The Obama administration is leaning toward keeping secret some graphic details of tactics allowed in Central Intelligence Agency interrogations, despite a push by some top officials to make the information public, according to people familiar with the discussions.
These people cautioned that President Barack Obama is still reviewing internal arguments over the release of Justice Department memorandums related to CIA interrogations, and how much information will be made public is in flux.
Among the details in the still-classified memos is approval for a technique in which a prisoner’s head could be struck against a wall as long as the head was being held and the force of the blow was controlled by the interrogator, according to people familiar with the memos. Another approved tactic was waterboarding, or simulated drowning. [continued…]
Editor’s Comment — No wonder there’s so much trepidation around releasing these memos. One can only imagine what kind of phrasing is involved in defining the “appropriate” amount of force with which someone’s head can be bashed against a wall.
Was it something specific like this: With less force than would be required to fracture the skull or spill blood? Or was it something more legalistic but vague, like this: With less force than could reasonably be expected to result in permanent brain damage?
The key issue here, the CIA would have us believe, is that revealing details on the torture techniques it has used would “undermine the agency’s credibility with foreign intelligence services.”
What this means, as far as I can tell from reading reports on the Binyam Mohamed case is this: When the CIA enlisted the support of MI5 (and other intelligence services) in the rendition and torture of suspected terrorists, the agreement was that information about the intelligence process would remain under the control of all participants. Another way of putting it would be to say that the co-conspirators agreed to cover each other’s backs so that they could collectively enjoy legal impunity.
Now that that impunity is in jeopardy, the lawbreakers are upping the ante by implying that exposing torture practices poses a national security threat. Ostensibly the threat comes from providing al Qaeda a propaganda coup, but the underlying threat is that the CIA will no longer get cooperation from foreign agencies and that intelligence gathering will therefore suffer. And what this boils down to is the crudest possible threat: if the administration doesn’t protect the agency, the agency won’t protect the administration. This is, in a word: blackmail.
I was asked to go on Hardball on Tuesday night to discuss the news that Spanish prosecutors are likely to recommend a full investigation be conducted to determine if six former Bush administration officials—including ex-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales—ought to be indicted for having sanctioned torture at Guantanamo. So I thought I’d ask White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about the matter.
This could become a true headache for the White House—a high-profile case in which Spanish prosecutors bring charges against Gonzales; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense; David Addington, former counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, a former Pentagon lawyer; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, two former Justice Department officials. Several steps must occur before any prosecution proceeds. If the prosecutors determine a full criminal investigation is warranted–as is expected–it will be up to a Spanish judge to open a full-fledged inquiry that could produce indictments. He could decide not to accept the recommendation. And, of course, it’s possible that an investigation could end without indictments. The Spanish hook for the case is a simple one: Five Guantanamo detainees were either Spanish citizens or residents. And, by the way, Spanish courts claim jurisdiction that extends to other nations when it comes to torture and war crimes. [continued…]