Torture me this
Last week I started to write a post about the horror of America's policy on torture under George W. Bush. The post was inspired by an NPR story last week about Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was wrongly detained during a layover at JFK in 2002 and sent to Syria, where he was tortured. Eventually, officials realized he was innocent, and Arar was released. The Canadian government awarded him $10 million for his ordeal, and last week the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in his case.
I was struck by the NPR story because the personal story can be so moving. Hearing Arar describe his experience, which you can hear at NPR's website by clicking the link above, penetrates even the deepest cynicism.
That post I started was never finished. And now since Friday, the floodgates have opened on the Bush administration's torture scandal. In the administration's waning days, the Bush crime syndicate would probably prefer to control the message of Bush's legacy. Instead, it has had to deal with the stain it has left on America's reputation and the very real damage it did in America's pursuit of national security through its use of torture.
Last Thursday, the Senate Armed Forces Committee, led by Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), released a report indicating that high level administration officials, going at least as high as then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, were directly responsible for torture committed by American military members. Lynndie England and Charles Graner weren't a couple of low level bad apples. They were told from on high to do what they did.
The committee report was the result of two years of investigation. It confirmed what we already knew due to the previous release of DOD and DOJ memos.
Stunningly, rather than tamping down the story, Vice President Dick Cheney has faced it head on, telling ABC News that he thinks the use of torture, including waterboarding, was appropriate. Of course, Cheney doesn't admit that the techniques used were torture. He sticks to the administration line that the United States doesn't torture, but in the same interview, within minutes, he states that he feels that all of the interrogation tactics used by the U.S., including waterboarding, were appropriate.
It is well known that torture techniques, including waterboarding, were used on al-Qaeda leader Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and in the ABC interview, Cheney claims that about half of what we knew about al-Qaeda a few years ago came from KSM.
But Cheney's claim doesn't jibe with a new article at VanityFair.com. David Rose of VF has written a story, "Tortured Reasoning", in which counterterrorism officials from various agencies indicate that the Bush administration's use of torture not only did not produce reliable intelligence but it was also counterproductive in our country's attempt to protect itself.
In researching this article, I spoke to numerous counterterrorist officials from agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. Their conclusion is unanimous: not only have coercive methods failed to generate significant and actionable intelligence, they have also caused the squandering of resources on a massive scale through false leads, chimerical plots, and unnecessary safety alerts—with Abu Zubaydah’s case one of the most glaring examples.
Here, they say, far from exposing a deadly plot, all torture did was lead to more torture of his supposed accomplices while also providing some misleading “information” that boosted the administration’s argument for invading Iraq.
And here's where Cheney's assertion about KSM is blown to shreds:
But according to a former senior C.I.A. official, who read all the interrogation reports on K.S.M., “90 percent of it was total f--king bulls--t.” A former Pentagon analyst adds: “K.S.M. produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.”
So not only is torture morally reprehensible, it's not practical.
Incredibly, there are people out there still willing to defend this wretched practice. Philly radio talk show host Michael Smerconish told MSNBC's Chris Matthews on Wednesday on Hardball that if the US does it, it's OK.
Meanwhile, Senator Levin stated on The Rachel Maddow Show that his committee's report warrants the creation of a commission to determine if Bush administration officials should be charged with crimes. (Gotta embed this one.)
The New York Times' editorial board, meanwhile, believes the commission step should be skipped:
A prosecutor should be appointed to consider criminal charges against top officials at the Pentagon and others involved in planning the abuse.
We're all looking forward to putting this sad chapter of American history behind us, but even with a mere month remaining in the Bush administration, this story continues to have plot twists.
Andy in Harrisburg