Rebecca Gordon: Six Americans who prove Bush and Cheney didn’t have to do it

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.

[Read more…]

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Interview with freed CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou

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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…]

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Torture if you must, but do not under any circumstances call the New York Times

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…]

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Guantánamo Diary

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…]

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ACLU asks judge to block attempt to repossess copies of CIA torture report

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..]

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Senator slams CIA panel conclusions on Hill spying

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…]

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The CIA officer who got jailed for blowing the whistle on torture while the torturers remain free

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…]

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Tortured for satire, Syrian cartoonist stands proud

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Meet Alfreda Bikowsky, the senior officer at the center of the CIA’s torture scandals

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…]

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Republicans strongly pro-torture, Democrats divided

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…]

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Torture, Inc.

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…]

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What the Vietcong learned and the CIA failed to learn about torture

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…]

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The questions about torture that don’t need to be asked

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.

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The torture photos Obama didn’t want revealed

The Daily Beast reports: The Obama administration is withholding hundreds, perhaps even thousands of photographs showing the U.S. government’s brutal treatment of detainees, meaning that revelations about detainee abuse could well continue, possibly compounding the outrage generated by the Senate “torture report” now in the public eye.

Some photos show American troops posing with corpses; others depict U.S. forces holding guns to people’s heads or simulating forced sodomization. All of them could be released to the public, depending on how a federal judge in New York rules—and how hard the government fights to appeal. The government has a Friday deadline to submit to that judge its evidence for why it thinks each individual photograph should continue to be kept hidden away.

The photographs are part of a collection of thousands of images from 203 investigations into detainee abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan and represent one of the last known secret troves of evidence of detainee abuse. While the photos show disturbing images from the Bush administration’s watch, it is the Obama administration that has allowed them to remain buried — all with the help of a willing Congress. [Continue reading…]

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Rebecca Gordon: The torture wars

It came from the top and that’s never been a secret.  The president authorized the building of those CIA “black sites” and the use of what came to be known as “enhanced interrogation techniques” and has spoken of this with a certain pride. The president’s top officials essentially put in an order at the Department of Justice for “legal” justifications that would, miraculously, transform those “techniques” into something other than torture.  Its lawyers then pulled out their dictionaries and gave new meaning to tortured definitions of torture that could have come directly from the fused pens of Franz Kafka and George Orwell.  In the process, they even managed to leave the definition of torture to the torturer.  It was a performance for the ages.

Last week, former Vice President Dick Cheney, who only days after 9/11 claimed that the Bush administration was going to “work the dark side,” once again championed those techniques and the CIA agents who used them.  It was a handy reminder of just what a would-be crew of tough-guy torture instigators he and his cohorts were. The legal veneer spread thinly over the program they set in motion was meant to provide only the faintest legal cover for the “gloves” they bragged about taking off, while obscuring the issue for the American public.  After all, few in the rest of the world were likely to accept the idea that interrogation methods like waterboarding, or “the water torture” as it had once been known, were anything but torture.  Even in this country, it had been accepted as just that.  The Bush administration was, of course, helped in those years by a media that, when not cheerleading for torture, or actually lending the CIA a helpful hand, essentially banished the word from its vocabulary, unless it referred to heinously similar acts committed by countries we disliked.

All in all, it was an exercise in what the “last superpower,” the world’s “policeman,” could get away with in the backrooms of its police stations being jerry-built around the world.  And some of the techniques used with a particular brutality were evidently first demonstrated to top officials in the White House itself.

Then, of course, the CIA went out and applied those “enhanced techniques” to actual human beings with abandon, as the newly released (and somewhat redacted) executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “torture report” indicates.  This was done even more severely than ordered (not that Cheney & Co. cared), including to a surprising number of captives that the CIA later decided were innocent of anything having to do with terror or al-Qaeda.  All of this happened, despite a law this country signed onto prohibiting the use of torture abroad.

Although what I’ve just described is now generally considered The Torture Story here, it really was only part of it.  The other part, also a CIA operation authorized at the highest levels, was “rendition” or “extraordinary rendition” as it was sometimes known.  This was a global campaign of kidnappings, aided and abetted by 54 other countries, in which “terror suspects” (again often enough innocent people) were swept off the streets of major cities as well as the backlands of the planet and “rendered” to other countries, ranging from Libya and Syria to Egypt and Uzbekistan, places with their own handy torture chambers and interrogators already much practiced in “enhanced” techniques of one sort or another.

Moreover, those techniques migrated like a virus from the CIA and its “black sites” elsewhere in the U.S. imperium, most notoriously via Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, the American-run prison in Iraq, where images of torture and abuse of a distinctly enhanced variety then migrated home as screensavers.  What was done couldn’t have been more criminal in nature, whether judged by U.S. or international law.  In its wake, its perpetrators, both the torturers and the kidnappers, were protected in a major way.  Except for a few low-level figures at Abu Ghraib and one non-torturing CIA whistleblower who went to prison for releasing to a journalist the name of someone involved in the torture program, no American figure, not even those responsible for deaths at the Agency’s black sites, would be brought to court.  And of course, the men (and woman) most responsible would leave the government to write their memoirs for millions of dollars and defend what they did to the death (of others).

It’s one for the history books and, though it’s a good thing to have the Senate report made public, it wasn’t needed to know that, in the years after 9/11, when the U.S. government created an offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice, it also essentially became a criminal enterprise.  Recently, Republican hawks in Washington protested loudly against the release of that Senate report, suggesting that it should be suppressed lest it “inflame” our enemies.  The real question isn’t, however, about them at all, it’s about us. Why won’t the release of this report inflame Americans, given what their government has done in their names?

And in case you think it’s all over but for the shouting, think again, as Rebecca Gordon, TomDispatch regular and author of Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in the Post-9/11 United States writes today. Tom Engelhardt

American torture — past, present, and… future?
Beyond the Senate torture report
By Rebecca Gordon

It’s the political story of the week in Washington. At long last, after the endless stalling and foot-shuffling, the arguments about redaction and CIA computer hacking, the claims that its release might stoke others out there in the Muslim world to violence and “throw the C.I.A. to the wolves,” the report — you know which one — is out.  Or at least, the redacted executive summary of it is available to be read and, as Senator Mark Udall said before its release, “When this report is declassified, people will abhor what they read. They’re gonna be disgusted. They’re gonna be appalled. They’re gonna be shocked at what we did.”

So now we can finally consider the partial release of the long-awaited report from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the gruesome CIA interrogation methods used during the Bush administration’s “Global War on Terror.” But here’s one important thing to keep in mind: this report addresses only the past practices of a single agency. Its narrow focus encourages us to believe that, whatever the CIA may have once done, that whole sorry torture chapter is now behind us.

[Read more…]

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U.S. policies in the Arab world must be seen to resonate with its values

Nussaibah Younis writes: Secretary of state John Kerry tried to suppress publication of the CIA torture report, citing fears of a blowback against US targets in the Middle East. But the truth is that the region barely flinched in response to the publication of the 528-page document.

Almost all state-run media in the region ignored the report entirely, keen to play down their complicity in rendition programmes and their own rampant use of torture in domestic prisons. And the public in Arab countries took the revelations simply as confirmation of facts that they had long believed to be true. That the report has prompted such uproar in the US is comic to a region that expects dastardly behaviour from the US. If anything, many in the Arab world suspect that these admissions are just a small part of a much wider set of abuses yet to be exposed.

Despite the muted reaction, the revelations of the CIA’s extensive use of torture are extremely damaging to the US and to the west in general. The details are already being used as ammunition by Islamic State (Isis) to discredit the coalition intervention in Syria and Iraq, and will also severely undermine US efforts to prevent the use of torture in the Middle East.

The fact remains, however, that for those in the Middle East, the US lost its moral authority long before the publication of this report, largely because of its interventions in the Arab-Israeli conflict and its support of authoritarian governments. US partiality on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been shown to undercut its moral legitimacy in the region, with more than 80% of Jordanians, Moroccans, Saudis and Lebanese believing that the US has not been even-handed in its efforts to negotiate a solution.

Continued US support for repressive governments has also undermined confidence in the country. In September, President Obama gave a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative declaring: “Partnering and protecting civil society groups around the world is now a mission across the US government.” At the same time, his administration has fought to bypass pro-democracy conditions on military aid to Egypt, and last week achieved its goal by inserting a “national security” waiver into the spending bill expected to be passed by Congress soon. This is despite the fact that the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has mounted a fierce attack against civil society organisations in Egypt, forcing many of them to suspend their operations or leave the country. [Continue reading…]

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Americans are deeply divided about torture

By Paul Gronke, Reed College; Darius Rejali, Reed College, and Peter Miller, University of Pennsylvania

The Senate report on torture found that the “enhanced techniques” used by the CIA were ineffective as a mechanism for gathering intelligence. In fact, the report stated there was no actionable intelligence gained while employing the controversial tactics used under the Detention and Interrogation Program that President Obama ended by Executive Order 13491 in January of 2009.

Will these findings, coupled with graphic explanations of the techniques, alter public opinion? Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post warns us “not to kid ourselves: Most Americans are fine with torture, even when you call it ‘torture.“ Brittany Lyte of fivethirtyeight.com shows slightly more restraint while reporting “Americans have grown more supportive of torture.”

But have they? Public opinion polls have shown the contrary. The public has seldom been supportive of torture, even when presented with “ticking time bomb” scenarios where the intelligence is described as vital to stopping an impending terrorist attack. When asked about actual torture practices such as waterboarding or sexual humiliation, public support mostly collapses.

We have compiled the most exhaustive archive of US and international public opinion data on torture dating back to 2001. Additionally, we have conducted three survey experiments to identify the boundaries and probe the nuances of public attitudes about torture. The archive includes items asking about support for torture, support for specific torture techniques, and even some surveys of American military personnel.

[Read more…]

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