The New York Times reports: The American Psychological Association secretly collaborated with the administration of President George W. Bush to bolster a legal and ethical justification for the torture of prisoners swept up in the post-Sept. 11 war on terror, according to a new report by a group of dissident health professionals and human rights activists.
The report is the first to examine the association’s role in the interrogation program. It contends, using newly disclosed emails, that the group’s actions to keep psychologists involved in the interrogation program coincided closely with efforts by senior Bush administration officials to salvage the program after the public disclosure in 2004 of graphic photos of prisoner abuse by American military personnel at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
“The A.P.A. secretly coordinated with officials from the C.I.A., White House and the Department of Defense to create an A.P.A. ethics policy on national security interrogations which comported with then-classified legal guidance authorizing the C.I.A. torture program,” the report’s authors conclude. [Continue reading…]
How candidate of hope and change became president of kill lists, drone strikes, and immunity for torturers
Gregory D. Johnsen writes: Shortly before 9 a.m. on March 11, 2014, Dianne Feinstein, the 80-year-old chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, walked into the Senate chamber with a thick stack of papers and a glass of water. The Senate had just finished a rare all-night session a few minutes earlier, and only a handful of staffers were left in the room. Feinstein had given thousands of speeches over her career, but none quite like this.
“Let me say up front that I come to the Senate floor reluctantly,” she said, as she poked at the corners of her notes. The last two months had been an exhausting mix of meetings and legal wrangling, all in an attempt to avoid this exact moment. But none of it had worked. And now Feinstein was ready to go public and tell the country what she knew: The CIA had broken the law and violated the Constitution. It had spied on the Senate.
“This is a defining moment for the oversight of our intelligence community,” Feinstein said nearly 40 minutes later, as she drew to a close. This will show whether the Senate “can be effective in monitoring and investigating our nation’s intelligence activities, or whether our work can be thwarted by those we oversee.”
Two hours later and a few miles away at a Council on Foreign Relations event near downtown Washington, the CIA responded. “As far as the allegations of, you know, CIA hacking into Senate computers,” CIA Director John Brennan told Andrea Mitchell of NBC News, shaking his head and rolling his eyes to demonstrate the ridiculousness of the charges, “nothing could be further from the truth. I mean, we wouldn’t do that.”
Brennan was 58, but that morning he looked much older. He’d hobbled into the room on a cane following yet another hip fracture, and after some brief remarks he eased himself into a chair with obvious discomfort. Two years earlier in a commencement address at Fordham University, his alma mater, Brennan had rattled off a litany of injuries and ailments: In addition to his hip problems, he’d also had major knee, back, and shoulder surgeries as well as “a bout of cancer.” Years of desk work had resulted in extra weight and the sort of bureaucrat’s body that caused his suits to slope down and out toward his belt. “I referred the matter myself to the CIA inspector general to make sure that he was able to look honestly and objectively at what the CIA did there,” Brennan said. “And, you know, when the facts come out on this, I think a lot of people who are claiming that there has been this tremendous sort of spying and monitoring and hacking will be proved wrong.”
Mitchell, who had already asked him two questions about the allegations, pressed again. “If it is proved that the CIA did do this, would you feel that you had to step down?”
Brennan chuckled and stuttered as he tried to form an answer. Two weeks earlier, he had told a dinner at the University of Oklahoma that “intelligence work had gotten in my blood.” The CIA wasn’t just what he did; it was his “identity.” He had worked too hard to become director to give up without a fight. “If I did something wrong,” Brennan eventually told Mitchell, “I will go to the president, and I will explain to him exactly what I did, and what the findings were. And he is the one who can ask me to stay or to go.”
But Obama was never going to ask for his resignation. Not then, and not months later when the CIA inspector general’s report came back, showing that the agency had done what Feinstein claimed. Brennan was Obama’s man. His conscience on national security, and the CIA director he’d wanted from the very beginning. Not even a chorus of pleas from Democratic senators, members of Obama’s own party, made any difference. John Brennan would stay, the untouchable head of America’s most powerful intelligence agency. [Continue reading…]
Joshua Keating writes: “Rather than another reason to refight old arguments, I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong — in the past.” That was President Obama, last December, after the release of a Senate panel report on the CIA’s use of torture against terrorism detainees. Obama’s statement encapsulated both his confidence that the brutal interrogation techniques of the Bush era had been brought to an end by the executive order he issued banning them upon taking office, and his reluctance to probe more deeply into abuses that occurred or prosecute any of the offenders.
But a new report issued this morning by Amnesty International charges that the Obama administration has effectively granted impunity to the practitioners of torture, and that its reluctance to address the issue “not only leaves the USA in serious violation of its international legal obligations, it increases the risk that history will repeat itself when a different president again deems the circumstances warrant resort to torture, enforced disappearance, abductions or other human rights violations.” [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Agonizing over torture as an antiterrorism tactic — how to define it and how to punish abusers, if at all — has been central to national security debates since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The issue has received renewed attention in recent months with the release of a Senate committee report describing techniques used by the Central Intelligence Agency against terrorism suspects, practices found by senators to have been high in brutality and low in effectiveness.
A few pivotal questions about war’s excesses come together in the decade-old case of one man, who now has the attention of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that examine major news stories of the past and their impact today. This man, David A. Passaro, is a former Army Ranger who in 2003 went to work for the C.I.A. in Afghanistan as an independent contractor. His brief tour in that country turned out wretchedly. He ended up being sentenced to more than six years in federal prison for beating an Afghan prisoner who then died at an American military base near the border with Pakistan.
Despite evidence that abuses like those chronicled in the Senate report were far from isolated, Mr. Passaro’s situation was singular. A few dozen members of the military were court-martialed for misconduct like the well-documented humiliations inflicted at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But Mr. Passaro is believed to be the only C.I.A.-connected civilian ever prosecuted for going too far. So rare was his case that, to bring him to trial in this country for actions committed overseas, the Justice Department took the highly unusual step of invoking the Patriot Act, the post-9/11 statute intended principally to thwart would-be terrorists. [Continue reading…]
The post-9/11 moment offered them their main chance to transform their dreams into reality and they seized it by the throat. They wanted to “take the gloves off.” They were convinced that the presidency had been shackled by Congress in the Watergate era and that it was their destiny to remove the chains. They believed in a “unitary” presidency: an unchained executive with unfettered power to do whatever he wanted, preemptively and in any fashion he cared to. And in their own fashion, they were visionaries in their urge to establish a Pax Americana first in the Greater Middle East and then planet-wide.
Anything, they thought, was possible, given a nation shocked and terrified by the apocalyptic vision of those towers coming down, even if the damage had been done by just 19 hijackers armed with box cutters who belonged to a terror organization capable, at best, of mounting major operations every year or two. “[B]arely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon… [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq,” CBS News reported, even though he was already certain that al-Qaeda had launched the attack, not Saddam Hussein. (“‘Go massive,’ the notes quote him as saying. ‘Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'”)
And, of course, from Afghanistan to Iraq and beyond, they did “sweep it all up.” As a group, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and many other top figures in the administration were in love with the U.S. military. They were convinced that a force with no peer on the planet could bring various “rogue powers” instantly to heel and leave the U.S. dominant in a way that no power in all of history had ever been. Throw in control over the flow of oil on a global scale and their dreams couldn’t have been more expansive. But when you write the history of this particular disaster, don’t forget the fear, either.
As was said over and over again at that moment, 9/11 “changed everything.” That meant they felt themselves freed to do all the mad things we now know they did, from preemptive wars and occupations to massive programs of torture and kidnapping, as well as the setting up of a global penal system that was to be beyond the reach of any law or the oversight of anyone but those under their command. They green-lighted it all, but don’t for a second think that they weren’t afraid themselves. To touch that fear (bordering on paranoia), you only have to read Jane Mayer’s book The Dark Side where she describes Vice President Dick Cheney in that post-9/11 period being “chauffeured in an armored motorcade that varied its route to foil possible attackers.” In the backseat of his car (just in case), she added, “rested a duffel bag stocked with a gas mask and a biochemical survival suit.” And lest danger rear its head, “rarely did he travel without a medical doctor in tow.”
Yes, they were on top of the world and undoubtedly chilled to the bone with fear as well. And fear and impunity turned out to be an ugly combination indeed. Both the fear and the sense of license, of the freedom to act as they wished, drove them fiercely. Take Michael Hayden, then head of the NSA, later of the CIA. Of that moment, he recently said, “I actually started to do different things. And I didn’t need to ask ‘mother, may I’ from the Congress or the president or anyone else. It was within my charter, but in terms of the mature judgment about what’s reasonable and what’s not reasonable, the death of 3,000 countrymen kind of took me in a direction over here, perfectly within my authority, but a different place than the one in which I was located before the attacks took place.” In other words, on September 10, 2011, he was simply the director of the NSA. On September 11th, without ever leaving the NSA, he was the president, Congress, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court all rolled into one.
Given what, as Hayden (and others) suggest, they couldn’t help but do, it’s good to know that there were some people who could. It’s a point that TomDispatch regular Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States, makes in a particularly moving way today. Tom Engelhardt
Saying no to torture
A gallery of American heroes
By Rebecca Gordon
Why was it again that, as President Obama said, “we tortured some folks” after the 9/11 attacks? Oh, right, because we were terrified. Because everyone knows that being afraid gives you moral license to do whatever you need to do to keep yourself safe. That’s why we don’t shame or punish those who were too scared to imagine doing anything else. We honor and revere them.
CIA interrogations took place on British territory of Diego Garcia, senior Bush administration official says
Vice News reports: Interrogations of US prisoners took place at a CIA black site on the British overseas territory of Diego Garcia, a senior Bush administration official has told VICE News.
The island was used as a “transit location” for the US government’s “nefarious activities” post-9/11 when other places were too full, dangerous, insecure, or unavailable, according to Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff.
There was no permanent detention facility such as the CIA facility in Poland, he told VICE News in a wide-ranging interview. His intelligence sources indicated to him that the island was however home to “a transit site where people were temporarily housed, let us say, and interrogated from time to time.” [Continue reading…]
Dan Froomkin writes: Monday’s guilty verdict in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling on espionage charges — for talking to a newspaper reporter — is the latest milepost on the dark and dismal path Barack Obama has traveled since his inaugural promises to usher in a “new era of openness.”
Far from rejecting the authoritarian bent of his presidential predecessor, Obama has simply adjusted it, adding his own personal touches, most notably an enthusiasm for criminally prosecuting the kinds of leaks that are essential to a free press.
The Sterling case – especially in light of Obama’s complicity in the cover-up of torture during the Bush administration – sends a clear message to people in government service: You won’t get in trouble as long as you do what you’re told (even torture people). But if you talk to a reporter and tell him something we want kept secret, we will spare no effort to destroy you.
There’s really no sign any more of the former community organizer who joyously declared on his first full day in office that “there’s been too much secrecy in this city… Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known.”
Instead, as author Scott Horton explained to me a few weeks ago, Obama’s thinking on these issues was swayed by John Brennan, the former senior adviser he eventually named CIA director. And for Brennan and his ilk, secrecy is a core value — partly for legitimate national security reasons and partly as an impregnable shield against embarrassment and accountability. [Continue reading…]
Christian Lorentzen reviews Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi: In the autumn of 2001 Mohamedou Ould Slahi was working in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, setting up computer networks. He was born in the hinterlands, son of a nomadic camel trader, and had picked up the trade in Germany; he went to the University of Duisberg on a scholarship in 1988, at the age of 17. He’d long been a fan of the German national football team. He was also devout and had memorised the Koran as a teenager. In 1991 he went to Afghanistan to train with the mujahedin and pledged an oath to al-Qaida. He made another trip the next year, but saw little action fighting Muhammad Najibullah’s communist government before it fell. When the fighting disintegrated into factional struggles, he went back to Germany. He tried once to join the war in Bosnia, but couldn’t get through Slovenia. He worked in Duisberg until 1999, when his visa expired and pressure was coming down from the immigration office. He applied for permanent residency in Canada and went to Montreal, where he led prayers at a mosque attended by an Algerian called Ahmed Ressam. On 14 December 1999, Ressam was arrested at the US border with explosives and timing devices in his rented car. This was the Millennium Plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, and though Ressam was a stranger to him it was the start of Slahi’s troubles.
In Montreal he believed he was being watched, possibly through a small hole drilled through his bedroom wall from his neighbour’s flat. (He called the police about it and they told him to fill the hole with caulk.) He was questioned by Canadian intelligence, but let go. Still, he was spooked, and in January 2000 he set off to return to Mauritania, via Dakar; on landing he was picked up by Senegalese special forces. He was rendered to Nouakchott, held for weeks, threatened with torture, and interrogated by Mauritanian intelligence and the FBI. Here was the start of the American authorities’ four-year fixation on two words, ‘tea’ and ‘sugar’, picked up on a tapped phone conversation and presumed to be code. They released him to return to his family. On his way out, the director of Mauritanian intelligence told him: ‘Those guys have no evidence whatsoever.’ [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The American Civil Liberties Union is turning to federal court to stop the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee from repossessing the secret copies of a landmark inquiry into CIA torture.
In an emergency motion filed late on Tuesday, the ACLU asked Judge James Boasberg of the District of Columbia federal district to prevent Senator Richard Burr’s “extraordinary post-hoc request” for all copies of the full, classified 6,900-page report currently held by the Obama administration.
It is part of a persistent effort from human rights groups to keep up pressure for disclosure over one of the most infamous episodes in CIA history, despite moves by both the committee and the CIA to move on.
“The full torture report is critical for meaningful public scrutiny of the CIA’s horrific acts, as well as its lies and evasions to Congress, the courts, and the American public,” said the ACLU attorney Hina Shamsi.
The battle highlights the partisan differences over CIA torture and the investigation of it. The report was produced when the committee was led by the California Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Once Burr, a North Carolina Republican, took over the committee, he moved almost immediately to keep the full report permanently under wraps. [Continue reading..]
McClatchy reports: The former chair of the Senate Intelligence committee excoriated a report on the CIA’s searches of computers used by her staff as riddled with “mistakes and omissions.”
In a statement Tuesday, Senator Dianne Feinstein rejected the CIA accountability board’s conclusions that five agency personnel shouldn’t be penalized for searching computers used by her staff to compile a scathing report on the torture of detainees.
“The bottom line is that the CIA accessed a Senate Intelligence Committee computer network without authorization, in clear violation of a signed agreement…,” said Feinstein, reiterating an assertion that the searches violated “the constitutional separation of powers between Congress and the executive branch.”
The California Democrat added: “Someone should be held accountable.”
The Dec. 14 findings by the accountability board appeared to draw to a close without a final resolution the most damaging battle ever fought between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee over the powers of the spy agency’s congressional overseers. [Continue reading…]
The Intercept: You don’t have access to the internet in prison, so have you been able to see just one page of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report?
John Kiriakou: Well, my cousin ended up printing the entire thing and sent it to me. Yeah, he sent it to me in five different envelopes.
So was there anything in the report that surprised you? Did you feel even more despair at being the only CIA officer jailed since the program came into existence?
One thing that I think most everybody has missed is, we knew about the waterboarding, we knew about the cold cells, we knew about the loud music and the sleep deprivation. We knew about all the things that have been ‘approved’ by the Justice Department. But what we didn’t know was what individual CIA officers were doing on their own without any authorization. And I would like to know why those officers aren’t being prosecuted when clearly they’ve committed crimes and those crimes were well documented by both the CIA and the Senate Committee of Intelligence. [Continue reading…]
Glenn Greenwald and Peter Maass report: NBC News yesterday called her a “key apologist” for the CIA’s torture program. A follow-up New Yorker article dubbed her “The Unidentified Queen of Torture” and in part “the model for the lead character in ‘Zero Dark Thirty.’” Yet in both articles she was anonymous.
The person described by both NBC and The New Yorker is senior CIA officer Alfreda Frances Bikowsky. Multiple news outlets have reported that as the result of a long string of significant errors and malfeasance, her competence and integrity are doubted — even by some within the agency.
The Intercept is naming Bikowsky over CIA objections because of her key role in misleading Congress about the agency’s use of torture, and her active participation in the torture program (including playing a direct part in the torture of at least one innocent detainee). Moreover, Bikowsky has already been publicly identified by news organizations as the CIA officer responsible for many of these acts. [Continue reading…]
Pew Research Center reports: Following the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA interrogation practices in the period following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, 51% of the public says they think the CIA methods were justified, compared with just 29% who say they were not justified; 20% do not express an opinion.
The new national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Dec. 11-14 among 1,001 adults, finds that amid competing claims over the effectiveness of CIA interrogation methods, 56% believe they provided intelligence that helped prevent terrorist attacks, while just half as many (28%) say they did not provide this type of intelligence.
Partisan divides on these questions are wide. A large majority of Republicans (76%) say the interrogation methods used by the CIA after 9/11 were justified. Democrats are divided – 37% say the methods were justified, while 46% disagree. About twice as many liberal Democrats (65%) as conservative and moderate Democrats (32%) say the CIA’s interrogation techniques were not justified. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports on the two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who designed and ran the CIA’s torture program: Mr. Mitchell suggested that the C.I.A. also hire Mr. Jessen, a friend and former colleague. In the Air Force, Mr. Jessen had helped screen the instructors who posed as interrogators. Occasionally, he played the interrogator himself, and was once called out by colleagues for being too aggressive. Mr. Jessen did not respond to repeated interview requests.
In Thailand, only Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen were allowed to use the new tactics. For nearly a month, they interrogated Abu Zubaydah, at one point waterboarding him until he lost consciousness. Some C.I.A. officials said they were repulsed by the brutal methods, according to the Senate report, and cables showed that some wanted out of the program. Some officials, in fact, grew to resent the contractors, complaining that they refused to listen to alternatives, the report says. “I would sometimes feel it,” Mr. Mitchell said. “It was nothing ever said to me, but I could feel it sometimes.”
Yet the Senate report shows that Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen prevailed, backed by allies at C.I.A. headquarters, including on the agency’s Bin Laden team and at the Counterterrorism Center, who believed that Abu Zubaydah — and later others — were holding back information. It eventually became difficult to distinguish between the C.I.A. and Mitchell and Jessen Associates, the Spokane, Wash.-based company they formed, according to the Senate report.
In 2005, the C.I.A. awarded the company a contract to provide interrogation services. Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen hired psychologists, interrogators and security personnel as the program spread to secret prisons in Afghanistan, Romania, Poland and Lithuania.
By 2006, contractors made up 73 percent of the people at the C.I.A.’s Renditions and Detention Group, the office in charge of interrogations. The majority were from Mitchell and Jessen Associates, according to the report. Mr. Mitchell said the C.I.A. made it clear that they wanted him to form the company as a way to combat the high turnover. “They wanted to have people who had retired who knew the skills,” he said. In one example, the chief of the C.I.A. division that supervised the interrogation program became the firm’s chief operating officer when he retired.
Mitchell and Jessen Associates had one central purpose, and when President Obama shut down the interrogation program in 2009, it was over. “The company didn’t last after they shut down the program,” Mr. Mitchell said.
The C.I.A. terminated the contract after paying the company $81 million of a contract that could have been worth twice that much. That does not include the money Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Jessen made before 2005, when the C.I.A. paid them a daily rate.
Both men are now retired — Mr. Mitchell to Florida and Mr. Jessen to Spokane, Wash. But both have faced continuing problems from their role in the torture program, and the C.I.A. is obligated to keep paying the legal expenses of Mitchell and Jessen Associates through 2021. [Continue reading…]
Jeff Stein reports: The CIA is hardly the only spy service to grapple with blowback from making prisoners scream. Even leaders of Communist Vietnam’s wartime intelligence agency, notorious for torturing American POWs, privately knew that “enhanced interrogation techniques,” as the CIA calls them, could create more problems than solutions, according to internal Vietnamese documents reviewed by Newsweek.
In many cases, torturing people wrongly suspected of being enemy spies caused “extremely regrettable losses and damage,” says one of the documents, released to little notice in 1993 by Hanoi’s all-powerful Public Security Service (PSS). But unlike the CIA, Vietnam’s security service constantly engaged in Marxist-style “self-criticism” to review its mistakes, particularly those caused by relying on confessions extracted by torture, the recently translated Communist documents show.
The documents were obtained and translated by Christopher E. Goscha, a history professor at the University of Montreal and one of the leading international scholars on Indochina during the French colonial period. He included them in his book, Historical Dictionary of the Indochina War (1945-1954): An International and Interdisciplinary Approach, which was published to little notice in Denmark in 2011. “Torture and intelligence gathering in a time of war are a tricky combination,” he told Newsweek, “and the [Communists’] policing and military intelligence services were no exception to the rule.”
Some of the papers Goscha found delve into intelligence errors dating back to the late 1940s, when Ho Chi Minh — prime minister of the nascent Democratic Republic of Vietnam — and his fellow revolutionaries were in a life-and-death struggle to oust French colonial forces from the country. One document recounts how, in early July 1949, agents from the PSS gathered secretly in an underground three-day conference outside of Saigon and “analyzed the service’s organizational and professional weaknesses, especially those involving the work of arresting and interrogating suspects.”
The main topic: a successful operation by French intelligence that planted a false document inside the organization, which suggested that some of the PSS cadres were double agents.
Four decades later, the Vietnamese agency’s review of the affair, obtained by Goscha, concluded that its counterespionage wing had overreacted and forced false confessions from many innocent people. It describes “waves of arrests…that caused us extremely regrettable losses and damage,” which were the result of “physical violence and torture, forcing people to make statements, putting words in their mouths, and then arresting everyone implicated by the suspects during torture.”
The PSS blamed the excesses on “professional immaturity,” according to the documents. Interrogators were driven by desperation to get quick results and to get ahead. “In almost every case,” the papers said, “there was…a personal motivating factor, because in all cases the erring cadre wanted to achieve a success for his own personal benefit.” [Continue reading…]
What is torture?
Torture is like rape and pornography. Even though lawyers might argue over the definition, everyone knows what it is.
The timidity of American journalists around using the term torture has little to do with the mystery of how it’s defined and everything to do with their obsequious deference to political power.
Imagine if Bill Cosby was to respond to the allegations swirling around him and said: “Sure, I drugged several women and then had sex with them, but I didn’t rape them,” would he then have interviewers asking him how he defined rape?
Of course not. Likewise, it’s irrelevant how Dick Cheney defines torture.
Cheney can hide behind definitions conjured up by the Office of Legal Counsel no more legitimately than Adolf Eichmann could use his “just following orders” defense for his role in the Holocaust.
Did the CIA engage in torture?
Suppose there was no evidence — nothing more than unsubstantiated allegations that the CIA had engaged in torture — then it would be reasonable to ask whether these allegations had any basis. But the evidence is abundant and comes from official records.
The fact that this question is still even being raised shows the extent to which the CIA and its defenders have successfully manipulated political discourse around this issue.
Does torture work?
Torture defenders, recognizing that despite the efforts of Cheney and others to deny that torture was used by the CIA, have mostly moved on to their second line of defense: it saved lives. For legal reasons they will not explicitly confirm that torture was used, but they do so implicitly by asserting this justification, that it “saved lives.”
The media and many in Congress have bitten the hook in this argument by legitimizing the question: does torture work?
If torture can be shown to “work,” its alleged efficacy reinforces the claim that its use is imperative.
This then becomes an emotive argument of necessity. It suspends any serious analysis of the morality of torture by appealing to the simplistic, populist rationale that desperate times call for desperate measures.
Torture’s an ugly thing, but when the future of America was at stake, sacrifices had to be made — so the argument goes.
In an interview broadcast this weekend, former CIA director Michael Hayden said: “This was done out of duty. I mean, it’s hard to suppress your humanity.”
In other words, those who engaged in torture had such a deep sense of duty to their country that they were indeed able to suppress their humanity.
Aside from the question as to whether it’s ever a virtue for patriotism to trump a sense of humanity, the purported sense of necessity which legitimized torture apparently never actually rose to the level that anyone was willing to knowingly break the law. In other words, no one came to this conclusion: We have no choice but to break the law and engage in torture because we put the interests of our nation above our own.
On the contrary, the apparent necessity of using torture was made contingent on guarantees that those who authorized its use and those who engaged in it, would not place themselves in legal jeopardy.
So those who now trumpet their patriotism by declaring that they did what they had to do in order to save lives, should really be saying, we were willing to do whatever we could to save lives without risking losing our jobs.
For American torturers and their overseers, job security and legal impunity were more important than national security.
And let’s be clear: President Obama understands that this was the deal and he is glad to keep his end of the unspoken bargain not only to honor the expectations of those who tortured in the line of duty, but also because he expects for himself similar protection in the future. That is to say, Obama currently shields torturers from prosecution, so that a decade from now he will not be charged with murder — having ordered hundreds of summary executions through drone strikes, this being Obama’s alternative to the legally messy problem of handling suspected terrorists.
Did the CIA’s use of torture prevent future attacks?
Cheney says that the fact that the U.S. has not faced another large-scale attack since 9/11 is proof that the program “worked.”
Anyone with half a brain should be able to see that this is a bogus line of reasoning. The absence of such an attack can be attributed to multiple causes, such as improved airline security, improved surveillance, and the diminished abilities of al Qaeda to organize such an attack. Yet the fact that there hasn’t been another 9/11 for thirteen years doesn’t preclude there being another surprise attack tomorrow. If that happens, then the alleged success of Cheney’s program will instantly be exposed as a delusion.
The only way in which future attacks can be shown to have been foiled is by plans and planners being intercepted. In and of itself, the absence of another 9/11 proves nothing.
Were innocent people tortured?
Paradoxically, this is a question that perhaps more than any other legitimizes torture since it implies that the greatest injustice in torture is for it be applied unfairly — to the innocent. Thus, those who were not innocent could, it seems, perhaps justifiably have been tortured.
The insidious effect of this question is evident in the fact that in the midst of a massive amount of media attention on the subject of CIA torture, the focus of that attention has been on the perpetrators rather than the victims of America’s torture programs.
Torture is in the spotlight and yet somehow the victims remain in the shadows.