David Cole writes: On Oct. 17, Eric Holder handed out the Justice Department’s annual awards for distinguished service to a slew of department employees. Featured at the top of the awards announcement were the men and women who successfully prosecuted 10 New Orleans police officers for killing innocent civilians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and a U.S. marshal who risked his life to protect a victim from a violent fugitive during the fugitive’s capture. But buried at the bottom of the list — the 13th of 14 “distinguished service awards” — was a more unusual awardee: Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham. Durham and his team received the award not for bringing anyone to justice, but for declining to hold accountable anyone in the CIA for its brutal interrogations of detainees at secret prisons, or “black sites,” in connection with President George W. Bush’s “war on terror.”
“In order to conduct the investigations,” the citation reads, “the team had to review significant amounts of information, much of which was classified, and conduct many interviews in the United States and at overseas locations.”
There’s no question that Durham worked hard for a long time, and that the investigation was complex and substantial. After all, more than 100 men were “disappeared” into the CIA’s black sites for extended incommunicado detention and interrogation. Because the CIA prisons were a secret, everything that happened there is classified, complicating investigation still further. And because the investigation itself is secret, we can’t know precisely what evidence Durham considered, what roadblocks he faced, what judgment calls he made.
But here’s what we do know. Many of those “disappeared” into the CIA’s black sites were tortured and/or illegally subjected to cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for example, were waterboarded 83 and 183 times, respectively. They and other detainees were stripped naked, doused with water, beaten about the face and stomach, slammed into walls, deprived of sleep for days on end, forced into painful stress positions, and confined in small dark boxes for hours at a time. And these were just the “authorized” torture tactics, given a green light by a secret memo written in August 2002 by John Yoo and Jay Bybee from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and specifically okayed by President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, among others. [Continue reading…]