OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: What can’t be forgotten

Did Bush watch the torture tapes?

… the sequence of statements out of the White House is extremely revealing. It started with firm denials, then went silent and then pulled back rather sharply to a “President Bush has no present recollection of having seen the tapes.” This is a formulation frequently used to avoid perjury charges, a sort of way of saying “no” without really saying “no.” In between these statements, two more things unfolded that have a bearing on the question.

The New York Times squarely placed four White House lawyers in the middle of the decision about whether to destroy the tapes—Alberto Gonzales, David Addington, John Bellinger and Harriet Miers. It also reported that at least one of them was strongly advocating destruction. Suspicion immediately fell on the principle mover in support of torture, David Addington.

Second, John Kiriakou clarified his statements about the purpose for which the tapes were made. It was to brief higher ups about the process of the interrogation. Reports persist that one “higher-up” in particular had a special strong interest in knowing the details of the Abu Zubaydah case. His name is George W. Bush.

Are Bush’s denials that he has seen the torture tapes really credible? I don’t think so. [complete article]

See also, Operation stop talking (Laura Rozen).

Editor’s Comment — “I have no recollection” — a non-denial denial — is most likely a lie that could be pried open with just a few questions.

President of the United States is a unique job that includes all sorts of unusual tasks that nevertheless are quite forgettable. “In your daily intelligence briefings, do you remember being warned about imminent attacks by al Qaeda?” How could a president be expected to remember every little detail from every single briefing?

But interrogation videos — images of a man struggling against the sensation of drowning? How much time could George Bush spend watching videos of what amount to mock executions before the routine became something less than memorable? The question isn’t whether Bush remembers seeing videos of suspects being waterboarded; it is whether he believes this is something he could forget.

If the president is less than certain that such a sight is something he would never forget, then he’s apparently a sociopath. If on the other hand he can attest to the fact that, like most normal people, he would find such images unforgettable, then this is one instance where there is no reason for the president to be telling us about the power or frailty of his memory. If the president really has no recollection of seeing videos of waterboarding, he should be able to go one step further and say emphatically that he did not watch the videos. If he can’t deny watching the videos, it’s not because there are limits to his powers of recollection but because he refuses to shine any light on an indelible memory.

“I have no recollection” is not really a non-denial denial. It’s a simple lie.

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One thought on “OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: What can’t be forgotten

  1. Dan Mortenson

    Suggested formulation for the follow-up (if such luxuries are still allowed in the Presidential Briefing Room cattle-call):

    “Surely the President would be able to recall whether or not he saw a video of a person being water-boarded. Are you saying that the President’s memory is failing?”

    You are right that this formulation is nothing but an attempt at CYA. Every invocation of such tactics should be called out for what it is.

    But seriously, why are they creating a “reason” for the tapes to have been made? Taping interrogations is routine, for many reasons.

    To say that these were made for the purpose of educating the President, seems to be an attempt to distract the public’s attention from the unseen library of such tapes still in the CIA’s basement (and the FBI’s, and Army and Navy Intelligence, and…).

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