Thursday, April 30, 2009

Obama: Bush Administration Authorized Torture

Greg Sargent:
At least, that’s what I think Obama said at his press conference last night, and I’m surprised it’s not getting a bit more attention today.

The key moment came at the end of an exchange with ABC News’ Jake Tapper. After Obama acknowledged that waterboarding is “torture” — a word he and his aides had shied away from using of late — came this:

TAPPER: I’m sorry, sir, but do you believe the previous administration sanctioned torture?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I believe that waterboarding was torture. And I think that the — whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.

Obama implicitly acknowledged here that the previous administration used “legal rationales” to justify “torture.”

This underscores yet again how dicey this is for Obama politically: He’s acknowledging that the previous administration created “legal rationales” to allow itself to engage in behavior that’s outlawed by international treaties. At a minimum, this would seem to give some pretty powerful ammo to those who want some kind of noncriminal probe into what happened.

What am I missing?

Update: This may be more striking than I first thought; Obama seemed to agree that the previous administration violated “international law.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Conyers, Nadler request special prosecutor on torture

They get it:
Congressmen John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler have written a letter to the Attorney General requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor on torture.

“While I applaud the Obama administration for releasing these torture memos in the spirit of openness and transparency, the memos’ alarming content requires further action,” opined Nadler, who chairs the House Judiceary Committee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. “These memos, without a shadow of a doubt, authorized torture and gave explicit instruction on how to carry it out, all the while carefully attempting to maintain a legal fig leaf.

“These memos make it abundantly clear that the Bush administration engaged in torture. Because torture is illegal under American law – as the U.S. is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture – we are legally required to investigate and, when appropriate, to prosecute those responsible for these crimes.” (snip)

“Because the United States is bound by its own laws and by international treaty, we are obligated to investigate and, where necessary, to prosecute those who have violated the laws against committing torture – whether by ordering it or committing it directly. We have no choice if we are to remain a just and principled nation of laws.

“Special Counsel is the most appropriate way to handle this matter. It would remove from the process any question that the investigation was subject to political pressure, and it would preempt any perceptions of conflict of interest within the Justice Department, which produced the torture memos. President Obama has honorably shown his commitment to the rule of law and placed this process into the hands of his able Attorney General, where it belongs. I look forward to working with Attorney General Holder on this, and with Chairman Conyers as the Judiciary Committee continues its oversight investigations.”

Bybee Tries to Make Excuses


WASHINGTON — Judge Jay S. Bybee broke his silence on Tuesday and defended the conclusions of legal memorandums he had signed as a Bush administration lawyer that allowed use of several coercive interrogation practices on suspected terrorists.

Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Jay S. Bybee testified before Congress in February 2002.

Judge Bybee, who issued the memorandums as the head of the Office of Legal Counsel and was later nominated to the federal appeals court by President George W. Bush, said in a statement in response to questions from The New York Times that he continued to believe that the memorandums represented “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the thin line between harsh treatment and torture.
More on Bybee from Think Progress.

The War Crimes Double Standard

Bush Flashback: “War Crimes Will Be Prosecuted…It Will Be No Defense To Say, ‘I Was Just Following Orders’”
Just before launching his invasion of Iraq, President Bush went on national television to issue an ultimatum to Saddam Hussein, urging him to leave his country within 48 hours. Bush also had this message for “all Iraqi military and civilian personnel”:

War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, “I was just following orders.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

CIA: Professional Liars for Propaganda Purposes

In late 2007, there was the first crack of daylight into the government’s use of waterboarding during interrogations of Al Qaeda detainees. On Dec. 10, John Kiriakou, a former C.I.A. officer who had participated in the capture of the suspected terrorist Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan in 2002, appeared on ABC News to say that while he considered waterboarding a form of torture, the technique worked and yielded results very quickly.

Mr. Zubaydah started to cooperate after being waterboarded for “probably 30, 35 seconds,” Mr. Kiriakou told the ABC reporter Brian Ross. “From that day on he answered every question.”

His claims — unverified at the time, but repeated by dozens of broadcasts, blogs and newspapers — have been sharply contradicted by a newly declassified Justice Department memo that said waterboarding had been used on Mr. Zubaydah “at least 83 times.”
I'm sure this is only the tip of the iceberg, as the CIA is covertly embedded throughout the media.

And here we go-- Glenn Greenwald runs down the ways in which the Kiriakou's lie was disseminated throughout the media.

The Banality of Evil

Frank Rich:

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Levin suggests — and I agree — that as additional fact-finding plays out, it’s time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, “to review the mass of material” we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Liz Cheney's Lies About Her Father's Torture Program

Full article here.

False Claim 1: The Program was Widely Approved and Legal.

False Claim 2: President Obama and AG Holder have ignored evidence of the program effectiveness.

False Claim 3: These tactics weren't torture because they are used in SERE in the training of our own troops.

False Claim 4: Two of the people who were Waterboarded gave us information that saved American Lives.

False Claime #5: Our Intelligence Gathering and Nation has been hurt by release of these memos.

False Claim #6: The Techniques were limited and carefully controlled

False Claim #7: The Program had Broad-based Support within the Higher-ups of the Administration, including all members of the National Security Council

False Claim #8: These techniques were done to our own people (via S.E.R.E.) and they were not "Tortured".

False Claim #9: Revealing these techniques will allow our enemies to train to withstand them.

False Claim #10: Al Qeada doesn't follow Geneva so why should we?

Also, see Emptywheel on this same story.

Media Enablers of Torture

Jonathan Alter an Early Advocate of Torture... then Alter has the brazenness to go on Keith Olbermann's show and lie about what happened.

Essentially "Pundits Whitewash Torture"--

On the Sunday morning news programs, several pundits went out of their way to either endorse waterboarding and other techniques endorsed in the torture memos - or to dismiss the idea of holding their authors responsible. (H/t FireDogLake)

On ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos," George Will echoed several Bush officials when he criticized the release of the memos, saying "The problem with transparency is that it's transparent for the terrorists as well." Will expressed concern about the cost of letting "the bad guys" know what techniques, such as waterboarding, will be used on them. He went on to add, as noted by HuffPost's Jason Linkins, that "intelligent people of good will" believe the President of the United States can do whatever he wants to "defend the country."

Peggy Noonan went even further, articulating a position that upends George Santayana's famous quote: "Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

"Some things in life need to be mysterious," said Noonan, adding, "Sometimes you need to just keep walking."

She also added:

"It's hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, oh, much good will come of that."

Torture was an Unauthorized Covert Operation

The Bush Administration Did Not Give Legally-Required Prior Notification to Congress

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Torture Round-Up 3

Rice gave early 'waterboarding green light':
WASHINGTON (AFP) - The CIA first sought in May 2002 to use harsh interrogation techniques including waterboarding on terror suspects, and was given key early approval by then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, a US Senate intelligence document said.

The agency got the green light to use the near-drowning technique on July 26, 2002, when attorney general John Ashcroft concluded "that the use of waterboarding was lawful," the Senate Intelligence Committee said in a detailed timeline of the "war on terrorism" interrogations released Wednesday.

Nine days earlier, the panel said, citing Central Intelligence Agency records, Rice had met with then-director George Tenet and "advised that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaydah," the agency's first high-value Al-Qaeda detainee, pending Justice Department approval.

Rice's nod is believed to be the earliest known approval by a senior official in the administration of George W. Bush of the intelligence technique which current Attorney General Eric Holder has decried as "torture."

Straight to the Top:
The torture trail starts and ends in the White House. That is perhaps the most inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the flurry of documents released in the last week—first the OLC memoranda, then a newly declassified report of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and finally an amazing document that Attorney General Eric Holder released yesterday, which has still gained little attention. The Holder note presents a summary of CIA interaction with the White House in connection with the approval of the torture techniques that John Yoo calls the “Bush Program.” Holder’s memo refers to the participants by their job titles only, but John Sifton runs it through a decoder and gives us the actual names. Here’s a key passage:

“[The] CIA’s Office of General Counsel [this would include current Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods [on Abu Zubaydah] that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”

Military agency warned against ‘torture’--Extreme duress could yield unreliable information, according to 2002 memo:
"The unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel," says the document, an unsigned two-page attachment to a memo by the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency.

Torturing detainee may have produced false terror alerts:
As the nation struggles to make sense of a wave of new revelations regarding the "harsh interrogation techniques" brought to bear on detainees by the CIA, two very different narratives are shaping up to describe the treatment of captured al Qaeda member Abu Zubaydah in April and May of 2002.

On one hand, there is what might be called the "official" version, as presented in a timeline released by the Senate Intelligence Committee and summarized by the Washington Post. According to this version, Abu Zubaydah was subjected only to traditional interrogation methods until an August 1 memo from Justice Department lawyer Jay Bybee gave a green light for the use of waterboarding and other aggressive techniques.

On the other, there is a far more incriminating narrative that has been pieced together by various observers over the last several years. In this version, harsher methods were being applied to Abu Zubaydah as early as mid-April, and by mid-May he had been subjected to virtually every aggressive technique short of waterboarding.

Finally, anonymous friends now say Jay Bybee is sorry.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Torture Round-Up 2

Condoleezza Rice, John D. Ashcroft and other top Bush administration officials approved as early as the summer of 2002 the CIA's use at secret prisons of harsh interrogation methods, including waterboarding... Rice gave a key early green light when, as President George W. Bush's national security adviser, she met on July 17, 2002, with the CIA's then-director, George J. Tenet, and "advised that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaida," subject to approval by the Justice Department, according to the timeline.

Torture planning began in 2001, Senate report reveals-- Bush officials said they only tortured terrorists after they wouldn't talk. New evidence shows they planned torture soon after 9/11 -- and used it to find links between al-Qaida and Saddam.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is on the defensive after her Republican counterpart John Boehner (R-OH) claimed that top Democrats knew well the details of the Bush administration's torture program but did nothing to stop it. In a Thursday press briefing, Pelosi flatly denied that she was ever told waterboarding would be used.

Cheney's lies:
ALI SOUFAN-- FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.

Yikes: Detainee's lawyer claims U.S. interrogators applied pepper spray to prisoner's hemorrhoids...

Ex-trainer: Government officials think interrogation is like TV's '24'

Glenn Greenwald: how the media enable and cover-up war-crimes.

Flashback: FBI agents kept away from torturing suspects

Sunday, April 19, 2009

More on Torture Memos-- Four Items

1. CIA waterboarded Al Qaeda suspect 183 times in 1 month, memo reveals-- Unless you're a fan of willful ignorance, you know all about the four Bush administration torture memos released Thursday by the Justice Department. Those memos revealed Bush lawyers authorized the use of insects in interrogations, among other shocking and disturbing strategies for getting detainees to talk.

But perhaps more shocking than these newly revealed torture methods is a memo's reference to the fact that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (still in U.S. custody) was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah (the man who allegedly fears insects) was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.

This insane frequency would seem to make (even more) self-evident the fact that waterboarding is not an effective anti-terror tool. Putting aside the moral and legal outrages for a moment, these statistics do not show waterboarding to be the ace in the hole "enhanced" technique Bush et al. claimed it was. Quite the opposite.

2. Bush memos parallel claim 9/11 mastermind’s children were tortured with insects--

Bush Administration memos released by the White House on Thursday provide new insight into claims that American agents used insects to torture the young children of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

In the memos, released Thursday, the Bush Administration White House Office of Legal Counsel offered its endorsement of CIA torture methods that involved placing an insect in a cramped, confined box with detainees. Jay S. Bybee, then-director of the OLC, wrote that insects could be used to capitalize on detainees’ fears.

3. Accounts of Torture, Abstract and Experienced-- TAP compares the "enhanced interrogation" memos to Red Cross accounts of what happened...

4. NYT: Impeach Bybee-- These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

A general point is the sheer astounding evil displayed by the torture memos -- the people who did this and approved this are monsters, pure and simple.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Spain’s Attorney General Opposes Prosecutions of 6 Bush Officials on Allowing Torture

Published: April 16, 2009

PARIS — Spain’s attorney general on Thursday strongly criticized steps to open a criminal investigation in Madrid into allegations that six former Bush administration officials authorized the torture of detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Cándido Conde-Pumpido, the attorney general, said at a breakfast meeting with journalists in Madrid that he would oppose any legal action in Spain because the proper forum would be an American court and that any investigation should focus on those who actually mistreated detainees.

But in Spain, the attorney general does not have the last word; an investigating judge decides whether a case will proceed. Lawyers familiar with the case said that the stage had now apparently been set for a struggle between judges and politicians.

The judge handling the complaint against the Americans is Baltasar Garzón, the crusading magistrate who ordered the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

In the past, Mr. Garzón has ignored opinions by politicians and law enforcement officials.

But with Spain’s government eager to improve its formerly tense relations with Washington, lawyers familiar with the case said there was evidently political pressure to dismiss it.

The attorney general’s public intervention was unexpected and unusual, particularly because he appeared to overrule prosecutors at the Madrid court that was dealing with the complaint.

Last week the prosecutors, who are asked for an opinion before the investigating judge proceeds, wrote that Spain could claim jurisdiction in the case because it was a party to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and five former Guantánamo inmates, three of them Spanish citizens and two Spanish residents, claimed that they were tortured. Lawyers who had seen the still-unreleased document said it gave the green light for a criminal investigation against the six Americans.

Torture Memos

It's good Obama released these (also here and here)-- there is really no denying the crimes that occurred and who perpetrated them. This is sickening, inhumane stuff ordered and carried out by psychopaths.

But obviously the very bad thing here is that Obama won't prosecute clear violations of law-- fucking US war-crimes, for god's sake. In writing off these crimes, Obama becomes one of the monsters.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Spanish prosecutors will seek criminal charges against Alberto Gonzales and five high-ranking Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture

from The Daily Beast:
By Scott Horton

Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo, several reliable sources close to the investigation have told The Daily Beast. Their decision is expected to be announced on Tuesday before the Spanish central criminal court, the Audencia Nacional, in Madrid. But the decision is likely to raise concerns with the human-rights community on other points: They will seek to have the case referred to a different judge.

Both Washington and Madrid appear determined not to allow the pending criminal investigation to get in the way of improved relations.

The six defendants—in addition to Gonzales, Federal Appeals Court Judge and former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, University of California law professor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, former Defense Department general counsel and current Chevron lawyer William J. Haynes II, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith—are accused of having given the green light to the torture and mistreatment of prisoners held in U.S. detention in “the war on terror.” The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo. A group of human-rights lawyers originally filed a criminal complaint asking the court to look at the possibility of charges against the six American lawyers. Baltasar Garzón Real, the investigating judge, accepted the complaint and referred it to Spanish prosecutors for a view as to whether they would accept the case and press it forward. “The evidence provided was more than sufficient to justify a more comprehensive investigation,” one of the lawyers associated with the prosecution stated. (snip)

Announcement of the prosecutor’s decision was delayed until after the Easter holiday in order not to interfere with a series of meetings between President Barack Obama and Spanish Prime Minister José Zapatero. However, contrary to a claim contained in an editorial on April 8 in the Wall Street Journal, the Obama State Department has been in steady contact with the Spanish government about the case. Shortly after the case was filed on March 17, chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza was invited to the U.S. embassy in Madrid to brief members of the embassy staff about the matter. A person in attendance at the meeting described the process as “correct and formal.” The Spanish prosecutors briefed the American diplomats on the status of the case, how it arose, the nature of the allegations raised against the former U.S. government officials. The Americans “were basically there just to collect information,” the source stated.The Spanish prosecutors advised the Americans that they would suspend their investigation if at any point the United States were to undertake an investigation of its own into these matters. They pressed to know whether any such investigation was pending. These inquiries met with no answer from the U.S. side.

Spanish officials are highly conscious of the political context of the case and have measured the Obama administration’s low-key reaction attentively. Although Spain is a NATO ally that initially supported “the war on terror” under Bush with a commitment of troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, relations with the Bush administration deteriorated after Zapatero became prime minister and acted quickly to withdraw the Spanish contingent in Iraq. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican John McCain referred to Spain as a hostile state in comments that mystified Spaniards (it appears that McCain may have confused Spain with Venezuela and Zapatero with Hugo Chávez). Recently, the United States and Spain also wrangled over Spain’s decision to withdraw its troop commitment in Kosovo as well. Both Zapatero and Obama, however, have given a high priority to improving relations between the two long-standing allies. Spanish newspapers hailed the fact that Obama referred to Zapatero three times as “my good friend” during the recent European summit meetings, a sharp contrast with meetings at which former President Bush gave Zapatero a cold shoulder.

Both Washington and Madrid appear determined not to allow the pending criminal investigation to get in the way of improved relations, which both desire, particularly in regard to coordinated economic policy to confront the current financial crisis and a reshaped NATO mandate for action in Afghanistan. With the case now proceeding, that will be more of a challenge. The reaction on American editorial pages is divided—some questioning sharply why the Obama administration is not conducting an investigation, which is implicitly the question raised by the Spanish prosecutors. Publications loyal to the Bush team argue that the Spanish investigation is an “intrusion” into American affairs, even when those affairs involve the torture of five Spaniards on Cuba.