The Torture Planners: “Why are we talking about this in the White House?”

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

[I know buhdy already wrote on this — see cite for him below — but I figured an extra commentary wouldn’t hurt, providing also a bit more information on the legalities involved. — V.]

In a very interesting follow-up to the unfolding story on the 2003 John Yoo memorandum that justified the use of torture, ABC news is reporting how the CIA came to the White House after the spring 2002 capture of al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah in Pakistan and asked for permission to use more “aggressive” interrogation techniques. Citing anonymous sources, ABC says that beginning with the Zubaydah case, “the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency.” These discussions evidently included the use of waterboarding, as the CIA has admitted using this torture technique on Zubaydah.

The “Principals” — high-level Bush administration officials — present included National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice, who chaired the meetings, “Vice President Cheney… Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.”

While Ashcroft is said to have signed off on the legality of the interrogations, he got squeamish about how it was being approved. Perhaps he was afraid of future legal and political consequences. Perhaps he remembered how the secrets of the Wannsee Conference were ultimately leaked. Per the ABC story (also reported over at Reuters):

Lawyers in the Justice Department had written a classified memo, which was extensively reviewed, that gave formal legal authority to government interrogators to use the “enhanced” questioning tactics on suspected terrorist prisoners. The August 2002 memo, signed by then head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee, was referred to as the so-called “Golden Shield” for CIA agents, who worried they would be held liable if the harsh interrogations became public…..

But even after the “Golden Shield” was in place, briefings and meetings in the White House to discuss individual interrogations continued, sources said. Tenet, seeking to protect his agents, regularly sought confirmation from the NSC principals that specific interrogation plans were legal….

Highly placed sources said CIA directors Tenet and later Porter Goss along with agency lawyers briefed senior advisers, including Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld and Powell, about detainees in CIA custody overseas….

Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

Despite Ashcroft’s qualms — mainly concerned with his political neck, not the safety of prisoners — the Principals “approved interrogations… pushing the limits of international law and even the Justice Department’s own legal approval.” Condi Rice was said to be particularly forceful in giving the CIA power to torture (with Powell echoing Ashcroft’s wimpy protests).

As the blogger buhdydharma in an article today, the new revelations “clearly point to a high level, willful conspiracy to commit torture.” Beyond the question of conspiracy, serious violations of a number of laws that prohibit torture and inhumane treatment have also been broken. Courtesy of Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First own examination of criminal laws governing laws on torture, let’s review what Ashcroft, Rice, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Tenet, and possibly others, may find themselves vulnerable with aggressive prosecution (for footnotes, please refer to original via link):

The recent amendments to the War Crimes Act establish as war crimes “grave breaches” of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions,10 including “torture” and “cruel or inhuman treatment.”11 “Torture” is characterized, in pertinent part, as “an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.”12 The separate war crime of “cruel or inhuman treatment,” is defined as “an act intended to inflict severe or serious physical or mental pain or suffering.”13

For the crime of torture under the WCA14 and the Torture Act,15 severe mental pain or suffering is defined as “the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from” several specified actions, including “the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering” and “the administration or application, or threatened administration or application, of mindaltering substances or other procedures calculated to disrupt profoundly the senses or the personality.”16

For the WCA crime of “cruel or inhuman treatment,” serious mental pain or suffering is defined as “the serious and non-transitory mental harm (which need not be prolonged) caused by or resulting from” the same specified actions.17

The Detainee Treatment Act requires that “no person in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (CIDT).”18 The DTA defines CIDT as conduct prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Since the “CIA’s reported “enhanced” interrogation techniques cause the types of physical and mental anguish that are criminalized under the WCA and other laws,” it’s clear that top administration officials have committed war crimes.

But what are the governmental officials, including elected members of the legislature, going to do about it? Certainly we can expect nothing from Mukasey’s Justice Department, which has all but signed off even on waterboarding, and refuses to rule out evidence obtained by same. Rep. Conyers has asked John Woo to appear at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee next month. Meanwhile, the story barely reaches the significance of the front pages in the U.S. press.

This is not surprising, as the Executive Branch of the U.S. government has gotten away with the criminal execution of an illegal, pre-emptive war in Iraq, even when the evidence for this was placed in the public domain for all to see (going back at least to the publication of the Downing Street memos). Reportedly, the congressional offices of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats receive emails and faxes demanding action, up to and including the initiation of impeachment hearings in the House. All to no avail.

The poet William Blake wrote over two hundred years ago:

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.

We know that this is more than enough to put the criminal leadership of the Bush administration away in prison for many years. Therefore, enough!!

Give us our bill of indictment. Give us our impartial jury to examine the evidence. Give us justice. Failing this, I shudder to think what monstrous conclusion is being prepared for us in the bowels of history.

Also posted at Invictus


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    • Valtin on April 11, 2008 at 12:17 am

    Awake, awake!

    Ring the alarum-bell. Murder and treason!

    Banquo and Donalbain! Malcolm! awake!

    Shake off this downy sleep, death’s counterfeit,

    And look on death itself! up, up, and see

    The great doom’s image! Malcolm! Banquo!

    As from your graves rise up, and walk like sprites,

    To countenance this horror! Ring the bell.


    Ah, good father,

    Thou seest, the heavens, as troubled with man’s act,

    Threaten his bloody stage: by the clock, ’tis day,

    And yet dark night strangles the travelling lamp:

    Is’t night’s predominance, or the day’s shame,

    That darkness does the face of earth entomb,

    When living light should kiss it?

    Macbeth, Act II

  1. All I have to add is according to, Troutfishing’s diary over at dKos, this memo links Bush, via his signature at the bottom of page 2, to the policy discussions authorizing torture.

    It’s being described as the “smoking gun”, but I’m still trying to work through his argument and the associated links/evidence presented.

    The story has also now been picked up by AP, Cheney, Others OK’d Harsh Interrogations, but their story explicitly removes the president from the chain of events.

    Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.

    The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved…

    The story ends with the now infamous Ashcroft remark:

    Not all of the principals who attended were fully comfortable with the White House meetings.

    The ABC News report portrayed Ashcroft as troubled by the discussions, despite agreeing that the interrogations methods were legal.

    “Why are we talking about this in the White House?” the network quoted Ashcroft as saying during one meeting. “History will not judge this kindly.”

    Just remember, Ashcroft never spoke out.

  2. the voice of… not reason, but some concern over those quaint documents that are still in effect.

    If the CIA really thought some tactic would work to get the info they needed, they wouldn’t even ask. They asked just to get a pat on the head from a few assholes who they knew would get off on talk of torture.

    If somebody slipped the prez something bad, and only they had the antidote, do you think the CIA would try to torture in out of them? It’s kind of like trying to find out if the vial really does contain nitro by shaking it.

    Thank you very much for writing this up.

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