As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The SASC Report - "Designed To Elicit False Confessions"

The very long Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture and interrogation tactics used by the military has been released in unredacted form, on the heels of the OLC torture memos. Because the report gives a broader history of the Bush torture regime, it is unquestionably more damning, with more details and a more coherent timeline. For instance, we learn that the Bush Administration made a "wish list" for torture, before the first detainees even came into custody. Unlike the familiar narrative that torture techniques were only employed after the subjects refused to give up information, this was their M.O. from the beginning.

A report by the Senate Armed Services Committee released Tuesday night says that some harsh interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib prison weren’t approved by officials in the George W. Bush administration until after they were already being put into use.

“Intelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods — and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded,” the Washington Post reported Wednesday.

The paper adds, “Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), chairman of the committee, said the new findings show a direct link between the early policy decisions and the highly publicized abuses of detainees at prisons such as Abu Ghraib in Iraq.”

“Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin said. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses.”

We knew that President Bush's order in February 2002, months before the Bybee torture memo, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to Al Qaeda or Taliban subjects kicked off the finding of legal rationales for torture. But the Administration actually started the process in December 2001, when the General Counsel of the Department of Defense, William Haynes, solicited information on detainee "exploitation" from the agency that oversees SERE (Survival, Evasion, Rescue, Escape) training. And we know now, although I think we already knew this, that the SERE techniques were based on Chinese communist techniques, used against Americans to ELICIT FALSE CONFESSIONS.

Leading us to this:

The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime [...]

A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue said that Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

Yes, it was all connected. They approved the torture to gather the false intelligence to push forward their agenda in Iraq. And it was done at a shadowy level, without disclosure to most top officials that these techniques were banned by the United States and prosecuted when used by foreign countries for decades. And nobody involved bothered to consult the past, either. Or at least, they didn't want to know. Ignorance was bliss.

And once and for all, we know that tactics used by the military at Gitmo were rapidly outsourced to Abu Ghraib. The work of Charles Graner and Lynndie England and the gang was not the work of "a few bad apples." It was policy, as was obvious at the time.

Nobody should buy the argument that, because Americans at SERE school don't have lasting physical or psychological damage from these techniques, they don't constitute torture. It should be obvious that going to school and being held captive with no end in sight are two different things, and the two experiences have different effects on the mental state.

Emptywheel notes that DoJ's guidelines on waterboarding differed from the CIA's, but the CIA followed the more expansive DoJ guidelines.

And if you believe that there were no objections, consider that all the briefings for Congress were classified (are they supposed to reveal classified information?), and then this:

At the time, in 2005, I circulated an opposing view of the legal reasoning. My bureaucratic position, as counselor to the secretary of state, didn’t entitle me to offer a legal opinion. But I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable. My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department’s archives.

The conservative response to all this inevitably devolves into they're not like you and me, those Arabs. I'd prefer to see them try that excuse in court. (They'll also probably whip out Dennis Blair's statement that the interrogation tactics yielded high-value information, as if the ends justify the means, and as if we should take Blair's claims at face value against mounds of evidence that the information was essentially useless). And this report implicates practically everyone at the highest levels, particularly Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney.

John Conyers wants hearings. I think it will be virtually impossible to stop this from becoming a full-blown investigation. The reckoning is coming. re: The Blair memo - the National Intelligence Director's conclusion was that torture does more harm than good, which I suspect you won't hear much when conservatives talk about it.

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