002, while Abu Zubayda was captured in March.

Posted by: cristca9 | April 22, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

I think those making comments along the lines of "imagine how outraged Republicans would be if Democrats ordered torture" fundamentally misunderstand this situation. It's not that one of their own did it; it's simply this:

Republicans don't think torture is wrong.

If a Democrat had done it they wouldn't have had a problem with it. Instead they would have redirected attention to some other objectionable policy decision to rile up their base. The only outrage you would hear if a Democratic president ordered torture would be from the same people you hear it from today, except for the fanatics who believe the left shouldn't criticize their own.

Posted by: BigTunaTim | April 22, 2009 5:27 PM | Report abuse

Succinct, sophisticated and surreal exposure Dan - Thank-you

Posted by: coiaorguk | April 22, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

Very very true, Dan.

Look, the main reason for not torturing is that it not only doesn't work, it causes you to misdirect resources that could otherwise be more effectively used.

Plus, no matter what they say, it is and will continue to be a War Crime under the Geneva Conventions that our nation signed and are bound by.

Posted by: WillSeattle | April 22, 2009 5:56 PM | Report abuse

You are pathetic. To call what was authorized torture tells us all just how naive and, dangerous you all are.

Posted by: AnAmerican5
---------------------------------------------
OK. How about if we ask you, "Is this torture?" and then waterboard you until you give us the right answer?

Posted by: jprice2 | April 22, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

Bush and his druges have sapped our milatery with their world war against terror and reduced our moral position to less than that of a third world dictator.
Bring on the firing squads.

Posted by: tniederberger | April 22, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

With all of the information now coming to light, it is apparent that the Army Guards we railroaded through courts martial to take the heat off George and his friends ought to be immediately released and their courts martial be over turned, since their lawyers tried to subpoena the exact persons now coming out as having been the perpetrators of the policies they were ordered to execute, and the White House refused to let the subpoenas stand. We now have evidence that the White House was obstructing justice in these cases, so the verdicts are obviously suborned.

If justice is to be done, those trials will have to be redone, and this time Cheney, Wolfowitcz, bush, Yoo, and the rest must be required to answer their subpoenas.

Posted by: ceflynline | April 22, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

** Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured terror suspect who had been rendered to Egypt by the CIA, was the sole source for arguments Bush made in a key pre-Iraq war speech in October 2002. "We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases," Bush said, uttering torture-inspired fiction.**

Unbelievable insight made possible by great writing--

thanks Dan (and WaPo)

Posted by: lichtme | April 22, 2009 10:19 PM | Report abuse

The fact is there is no security from terrorists. We are fortunate to have two large oceans to protect us. Certainly the world is smaller today and those that want to hurt us will. They can hurt us, but THEY CANNOT DESTROY US. Taking away Habeas Corpus from even terrorists and those who engage in terrorist related activity will not make us safer or hinder the bad guy's operations.
The terrorist is a determined enemy. I think we must hunt down and kill them all. I have no problem killing terrorists who are engaged in operations against our country and civilization. I have no problems with field interrogations. Water boarding works great in the field. (Been there!) But it is a field interrogation technique, not inherently dangerous and will get information of immediate importance. It has proven itself as a valuable tool for extracting critical tactical information. But once the subject figures out it will not kill him, its value goes right into the toilet. (Seen that!)

But when operations are no longer in the field, the rules change. We are a civilized country and we must operate by civilized rules even with those who refuse. When we take away the freedom of even the least deserving, it make us less free. Isn't that a victory for those who hate freedom?

Let your representative know if you are unhappy or distressed. Mine will.


I am a member of the Republican Party and consider myself a libertarian.

Respectfully,

Michael R. Reiter
Attorney at Law
Ex Navy Seal
Lynn Haven, FL

Posted by: nallcando | April 22, 2009 11:07 PM | Report abuse

J-NC, thanks for stepping forward for professional interrogators and representing American ideals. I truly hope that more professionals such as Matthew Alexander (a pseudonym) come forward and put Cheney's lies to rest.

Commenters such as AnAmerican5 and GM653 have no concept that the purpose of professional interrogation is to obtain reliable intelligence not merely a desperate confession.

Posted by: boscobobb | April 23, 2009 2:39 AM | Report abuse

Mr Reiter, esq,

You note you were trained as a Seal. I have great respect and admiration for the range of skills necessary to achieve that distinction.

I'd like to point out how the missions of Seals and interrogators are very different.

Would I be correct in asserting: Seals are generally a small unit behind enemy lines. Your assignment is usually not to hold ground or take prisoners. Any opposition you encounter is unlikely to be easily removed from the location you find them. In short, prisoners are nearly always of tactical rather than strategic value. Therefore damaging the long term trust of a prisoner would not adversely affect your mission.

The distinction for interrogators is the opposite: Interrogators may be forward, but not in enemy territory. Interrogators work with less time pressure. Interrogators' sole purpose is obtaining reliable information from prisoners. While time is important, it is not imperative. Both tactical and strategic information are desired. Establishing trust of a prisoner fulfills the interrogator's mission to gain reliable information.

Were you trained in interrogation methods prior to 2001? Were the techniques changed after October 2001? Were the techniques changed after January 2005?

There is no question that every American is a target for terrorists. While they can kill Americans, terrorists will never destroy our ideals or constitution. Only we can allow that to take place.

Posted by: boscobobb | April 23, 2009 3:00 AM | Report abuse

I haven't enjoyed myself so much in quite some while. The snowball is rolling downhill, gaining size as it goes. Already, nobody wants to stand in front of it. Very soon it will become obvious that a prosecutor must be appointed.

It's the only possible non-partisan response to the problem.

Therefor, look for increased Republican impetus for a Congressional commission, the better to return the matter to the realm of mere politics and impede any possible prosecution.

Posted by: fzdybel | April 23, 2009 4:35 AM | Report abuse

"Despite all the talk here about Cheney, he's still not in very good heart health, is he, he's only human, after all...

So, why are people so threatened by such a stupid man? "

If Cheney escapes justice, that will really spell it out, for all time. That will be the end of the rule of law, such as it was. Like the Romans, we'll be electing dictators.

Fell afraid. Feel very afraid.

Posted by: fzdybel | April 23, 2009 4:42 AM | Report abuse

Good information? Sure, but why bother? There are other ways to get information that work. One might as well say rape produces children. Perhaps. But there are other ways that make sound families, too.

No reason to be horrified when someone points out a fact. Unless, of course, there are partisan reasons.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | April 23, 2009 5:16 AM | Report abuse

'And Blair made a very important point in a statement issued last night: "[T]here is no way of knowing whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."'

Actually, NOT a very important point. These techniques were originally designed by the Chinese Communists and the KGB to produce false confessions.

Posted by: dickdata | April 23, 2009 8:47 AM | Report abuse

So if we didn’t torture and everything was legal, then all this verbal gymnastics trying to justify whether we got good information or not is moot. If it’s all legal then no matter what, the quality of the information we received is absolutely irrelevant. So why are the supporters of this investing so much time and effort in trying to prove that we got good information from the suspects using these methods? Seems like they should be investing all of their efforts into trying to convince the world that everything they did was on the up and up. Otherwise the whole end justifies the means argument is simply not doing it for them, though it has distracted the press. Their approach seems to me to be along the lines of regardless of legality look at the information we got, its good stuff.

Posted by: m_mcmahon | April 23, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

The conservative recipe for success:

1. Torture people into giving false confessions.

2. Use to scare the public to get blank check for military action.

3. Give real perpetrators of 9/11 a Get Out Of Jail Free card.

4. Invade another country having nothing to do with 9/11.

5. Celebrate while watching 4000 US troops die for nothing.

The men and women wearing the uniforms of the US military thank all the conservatives in America fir showing us the true face of conservatism.

Posted by: Garak | April 23, 2009 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for putting out this well documented comprehensive summary of this shameful episode. It is incredible that this went on in 21st Century USA and it took five years for the truth to come out.

Posted by: rjf2 | April 23, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

The news that the point of these "enhanced interrogation techniques" was to obtain "confessions" of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda FINALLY makes sense of why it was done.

It is WELL KNOWN among the military AND intelligence officials that this kind of "technique" gets very little useful information but CAN get a prisoner to confess to something false.

They WANTED the false confession. They were GOING AFTER the false confession.

Cheney is a sociopathic being. I won't even call him a HUMAN being. Is is Evil. If you want to see what the devil looks like, look at Cheney. Cold eyes. Ironic little smile. Say anything in a condescending voice with no guilt what so ever.

Posted by: RealCalGal | April 23, 2009 6:35 PM | Report abuse

"We are a civilized country and we must operate by civilized rules even with those who refuse. When we take away the freedom of even the least deserving, it make us less free. Isn't that a victory for those who hate freedom?"

Mr Reiter, I appreciated and respected all of your post, it balanced the hard pragmatic reality of the threats we face with the need for constant vigilance to not succumb to fear. But the snippet above I thought deserved repeating, it sums up long felt ( and stated) thoughts about why these acts are just WRONG. Period.

We are better than this.

Posted by: freethinker6 | April 25, 2009 2:22 AM | Report abuse

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