Archives For Torture Report

Dick Cheney’s Moral Standard, Ctd

Dish Staff —  Dec 16 2014 @ 1:59pm
by Dish Staff

Damon Linker is perturbed at what Cheney – “along with a distressingly large number of Americans – understands by patriotism: a willingness to do just about anything to advance the interests of the United States and decimate its enemies”:

Cheney’s hardly the first person to defend such a position. Machiavelli advocated a version of it in The Prince. It’s been favored by some of the most ruthless nationalists and totalitarians in modern history. And it’s expressed in Book 1 of Plato’s Republic by the character Polemarchus (the name means “leader in battle”), who defines justice as helping friends (fellow citizens) and harming enemies (anyone who poses a threat to the political community). This is what patriotism looks like when it’s cut off from any notion of a higher morality that could limit or rein it in. All that counts is whether an action benefits the political community. Other considerations, moral and otherwise, are irrelevant.

The problem with this view, which Socrates soon gets Polemarchus to see, is that amoral patriotism is indistinguishable from collective selfishness. It turns the political community into a gang of robbers, a crime syndicate like the mafia, that seeks to advance its own interests while screwing over everyone else. If such behavior is wrong for an individual criminal, then it must also be wrong for a collective.

Chait helpfully dismantles Cheney’s defense of torture. And Waldman focuses on his refusal to define the term:

[E]ven after this repeated questioning, we still don’t know how Dick Cheney or any other torture advocate defines it. Why not? It seems pretty clear. There is simply no definition that anyone could devise that wouldn’t apply to things like stress positions or waterboarding. Try to imagine one. Torture is the infliction of severe physical or mental suffering to obtain information or a confession — but only if it leaves a mark? Or only if it’s done by non-Americans? Any such definition would be absurd on its face.

So when people like Cheney are asked what the definition of torture is, they say, “September 11!” When asked what definition of torture wouldn’t apply to the particular techniques the CIA employed, they just repeat, “We didn’t torture” over and over. They not only defend torture as a means of obtaining intelligence, they sing its praises and insist that it was spectacularly successful, all without having the courage to call the thing by its true and only name.

Froomkin is concerned that, for Cheney, his Meet The Press appearance “was still a win – at least in the short term, until history passes a more considered verdict”:

Because our elite political media is unwilling to call out the morally abhorrent self-interested ravings of a torturer, Cheney’s statements effectively push the envelope for what is treated as legitimate debate. So while we finally have this long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report, full of achingly detailed descriptions of abuse and lies even more depraved and duplicitous than any of us had imagined, the media just sees the “revisiting of a debate” about torture.

Previous Dish on Cheney’s MTP appearance here. Andrew’s take here.

A Republican Pop Quiz

Dish Staff —  Dec 16 2014 @ 10:49am
by Dish Staff

A reader sent this in:

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Can you answer which Republican figure said each quote? Answers after the jump:

On Obamacare:

1. Sarah Palin, former half-term governor of Alaska, vice-presidential nominee, reality show star

2. Ben Carson, surgeon and 2016 presidential contender. (Though his exact words were: “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”)

3. Bill O’Brien, New Hampshire state representative

4. Michele Bachmann, congresswomen

On torture:

1. Marco Rubio, senator

2. Palin

3. Peter King, congressman

4. Steve King, congressman

(Though the following quote from Dick Cheney would have made a better pick: “What are we supposed to do kiss him on both cheeks and say ‘please, please tell us what you know’?”)

Dick Cheney’s Moral Standard

Dish Staff —  Dec 15 2014 @ 11:29am
by Dish Staff

Like Andrew, Conor Friedersdorf is deeply troubled by it:

Once 9/11 happened, Dick Cheney ceased to believe that the CIA should be subject to the U.S. Constitution, statutes passed by Congress, international treaties, or moral prohibitions against torture. Those standards would be cast aside. In their place, moral relativism would reign. Any action undertaken by the United States would be subject to this test: Is it morally equivalent to what Al Qaeda did on 9/11? Is it as bad as murdering roughly 3,000 innocent people? If not, then no one should criticize it, let alone investigate, charge and prosecute the CIA. Did a prisoner freeze to death? Were others anally raped? Well, what if they were?

If it cannot be compared with 9/11, if it is not morally equivalent, then it should not be verboten.

That is the moral standard Cheney is unabashedly invoking on national television. He doesn’t want the United States to honor norms against torture. He doesn’t want us to abide by Ten Commandments, or to live up to the values in the Declaration of Independence, or to be restrained by the text of the Constitution. Instead, Cheney would have us take Al Qaeda as our moral and legal measuring stick. Did America torture dozens of innocents? So what. 9/11 was worse.

Torture’s Partisan Divide

Dish Staff —  Dec 15 2014 @ 10:52am
by Dish Staff

It’s massive:

Torture Partisan

Jane Mayer fears that “torture is becoming just another partisan issue”:

This wasn’t always the case—it was Ronald Reagan who signed the U.N. Convention Against Torture, in 1988. But polls show both a growing acceptance of the practice and a widening divide along party lines. “It’s becoming a lot like the death penalty,” [political science professor Darius] Rejali said.

The 1975 Church Committee report, which was conducted following revelations of, among other things, covert operations to assassinate foreign leaders, was, until now, the best-known public airing of C.I.A. practices. According to Loch K. Johnson, a professor of political science at the University of Georgia, who was a special assistant to Senator Frank Church, its findings were broadly accepted across the political spectrum. “No one challenged it,” he said.

She argues “there was a way to address the matter that might have avoided much of the partisan trivialization”:

In a White House meeting in early 2009, Greg Craig, President Obama’s White House Counsel, recommended the formation of an independent commission. Nearly every adviser in the room endorsed the idea, including such national-security hawks as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, and the President’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel. Leon Panetta, the C.I.A. director at the time, also supported it.

Obama, however, said that he didn’t want to seem to be taking punitive measures against his predecessor, apparently because he still hoped to reach bipartisan agreement on issues such as closing Guantánamo.

And look at how well that turned out. Allahpundit, looking at the above chart, ponders the partisan split:

Both sides are way more comfortable with sleep deprivation and hitting a prisoner than they are with sticking one in a de facto coffin for a week or rectally feeding hunger-strikers. You can tease out a certain logic to that. Practices that the average joe can relate to, like being slapped or deprived of sleep, are more acceptable; practices that are more baroque, like trapping a guy in a box for days on end, or that involve some sort of sexual humiliation, like forced nudity or threats of sexual violence, are out of the ordinary and more likely to be seen as sadistic. (Note how there’s more support in both parties for actual violence against a detainee than threatening to use physical or sexual violence against him. It’s the “sexual” part of the question that produces that result, I bet.)

The one outlier is waterboarding, another baroque practice but one that’s acceptable to many Republicans and a bit more acceptable to Democrats than the box is. Why is that? Maybe it’s because waterboarding’s become familiar over time after so much public debate about it. Maybe it’s because GOPers know it’s closely linked to Bush and Cheney and feel a partisan tug to defend it. Or maybe it’s that lots of righties remain unconvinced that being waterboarded is as terrible as it’s supposed to be, at least compared to being enclosed in a coffin-sized crate for days.

As things stand, Steve M. bets that the next Republican president will torture:

I don’t know if the gloves are going to come off again on the first day of the next GOP presidency, but if we have a Sidney siege with a Republican in the White House and any of the perpetrators are captured alive, it seems likely to me that the waterboarding equipment is coming out of mothballs.

Waldman wants the question raised during the next primary:

My guess is that if asked directly, the GOP presidential candidates would say, “That’s all in the past.” But at the very least, we ought to get them on record now making clear whether they would ever consider using torture again.

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I’ve been really heartened by many Christians’ responses to the Torture Report’s cataloguing of evil done in our name and behind our backs. The Catholic Bishops need to do much more, but this was a start:

The Catholic Church firmly believes that torture is an ‘intrinsic evil’ that cannot be justified under any circumstance. The acts of torture described in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report violated the God-given human dignity inherent in all people and were unequivocally wrong … We have placed ourselves through our history as a beacon of hope, a beacon of reason, of freedom: and so, this recent chapter in our history has tarnished that.” He went on to say, “It is not something that can be easily regained, but I think that the publishing of this report begins the cleaning up of that tarnishing of our reputation as a nation that is on sound moral footing.

Today, we also noted one Christian now refusing to say the Pledge Of Allegiance, with sentiments, to my mind, completely appropriate to this moment:

From reading the report, it should now be crystal clear to anyone who has read the teachings of Jesus as found in scripture that one cannot swear their allegiance to America while simultaneously giving our allegiance to the alternate way of Jesus. Absolutely, positively, impossible. The contents of the report reveal what the US has done, and what has been done is anti-Christ – pure, absolute evil.

The crucifixion of those with already broken limbs should surely have a resonance, even among white evangelicals.

I also sense a slight opening for a way forward. There is no question in my mind that these grotesque human rights violations will require justice – if only compensation for torture victims. I agree with Harold Koh that not prosecuting open war crimes is equally intolerable in a democratic society – and sends a terrible message to all dictators and thugs across the planet that they can now torture at will. But there’s also an obvious next step: give Michael Hayden what he wants.

The Intelligence Committee should insist on interviewing all the torture suspects who are busy complaining they didn’t get to give their take (even though interviews with them from the CIA’s internal review is in the report, as are the CIA’s full, considered response). For good measure, the Obama administration should provide to the committee all the documents it has on the torture program. In other words: let’s update the report with as much data as we can possibly find. I sincerely doubt that it will turn up anything less incriminating than the CIA’s own records, but this is so grave and foundational a matter, we should make every effort to have the equivalent of a Truth Commission. The SSCI report is a great start.

Some relief from the weekend: Niebuhr on the temptations of mixing religion and politics; Wieseltier on the social peace among argumentative Jews; the grand tradition of drunk professors; the last wondrous video stores; and lesbian graffiti in ancient Pompeii.

The most popular post of the weekend was Watching Cheney: He’s Got Nothing. Runner-up: this Mental Health Break celebrating New York City.

21 more readers became subscribers this weekend. You can join them here – and get access to all the readons and Deep Dish – for a little as $1.99 month. Gift subscriptions are available here (you purchase one today and have it auto-delivered on Christmas Day). Dish t-shirts are for sale here and coffee mugs here. A final email for the week:

I want to thank you for the writing you’ve done about the way we treat animals in the factory farm system.  Before reading your blog, I was vaguely aware that there was controversy, but I will admit that I was not as thoughtful about where my food came from pigsas I ought to have been.  It was your blog that introduced me to these horrifying maternity pens, which sent me looking for more information, and pretty soon after that I decided that I couldn’t be part of a system that included such cruelty.  I don’t think there’s anything morally wrong with raising animals for meat; I just think that before they are humanely slaughtered, there ought to be some recognition that these are living creatures who can feel pain, both physical and emotional.

Anyway, I stopped buying pork from the grocery store, found two local farms that raise and slaughter their animals in humane conditions, and then stopped buying meat from the grocery store all together (because what the farming system does to chickens and cows might not be as bad as what it does to those poor sows, but it’s not much better).  It’s undeniably more expensive, so we eat quite a bit less meat, which in the long run is probably a big win for my family’s overall health and small win for the environment.  So, even if there’s nothing you and your staff can do to convince Christie to buck political forces and do what’s right for these animals, you’ve inspired at least one of your readers to do what little she can by taking her dollars elsewhere.  Thanks, and keep up the great work!

I’m taking next week off blogging to deal with other pressing Dish business. Michelle Dean and Will Wilkinson will be guest-blogging, alongside our regular Dish team. I may post on torture and a few other topics, so I won’t be off-grid. Just trying to keep the Dish alive and well.

The rest of us will see you in the morning.

(Photo: The shadow of a protester in a hoodie is seen in the glow of police lights on the wall of a church during a ‘Millions March’ demonstration protesting the killing of unarmed black men by police on December 13, 2014 in Oakland, California. The march was one of many held nationwide. By Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images.)

The Depravity Of Dick Cheney

Andrew Sullivan —  Dec 14 2014 @ 6:30pm

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Perhaps the only saving grace of this sociopath formerly in high office is that he understands that his legacy could well be as a war criminal unlike any in American history before him. That’s my only explanation for why he has to be out there day after day, year after year, attacking his successor, lambasting America’s return to civilization, and insisting that hanging people from shackles, freezing them to near-death, near-drowning them so that their abdomens are distended with water, anally raping them, breaking their limbs, and keeping them awake so long they hallucinated … is not somehow torture. Ask yourself: have you ever met someone who believes that? Outside the professional criminal classes, that is.

And in his response today to the voluminous and undisputed evidence supplied by the CIA’s own internal documents, he has nothing specific or factual to say that can undermine any of it. He just insists, like a dad lost on a car trip, that he alone knows he’s not lost, whatever the map or GPS says. His best talking point is that those who authorized and committed the torture were not interviewed by the committee – implying this was because of bias. But this is transparently false. Six months into the investigation, the attorney general announced his own study into CIA torture techniques. Here is Senator Feinstein’s account of what happened next:

The committee’s Vice Chairman Kit Bond withdrew the minority’s participation in the study, citing the attorney general’s expanded investigation as the reason. The Department of Justice refused to coordinate its investigation with the Intelligence Committee’s review. As a result, possible interviewees could be subject to additional liability if they were interviewed. The CIA, citing the attorney general’s investigation, would not instruct its employees to participate in our interviews. (Source: classified CIA internal memo, February 26, 2010).

In any case, there were plenty of previous interviews with CIA torturers, including from the CIA’s own internal investigation, there was a formal CIA response to all the charges (highly unpersuasive because they have to argue against their own records), and, so far as I know, interviewing them all over again is still possible. Come to think of it, why doesn’t the committee take that up again under GOP leadership, if their perspective will allegedly alter the conclusions?

But in the Cheney interview, there is nothing faintly that rational. He is behaving like a cornered man. On what possible grounds does he dismiss 6.3 million pages of documentation from the CIA’s own records as “full of crap”? The CIA had a chance to rebut every one of the conclusions with other documents and failed to. This is preposterous as well as slanderous to the extraordinary work behind this remarkable report. But the most revealing parts of the interview were the following, it seems to me. Todd asked Cheney at one point what he believed the meaning of torture is, after citing the rectal hydration issue (which seems to have upset more people than any other technique). And this is what Cheney said:

I’ll tell you what my definition of torture is: what nineteen guys armed with airline tickets and boxcutters did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11.

Later, when confronted with an example of a human being suspended by his wrists from shackles so he could barely touch the floor for 22 hours a day for two weeks, Cheney refused to say that that wasn’t torture. Instead he repeated:

Torture is what the al Qaeda terrorists did to 3,000 Americans on 9/11

What I take from these statements is that the torture program was, for Cheney, partly an amateur thug’s idea of how you get intelligence, but partly also simply a means of revenge. Yes: revenge. This was a torture program set up in order to vent rage and inflict revenge. It was torture designed to be as brutal to terror suspects as 19 men on 9/11 were to Americans. Tit-for-tat. Our torture in return for their torture; their innocent victims in return for ours. It was a program that has no place in a civilized society.

He was then asked about the 26 people whom the CIA admits were tortured by mistake. One of them was even frozen to death. A sane and rational and decent human being, who presided over the program that did this, might say: “The decision to torture was an extremely agonizing one, but I still believe defensible. But of course the torture of innocent people is horrifying. I deeply regret the chaos and amateurism of the program in its early phases.”

So what did Cheney actually say? When confronted with the instance of Rahman Gul, the individual tortured to death, Todd asked what the US owed these torture victims. Cheney actually said this:

The problem I have is with all the folks we did release who ended up on the battlefield … I have no problem [with torturing innocent people] as long as we achieved our objective.

It doesn’t get any clearer than that. The man is a sociopath. He is a disgrace to his country. And he needs to be brought to justice.

US-TORTURE-INTELLIGENCE-POLITICS-BRENNAN

[Re-posted from earlier today]

The CIA director made one small concession yesterday. Here is his Rumsfeldian rumination on whether torture gave the US any actionable intelligence that “saved lives”:

I have already stated that our reviews indicate that the detention and interrogation program produced useful intelligence that helped the United States thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives. But let me be clear: We have not concluded that it was the use of EITs within that program that allowed us to obtain useful information from detainees subjected to them. The cause and effect relationship between the use of EITs and useful information subsequently provided by the detainee is, in my view, unknowable.

The key word there is “subsequently.” He’s arguing that some useful intelligence was later acquired from prisoners who had been tortured. What’s he’s conceding is that torture gave us no real intelligence – against the claims of his predecessors and Cheney. But he wants the broader question of whether torture played a role in prepping prisoners to give information in traditional, humane and legal interrogations to remain an open one. Well, let’s go through the report to see if he has a leg to stand on.

The Senate’s report lists the plots the CIA has relied most heavily on when making the case for the efficacy of torture:

CIA Plots

The report goes on to debunk torture’s role in each of these cases. Here are the key points:

Tall Buildings

So in this case, all the intelligence necessary to thwart a barely existent plot by utterly unserious criminals was discovered before torture was instigated at all.

Karachi Plots

Another claim eviscerated by the CIA’s own evidence.

Second Wave Combined

Again: torture was utterly irrelevant to this amorphous plot far from being operational.

UK Plot Four

Another phantasm of a plot revealed by sources independent of the torture program.

Faris

So this canary sang without any torture at all.

Badat

And so it goes. Notice that all of this evidence is taken from the CIA’s own internal documents. This is not the Senate Committee’s conclusion; it is the CIA’s.

Heathrow Combined

Yet another dud. And therefore yet another lie.

Hambali Capture

Look: if every single one of the CIA’s own purported successes evaporates upon inspecting the CIA’s own records, what’s left?

Does Brennan know of other cases of alleged plots disrupted by intelligence procured through torture? You’d think in all its strenuous efforts to prove that its program worked, the CIA would have mentioned other plots. But if they don’t exist, Brennan’s claim of “unknowability” evaporates into thin air. It’s total bullshit. As for the need to interview the torturers, why? When the CIA’s own documents show that these mainly unserious plots were foiled by other means entirely, what is left for the torturers to say? That some things discovered by legal means were also blurted out – among countless untrue things – after torture sessions? As for the details of all these cases, I recommend reading all the footnotes. They flesh out the summaries above.

This seems to me to be a crucial issue of truth and falsehood.

What Brennan said yesterday was, in contrast, spin: some kind of sad attempt to square a circle that is adamantly circular. There is no evidence in the entire CIA archive that shows that any prisoner provided truthful information “subsequently” to being tortured. None. All the information necessary to foil every single plot cited by the CIA was recovered by legal, moral and humane means. All of it. This is not an opinion, a judgment … but a fact.

And that means that on this critical, foundational question, one that gets to the heart of Western civilization, John Brennan is a liar. And his lies and deceptions matter. That a CIA chief can get up and tell us that something is unknowable when it is already fully known is someone who has forfeited the public trust in a profound way. He’s lying to protect what’s left of the reputation of the CIA. He refuses to discipline any war criminal in his ranks, and defends the bulk of them. And let us be perfectly clear: all of this is criminal activity. Committing war crimes and then refusing to acknowledge them as such violates the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention of Torture and domestic law.

I want to move past this as much as Brennan does. But you cannot move past it without reckoning with it, without facing up the the facts, and bringing accountability to government. Obama and Brennan refuse to do it. And by refusing to come to terms with the facts, they have left this as some kind of open debate, when it is, in fact, closed. And that opening is all we need to see torture return.

On this one, the war criminals meep-meeped the president. And he didn’t even seriously try to stop them.

(Photo: CIA Director John Brennan takes questions from reporters during a press conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia on December 11, 2014.  By Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.)