Op-Eds and Bloggers on Torture

Photo from Abu Gharib prison

April 26, 2009

Torture, an evil practice that should never be condoned or used as a method of interrogation by any civilized country, is on the lips of millions since the recent release of the torture memos. It is also the word flowing from the pens of editors, opinion writers, and bloggers across the land. I have compiled some of the most interesting thoughts on the issue.

One of the best opinions, published yesterday in the New York Times, is an editorial by Frank Rich entitled The Banality of Bush White House Evil. It's long, but worth the read. Some excerpts
On Tuesday, it will be five years since Americans first confronted the photographs from Abu Ghraib on “60 Minutes II.” Here, too, we want to cling to myths that quarantine the evil. If our country committed torture, surely it did so to prevent Armageddon, in a patriotic ticking-time-bomb scenario out of “24.” If anyone deserves blame, it was only those identified by President Bush as “a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values”: promiscuous, sinister-looking lowlifes like Lynddie England, Charles Graner and the other grunts who were held accountable while the top command got a pass.
...Perhaps some new facts may yet emerge if Dick Cheney succeeds in his unexpected and welcome crusade to declassify documents that he says will exonerate administration interrogation policies. Meanwhile, we do have evidence for an alternative explanation of what motivated Bybee to write his memo that August, thanks to the comprehensive Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees released last week.

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.

But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.

Last week Bush-Cheney defenders, true to form, dismissed the Senate Armed Services Committee report as “partisan.” But as the committee chairman, Carl Levin, told me, the report received unanimous support from its members — John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman included.

Levin also emphasized the report’s accounts of military lawyers who dissented from White House doctrine — only to be disregarded. The Bush administration was “driven,” Levin said. By what? “They’d say it was to get more information. But they were desperate to find a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq.”

Five years after the Abu Ghraib revelations, we must acknowledge that our government methodically authorized torture and lied about it. But we also must contemplate the possibility that it did so not just out of a sincere, if criminally misguided, desire to “protect” us but also to promote an unnecessary and catastrophic war. Instead of saving us from “another 9/11,” torture was a tool in the campaign to falsify and exploit 9/11 so that fearful Americans would be bamboozled into a mission that had nothing to do with Al Qaeda. The lying about Iraq remains the original sin from which flows much of the Bush White House’s illegality.

Levin suggests — and I agree — that as additional fact-finding plays out, it’s time for the Justice Department to enlist a panel of two or three apolitical outsiders, perhaps retired federal judges, “to review the mass of material” we already have. The fundamental truth is there, as it long has been. The panel can recommend a legal path that will insure accountability for this wholesale betrayal of American values.

President Obama can talk all he wants about not looking back, but this grotesque past is bigger than even he is. It won’t vanish into a memory hole any more than Andersonville, World War II internment camps or My Lai. The White House, Congress and politicians of both parties should get out of the way. We don’t need another commission. We don’t need any Capitol Hill witch hunts. What we must have are fair trials that at long last uphold and reclaim our nation’s commitment to the rule of law.
Read the newly released 263-page Senate Report on Detainee Abuse for more insight on this black chapter in U.S. history.

On Michael Moore's web site I found this chilling ediorial, U.S. Soldier Who Killed Herself--After Refusing to Take Part in Torture by editor and publisher, Greg Mitchell. Some excerpts:
With each new revelation on U.S. torture in Iraq, Afghanistan and Gitmo (and who, knows, probably elsewhere), I am reminded of the chilling story of Alyssa Peterson, who I have written about numerous times in the past three years but now with especially sad relevance. Appalled when ordered to take part in interrogations that, no doubt, involved what we would call torture, she refused, then killed herself a few days later, in September 2003.

Of course, we now know from the torture memos and the U.S. Senate committee probe and various new press reports, that the "Gitmo-izing" of Iraq was happening just at the time Alyssa got swept up in it.

Alyssa Peterson was one of the first female soldiers killed in Iraq. A cover-up, naturally, followed.

Peterson, 27, a Flagstaff, Ariz., native, served with C Company, 311th Military Intelligence BN, 101st Airborne. Peterson was an Arabic-speaking interrogator assigned to the prison at our air base in troubled Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq. According to official records, she died on Sept. 15, 2003, from a "non-hostile weapons discharge."

...When the documents of the official investigation of her death arrived, they contained bombshell revelations. Here's what the Flagstaff public radio station, KNAU, where Elston then worked, reported:

"Peterson objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners. She refused to participate after only two nights working in the unit known as the cage. Army spokespersons for her unit have refused to describe the interrogation techniques Alyssa objected to. They say all records of those techniques have now been destroyed."

According to the official report on her death released the following year, she had earlier been "reprimanded" for showing "empathy" for the prisoners. One of the most moving parts of that report is: "She said that she did not know how to be two people; she ... could not be one person in the cage and another outside the wire."

Peterson was then assigned to the base gate, where she monitored Iraqi guards, and sent to suicide prevention training. "But on the night of September 15th, 2003, Army investigators concluded she shot and killed herself with her service rifle," the documents disclose.

A notebook she had been writing was found next to her body. Its contents were redacted in the official report. The Army talked to some of Peterson's colleagues. Asked to summarize their comments, Elston told me: "The reactions to the suicide were that she was having a difficult time separating her personal feelings from her professional duties. That was the consistent point in the testimonies, that she objected to the interrogation techniques, without describing what those techniques were."

Elston said that the documents also refer to a suicide note found on her body, which suggested that she found it ironic that suicide prevention training had taught her how to commit suicide. He filed another FOIA request for a copy of the actual note.
Read the entire editorial.

From Vagabond Scholar are several great blogs including Videos on Torture, The Torture Flowchart and The Senate Report on Detainee Abuse. Some excerpts from that post:
Some initial thoughts - some of the senators listed are quite conservative, and even more are less than honorable. I think it's wise to remember that as damning as this is, this is still probably a watered-down version. It's more useful for its documentation of facts and events than its conclusions. Case in point – those conclusions mention "anti-torture laws" twice, but always refer to "abuse" versus "torture." I'd be very surprised if Cornyn and the lot didn't fight like the scumbags they are over that. Also, the dissembling public statements of Cornyn and Lieberman, among others, are even more damnable given that they had access to this information. Lieberman has claimed waterboarding is not torture and described it inaccurately on several occasions (including yesterday), while Cornyn has tried to claim torture is justified with his ludicrous ticking time bomb scenarios. Cornyn has also opposed a truth commission of any sort and whined about partisanship.

Meanwhile, the McClatchy piece "Report: Abusive tactics were used to find Iraq-al Qaida link" focuses on a specific point, confirming what long has been likely and we have noted in part before, even if there are smoking guns yet to come. The torture apologists will argue details as a distraction, but even if specific timelines, events and motives still need to be nailed down, at the most generous, this was criminal, reckless negligence.
From Talking Points Memo, A Glimps of the Dark Side by David Kurtz focuses on the Darth Vader of the Bush Administration, Dick Cheney. Some excerpts:
Dick Cheney apparently kept a file in his office marked "Detainees" (.pdf).

The document in question, obtained by Greg Sargent, is Cheney's request to the National Archives to declassify and release certain documents that he says "proves" that U.S. torture produced actionable intelligence.

In particular he requests two CIA reports: a 12-page report dated July 13, 2004, and a 19-page report dated June 1, 2005.

But note especially that Cheney's request identifies a specific folder marked "Detainees" kept in "OVP Cheney Immediate Office Files."
...The point here is that by 2004-05, the Administration's self-justification for its torture policy was well underway. These reports are not contemporaneous accounts of what intelligence the torture yielded. Rather, the CIA and Cheney were papering the file well after the fact.

Now, I know some of you will say it doesn't matter whether torture worked or not. This is true, as far as it goes. But there's a large body of evidence not only that torture doesn't work generally, but that that it didn't work specifically when implemented by the U.S. (or didn't work any better than non-criminal methods would have worked).
Read Cheney's request form for detainee files.

From the Docudharma site is a post worth reading, The Torture Was Political, The Politics Was Personal by buhdydharma:
Before George Bush was even elected, he wanted to invade Iraq. The evidence for that is in this video of Blitzer interviewing Candidate Bush. (at 1:40)
Multiple sources have said that Bush's response to the tragedy of 9/11 was to try to find a way to blame his fathers undefeated nemesis, Saddam Hussein. Richard Clarke, in his book Against All Enemies, provides this quote.

HT to Richard Cranium
"...see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred..."

"Absolutely [Mr. President], we will look...again." I was trying to be more respectful, more responsive. "But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda, and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen."

"Look into Iraq, Saddam," the President said testily, and left us...
That conversation reportedly took place on September 12, 2001.

...America did NOT torture for "National Security" reasons. America tortured for political reasons, to support the political decision to invade Iraq.

That political decision was not based on the facts now at our disposal. Or, indeed, even the facts at the time. The reasons to invade Iraq even then were non-existent. Thus they had to be manufactured. Part of that process was the unsuccessful attempt to use torture to produce a justification for that invasion. And even using torture, they were unable to come up with a justification.
Anti-torture action campaigns
Want to take action to oppose torture? See links to petitions below:

Ask Congress to request that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate torture

Tell Congress to take action to Impeach Judge Jay Bybee

Five days until the