The American Bear


Why is Obama withholding secret torture report from Americans? | Marcy Wheeler

[…] It may well be, for all the evidence the [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] report apparently presents about the CIA providing inaccurate information about the program even to the White House, that the White House is shielding the institutions of the White House and the presidency.

Consider, for example, how the Bush White House unusually intervened to keep the torture program secret. According to a court document submitted by then CIA Director Leon Panetta in 2009, his predecessor at CIA, George Tenet, wasn’t the person who made the torture program a “Special Access Program” with sharply limited access, which is how it would normally work. Unnamed officials in the National Security Council did:

Officials at the National Security Council, (NSC) determined that in light of the extraordinary circumstances affecting the vital interests of the United States and the sensitivity of the activities contemplated in the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program, it was essential to limit access to the information in the program. NSC officials established a special access program governing access to information relating to the CIA terrorist detention and interrogation program.

The Bush-era Executive Order governing classification and the current one both require presidential authorization for someone besides one of several agency heads — in the case of the torture program, Tenet — to make a special access program. Thus, as the Federation of American Scientists’ Steven Aftergood notes, “if the NSC established a special access program, as Panetta said, then it must have been authorized by the President himself. In effect, the President established the special access program.” The former director of the office that oversees classified information, Bill Leonard, agrees. “If it wasn’t one of those [Agency heads] who established the SAP in question, there would have to be an authorization from the President authorizing that official to establish a SAP.”

While the CIA appears to be the entity stalling on the torture report, according to Panetta, the White House ultimately created and owns the program.

It’s not just Bush’s NSC that has taken extraordinary measures to keep the torture program secret. While Barack Obama’s administration has already permitted the declassification of a great deal of information on the torture program, in fall 2009 Obama took the almost unprecedented step of having his National Security Advisor — at the time, retired Gen. Jim Jones — submit a declaration in the American Civil Liberties Union’s Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking release of documents pertaining to the torture program. It did so to hide the role of the White House in torture.

The judge in the suit, Alvin Hellerstein, believed that a short phrase describing “the source of CIA’s authority” to conduct torture had been incorrectly redacted by the administration. Jones’ declaration, which remains sealed and unrecorded on the docket, apparently argued that phrase couldn’t be released.

Judge Hellerstein lost that argument (the 2nd Circuit overruled him, relying in part on Jones’ declaration), so we don’t know precisely what the phrase in question said. But other documents in the case make it clear the phrase refers to a Sept. 17, 2001, presidential “directive” that, in part, set up the torture program. Former CIA lawyer John Rizzo, who was a key figure in setting up the torture program, has described the directive. “A few days after the attacks, President Bush signed a top-secret directive to CIA authorizing an unprecedented array of covert actions against Al Qaeda and its leadership” including “the most ambitious, sensitive and potentially explosive new program authorized by the President — the capture, incommunicado detention and aggressive interrogation of senior Al Qaeda operatives.”

But as Rizzo makes clear, that directive not only authorized torture, it authorized a range of counterterrorism programs. The directive also authorized — and may still form part of the authorization for — the targeted killing program, most commonly associated with drones. Indeed, when the 2nd Circuit kept the phrase redacted, it cited other activities: “the withheld information pertains to intelligence activities unrelated to the discontinued program.”

President Obama’s administration may have already released a great deal of information on the torture program (which should mean much of the information in the report has already been declassified). But when it came to revealing the Bush White House’s role in unilaterally authorizing torture, Obama went to unusual lengths to keep the information secret. [++]

When Barack Obama entered office in 2009 he claimed the right to ‘look forward, not back’ that wasn’t his to claim. The law requires war crimes be investigated and prosecuted if evidence of guilt is found. Behind a veil of political pragmatism, not wanting to be caught up in ‘partisan’ politics, Mr. Obama moved America’s programs of political torture and murder into the 21st century. Had he enthusiastically prosecuted Bush administration crimes Mr. Obama could have revived international sanction against aggressive war and torture and ended, even if only temporarily, the use of ancient imperial techniques in a world with the technological capacity to murder, maim and torture beyond the ancient imagination. Instead of doing this Mr. Obama claimed the illegitimate and illegal rights of aggressive war, permanent incarceration of known innocents, torture and technocratic slaughter, all under the cover of opaque public relations techniques, quasi-sophisticated language and his casual demeanor. By choosing continuity and enhancement over clear, straightforward and unambiguous break with Mr. Bush’s catastrophic policies, Mr. Obama codified them into the set of ‘acceptable’ practices of American empire. Rob Urie, The High Crime of Torture

The High Crime of Torture | Rob Urie

Confirmation by the Constitution Project nearly a decade late that the George W. Bush administration and the U.S. military and ‘intelligence’ services committed acts of torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere appears a Rorschach test for the ‘sentiments’ of the American people. However, sentiments aside, formal indictments of culpable officials on war crimes charges and the start of impeachment proceedings against current President Barack Obama are the only relevant responses to the report. Torture is a crime under laws to which the U.S. is signatory. And with his war on Iraq George W. Bush and his administration murdered, or caused the premature deaths of, more than a million people and substantially destroyed a modern nation state.

By 2004, when pictures of Iraqi civilians being tortured and humiliated at Abu Ghraib prison were leaked, it was widely evident the Bush administration had established a global system of kidnapping, torture, rape and murder. The grotesque euphemisms ‘take the gloves off’ and ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ provided cover for criminal behavior only to the extent Americans were willing to suspend judgment of what was before their eyes. The ‘fog of war’ was the fog of contrived fear and the malicious acts of America’s idiot prince and his bosses and acolytes were fueled by ignorance and fed on arrogance and stupidity. The language of nationalist psychosis was revived to insist the saving of ‘American’ lives was worth any price and as the Constitution Project report demonstrates, America’s victims paid that price in real time. And today under the new boss, Barack Obama, they are still paying.

… [T]his piece is written in the context of events surrounding the recent bombings in Boston. I lived in Cambridge, a few miles from the bombings, for five years and only recently moved back to New York. I have for decades had family and friends who have run the Boston Marathon, have been an avid runner myself for some twenty-five years, and have been a spectator at the Marathon on several occasions. There is no argument that could be made that any of the victims of the bombings were legitimate political targets. Where I now grieve for those maimed and murdered in Boston, so have I grieved for the innocents, now numbering over one million in Iraq and Afghanistan, who died in illegal wars of aggression, and the many who were also illegally tortured. If what happened in Boston was a crime, and it was, so too is illegitimate war and torture. Mr. Bush and his administration, and now with Mr. Obama joining him, deserve fair trials for their crimes and fitting punishment if found guilty, just as the murderers in Boston do. [READ]

Obama’s Zones of Ambiguity | Willem de Lint and Adam Pocrnic

[…] Obamaesque is presidential vigour that capitalizes expressly on the ambiguity between law and presidential action. It is supported by constituency disempowerment. It is the sometimes secret, often duplicitous and even capricious work that is done to build up a zone of executive freedom and decision-making. Finesse in this domain is marked by the ability to talk eloquently about all those connective values that inspire liberals.

It is to wag the finger above the rule of law, civil rights, the Constitution, and liberal democratic principles. Most importantly, it is to seize the constituency opportunity to expand the zone even more aggressively than conservatives. The Obama administration has carved out more space and used the zone of ambiguity most purposively because in addition to the support of law and order jingoists and xenophobes on the right they can count on the immobilization of all of the centrists that prefer the Obama brand to the alternative.

Under GW Bush war was popularized in Orwellian newspeak as perpetual, asymmetrical and targeted against a tactic (terrorism) rather than an ideology, territory or people. With a motley coalition in tow, Bush soapboxed on WMD, ignored UN Charter illegalities and invaded Iraq.

Perpetual war, restarted time and again, has never been off the table. Theodore Roosevelt understood this, “I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” During each relaunch the zone of ambiguity is extended. The zone does not so much swallow up (legal) liberal democratic values as capitalize on them. A state of exception is its legal instrument. Accordingly, national security should provide sufficient cover until executive decision-making is made legal retroactively, as in the case of NSA surveillance and extrajudicial assassination.

Obamaesque comes to Washington most Tuesday mornings in a festive meeting between the Potus and his advisors in deliberations over the unofficial “kill list”. To do one better than the perpetual, asymmetrical war against a chameleon target is to do it from the arcane vantage of constitutional law and institutionalized cowardice. It is said that the Potus will be limited in the tactical deployment (action) of drone warfare on American soil. However, in a state of exception options are not removed from a table that spreads out long and deep with game and fare both lawfully and unlawfully obtained.

Within the zone of ambiguity is the brain trust of the Potus. Barristers and solicitors finesse and contrive law following Obamaesque concerns. Jurisprudence is made compliant with executive discretion. If the Constitution obliges a legal process of assessment before government is able to “kill an American,” Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son were made amendable without judicial review. The broad strokes of Barron and Lederman’s pen equipped the strike force with a law that is ever present even in abeyance – that constantly awaits the rewriting of law. Ironic, but Obamaesque, since both Justice Department lawyers wrote against the Bush Administration’s ubiquitous power to supersede liberty in the name of security.

When considering our own options and to avoid being erased in a signature strike, we are asked to shrink from the nostalgia of human rights and to revise our tags. Gone are heady the days of resistance, gone is Jam Echelon. The onus has been reversed. It is you who are invited to adjust your behaviour. Do it with a view to helping those who disappear others by disappearing yourself as an algorithm presented as a blip on a screen or reviewed on the kill floor. Don’t be provocative. Think twice before you search for like-minded people or pen that extols your favourite political hero. Let that be your act of preventative asymmetry – or good citizenship. Imagine yourself a Muslim before you leave cookie trails of connective threads. Attorney General Eric Holder imagines. In the glint in his sanguineous eye, the Potus imagines.

To be Obamaesque is to love the Espionage Act more than all previous presidents combined. When former CIA agent John Kiriakou blew the whistle on the practices of the U.S. torture program he was sentenced to more than a year in jail. When former NSA employee Thomas Drake challenged standards of procedure in relation to the Trailblazer project he faced investigation and the charge of espionage. When Bradley Manning tried to show Americans the “true cost of war” he was imprisoned without charge and is only now beginning to see the light of an enthusiastic public prosecution. In zones of ambiguity liberal democratic ideals are the pointy end of the nail that drives the state deep into the data files you used to know as your home and sanctuary. [READ]

The U.S. Scorched Earth Policy, Ten Years After Iraq Invasion | Glen Ford

When the United States invaded Iraq on March 17, 2003, the Bush regime hoped to forestall America’s impending economic eclipse through ruthless deployment of its last remaining global advantage: a war machine so huge and technologically advanced, it accounted for half the world’s military spending. The strategic aim of the unprovoked assault, broadly outlined by the Project for the New American Century and telegraphed in numerous Pentagon leaks, was to block the rise of any challenge to U.S. imperial supremacy in the foreseeable future.

Iraq, which the Republican administration believed was ripe for a relatively quick and painless plucking, would serve as a base for U.S. power projection throughout the Arab world and deep into formerly Soviet Central Asia, a region of vast energy reserves that was “still in play” in terms of competition with Russia, China, India and Iran. The U.S. military would thrust itself into the contested region, blocking the natural progression of trade and political relations between eastern and western Eurasia, and unambiguously establishing the United States as the “New Rome” – the permanent arbiter of global affairs. The rise of China would be both slowed and politically quarantined, through a robust U.S. presence.

The larger goal was to prevent America’s long-term economic decline – no secret, even then – from resulting in the loss of global strategic supremacy. The “New Rome” might be in an advanced state of deindustrialization and increasingly uncompetitive in trade, its “soft power” utterly exhausted, but aggressive deployment of its awesome war machine would allow the U.S. to remain the “indispensable nation,” the permanent hegemon.

Iraq was much more than an imperial episode; it was supposed to be an epochal game-changer – the equivalent of George Bush slamming his fist on the global game board, upsetting all the pieces, and then putting them back in ways that ensured U.S. dominance. China, and all the other emerging powers of a world seeking independent routes of development – checked!

As I wrote in Black Commentator on the evening that Shock and Awe broke over Baghdad:

“We are all assembled, the world’s people, awaiting the Pirates’ lunge at history. The Bush men have made sure we pay rapt attention to their Big Bang, their epochal Event, after which the nature of things will have changed unalterably to their advantage – they think. The Bush men are certain of our collective response, convinced that once we have witnessed The Mother of All War Shows, humanity will react according to plan, and submit.”

As we predicted, Bush had “reached too far.” His engines of war ultimately failed to “harness Time and cheat the laws of political economy, to leapfrog over the contradictions of their parasitical existence into a new epoch of their own imagining.”

The eventual defeat and withdrawal at the hands of Iraqi irregulars and civil society was catastrophic to U.S. prestige. So much face was lost, it required that the Empire put a new, Black face forward, so as to resume the game under (cosmetically) new circumstances.

A cunning liar emerged from the duopoly pack, a slick young man who claimed to oppose “dumb” wars while pledging undying dedication to U.S. supremacy in the world. And much of the world let its guard down. [continue]

U.S. official criticizes "targeted killings" | Chicago Tribune

Aug. 28th, 2001:

The Bush administration said Monday that Israel’s policy of pinpoint killings of Palestinians was inflaming the Middle East conflict and urged the Israelis to alleviate what it called the humiliations of the Palestinian people.

In sterner terms than those used by President Bush days earlier, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said “Israel needs to understand that targeted killings of Palestinians don’t end the violence but are only inflaming an already volatile situation and making it much harder to restore calm.”

Boucher was referring to Israel’s policy of seeking out and killing Palestinian leaders it says had plotted or supervised terrorist acts.

Of course, a few days later, the Bush administration would enthusiastically embrace “the dark side”, as Cheney so famously said, but nonetheless, here we are, 12 years later, and “pinpoint killing” - even American citizens - is the norm.


Torture Survivors Ask the UN: What’s the Point of Having Laws Against Torture if They Don’t Apply to the Powerful?

One thing brings these four men together. Hassan bin Attash, Sami el-Hajj, Muhammed Khan Tumani and Murat Kurnaz—they are all survivors of the systematic torture program the Bush administration authorized and carried out in locations including Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo, and numerous prisons and CIA “black sites” around the world. Between them, they have been beaten, hung from walls or ceilings, deprived of sleep, food and water, and subjected to freezing temperatures and other forms of torture and abuse while held in U.S. custody. None was charged with a crime, two were detained while still minors, and one of them remains at Guantánamo.

This week, in a complaint filed with the United Nations Committee against Torture, they are asking one question: how can the man responsible for ordering these heinous crimes, openly enter a country that has pledged to prosecute all torturers regardless of their position and not face any legal action?

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Canadian Centre for International Justice (CCIJ) filed the complaint on the men’s behalf. [++]

‘OK, fine. Shoot him.’ Four words that heralded a decade of secret US drone killings | Chris Woods

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) usually gets all the credit for the first US drone targeted killing beyond the conventional battlefield.

But it was the military which gave the final go-ahead to kill on November 3 2002.

Lt General Michael DeLong was at Centcom headquarters in Tampa, Florida when news came in that the CIA had found its target. The deputy commander made his way down to the UAV Room, showing live video feeds from a CIA Predator high above Marib province in Yemen.

The armed drone was tracking an SUV on the move. The six terrorist suspects inside were unaware that a decision had already been made to kill them.

Interviewed by PBS, DeLong later recalled speaking by phone with CIA Director George Tenet as he watched the video wall:

‘Tenet goes “You going to make the call?” And I said, “I’ll make the call.” He says, “This SUV over here is the one that has Ali in it.” I said, “OK, fine.” You know, “Shoot him.” They lined it up and shot it.’

Eight thousand miles away and moments later, six alleged terrorists were dead. Among them was a US citizen. [continue]

‘500 Days,’ by Kurt Eichenwald

The administration’s lack of self-­control led the president to repeatedly make baseless assertions to the American people. Bush said in his first State of the Union address that American soldiers had apprehended people in Bosnia who were plotting to bomb the American Embassy there. As Eichenwald shows, this was untrue. No evidence supporting that charge was ever found, and five of the six men were set free after being held for seven years, their detention ruled illegal by a federal judge. (The sixth remained in detention on the basis of secret intelligence.)

A more deadly consequence of this heedlessness was the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 on the false belief that Saddam Hussein possessed an arsenal of chemical and biological weapons. An exchange from that time conveys the mind-set of the Bush administration. When Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, told Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy defense secretary, that there was no intelligence linking Al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein, “Wolfowitz tightened his lips,” Eichenwald writes. “ ‘We’ll find it,’ he said with certainty in his voice. ‘It’s got to be there.’ ” The run-up to the Iraq war also elicits one of the most pungent lines in the book. After Bush told Jacques Chirac that biblical prophecies were being fulfilled and specifically that “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East,” the French president decided, in Eichenwald’s words, that “France was not going to fight a war based on an American president’s interpretation of the Bible.”

The sheer incompetence of the interrogators of supposed terrorists comes as a genuine surprise. The C.I.A. seemed to know little about how to actually question people, and began taking advice from an uninformed, inexperienced psychologist whom Eichenwald labels “a fool.” At Guantánamo, the advice of law enforcement specialists was put aside, and interrogations slipped from unprofessional to brutal to illegal. “Rather than acknowledging defeat, the intelligence officers wanted to double down on a failed approach,” Eichenwald writes. “Harsh interrogations would work, they were arguing, if only they were harsher.” F.B.I. agents on the scene, witnessing this descent, discussed whether they would be obliged to arrest the interrogators rather than let them continue down this savage path.

(Source: azspot, via america-wakiewakie)

Rights Groups Urge Spanish Supreme Court To Reopen Inquiry Into Bush Era Torture | Eurasia Review

A group of international human rights organizations and experts filed a brief today before the Spanish Supreme Court, arguing that the continued failure of U.S. authorities to investigate or prosecute torture binds the Spanish judicial system to resume its inquiry into these practices.

The amicus filing in the case, which argues that international law requires Spain to act, comes only weeks after the U.S. Department of Justice announced it had closed its investigation into the torture and death of detainees held in CIA custody, an investigation that ended without charges being brought against a single person.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) filed the brief with 10 additional organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), World Organization Against Torture, and The International Commission of Jurists; and 15 individuals, including former United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Torture Manfred Nowak and Theo van Boven, and former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counter-Terrorism Martin Scheinin; retired members of the U.S. military Col. Morris D. Davis, former Chief Prosecutor for the U.S. military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, and Major General Antonio M. Taguba, author of the Taguba Report on the “sadistic, blatant and wanton criminal abuse” at Abu Ghraib; and academics with an expertise in international law and accountability.

The brief asks the Spanish Supreme Court to overturn a decision by an investigative magistrate, upheld by a majority on appeal not to pursue a criminal case against six former officials from the Bush administration for their role in directing and implementing a systematic torture program. In April 2011, Judge Eloy Velasco of the Audiencia Nacional ordered the case transferred to the U.S. Department of Justice “for it to be continued,” after the DOJ said it was already investigating the allegations.

The case was originally filed in 2009 by the Association for the Dignity of Male and Female Prisoners of Spain. The defendants named in the complaint are David Addington, Jay S. Bybee, Douglas Feith, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes, and John Yoo.

“The United States’ claim that it has ongoing investigations related to the six named defendants in this case is simply not true. Torturers must be held accountable for their actions, and that is what we urge the Spanish Supreme Court to do in this case,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Katherine Gallagher. “The very limited and preliminary investigations related to the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody explicitly excluded the so-called “torture memos” as well as legal advice given by these men, both of which served to advance the torture program and immunize its participants. The recent decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to not charge anyone involved in the torture and death of two men held in CIA custody make clear that the U.S. has no intention whatsoever of prosecuting any government official responsible for torture.”

ECCHR General Secretary Wolfgang Kaleck emphasizes “the importance of the proceedings in Spain for upholding equal international legal standards worldwide. If the U.S. fails to apply the same legal standards to their administration officials as to foreign state officials, courts in third states are the right forum to prosecute these cases for the time being.”

As Italy Sentences 23 CIA Agents in Rendition Case, Obama Refuses to Prosecute Anyone for Torture via Democracy Now!

Guest: Alfred McCoy, professor of history at University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is the author of several books, including, most recently, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation.

This is an incredible interview and I highly recommend watching the whole thing, including part II. This part in particular stuck out:

AMY GOODMAN: Professor McCoy, I wanted to go to the first prime-time press conference that President Obama held after taking office. He was asked his opinion about a proposal put forward by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont to start a comprehensive truth and reconciliation commission to investigate the conduct of the Bush administration over that past eight years. This is how President Obama responded.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture, that we abide by the Geneva Conventions, and that we observe our traditions of rule of law and due process as we are vigorously going after terrorists that can do us harm. And I don’t think those are contradictory. I think they are potentially complementary. My view is also that nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.

AMY GOODMAN: That was President Obama, first prime-time news conference. Professor Alfred McCoy?

ALFRED McCOY: That’s the third stage of impunity. The first stage—and it’s a universal process. It happens in countries emerging from authoritarianism that have had problems with torture. Step one is blame the bad apples. Donald Rumsfeld did that right after the Abu Ghraib scandal was exposed in 2004.

Step two is saying that it was necessary for our national security—unfortunate, perhaps, but necessary to keep us all safe. That was done very articulately by former Vice President Cheney at the time, and he continues to make that argument. He claims that these “enhanced techniques,” as he calls them, i.e. CIA torture, saved thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of lives. OK?

The third step is the step we just witnessed in President Obama, saying that, well, whatever might have happened in the past, we need unity as a nation, we need to move forward together into the future. So, the past isn’t germane. We need to put it behind us, not investigate, not prosecute. And that was the position he was taking there.

The fourth stage is one that we’ve been going through for the past year. That’s been political attack by those implicated, under the Bush administration, in either conducting the torture or authorizing the torture. And that’s a political tack seeking not just exoneration, getting away with it, but seeking vindication, saying that not only, you know, was this legal, but it was necessary, it was imperative for our national security. And that’s an argument that the Bush administration made very forcefully when Osama bin Laden was killed in May of 2011. They argued that the enhanced interrogation under the Bush administration led the Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden. There’s no evidence for that, but they made that argument. And that put pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to drop the—most of the investigations of CIA abuse. And then, very recently, the two investigations of detainees who were killed in CIA custody have been dropped, as well.

The fifth and final stage is one that’s ongoing right to the present, and that’s rewriting the history, rewriting the past, ripping it apart, without respect to the truth of the matter, and reconstructing it in a way that justifies the torture. And that happened on the 10th anniversary of 9/11 when Dick Cheney brought out his memoirs saying that the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah turned this hardened terrorist into—he called him “a fountain of information” that gave information that saved thousands of lives. OK? Well, you know, that was August 30th, 2011.

OK, on September 12th, 2011, former FBI interrogator, counterintelligence officer, Ali Soufan, came out with his memoirs. It turned out he was the American operative that conducted that interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. He was there in that safe house in Thailand, and there were two teams operating. And it turned out, in retrospect, when you look at what happened, it was the closest you can get to a scientific experiment into the relative effectiveness of empathetic FBIinterrogation techniques and CIA coercive interrogation, CIAtorture. And through four successive rounds, what happened is, Ali Soufan went in—he’s an Arabic speaker—he established empathy with Abu Zubaydah, and he got the name of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. George Tenet, CIA director, grew angry that the FBI, his rival agency, was getting all this information. He dispatched a team of tough CIA interrogators. They used these coercive techniques. The subject clamped up. No more information. The FBI was brought back in. More information from Abu Zubaydah based on non-coercive techniques.

And by the time this was done through four successive rounds, we established clearly, beyond any reasonable shadow of a doubt, that empathetic FBI techniques, with a skilled interrogator speaking to a subject in his language, OK, gets accurate intelligence. And all these CIA techniques—the sensory deprivation, the temperature modification, the noise blasting, the stress positions—all of that is counterproductive, does not work. OK? And that, that fragile truth, has been kept from us, because if you look at Ali Soufan’s memoirs, there’s 181 pages ofCIA excisions that turned those passages about that interrogation of Abu Zubaydah into a rat’s nest of black lines that no regular American reader can possibly understand.

Five Stages of Impunity for Torture | The Dissenter

One hallmark of the administration of President Barack Obama has been the commitment of the administration to move forward and not look back—to, as a Democratic Party operative only concerned with election results might say, not re-litigate the eight years of the administration of George W. Bush. This means no accountability for those responsible for committing torture. It means no justice for torture victims.

Professor Alfred W. McCoy, author of Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation, was on “Democracy Now!” on Friday to talk about his book. Host Amy Goodman played a clip of President Obama in his first prime-time press conference giving a slick, calculated but somewhat banal comment on whether the administration would have a truth and reconciliation commission examine the past years of the Bush administration.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: My administration is going to operate in a way that leaves no doubt that we do not torture, that we abide by the Geneva Conventions, and that we observe our traditions of rule of law and due process as we are vigorously going after terrorists that can do us harm. And I don’t think those are contradictory. I think they are potentially complementary. My view is also that nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.

McCoy reacted to this clip saying what Obama said was an example of “the third stage of impunity.” He then went through the stages of impunity, a “universal process” that he argues “happens in countries emerging from authoritarianism that have had problems with torture.”

Step one, McCoy stated:

…is blame the bad apples. Donald Rumsfeld did that right after the Abu Ghraib scandal was exposed in 2004.

Step two is saying that it was necessary for our national security—unfortunate, perhaps, but necessary to keep us all safe. That was done very articulately by former Vice President Cheney at the time, and he continues to make that argument. He claims that these “enhanced techniques,” as he calls them, i.e. CIA torture, saved thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands of lives. OK?

The third step is the step we just witnessed in President Obama, saying that, well, whatever might have happened in the past, we need unity as a nation, we need to move forward together into the future. So, the past isn’t germane. We need to put it behind us, not investigate, not prosecute. And that was the position he was taking there.

In the fourth stage, those implicated in acts of torture seek not only exoneration for their crimes but also vindication. For example, former Bush administration officials argued “enhanced interrogation under the Bush administration led the Navy SEALs to Osama bin Laden,” despite there being no evidence for the claim. They created pressure on Attorney General Eric Holder to not investigate torture and drop investigations into torture, which appears to have worked.

“The fifth and final stage,” according to McCoy, is “rewriting the history, rewriting the past, ripping it apart, without respect to the truth of the matter, and reconstructing it in a way that justifies the torture.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearances on news television have frequently been utilized for this purpose—to make it seem as if torture was effective in getting suspected terrorists to talk so that plots could be disrupted.

Like the Party slogan in George Orwell’s 1984, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past,” The Party controls the records, which allows it to control all memories. That allows the Party to control the past.

This is but another vile aspect of President Barack Obama, his administration, the Democratic Party leadership’s fealty to the mantra of moving forward and not looking back now enshrined in the messaging of the Obama 2012 campaign with the simple word, “Forward.” It is but another despicable aspect of members of Congress, especially Democrats, and supporters of Obama and Democrats’ refusal to raise their voice to take issue with the administration’s inaction and active refusal to prosecute individuals for torture. [++]

The Impropriety of Torture | Jonathan Turley

Let it not be said that President Obama does not keep his promises.

As he prepared to accept his nomination for re-election last week, the president made good on a promise he made at the beginning of his term: No CIA officers will be prosecuted for torture. Attorney General Eric Holder quietly announced before the convention that the last two torture investigations would close (like all the prior investigations) without any charge. As a virtual afterthought, the Justice Department added that it would not address the “propriety of the examined conduct.” The “impropriety” involved two suspects who died under torture by CIA officials.

For those still infatuated with Obama, the announcement was the final triumph of “hope” over experience. Since Obama ran on a civil liberties platform, many expected an independent torture investigation as soon as he took office. After all, waterboarding is one of the oldest forms of torture, pre-dating the Spanish Inquisition (when it was called tortura del agua). It has long been defined as torture by both U.S. and international law, and by Obama himself. Torture, in turn, has long been defined as a war crime, and the United States is under treaty obligation to investigate and prosecute such crimes.

However, such a principle did not make for good politics. Accordingly, as soon as he was elected, Obama set out to dampen talk of prosecution. Various intelligence officials and politicians went public with accounts of the Obama administration making promises to protect Bush officials and CIA employees from prosecution.

Though the White House denied the stories, Obama later gave his controversial speech at the CIA headquarters and did precisely that. In the speech, he effectively embraced the defense of befehl ist befehl (“an order is an order”) and, in so doing, eviscerated one of the most important of the Nuremburg principles. Obama assured the CIA that employees would not be prosecuted for carrying out orders by superiors. This was later affirmed by Holder’s Justice Department, which decided that employees carrying out torture were protected because they followed orders. The administration then decided that those who gave the orders were protected because they secured facially flawed legal opinions from the Justice Department. Finally, the Justice Department decided not to charge its own lawyers who gave those opinions because they were their … well … opinions.


We have gone from prosecuting torture as a war crime after World War II to treating allegations of torture as a “question of propriety” under Obama. Hundreds of officials, including President Bush, were involved. People died in interrogation. High-ranking CIA officials admitted that they destroyed evidence of torture to keep it from being used in any later prosecutions. Yet, after a years-long investigation, not a single CIA official will be charged with a single crime connected to the program. Not even a misdemeanor or a single bar referral for an attorney. Well, no one except former CIA official John Kiriakou, who is awaiting trial on criminal charges for disclosing information on the torture.

After World War II, political philosopher Hannah Arendt coined the phrase “the banality of evil” to describe those who committed war crimes. The Obama administration now can add the “impropriety of torture” to our lexicon. The image of a man beaten, stripped and frozen to death in a CIA prison is not nearly as unnerving as a nation that stood by and did nothing about it. We have become a nation of dull-eyed pedestrians watching as our leaders strip away the very things that distinguish us from our enemies. With our principles gone, we are left with only politics and, of course, our sense of propriety.

CIA Waterboarding, Qaddafi Collaboration Revealed | Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine)

Just days after Attorney General Holder announced a formal decision of impunity resulting from a probe into 101 documented cases in which CIA agents engaged in acts of torture and abuse in apparent violation of CIA guidelines—including those approving torture—further explosive allegations have emerged that lay bare the scope of CIA cooperation with abusive regimes in the era before the Arab Spring. Drawing on interviews with Libyan prisoners previously held by the CIA in black-site facilities, as well as a large cache of secret documents that turned up when rebels seized Qaddafi’s state security offices last year, Human Rights Watch has issued a 156-page report (PDF) that meticulously documents a George W. Bush–era CIA program of torture, including waterboarding, in careful collaboration with former Libyan strongman Muammar Qaddafi. Among the report’s key findings:

* Five Libyans described their captivity in U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan for between eight months and two years before they were rendered back to Libya. They described having been chained to walls naked—sometimes diapered—in pitch-dark, windowless cells for weeks or months at a time; being restrained in painful stress positions for long periods, being forced into cramped spaces; being beaten and slammed into walls; being kept inside for nearly five months without the right to bathe; being denied food; and being denied sleep by continuous, deafeningly loud Western music.

* One former prisoner described having been waterboarded on repeated occasions during U.S. interrogations in Afghanistan. The report notes that the prisoner never used the phrase “waterboarding,” but described the procedure in detail: his captors put a hood over his head, strapped him onto a wooden board, “then they start with the water pouring. … They start to pour water to the point where you feel like you are suffocating.” He added: “[T]hey wouldn’t stop until they got some kind of answer from me.” He said a doctor was present during the waterboarding and that it happened so many times he could not keep count.

* Another prisoner in Afghanistan described being subjected to a water-suffocation practice similar to waterboarding, and said that he was threatened with use of the board. A doctor was present during this abuse as well.

* All fourteen former prisoners who were interviewed described being turned over by the CIA to the Qaddafi regime with the full expectation that they would be tortured and abused after transfer to Libya.

The report offers further detail on the fate of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, the man whose torture-induced fraudulent claims about the plans of Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein were cited by the Bush Administration to justify the invasion of Iraq. The CIA turned al-Libi over to the Qaddafi regime, and he died in prison under mysterious circumstances shortly thereafter. The report notes the discovery of photographs of al-Libi from the morning after his death in which evidence of torture is plainly visible on his body.

Former CIA director and current Romney national-security adviser Michael Hayden and former President Bush have both asserted that only three individuals held in detention by the CIA were ever waterboarded. The report would establish these claims as untruthful.

The report, coupled with recent developments in Libya, also highlights the CIA’s chronic inability to distinguish between violent anti-American Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda and those who simply opposed their own oppressive regime and sought to overturn it. The Bush Administration promoted cordial relations with Qaddafi, while the Bush-era CIA worked intensively to develop a close rapport with Qaddafi’s security forces, much as it did in Egypt, Yemen and a number of other repressive Arab states. In 2011, the Obama Administration reversed course, siding with the rebels opposing Qaddafi and deploying military and intelligence resources to topple his regime. Many of the Libyan groups persecuted and abused by the CIA belonged to the alliance that toppled Qaddafi, and a number of their leaders are now in positions of importance in the new regime. Thus the CIA’s miscalculations could not have been more sweeping or more harmful to long-term U.S. interests.

… yesterday’s decision means that nobody in the US government will pay any price for the systematic worldwide torture regime which that nation implemented and maintained for close to a decade. Glenn Greenwald, Obama’s justice department grants final immunity to Bush’s CIA torturers

This is so despite the findings of General Antonio Taguba, who investigated the torture regime and said that “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes” and “the only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” And it is done even in the face of General Barry McCaffrey’s extraordinary observation that:

“We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.”