Myths about torture by the Bush administration

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Recent revelations that torture was approved, applauded, and enjoyed by senior Bush administration officials have caused quite a stir. Bush now freely admits that he “approved” of the CIA torturing a few “high value” terrorism suspects in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. All those assertions that the United States does not torture were knowingly false. While lying to Congress, the American people, and the world community might get another president in trouble, even impeached, war crimes appear to be much more acceptable in post-9/11 America. The mea culpa simply forces the administration and its supporters to create a new mythology of torture.  

Myth 1: We only tortured a few “high value” terrorism suspects.

The media has myopically focused on the abuse of three prisoners – Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheik Mohammad, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. Since these three men have been presented to the American people as high level members of al Qaeda and involved in the 9/11 plot, they provide a more palatable target for torture.  As long as attention remains focused on these three figures, Americans can be seduced into believing the following story line.  Our government only used torture as a last resort on three captured al Qaeda operatives responsible for the 9/11 attacks to prevent future attacks. Even if you are squeamish about torture or understand that it is a violation of international law, you can take some comfort that our government was extremely reluctant to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques, making exceptions for the worst of the worst during a national emergency.

The myopia is understandable. The Bush administration and the CIA have fostered the misperception.  For example, when Michael Hayden finally admitted to Congress that terrorism suspects were waterboarded, it presented as a slam dunk. Here is how the BBC reported the event:

The CIA has for the first time publicly admitted using the controversial method of “waterboarding” on terror suspects.

CIA head Michael Hayden told Congress it had only been used on three people, and not for the past five years.

To bolster the association in the feeble minds of the inattentive, all public statements from the Bush administration have been careful to link any discussion of torture (enhanced interrogation techniques if you prefer) to Satan’s brother-in-law, Khalid Sheik Mohammad (the cool kids like to call him KSM). I dare you to find a discussion of waterboarding or other form of torture paid for by your tax dollars that does not mention KSM. Here is the obligatory KSM sighting in the BBC report on Hayden’s testimony.

He said the technique had been used on high-profile al-Qaeda detainees including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

Kuwaiti-born Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is accused of masterminding the 11 September attacks on the United States.

See?  We only tortured the 9/11 mastermind.  Conservatives love to regurgitate this frame.  It even filters down to the lower echelons of the wingnut world web.

The problem, of course, is that it is not true.  In 2005, even the Wall Street Journal was willing to print that “11 of 12 captured al Qaeda kingpins who have talked only did so after being waterboarded.”  If you count torture outsourced to other countries, the Bush Inquisition has been remarkably busy.

“The Bush administration claims that it has not transferred people to foreign custody for abusive interrogation,” said Joanne Mariner, terrorism and counterterrorism director at Human Rights Watch. “But we’ve documented more than a dozen cases in which prisoners were sent to Jordan for torture.”

The exact number of people that the United States has subjected to rendition abroad is not known. CIA Director Michael Hayden suggested in a September 7, 2007 speech before the Council on Foreign Relations that far fewer than 100 people – “mid-range two figures” – had been rendered abroad since the September 11, 2001 attacks.


No one knows the exact number of people we have tortured, but it is many more that the three original al Qaeda “kingpins” and we are still going strong. Torture is illegal no matter how many times you engage in it.

Myth 2: We have gotten valuable information from torture.

Here is the sum total of all the fabulous “intelligence” we gleaned from torture. Zubaydah gave up his two buddies.

The CIA has confirmed Zubaydah was one of three al Qaeda suspects subjected to waterboarding. After he was waterboarded, officials say Zubaydah gave up valuable information that led to the capture of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammad and fellow 9/11 plotter Ramzi bin al-Shibh.


But what about that evil genius KSM? He must have provided enough actionable intelligence to round up all the al Qaeda leadership and win the first major battle in the “war on terror.” Not quite. KSM was impressive in his ability to do the backstroke and breaststroke during the water torture sessions at Spa Americana, but gave us very little more than a hummus recipe or two.

Bush supporters are quick to say that the use of torture is one of the reasons we have not been attacked again, by faith assuming that torture gave us information to thwart subsequent attacks.  The fallacy in the argument is that there is not one shred of evidence that we uncovered any planned attacks with torture.  If such evidence actually existed, it would have been leaked to bolster public support.  These men are not being tried in a US court of law under our legal standards of jurisprudence, so disclosure is not an issue.  The three al Qaeda stooges have been in custody so long that any actionable intelligence has long outlived any need for secrecy.  The office of the Vice President has already shown its willingness to leak classified information and jeopardize CIA operations and operatives, so obviously that is not a consideration.  All we got from torture was confessions of complicity that we intend to use in the military tribunal “trials” to convict and punish them.

Humane treatment is the only way to get cooperation.  Torture never works.  

Myth 3: Our harsh interrogation methods are not torture..

This farcical idea comes from none other than Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Department of Justice. On February 14, 2008, Bradbury testified before the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) that we practice a kinder and gentler form of waterboarding. He explicitly stated our methods of waterboarding do not violate US and international laws.  Here is what makes American waterboarding merely unpleasant rather than a war crime:

Waterboarding as practiced by the CIA bears “no resemblance” to what torturers in time past have done. “There’s been a lot of discussion in the public about historical uses of waterboarding,” Bradbury says. The “only thing in common is the use of water.” Spanish and Japanese water torture techniques “involved the forced consumption of a mass amount of water.” When asked if he is aware of any “modern use” of waterboarding that involves the “lungs filling with water,” Bradbury says he is not. Bradbury says that the Japanese forced the ingestion of so much water that it was “beyond the capacity of the victim’s stomach.” Weight or pressure was then applied by standing or jumping on the stomach of the victim, sometimes leading to “blood coming of the victim’s mouth.” The Spanish Inquisition would use the technique to the point of “agony or death.” The CIA does not do that, Bradbury says. “Strict time limits” are involved-presumably governing the length of time that interrogators can induce the sensation of drowning. Additionally, “safeguards” and “restrictions” make waterboarding a much more controlled procedure. Together, waterboarding as practiced by the CIA is not torture. However, Bradbury admits that recent Supreme Court decisions have changed the OLC’s analysis, and says that in 2006 the CIA stopped using waterboarding.


So as long as we do not let the victim swallow or aspirate too much water, apply weight or pressure to their gut, or allow the festivities to go on too long, we can practice waterboarding legally and in good conscience. Since Bradbury graduated from a prestigious law school instead of the Regent or Liberty clown colleges, this is not ignorance, but rather studious deception. Here is video of Bradbury’s testimony before the HJC.

Steven Bradbury is not simply guilty of spinning waterboarding as harmless, he is responsible for providing the legal cover for the Bush administration’s torture policies along with John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales.  Bradbury still works for the DoJ and has been nominated to be Assistant Attorney General as head of the Office of Legal Counsel.

Myth 4: There is nothing you can do to stop torture.

The Bush administration can no longer keep its torture policy secret so it is trying to increase the acceptability of torture with the American people.  Although Congress managed to pass a bill to prohibit the US military from engaging in acts that violate the Geneva Conventions, Bush has vetoed a bill that would hold the CIA to the same standard. Exemptions for the CIA means that America will continue to torture.  Here are few ways you can help put a stop to torture.

1. Help build awareness.

Keep the issue alive with visibility.  The media largely ignored the latest revelations in the ABC News reports. Few big market newspapers covered the story.  The Washington Post had one small story on page 3.  All of the cable news covered “bitter-gate” in excruciating detail but none covered direct involvement in torture by senior members of the Bush administration.  It was swept under the rug in America, but China was paying attention.

2. Help prevent the confirmation of Steven Bradbury to become Assistant Attorney General.

Letter Opposing the Nomination of Steven Bradbury to Be Assistant Attorney General

March 26, 2008  

The Honorable Patrick J. Leahy  

Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee  

433 Russell Senate Office Building  

Washington, DC 20510-4502  

The Honorable Arlen Specter  

Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee  

711 Hart Senate Office Building  

Washington, DC 20510-3802

Dear Chairman Leahy and Ranking Member Specter:  

We are writing to urge you to oppose the nomination of Steven Bradbury to be Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). While the undersigned groups rarely take positions on nominations, we believe that Bradbury’s role in authorizing torture makes this an extraordinary case.  

As you know, Bradbury has been effective head of OLC since June 2005. The OLC is entrusted with providing the president and other executive branch agencies with legal advice that is an accurate and honest appraisal of applicable law, even if it places constraints on the policies of the executive. Bradbury’s approval of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading techniques to interrogate detainees defies applicable law and precedent. It is an affront to fundamental American values and has done enormous damage to America’s authority and reputation in the world.  

Soon after joining OLC, Bradbury is believed to have signed off on still-secret OLC legal opinions authorizing the use of “waterboarding” in combination with other abusive interrogation techniques, such as head-slapping, and extended exposure to cold. James Comey, then deputy attorney general, reportedly told his colleagues that they would be “ashamed” when the opinion became public.  

Many of the interrogation techniques Bradbury reportedly approved have been prosecuted by US military and civilian courts as torture over the past 100 years. As recently as 1983, the Justice Department prosecuted a Texas sheriff for subjecting prisoners to “water torture” in an attempt to coerce confessions. Bradbury apparently ignored these precedents. In so doing, he placed in legal jeopardy everyone from the president of the United States to CIA interrogators in the field who trust the Justice Department to provide responsible legal guidance.  

In late 2005, as the McCain amendment prohibiting cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment was working its way through Congress, Bradbury is believed to have signed off on another legal memo which concluded that none of the interrogation techniques already authorized would violate the amendment, despite the clear contrary intent of the Congress.  

Last month, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility announced that it was investigating whether those who gave legal approval to waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques violated the department’s professional standards.  

Still, Bradbury continues to offer a legal justification for the use of waterboarding. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in February 2008, he argued that waterboarding, as has been used by the US government, was not torture. He explained that this was because US interrogators did not allow “mass amounts” of water to enter the lungs of the victims, nor did they jump on the victims’ distended bellies, as was done during the Spanish Inquisition, and by Japanese soldiers prosecuted by the United States after World War II.  

This is the kind of legal analysis one would expect from a defense counsel trying to keep his client out of prison, rather than an objective analyst of the law. But however you parse it, waterboarding is torture.  

Bradbury’s public testimony sends a profoundly dangerous message to potential adversaries of the United States about the kind of treatment the US government would consider acceptable if inflicted on Americans in custody. Imagine if North Korea captured an American soldier and said to the United States, “Don’t worry. We only used the good waterboarding on the American in our custody. We made sure that his stomach never became distended, and we didn’t jump on it. We just made sure he thought he was going to suffocate, but stopped after he went into terrible hysterics.” This is precisely what Bradbury suggests would be acceptable.  

The United States needs someone to head the Office of Legal Counsel who can maintain the highest legal standards and provide the president a reliable interpretation of what the law is — rather than what the president wants the law to be. Steven Bradbury has proven unable to do so, and we urge you to oppose his nomination.  


Kenneth Roth  

Executive Director  

Human Rights Watch


3. Support the ACLU effort to have a special prosecutor appointed by Congress.

ACLU’s Top 10 Reasons To Appoint a Special Prosecutor

10. Congress and the Agencies Have Failed in Holding Torture Perpetrators Accountable

9. Further Delay in Criminal Investigations Could Put Some Crimes Outside the Statues of Limitations

8. Military Prosecutors Have Not Gone Up the Chain of Command

7. The Justice Department Has Failed to Bring Any Indictments Based on 20 CIA and DOD Referrals of Possible Crimes by Civilians

6. The Justice Department Wrote the Legal Opinions Authorizing Torture

5. The Past Head of the Criminal Division Reportedly Advised on Interrogation Practices, Possibly Including the Interrogation of Abu Zubaydah

4. The Current Head of the Criminal Division Was in Meetings on Interrogations

3. Attorney General Mukasey Still Refuses to Say Whether Waterboarding and Other Forms of Torture Are Illegal

2. Attempts to Shield Government Officials from Criminal Prosecution Were Pursued by the White House, Including by the President and Vice President

1. There Is Credible Evidence of Numerous Federal Crimes

4. Help Amnesty International stop renditions and illegal detentions.


Skip to comment form

    • DWG on April 15, 2008 at 16:12


    We torture.  We must stop.

    Thanks for reading.

    • OPOL on April 15, 2008 at 16:27

    We must stop these evil bastards from corrupting our entire country.

  1. Arabs torturing Americans. Imagine the American outrage and sense of violation instead of the complacency and sense of entitlement.

    After We Torture Our Prisoners

    We’ll get rid of the dictator, rebuild your country

    Make sure all your kids go to school

    We’ll clean up the cities, get the sewage plants running

    Institute parliamentary rule

    We’ll bring you autonomy, senators and judges

    And a shiny new blue banner

    We’ll bring you pride and prosperity, food in your bellies

    In every home a phone, fax and scanner

    After we torture our prisoners

    We’ll bring you decades of peace, spiritual release

    Free religious expression

    You can say what you want in the papers you run

    We’ll never force a confession

    After we torture our prisoners

    The oil will flow just where it should go

    Across the desert and into the sea

    And you’ll thank your God and the CIA

    That finally you are free

    After we torture our prisoners

    You’ll all be safe with us to protect you

    And keep you out of harm’s way

    You’ll thank creation and your liberation

    From the dark into a new day

    After we torture our prisoners

    You can all jump for joy, each girl and boy

    And look boldly into the distance

    You’ll be so happy for all that we’ve done

    For such invaluable assistance

    After we torture our prisoners

    You won’t have to worry about tyrants and bullies

    Now that you have sovereignty

    You can hold your head high, kiss Saddam goodbye

    Say hello to democracy

    After we torture our prisoners.

    ©2004 David Rovics

    Strike on May 1.

    Support the Iraq Moratorium.

    The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.   —Milan Kundera

  2. which is, of course horrible enough–but they manage to keep the focus off the other things they’d have a harder time trying to explain–as the “righteous” people they claim to be.  The fact that they knew the “enhanced interrogation” methods used included sexual abuse,and mutilation–that they knew either before or after the fact and that they (at least some of them) may well have authorized those specific acts.  We know they looked the other way, until they were caught.

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