Reading the just released August 1, 2002 memo by John Yoo (reportedly ghosting for Jay Bybee, then Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and now an Appeals Court Judge for the Ninth Circuit), to John Rizzo, then Acting General Counsel for the CIA, on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, is a surreal experience. There is so much that is strange and awful in it, it's hard to know where to begin.
But one thing that struck me right off the bat was the similarity of the statistics presented in the early part of the memo with the statement of Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, a psychologist with Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, United States Joint Forces Command, before the Senate Committee on Armed Services on June 17, 2008.
Two stories from today’s news highlight the hubris of the U.S. executive branch as regards its assumed right to conduct unrestrained surveillance of its citizens, and engage in torture in violation of all laws.
Both Emptywheel at Firedoglake and Glenn Greenwald at Salon.com have done a stellar job tracking the Cheneyesque descent (H/T EW) of the Obama Justice Department when it comes to the question of executive privilege over classified material, especially when it comes to the courts. We already have witnessed the spectacle of the U.S. pressuring a British court on the suppression of documents in the Binyam Mohamed case.
What follows below was transcribed from a PDF of the original document (or a copy of same), posted on the website of Senator Carl Levin, Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It, along with a wealth of other documentation, was used in preparing the SASC’s highly critical report late last year on interrogations and detainee treatment, which concluded that high officials bore responsibility for the mistreatment and torture of prisoners under U.S. control.
The document below constitutes the minutes from a meeting held at Guantanamo in early autumn, 2002. It is presented with minimal editorial comment, as I believe it speaks for itself. So far as I know, no other transcription of this document, minus certain excerpts, has ever been published or posted before. It is done so here as a public service, to promote the position that prosecution of the government’s torture crimes is of paramount importance.
RealNews commentator, Pepe Escobar asks the question, “Where is the Special Prosecutor?”
Note an important point Pepe makes about how this will reflect on Obama if other countries must tackle the war crimes’ issue.
In their TV appearances, both Bush and Cheney attempt to make it appear that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was an isolated incidence of waterboarding. CIA Chief Hayden admitted to three incidences of waterboarding:
“Waterboarding has been used on only three detainees,” he told members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. “It was used on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. It was used on Abu Zubaydah. And it was used on [Abd al-Rahim al-]Nashiri.”
I think it would be safe to say, there were more than three who were waterboarded (Hayden also admitted to thirteen others being subjected to “enhanced interrogation methods,” but not waterboarding). And what about the deaths that occurred at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo? And those who were renditioned to other countries?
The point is that both Bush and Cheney tried to “legitimize” the use of waterboarding by 1) making it appear an isolated case and, 2) invaluable information was obtained. They, of course, try to make it seem to the American public that torture’s O.K. in “certain circumstances” — that there are exceptions to the laws. THERE ARE NO EXCEPTIONS!
Here are some thoughts on the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by a Human Rights Watch representative and other CIA operators:
“The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,” said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.
The techniques are controversial among experienced intelligence agency and military interrogators. Many feel that a confession obtained this way is an unreliable tool. Two experienced officers have told ABC that there is little to be gained by these techniques that could not be more effectively gained by a methodical, careful, psychologically based interrogation. According to a classified report prepared by the CIA Inspector General John Helgerwon and issued in 2004, the techniques “appeared to constitute cruel, and degrading treatment under the (Geneva) convention,” the New York Times reported on Nov. 9, 2005.
It is “bad interrogation. I mean you can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture’s bad enough,” said former CIA officer Bob Baer.
Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer and a deputy director of the State Department’s office of counterterrorism, recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “What real CIA field officers know firsthand is that it is better to build a relationship of trust … than to extract quick confessions through tactics such as those used by the Nazis and the Soviets.” . . . .
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.
For the first time, a senior Bush administration official has admitted to discussing the use of torture by the CIA.
In a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that in 2002 and 2003, she and other high-ranking White House officials discussed the use of torture, including waterboarding, and other coercive methods.
Rice’s and her legal council’s statements were released by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the committee’s chairman. No specific dates were given.
At the time of the White House torture planing meetings, Rice was George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor. According to the Los Angeles Times, Rice admits Bush officials held White House talks on CIA interrogations, she and other White House officials “discussed simulated torture techniques that elite U.S. soldiers were subjected to as part of a survival training program”.
Color me astonished! I’ve never been a Hitchens’ fan. In fact, if anything, I’ve loathed the man. But even “broken clocks are right twice a day” and in this case, Hitchens gets it right. Bush apologist, right-winger Hitchens decided to undergo waterboarding to see whether he would be convinced that it was torture. He wrote about his experience in Vanity Fair:
“…Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as SERE… But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict….”
AP reports that charges have been dropped against the alleged “Twentieth Hijacker”, Mohammed al-Qahtani:
The Pentagon has dropped charges against a Saudi at Guantanamo who was alleged to have been the so-called “20th hijacker” in the Sept. 11 attacks, his U.S. military defense lawyer said Monday.
Mohammed al-Qahtani was one of six men charged by the military in February with murder and war crimes for their alleged roles in the 2001 attacks. Authorities say al-Qahtani missed out on taking part in the attacks because he was denied entry to the U.S. by an immigration agent.
But in reviewing the case, the convening authority for military commissions, Susan Crawford, decided to dismiss the charges against al-Qahtani and proceed with the arraignment for the other five, said Army Lt. Col. Bryan Broyles, the Saudi’s military lawyer.
The charges were dropped without prejudice, meaning that they could be reinstated. al-Qahtani was to face the death penalty, along with five others, in trials before Military Commissions at Guantanamo.
Why were the charges dropped? Because al-Qahtani had been tortured. Of course, Crawford did not say. And his lawyer couldn’t comment yet.
Officials previously said al-Qahtani had been subjected to a harsh interrogation authorized by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. /snip
U.S. authorities have acknowledged that Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding by CIA interrogators and that al-Qahtani was treated harshly at Guantanamo.
Al-Qahtani last fall recanted a confession he said he made after he was tortured and humiliated at Guantanamo.
The alleged torture, which he detailed in a written statement, included being beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel.
[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):
“Alternative procedures.” “Valuable tools in the war on terror.” “Specialized interrogation procedures.” “Safe and lawful techniques.” “Good policies.”
George W. Bush has more euphemisms for torture than his creepy Veep, Cheney, has expletives on supply.
On Saturday, in his weekly radio address, President Bush announced his veto of the Congressional Intelligence bill, which included a ban on CIA use of certain “enhanced” interrogation methods, like waterboarding. Bush defended the use of the so-called “alternative procedures” practiced by the CIA, as necessary for field intelligence officers interrogating “hardened terrorists.” The play upon the fear of Americans of terrorist attack in the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 events turns upon well-understood traumatic mechanisms in the human psyche.
Paul Kramer at The New Yorker has written a fascinating look at the use of torture by U.S. troops in the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. Back then, the U.S. was accused of using the infamous “water cure” upon Philippine “insurgents.” A then-atypical confession by pro-war Judge Wiliam Howard Taft, head of the pro-U.S. Philippine Commission, described the technique:
The cruelties that have been inflicted; that people have been shot when they ought not to have been; that there have been in individual instances of water cure, that torture which I believe involves pouring water down the throat so that the man swells and gets the impression that he is going to be suffocated and then tells what he knows, which was a frequent treatment under the Spaniards, I am told-all these things are true.
Kramer’s article describes the political maneuvering around the torture scandal of that time, in ways that are eerily similar to today’s debates. What’s different, of course, is that other, more psychological forms of torture have been added since those early days of American imperialist wars. (Over 4,000 U.S. soldiers died in the conflict, and total Philippine deaths, both military and civilian, are estimated to be between a quarter of a million to one million people. It’s worth noting that U.S. military activities against Philippine “insurgents” or “brigands” continued until at least 1913.)