Counter Terrorism in the White House

(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

Rachel Maddow – former Rice confidant Philip Zelikow on the torture memos, part 1

copyright © 2009 Betsy L. Angert.

In his attempt to counter a perceived threat to America, Philip Zelikow, the policy representative to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the National Securities Council (NSC) Deputies Committee, unexpectedly became the threat from within the White House.  

The Bush Administration believed the best way to deal with suspected terrorists was to inflict extreme physical and psychological pressure on these perilous persons.  Mister Zelikow offered his dissent.  In a written and verbally stated opinion, Philip Zelikow contradicted what the occupants of the Oval Office accepted as necessary.  “Individuals suspected of terrorism, can be legally tortured.”  

A short time after the Office of Legal Council (OLC) issued the now infamous judgments which allowed for officially sanctioned torment, Mister Zelikow, his superior, who was then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and her Legal Adviser, John Bellinger, gained access to the torture memos.  After a review, Philip Zelikow stated his concern.  He sensed others within the Administration might share his angst.  However, no one, inclusive of Mister Zelikow,  publicly voiced an apprehension, that is, not until this past week.

Today, Mister Zelikow writes of his silence, and the counter position he took on torture for terrorists.  In an article, the former White House insider explains why did not speak out earlier.  “In compliance with the security agreements I have signed, I have never discussed or disclosed any substantive details about the program until the classified information has been released.”

Now that the memos are in the hands of the people, the man who served as the Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission, Philip Zelikow, feels a need to address what for too long was avoided.  In his missive The OLC “torture memos”: thoughts from a dissenter the counter force to corruption within the Bush White House speaks out.  He writes . . .

1.  The focus on water-boarding misses the main point of the program.

Which is that it was a program.  Unlike the image of using intense physical coercion as a quick, desperate expedient, the program developed “interrogation plans” to disorient, abuse, dehumanize, and torment individuals over time.

The plan employed the combined, cumulative use of many techniques of medically-monitored physical coercion.  Before getting to water-boarding, the captive had already been stripped naked, shackled to ceiling chains keeping him standing so he cannot fall asleep for extended periods, hosed periodically with cold water, slapped around, jammed into boxes, etc. etc.  Sleep deprivation is most important.

2.  Measuring the value of such methods should be done professionally and morally before turning to lawyers.

A professional analysis would not simply ask: Did they tell us important information?  Congress is apparently now preparing to parse the various claims on this score — and that would be quite valuable.

But the argument that they gave us vital information, which readers can see deployed in the memos just as they were deployed to reassure an uneasy president, is based on a fallacy.  The real question is: What is the unique value of these methods?. . .

3.  The legal opinions have grave weaknesses.

Weakest of all is the May 30 opinion, just because it had to get over the lowest standard — “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” in Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture.  That standard was also being codified in the bill Senator John McCain was fighting to pass.  It is also found in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, a standard that the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 does apply to these prisoners.  Violation of Common Article 3 is a war crime under federal law (18 U.S.C. section 2441), a felony punishable by up to life imprisonment.  (The OLC opinions do not discuss this law because in 2005 the administration also denied the applicability of Common Article 3.)

However, regardless of historic realities, long-held interpretations of international and national law,  and the writ within the insulated world of the Oval Office, those who would like to think the President is above the law, justify inhumane practices.   The so called “Right” rule, that individuals subjected to torture were not touched in ways that would cause them harm.  Conservatives clamor   . . .

The emotional debate surrounding the use of torture has been reignited by last week’s disclosure of Bush-era memos outlining the harsh interrogation practices utilized against high-profile terror detainees, and the legal opinions used to justify them. Such approved techniques involved slapping, waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, cramped confinement, “walling” (in which detainees were slammed into a flexible wall), forced nudity, and placing a suspect in a small box with insects. President Obama believes that the tactics reflect America’s loss of its “moral bearings,” which is why he discontinued their use and released the memos. But a cadre of political commentators and former Bush administration officials refute that claim, insisting that the techniques should be permissible either because they don’t actually constitute torture, or because they elicit valuable information – or both. We went through the commentary of the past few days to see who falls into this camp.

“One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort …. I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country.” –Dick Cheney, speaking with Fox News’ Sean Hannity

“The techniques themselves were used selectively against only a small number of hard-core prisoners who successfully resisted other forms of interrogation, and then only with the explicit authorization of the director of the CIA …. As already disclosed by Director Hayden, as late as 2006, even with the growing success of other intelligence tools, fully half of the government’s knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda came from those interrogations.” –Former attorney general Michael Mukasey and former CIA director Michael Hayden, in The Wall Street Journal

“It is, yes, good that the U.S.A. is not doing this anymore, but let’s not get too sanctimonious about how awful it was that we indulged in these techniques after watching nearly 3,000 innocent Americans endure god-awful deaths at the hands of religious fanatics who would happily have detonated a nuclear bomb if they had gotten their mitts on one. And let us move on. There is pressing business. (Are you listening, ACLU? Hel-lo?)” –Chris Buckley, on the Daily Beast

“If somebody can go through water-boarding for 183 times, 6 times a day …. it means you’re not afraid of it, it means it’s not torture. If you’ve found a way to withstand it, it can’t possibly be torture.” –Rush Limbaugh

“I don’t see it as a dark chapter in our history at all. You look at some of these techniques – holding the head, a face slap, or deprivation of sleep. If that is torture, the word has no meaning.” –Charles Krauthammer, on Fox News’ Special Report with Brit Hume

“I think it’s really pathetic for an American president to do that, and to disavow, in effect, the good faith efforts of a previous administration to protect us in ways that I think were entirely appropriate.” –Bill Kristol, on Fox News’ Special Report with Brit Hume

“I’ve been in hotels with more bugs than these guys faced, and they’re tortured?” –Mike Huckabee, on Fox & Friends

“Ultimately though, apparently, according to the evidence, this stuff worked. And some of these guys spilled some beans that saved some lives. Next time we’re in the same predicament, what’s going to happen?” –Steve Doocy, host of Fox & Friends

“Khalid Sheik Mohammed, I understand, was waterboarded 183 times. Did anyone care about that? Does anyone in America walk around going, ‘I’m really upset that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded 183 times.’ That makes me feel better.” -Brian Kilmeade, host of Fox & Friends

“The idea that torture doesn’t work – that’s been put out from John McCain on down – You know, for the longest time McCain said torture doesn’t work then he admitted in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last summer that he was broken by North Vietnamese. So what are we to think here?” –Rush Limbaugh

“If you go beyond posing questions in an even voice, you’re torturing, according to the Times …. Most Americans understand, when life and death is there, you’ve got to do something more than the Army Field Manual.” –Bill O’Reilly

“By reading this people will be reassured and they’ll see the lunacy of the people on the left who say it’s torture. You know, you can only the use the back of your hand you have t splay your fingers when you slap them in the gut. On the face, you have to sue your fingers splayed, and you have to do it between here and here, and close to here.” –Karl Rove, on The O’Reilly Factor

“Far from ‘green lighting’ torture – or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees – the memos detail the actual techniques used and the many measures taken to ensure that interrogations did not cause severe pain or degradation.” –David B. Rivkin and Lee A. Casey, Justice Department officials under George H.W. Bush, in The Wall Street Journal

American opinions remain split, just as they had been in May 2005, when Philip Zelikow first offered his counter to torture.  Today, if anything is to be done to correct what was authorized for criminal behavior, the people must act.  Citizens have already seen what occurs when the public is apathetic, and awards a Commander-In-Chief absolute power.

References for a tortuous reality . . .


  1. when you see waves of people clamoring to get out of the way, lest they be implicated.

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