Thursday, April 23, 2009

Washington & The U.S. Enter Uncharted Territory As The Torture Dam Breaks

-- George Bush (November 7, 2005)
With a mighty crack and roar, the torture dam finally has broken.

After being little more than background noise for years, the grotesqueries of the Bush torture regime have gone prime time as the discussion suddenly has morphed from whether government officials in high places could really have made these things happen to whether they should be held accountable for them.

Washington and the U.S. have entered uncharted territory. There is no precedent in American history for what occurred and what could happen next. There also is a growing feeling of anger, bewilderment and panic in the capital that will not be wished away by a public ambivalent about the whole question of torture and a White House that has suddenly
been forced to reverse field and deal with what is no longer a mere distraction amidst manifold other crises but the real possibility that a not small number of big names should be in the dock.

This is not about partisan reprisal, although defenders of the torture regime are trying to frame the debate as such amid myriad justifications.

As report after report and revelation after revelation comes
rushing through the breach in the dam, it is obvious that there has been an unprecedented breach of the rule of law, international covenants and human decency that involved many of the top officials in the White House, Pentagon, CIA and Justice Department. (And yes, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well.) Oval Office blow jobs certainly seem quaint by comparison.

Make no mistake about it, the torture regime was but a part of a larger mosaic in which politics supplanted policy in an administration that cared only about the desired result, not what price might have to be paid to attain it, as the president played to the Christianist hustings by asserting that he channeled the wisdom of the most famous torture victim in history.

So ferocious were the efforts to get the desired result that, as a forthcoming report from Justice's Department of Professional Responsibility will show, when some officials spoke out strongly against the torture regime these unsung heroes were dismissed out of hand, and in some cases dismissed.

Did the Bushes, Cheneys and Rumsfeld really believe that the dam would hold? Consumed as they were by the smell of their own holes, they most certainly did.

There has been one constant over the years: Claims that torture yielded valuable information that has kept America safe.

Given all that we now know, it is obvious that the hundreds of interrogations of terrorism suspects from Abu Ghraib to CIA black sites to Guantánamo Bay yielded plenty of garbage, much of it in the form of false confessions, but nothing of significance.

And had there been anything of significance, that certainly would have leaked out by now as torture regime defenders take to the airwaves and op-ed pages, which makes Dick Cheney's ravings on Faux News that he has instructed the CIA to release more of its torture files such a pathetic gambit given his obsession with secrecy when he was vice president.

When President Bush jetted into Los Angeles in February 2006 to breathlessly reveal that plot by Al Qaeda to fly a hijacked airliner into L.A.'s Library Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi, the story didn't seem to add up, but has been repeatedly used as an example of how torture -- in this case repeated waterboarding -- can yield valuable information.
Well, it didn't.

Had it not been already been obvious, it is now ragingly clear that in 2001 George Bush and Dick Cheney took the unusual step of keeping on a high-ranking Clinton administration official in CIA Director George Tenet because he would be an obedient lap dog as the vice president strong armed his way into becoming the de facto head of national security and intelligence affairs although that was not part of his portfolio.

Tenet, of course, was a key player in the somnabulant attitude that the White House took toward the emerging Al Qaeda threat. Cheney was still fighting the Cold War while Tenet's haphazard management of the hidebound CIA guaranteed that when his agents learned that three of the men later identified as 9/11 hijackers were in the U.S. the information would neither reach the top nor be shared with the FBI, which separately had identified two other hijackers.

So disengaged and inept was Tenet that despite his sworn testimony that the CIA had thoroughly researched a proposal that it base its part of the torture regime on SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape), he and his aides were unaware that this training program had been created a half century earlier to give American airmen a taste of the torture methods, including waterboarding, used by Communists during the Korean War that had wrung false confessions from them.

Not that it really mattered, because in the Age of Bush ignorance -- willful or otherwise -- was an integral part of the means justifying the ends.

My ability to be shocked having been somewhat debilitated as the flood waters course through my cranial cavity, it comes as little surprise that interrogators submitted "wish lists" of certain torture techniques to their bosses in some cases and the bosses then approved them.

In other instances, interrogators were instructed to torture detainees in order to, among other things, find evidence of cooperation between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

That link, of course, was thoroughly debunked early on although the administration continued to assert -- and Bush Legacy SWAT principles like Ari Fleischer continue to claim -- that the 9/11 attacks were launched from Iraq.

President Obama ordered the CIA's secret prisons closed on his second day in office, but dozens of the agencies "ghost prisoners" remain unaccounted for.

One reason is that after President Bush acknowledged the existence of the secret prisons in 2006, the CIA hastily transferred prisoners to Pakistan, Egypt and Jordanian custody. A goodly number had no intelligence value but nevertheless were not released.

A list of the missing here.

The estimable Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings puts the issue of whether to go after torture perps in a perspective that even Karl Rove might understand:

"If most people tried to make the case that prosecuting their criminal acts was just 'looking backwards,' or a sign that the prosecutor was motivated by a desire for retribution, they'd be laughed out of court. Imagine the likely reaction if your average crack dealer were to urge the judge not to dwell on the past, or if someone who used accounting fraud to flip houses told offered a prosecutor the chance to be 'very mandelalike in the sense [of] saying let the past be the past and let us move into the future,' or if I were pulled over for speeding and, when asked if I knew how fast I was going, replied that 'Some things in life need to be mysterious . . . Sometimes you need to just keep walking.' I don't think any of us would get very far."

Lost in the roar of the flood waters is that President Obama had no choice but to release the CIA torture memos. That inconvenient fact has been lost Bush administration defenders who huffily note that Bush did not release any Clinton era memos nor Clinton any memos involving Bush père.

True. But inconveniently for this crowd, the new administration is taking a crack at observing the rule of law, so when the ACLU, using the Freedom of Information Act, sued for the release of the memos and its suit was upheld in the courts, Obama was compelled to release them because it didn't have a defense that would withstand court scrutiny.

The mainstream media, with precious few exceptions, has come late to the torture dance, or should I say the "enhanced interrogation techniques" dance as the MSM determinedly continues to call it.

As was the case with the fired U.S. attorneys scandal, much of the pressure that finally broke the torture dam has come from the blogosphere, notably the fine work of Andrew Sullivan of Daily Dish fame and Marcy Wheeler at the lesser known emptywheel.

The revelations coming out Abu Ghraib beginning in 2004 had shocked my conscience as a student of the Third Reich and member of a family that includes Holocaust victims and survivors. But as the oldest entry in the index of torture-related Kiko's House posts appended below reveals, it was Andrew who really got my motor running back in October 2007.

True Americans -- and I'm not talking about the flag lapel pin crowd -- owe Andrew, Marcy and other bloggers an enormous debt.

Top image by Matt Mahurin for The Washington Independent

No comments: