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

Saturday, August 22, 2009

To Be Fair, The Gun May Have Not Been Loaded

Remember, as long as interrogators didn't cause organ failure or death everything's fine.

CIA interrogators used a handgun and an electric drill to try to frighten a captured al-Qaeda commander into giving up information, according to a long-concealed agency report due to be made public next week, former and current U.S. officials who have read the document said Friday.

The tactics -- which one official described Friday as a threatened execution -- were used on Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, according to the CIA's inspector general's report on the agency's interrogation program. Nashiri, who was captured in November 2002 and held for four years in one of the CIA's "black site" prisons, ultimately became one of three al-Qaeda chieftains subjected to a form of simulated drowning known as waterboarding.

The report also says that a mock execution was staged in a room next to one terrorism suspect, according to Newsweek magazine, citing two sources for its information. The magazine was the first to publish details from the report, which it did on its Web site late Friday.

A federal judge in New York has ordered a redacted version of the classified IG report to be publicly released Monday, in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union. Since June, lawyers for the Justice Department and the CIA have been scrutinizing the document to determine how much of it can be made public. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has been weighing the report's findings as part of a broader probe into the CIA's use of harsh interrogation methods.

Got the Newsweek story right here. The interrogators of al-Nashiri clearly wanted him to think he would be shot, and in the other case, penetrated with a power drill, if he didn't give up the information they sought. The report also describes mock executions, in other words, gunshots going off in the rooms next door, making the prisoners believe they were killing others and they may be next. And look at this, "A federal law banning the use of torture expressly forbids threatening a detainee with imminent death."

Well, since when have federal laws amounted to anything in this crazy world? Especially if you can get some bureaucrat to sign off on it:

Three months before Nashiri's capture, the head of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel -- Jay S. Bybee, now a federal judge -- advised the CIA in an August 2002 memo that threats of "imminent death" were not illegal unless they deliberately produced prolonged mental harm. Independent legal experts have called that interpretation too hedged and thus too lax.

The CIA's excuse, of course, is that they didn't engage in any behavior that "went beyond formal guidance." Which isn't true, according to those familiar with the IG document - there's apparently an entire section listing violations by CIA interrogators. But the formal guidance, from hollowed-out souls like Bybee, was itself illegal. And we have documentary evidence of that beyond this IG report. Al-Nashiri was one of the suspects waterboarded by the CIA, as well as one of those who had his interrogation sessions taped. The CIA destroyed the torture tapes, but at a Netroots Nation panel an ACLU lawyer stated that there are written transcripts of these sessions which have been hidden from the public.

Not only will we get a chance to read all the gory details of this next week, but the "Cheney documents" will be on display as well:

At the same time the administration releases the inspector general's report, it is also expected to release other CIA documents that assert the agency collected valuable intelligence through the interrogation program. For months, former vice president Dick Cheney has called for these documents to be released. However, a person familiar with the contents of the documents says that they contain material that both opponents and supporters of Bush administration tactics can use to bolster their case. The Senate Committee on Intelligence is now conducting what is supposed to be a thorough investigation of the CIA's detention-and-interrogation program. The probe is intended not only to document everything that happened but also to assess whether on balance the program produced major breakthroughs or a deluge of false leads.

So we'll get a back and forth about whether torture saves lives, which each side cherry-picking their own set of facts (incidentally, the IG report concludes that the interrogations were "not effective"). But none of this strikes to the heart of the matter - we tortured. Torture is illegal. The ends don't justify the means in any legal sense. And those who authorized, directed and engaged in torture should be prosecuted. In fact, the current Administration violates the law with each day they fail to do so.

New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, told the Huffington Post that he believed that President Obama would be breaking the law if he decided to oppose launching investigation into the authorization of torture.

"If they follow the law they have no choice," Nadler said in an interview this past weekend.

The logic, for Nadler, is straightforward. As a signatory of the convention against torture, and as a result of the anti-torture act of 1996, the United States government is obligated to investigate accusations of torture when they occur in its jurisdiction.

The alternative, Nadler said, "would be violating the law. They would be not upholding the law; they would be violating it."

This will flare up every few weeks until justice is done. And with each passing day, trust in the President slips.

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