The Torture Defenders Fan Out

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 8 2014 @ 1:36pm

Everything the president said above is untrue – and it appears that the looming Senate Intelligence Committee report on the torture program will soon prove it. The US did torture many many people with techniques devised by Nazis and Communists, sometimes in former KGB facilities. The CIA itself admits in its internal documents that none of it worked or gave us any actionable intelligence that wasn’t discovered through legal means. The torture techniques were not implemented by highly-trained professionals, but by goonish amateurs who concealed what they were doing and lied about it to superiors. All the techniques were and are clearly illegal under US and international law.

And we’re told there is some exculpatory evidence in the report, suggesting that Bush and Cheney and even Addington were misled as well – giving the former president some lee-way to explain how he came to create a torture program that will forever taint this country and has already done so much to damage its soft power. Maybe he could tell the truth and say that the extent and nature of the torture was kept from him and that he can now see what went so horribly wrong. But nah:

Some former administration officials privately encouraged the president and his top advisers to use the report to disclaim responsibility for the interrogation program on the grounds that they were not kept fully informed. But Mr. Bush and his inner circle rejected that suggestion. “Even if some officials privately believe they were not given all the facts, they feel it would be immoral and disloyal to throw the C.I.A. to the wolves at this point,” said one former official, who like others did not want to be identified speaking about the report before its release.

The question I posed publicly to the president back in 2009 – whether he could come to terms with the reality of torture and explain how it occurred – has therefore been answered a second time. In his own book, Bush owned the torture and took full responsibility for it. Now, he has decided he will not allow a sliver of daylight to come between him and war crimes. You can chalk this up to admirable loyalty, even to those who lied to him. Or you can simply reflect on a president who cannot admit to being the first in that office to authorize such an assault on core American values and decency. Which means to say he does not have the fortitude or character to deal with reality.

And now, we’re seeing a full-court press for those Bush loyalists who want to permanently suppress the evidence of war crimes under the program. If you want to get a clue about how devastating the forthcoming report might be, just observe the pre-emptive strikes:

The defense of the program has been organized by former C.I.A. leaders like George J. Tenet and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, two former directors, and John E. McLaughlin, a former deputy C.I.A. director who also served as acting director … General Hayden added that the former C.I.A. team objected to the Senate’s characterization of their efforts. “We’re not here to defend torture,” he said by email on Sunday. “We’re here to defend history.” General Hayden appeared earlier on Sunday on “Face the Nation” on CBS News to say that any assertion that the C.I.A. “lied to everyone about a program that wasn’t doing any good, that beggars the imagination.”

Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., who ran the C.I.A. interrogation program, said Sunday that critics now assailing the agency were pressing it after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to do whatever it took to prevent a recurrence. “We did what we were asked to do, we did what we were assured was legal, and we know our actions were effective,” Mr. Rodriguez wrote in The Washington Post.

Rodriguez was so sure that he did nothing wrong that he destroyed the tapes recording the torture sessions! Nothing to see here … so move long. A reader writes:

I just watched the CBS Morning News report on the SSCI report, featuring two persons: Michael Hayden was featured in excerpts from Sunday’s Face the Nation, then “CBS News terrorism consultant” Juan Zarate. Both offered an identical analysis: the release of the report would “fan the flames of violence against America.”

On CNN, Candy Crowley still could not say the t-word, and let Mike Rogers argue that evidence of the gravest crimes by government officials should be suppressed because … they will inflame opinion abroad, and possibly lead to demonstrations and violence. Notice that for Rogers, the fact that the US government committed barbarisms more commonly associated with Nazi Germany or Communist China is of no concern. No one should be prosecuted, because, well, because American officials cannot be subject to the Geneva Conventions, which must be observed by every state actor – except the US. And no evidence of crimes by government officials should be released, for fear of undermining faith in said government. Those arguments belong in a dictatorship, not a democracy.

Then this detail from this morning:

Mr. Bush and his closest advisers decided that “we’re going to want to stand behind these guys,” as one former official put it. Mr. Bush made that clear in an interview broadcast on Sunday. “We’re fortunate to have men and women who work hard at the C.I.A. serving on our behalf,” he told CNN’s Candy Crowley. “These are patriots and whatever the report says, if it diminishes their contributions to our country, it is way off base.” These are “really good people and we’re lucky as a nation to have them,” he said.

Whatever the report says …”

Denial doesn’t get much clearer than that – and it is of a piece with the reckless disengagement, sickening indifference and grotesque negligence that marked his catastrophic time in the Oval Office. In the wake of the shock of Abu Ghraib, Bush disavowed the atrocities, insisting that they did not represent America, that they were counter to American values, and that he was shocked and disgusted by them. And yet, when a report is imminent outlining acts of torture and abuse far worse than Abu Ghraib, and directly under his own authority, he insists that whatever is detailed in the report, the culprits are heroes and patriots, and “we’re lucky as a nation to have them.”

How does one begin to square that cognitive dissonance? How to explain how a believing Christian can describe brutal torture sessions as things to defend and be proud of? And how can the torture of human beings – and the cover-up of the same – be part of American “patriotism”? This is a man not just without a conscience, but a man proud of it. He had a chance to reflect on what his fateful decision to waive the Geneva Conventions after 9/11 produced; and he has decided to own all of it. And we shall soon see what exactly that is.