Secret Memos Show White House Approved CIA Torture

(noon. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Joby Warrick at The Washington Post has an article today confirming what many of us have suspected for some time: the CIA asked for and received written approval for its “enhanced interrogation” program, which notoriously includes the use of techniques like waterboarding. Condoleezza Rice confirmed in hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee last month that she and other White House “Principals” had been briefed on the CIA’s torture program in early 2002. (ABC News had broken the story first, last spring.)

According to Washington Post article today, CIA director George Tenet pushed for the written confirmations of support, wary of legal entanglements for CIA personnel involved in the abusive interrogation program. He first asked and received the CIA’s get-out-of-jail card in June 2003, and then again after the Abu Ghraib story broke in mid-2004.

Warrick writes:

Administration officials confirmed the existence of the memos, but neither they nor former intelligence officers would describe their contents in detail because they remain classified. The sources all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss the events….

“The CIA believed then, and now, that the program was useful and helped save lives,” said a former senior intelligence official knowledgeable about the events. “But in the agency’s view, it was like this: ‘We don’t want to continue unless you tell us in writing that it’s not only legal but is the policy of the administration.’ ”

One administration official familiar with the meetings said the CIA made such a convincing case that no one questioned whether the methods were necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks.

“The CIA had the White House boxed in,” said the official. “They were saying, ‘It’s the only way to get the information we needed, and — by the way — we think there’s another attack coming up.’ It left the principals in an extremely difficult position and put the decision-making on a very fast track.”

But others who were present said Tenet seemed more interested in protecting his subordinates than in selling the administration on a policy that administration lawyers had already authorized.

Whether or not the CIA blackmailed or just plain scared the White House into coughing up written “top cover” secret memos, lawyers from Bush’s Office of Legal Counsel had already approved the use of torture on so-called “enemy combatant” detainees. In fact, as has been recently documented, the Bush Administration’s interest in the use of torture in interrogations began as early as December 2001, when “senior Department of Defense officials, including from General Counsel William J. ‘Jim’ Haynes’s office, sought out information from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD agency responsible for overseeing SERE training.” (SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and is a program originally developed to train U.S. military personnel to withstand harsh interrogation.) The information sought? How to “exploit” prisoners by reverse-engineering SERE’s torture inoculation program to “break” detainees.

The solicitation of SERE by DoD officials out of Secretary Rumsfeld’s office is not necessarily separate from the CIA story, as key SERE figures, such as psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, were also contract employees of the CIA, as far back as the Spring 2002 interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Other CIA behavioral scientists have been known to work on research regarding biological markers of stress utilizing subjects from the SERE program.

As the real story behind the use of torture by the United States emerges it will throw a light upon the interpenetration of CIA, Special Forces, and regular military personnel and command. Only by understanding that the latter is a regular, if unmonitored occurrence, going back some decades now, can one begin to piece together the byzantine workings of the black op program that was/is “enhanced interrogation.”

It’s nice to know that smoking gun memos authorizing interrogation techniques forbidden by U.S. and international law actually exist, as they will be key exhibits in future war crimes trials against officials of the Bush Administration. But the use of torture by the United States is not just a post-9/11 phenomenon. The Kubark document, which was the CIA’s counterintelligence interrogation manual from the early 1960s, specifically lists many techniques of psychological torture. The same is true for of the 1983 Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, utilized by the CIA to train foreign agents. As a matter of side interest, Dick Cheney himself was involved in the cover-up of U.S. torture when the latter document was made public in 1993.

Bush’s use of torture, as egregious as it has been, is not the first, and I fear, not the last such use in U.S. history. In fact, since at least the early 1950s, when millions were spent by the government to research psychological torture, torture itself has been a crucial if inhumane and illegal weapon in the U.S. arsenal. The tentacles of its use, from research involving hundreds of scientists and academic institutions to the lies and cover-ups perpetuated by the establishment media, are impossibly long and entangled. The research and implementation of torture has directly caused the evisceration of ethical standards in U.S. institutions across the board.

Some call for a truth commission to get to the bottom of this mess. Others would rather see trials, to put those responsible for crimes against humanity before the bar of justice. As a society, we’d better do something quick, because the trend of history is working against us, and nothing yet has stopped the U.S. state from engaging in the worst kinds of abuse, not resolutions, not judicial decisions, not public protest, not even, up until now, changes of administrations.

Hat-tips on this posting to Candace Gorman and The Talking Dog.

Also posted at Invictus


Skip to comment form

    • Valtin on October 15, 2008 at 19:23

    goes to the heart of what is wrong in this country: the lust after empire at any cost, even that of our souls.

    • Edger on October 15, 2008 at 19:34

    Bush supporters and other repugs who feel worthless and powerless the chance to feel vicariously powerful.

    Q: What do you make of the torture debate?…

    A: … The only reason anyone tortures is because they like to do it. It’s about vengeance, it’s about revenge, or it’s about cover-up. You don’t gain intelligence that way. Everyone in the world knows that. It’s worse than small-minded, and look what it does.

    –Retired Command Sergeant Major Eric Haney, founding member of Delta Force

    Anyone who supports torture probably does so for the same reason. They like it.

  1. In related news today, the LA Times reports the Pentagon tightens rules on detainee interrogation.

    Further tightening rules meant to prevent the abuse of detainees, the Pentagon has issued a new policy directive requiring that interrogations of prisoners be monitored, even if questioning is being carried out by another government agency.

    Under previous rules, non-Pentagon interrogators were required to follow strict rules in the Army Field Manual when questioning prisoners at military facilities. But the new directive adds a requirement that those sessions be observed by military officials.

    “If the monitored party does not adhere to DoD [Department of Defense] policies and procedures, the monitor shall immediately terminate the interrogation,” the directive says.

    Rumsfeld had given tacit approval of torture by allow the military to look the other way.

  2. I had read about those memos, as well.  More verification!

    I had attempted to comment on your essay of the other day letting us know of the website,   It is good to know that there is an historical accounting of torture and a “bible” for its.

    I don’t know if you are already aware of this or not, but thought I would mention it, nonetheless.  

    New Documents Reveal Unlawful Guantánamo Procedures Were Also Applied On American Soil

    According to newly released military documents, the Navy applied lawless Guantánamo protocols in detention facilities on American soil. The documents, which include regular emails between brig officers and others in the chain of command, uncover new details of the detention and interrogation of two U.S. citizens and a legal resident – Yaser Hamdi, Jose Padilla and Ali al-Marri – at naval brigs in Virginia and South Carolina.

    The documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School and the American Civil Liberties Union.

    “Guantánamo was designed as a law-free zone, a place where the government could do whatever it wanted without having to worry about whether it was legal,” said Jonathan Freiman, an attorney with the Lowenstein Clinic at Yale. “It didn’t take long for that sort of lawlessness to be brought home to our own country. Who knows how much further America would have gone if the Supreme Court hadn’t stepped in to stop incommunicado detentions in 2004?”

    According to the documents, Navy officers doubted the wisdom of applying Guantánamo rules on American soil. In particular, officers expressed grave concern over the effects of the solitary confinement imposed upon the three men detained at the brigs, a practice that was considered to be even more extreme than the isolation imposed at Guantánamo. Navy officers also exhibited frustration with the Defense Department’s unwillingness to provide the detainees with access to legal counsel or any information about their fates.

    “The application of Guantánamo protocols on U.S. soil is incredibly significant and indicates how far the administration has gone in terms of suspending the law,” said Jonathan Hafetz, a staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project. “The Bush administration has long argued that detainees held in Guantánamo are not entitled to any constitutional protections – an argument the Supreme Court has recently rejected. But this is not even Guantánamo – we are talking about creating prisons beyond the law right here in America.” . . . .

    As we can recall, the Administration propagandized that the “enhanced interrogations” were permissible because the detainees were being held on non-American soil, as their rationale for the methods used.  So what do you suppose their rationale is for using the same techniques on detainees here on  American soil?  There simply are no laws.  It’s anything goes with these people and they successfully pull it all off.

    And here is a very sad situation– extreme pathos:

    AP Exclusive: Documents say detainee near insanityWhile the treatment of prisoners at detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Afghanistan and Iraq have long been the subject of human rights complaints and court scrutiny, the documents shed new light on how two American citizens and a legal U.S. resident were treated in military jails inside the United States.

    The Bush administration ordered the men to be held in military jails as “enemy combatants” for years of interrogations without criminal charges, which would not have been allowed in civilian jails. . . . .

    “I will continue to do what I can to help this individual maintain his sanity, but in my opinion we’re working with borrowed time,” an unidentified Navy brig official wrote of prisoner Yaser Esam Hamdi in 2002. “I would like to have some form of an incentive program in place to reward him for his continued good behavior, but more so, to keep him from whacking out on me.” . . . .

    “I told him the last thing that I wanted to have happen was to send him anywhere from here as a ‘basket case,’ of use to no one, to include himself,” the officer wrote in an e-mail to undisclosed government officials in June 2003. “I fear the rubber band is nearing its breaking point here and not totally confident I can keep his head in the game much longer.”  .  .  . . .

    Finally, I had saved a few articles for you on the offhand chance you have not seen them:

    Psychologists and torture

    And this article, by Stephen Soldz, of August 30, 2008, which, undoubtedly, you  most assuredly have already seen.   American Psychological Association Supports Bush Regime “Interrogations”

    Psychologists Prohibited from Abusive US Detention Centers

    [BTW, do you only revisit your essays once?  I cannot always respond timely, but have done so, nonetheless to a number of your essays, FYI!

  3. another letter or statement saying did not know.  

    • Robyn on October 16, 2008 at 18:35



    • RUKind on October 17, 2008 at 07:06

    Now he can say he was just following orders. That’s exactly what this is all about:


    Between 1945 and 1946, German officials involved in the Holocaust and other war crimes were taken in front of an international tribunal in the Nuremberg Trials. The Soviet Union had wanted the trials to take place in Berlin, but Nuremberg was chosen as the site for the trials for specific reasons:

       * It was located in the American occupation zone

       * The Palace of Justice was spacious and largely undamaged (one of the few that had remained largely intact through extensive Allied bombing of Germany). A large prison was also part of the complex.

       * The city had been the location of the Nazi Party’s Nuremberg rallies; there was symbolic value in making it the place of the Nazi demise.

       * As a compromise, it was agreed that Berlin would become the permanent seat of the International Military Tribunal and that the first trial (several were planned) would take place in Nuremberg. Because of the Cold War, there were no subsequent trials.

    GUANTANAMO anyone??? Maybe BAGHDAD, Abu Ghraib is so handy and so fitting on so many levels.

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