Darkness Visible: Your Thoughts

A reader writes:

First, thanks for the live blogging yesterday. It was exhausting to read and I’m sure much more so for those on the Dish team slogging through what is a very depressing report. Days like this make my subscription worth it.

Last night, Congress finally agreed on a spending bill to fund the government for the next year. Digging into the bill I found this on pg. 1353:

11      Sec. 7066. (a) None of the funds made available in
12      this act may be used to support or justify the use of tor-
13      ture, cruel, or inhumane treatment by any official or con-
14      tract employee of the United States Government.

It is utterly depressing that we need to include this in a law dictating how taxpayer funds will be used, but as the torture report release makes clear, it is absolutely necessary.

Another is bewildered:

I’m trying to understand why Obama won’t own the report now, and why his administration has resisted its release. Did he want to keep all tools available to current and future executive administrations? Is his administration being held hostage by the CIA? Does he want to stand back and let Congress and the American people work through this without his entering the debate and unleashing Republican rage even more?

I think Obama is a great president and human being, so I am really trying to understand why he seems to be choosing the wrong side of history here. I hope there’s an explanation, but it’s an increasingly small hope.

Another has had enough:

I am disgusted after reading about how Obama is a shill of the CIA and refuses to follow through on transparency in government. He should give the Nobel Peace Prize back. He truly does not deserve it.

Another gives props to Obama’s former presidential rival:

Unfortunately, so far most of the response on the right has been how political the report is, and that it’s just Democrats being mad at losing the Senate (as if this report hadn’t been in the works for a long time), and how torturing people was OK, because, you know, terrorists! I am pleasantly surprised to find myself in agreement with John McCain, something that hasn’t happened in a long time. If he has credibility on anything, it is this, and at least thank god he is speaking up in defense of the report.

Will this cause problems for the US? Perhaps. But, when you’ve done something wrong (and this has all been so very wrong), it’s better to ‘fess up, take your licks, and try to move on. Burying this longer will not make it go away and undo damage that, IMHO, has already been done. Exposing this will allow us to move on, and hopefully, eventually, regain some moral high ground that we have sadly lost.

Another is more pessimistic:

I wish I had some insightful analysis that I could offer, but all I thought as I read of these atrocities was, “It won’t matter. It won’t matter. It won’t matter.”

The report won’t even cause a ripple in this country’s view of torture. If anything, it’s liable to strengthen the position that any and everything is justified, because look at what they did and continue to do to us. To feel outraged, you must view the torture in a vacuum, free of its associations with September 11. And I guarantee you that will NEVER happen. The apologists won’t let it happen, and certainly those who conducted and authorized it will never let it happen.

Add to that the political view that it was released by Democrats in their waning days of Senate power, on the day the Republicans had hoped to grab headlines by humiliating Gruber in front of Congress, and there you have it. The report is at once groundbreaking and astounding – and completely irrelevant if not outright damaging to its own intents and purposes.

I have a feeling we’re about to see, over the next few days (if the story even lasts that long, which in itself is telling), just how far we’ve fallen from our lofty heights. Osama bin Laden must be smiling from his watery grave.

More despair from a reader:

I never truly had my heart broken. Until today.

My father was born here in the States but grew up in Eastern Europe. He lived his childhood on the wrong side of the lines in World War II. The Nazis kicked him out of his bed and made him sleep in the barn with the animals. The Russians came in after the war and eventually turned his village into an artillery range.

He and his brother came back to the States as foreigners in their own land. He got a job, raised his brothers, found a girl and had a family of his own. He was a union man, a Democrat and a fierce anti-communist. He used to wear my brother and me out with stories of his childhood and coming back to America.

He would talk about the Nazis and the Partisans and the Russians. He was a young boy, so he was often insulated from what was happening around him, but not always. In his experience, the Nazis were terrible and the Russians were worse, but America was different. The stories often ended the same way. “What a country!” he’d say as we rolled our eyes and turned back to the TV.

I just can’t reconcile that his America is capable of such barbarism. To annex the tactics of the Nazis is inconceivable.

Perhaps if the masterminds had spent any time in an actual war zone instead of hiding behind a plum Air National Guard assignment or multiple college draft-deferrals. Perhaps then, they would have understood how gravely they betrayed the very America they claimed to defend.

It feels like the America my father loved so dearly died today. And I am heartbroken.

Another anguished reader zooms out:

I’m having trouble recalling a more depressing month.  There’s something about the grand jury decision in Ferguson, the grand jury decision in Staten Island, and the release of the torture memo today that feel weighty – and for me, connected.  Obviously the events in Ferguson and Staten Island have brought us to a critical moment, one that begs our attention to racial injustice, police brutality, the militarization of our police forces, and the profound inequities of our criminal justice system.  There’s been – rightly – much ink spilled these issues in the last several weeks, and hopefully more in the weeks to come.

But with the release of the torture report, I can’t help but think (and hope) that we might be reaching an even broader convergence – one that shines light on the cost of American “security,” at home and abroad.  The cost of the wars on drugs and terror – and the unchecked expansion of police powers that have come with – have wrought havoc on our budget, our laws, our moral credibility, our international standing, and of course the lives of people like Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and Gul Rahman.

I don’t have any hope that the incoming Republican Congress is going to do anything about it, of course.  We will all be lucky if they don’t make it worse.  But what a wasted opportunity for true conservative reform if they don’t.  It’s time we shortened the leash, lest the dogs run away from us.  Maybe they already have.

Quote For The Day

“Torture is the polar opposite of freedom. It is the banishment of all freedom from a human body and soul, insofar as that is possible. As human beings, we all inhabit bodies and have minds, souls, and reflexes that are designed in part to protect those bodies: to resist or flinch from pain, to protect the psyche from disintegration, and to maintain a sense of selfhood that is the basis for the concept of personal liberty. What torture does is use these involuntary, self-protective, self-defining resources of human beings against the integrity of the human being himself. It takes what is most involuntary in a person and uses it to break that person’s will. It takes what is animal in us and deploys it against what makes us human. As an American commander wrote in an August 2003 e-mail about his instructions to torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib, “The gloves are coming off gentlemen regarding these detainees, Col. Boltz has made it clear that we want these individuals broken.”

What does it mean to “break” an individual?

As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne once commented, and Shakespeare echoed, even the greatest philosophers have difficulty thinking clearly when they have a toothache. These wise men were describing the inescapable frailty of the human experience, mocking the claims of some seers to be above basic human feelings and bodily needs. If that frailty is exposed by a toothache, it is beyond dispute in the case of torture. The infliction of physical pain on a person with no means of defending himself is designed to render that person completely subservient to his torturers. It is designed to extirpate his autonomy as a human being, to render his control as an individual beyond his own reach. That is why the term “break” is instructive. Something broken can be put back together, but it will never regain the status of being unbroken–of having integrity. When you break a human being, you turn him into something subhuman. You enslave him. This is why the Romans reserved torture for slaves, not citizens, and why slavery and torture were inextricably linked in the antebellum South,” – yours truly, TNR, December 2005.

Darkness Visible: Live-Blogging The Torture Report

CIA Report

5.00 pm. Since we’re now in our sixth hour of live-blogging, I’m going to wrap it up for the time being. But I want to end on a positive note. Everything that happened in this damning report is because of Americans. But the report itself is a function of other Americans determined to push back against evil done in this country’s name. Those Americans have been heroes in exposing this horror from the get-go, and they include many CIA agents who knew full well what this foul program was doing to their and America’s reputation.

But they also include the dogged staff of the Select Committee itself. I’m proud to know Dan Jones, who was the key figure in putting this together. He was handed with literally millions of pages of often incomprehensible and weirdly filed documents, and somehow had to pull them all together, night after night, through the early morning hours, in a lonely basement. There were many early mornings when he carried on, not knowing if any of this would ever see the light of day – and, of course, both the CIA and the Obama administration did all they could to stop its release. It’s so easy to dismiss them many people working in government in Washington – but I know and revere many who perform public service with dedication and professionalism. And this report is arguably the most important act of public service in holding our government accountable in modern times.

The great achievement of this report, moreover, is its meticulousness. No one can now claim that these torture sessions gave us anything of any worth, while damning this country for decades to come as the worst human rights abuser in the West. They will still claim torture worked  – but they will be lying or rather desperately repeating talking points that the CIA’s own documents have now categorically refuted.

So the last word goes to Feinstein:

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All of us owe them our deepest thanks. Even on this darkest of days, they give me hope.

4.59 pm. Ambers notes that this is not an act of interrogation:

Over and over, the CIA justified ratcheting up the techniques based not on any intelligence or evidence that the detainees did know more than they were sharing, but instead to increase their own confidence that the detainees had shared everything they knew. In other words, the thinking was: “We’ll enhance his interrogations until it’s not possible that he could withhold actionable information from us.””Our assumption is the objective of this operation is to achieve a high degree of confidence that [AbuZubaydah is not holding back actionable information concerning threats to the United States,” was how Zubaydah’s top interrogator put it in a cable to headquarters. Even though the CIA was telling the executive branch that the prisoner was holding back information and that they needed to rough him up to get it out of him, the operational order for the torture itself said otherwise.

If this is the rationale for torture, then every person in interrogation should be tortured. You’ve got to prove they don’t have anything else to tell us. I guess that was the kind of decision made when pondering whether to do the 151st near-drowning, after the 150th.

All I want you to do is imagine if you were witnessing this scene in a movie. The interrogators would be Nazis, wouldn’t they? And now they are us.

4.47 pm. So, Mr President, this was an act of patriotism, was it?

4.42 pm. Tunku Varadjaran believes in covering up war crimes:

What a disgraceful piece of McCarthyite, jingoist twaddle.

4.35 pm. It’s fascinating to watch close observers and shrewd reporters on the CIA expressing various levels of shock at these revelations:

And here’s Ambers:

The barbarism was the very opposite from a few bad apples at the bottom of the pile, as they tried to persuade us at Abu Ghraib. The bad apples were at the very top of the chain of command, rotting this country’s reputation and honor from the top down. And those begin with Bush and Cheney and Tenet. They are now wanted men. And they will go abroad again – at their legal peril. And so America becomes a legal sanctuary for war criminals. As long as they are our war criminals.

4.32 pm. A reader writes:

For a doctor to participate in torture is a fundamental violation of everything the medical profession teaches. And yet: “CIA interrogators shackled each of these detainees in the standing position for sleep deprivation for extended periods of time until medical personnel assessed that they could not maintain the position.” It’s not the most serious crime detailed in the report, but it reflects profound corruption and perversion of a profession that is supposed to save lives, not guide torturers. These are devastating revelations, though of course not without historical precedent. Thank you for bearing witness to all of this.

The participation of American doctors and psychologists in this criminal enterprise has long been one of the more depressing aspects of this dark period. We’ve been covering it on the Dish for a decade now. It gives me utterly no satisfaction to see it was even worse than we feared.

4.30 pm. A useful reminder:

4.26 pm. Proof of Hayden’s lies go on and on and on:

Here’s my question: ho does any media institution justify having this person comment on this report? He has lied so brazenly and so often, anything he says must be treated with instant suspicion. He’s already tried his routine with a supine news source, Newsmax. And he’s got nothing:

4.16 pm. Some righteous words from the very Catholic blogger, Mark Shea, who has long refused to betray his conscience or his faith in turning a blind eye to torture:

This is what “conservatives”, including *especially* anti-abortion-but-not-prolife “faithful conservative Catholics” have fought to defend for years. It is a disgusting stain on the American Catholic Church and a scandal which draws both the Faith and the prolife movement into disrepute. Penance is the only proper response to it.

4.12 pm. So they were the worst of the worst, were they?

For those on the right still defending this legacy, can we at least expect some remorse for the utterly innocent people tortured and even tortured to death? Or are these people incapable of even that? Have they really no decency left at all?

4.01 pm. This could be a moment for some on the right to reflect more broadly on what happened in this country under the torture regime. There is so much to absorb and digest in today’s report – surely enough to warrant even a passionate defender of the program to reconsider and rethink. But no. So far, the response is either to ignore these blockbuster revelations or, well, this from NRO:

Defined by selective accounts and distorted by a partisan agenda, this Senate Intelligence Committee report is intelligence birtherism. Conspiring against truth, it sacrifices American patriots and America’s security in an “Oldspeak”-style of purging the record of any truth. Unconcerned by the propaganda victory they’ve given to U.S. enemies (contemplate how ISIS will manipulate this report), or the cost for liaison-intelligence relationships (foreign services will worry that future cooperation will be misrepresented), the Senate Intelligence Committee has shamed itself and the citizens it claims to serve.

So a 500-page report, summarizing 6,700 pages of a bigger, classified version, as compiled by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, is as credible as the claims that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. That’s the legacy of William F Buckley Jr.

3.58 pm. More Hayden lies:

In December 2008 and January 2009, CIA officers briefed the transition team for President-elect Barack Obama on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program. CIA Director Hayden prepared a statement that relayed, “despite what you have heard or read in a variety of public fora, these [enhanced interrogation] techniques and this program did work.” The prepared materials included inaccurate information on the operation and management of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, as well as the same set of examples of the “effectiveness” of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques that the CIA had provided to policymakers over several years. The examples provided were nearly entirely inaccurate.

My italics. It’s very very rare for a Senator to call a former CIA chief a liar as Feinstein did today. But that Hayden definitely is – a product of an institution so usually reliant on secrecy to conceal its fabrications that lying to the outside world is close to reflexive.

3.47 pm. One of the early defenses of torturing prisoners was that, when it comes to devout Muslims, they actually welcomed it because it released them from any obligations to protect their brothers. Cliff May tangled with me on this seven years ago. He posited the following idea:

We now know that Islamists believe their religion forbids them to cooperate with infidels — until they have reached the limit of their ability to endure the hardships the infidel is inflicting on them. In other words: Imagine an al-Qaeda member who would like to give his interrogators information, who does not want to continue fighting, who would prefer not to see more innocent people slaughtered. He would need his interrogators to press him hard so he can feel that he has met his religious obligations — only then could he cooperate.

So torture was actually a mercy for these people! Well we know more about that now:

They were making this up out of whole cloth and passing it along to credulous writers at National Review.

3.41 pm. About those professional interrogators:

Just a reminder: these thugs are not employed by the Assad regime. They are American “patriots” – as this president has called them.

3.37 pm. More Hayden lies:

Hayden gave Senators inaccurate testimony about the interrogation process, threats against detainees’ families, the punching and kicking of detainees, detainee hygiene, denial of medical care, dietary manipulation, the use of waterboarding and its effectiveness, and the injury and death of detainees.

Hayden also told the Senate committee he didn’t believe CIA personnel had expressed reservations about the techniques that were used. In reality, one medical staff member said the methods made him “psychologically very uncomfortable” and several staffers were “profoundly affected” to the point of “choking up,” according to the report.

But, as we know, the CIA believes it is fully entitled to lie whenever it wants to. And since no one is ever held accountable for those lies, who can blame them?

3.35 pm. A footnote reveals how the White House refused to cooperate in any meaningful way with the Committee:

The Committee did not have access to approximately 9,400 CIA documents related to the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program that were withheld by the White House pending a determination and claim of executive privilege. The Committee requested access to these documents over several years, including in writing on January3, 2013, May 22, 2013, and December 19,2013. The Committee received no response from the White House.

Obama has done nothing to bring about this vital act of accountability. History will remember and record that as a stain on his presidency and his character. And as a reminder that when he argued for transparency and accountability in government, he was excusing the CIA from that noble aspiration.

3.30 pm. The CIA istelf never regarded its techniques as humane, even as Bush officials were ludicrously arguing as much. When Administration apologists took to the airwaves in 2003, insisting that the treatment of all prisoners was “humane,” CIA seniors were convinced that this meant the White House was abandoning the black sites and torture program!

On several occasions in early 2003, CIA General Counsel Scott Muller expressed concern to the National Security Council principals, White House staff, and Department of Justice personnel that the CIA’s program might be inconsistent with public statements from the Administration that the U.S. Government’s treatment of detainees was “humane.”[redacted] CIA General Counsel Muller therefore sought to verify with White House and Department of Justice personnel that a February 7, 2002, Presidential Memorandum requiring the U.S. military to treat detainees humanely did not apply to the CIA.

That right there is an admission of war crimes. And proof that the CIA was fully aware of it.

3.20 pm. The NYT has a terrifically useful debunking of all the various plots that we were told were intercepted or prevented through the use of torture. They’re all lies. Money quote from the report on one such lie:

Within days of the raid on UBL’s compound, CIA officials represented that CIA detainees provided the ‘tipoff’ information on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti. A review of CIA records found that the initial intelligence obtained, as well as the information the CIA identified as the most critical — or the most valuable — on Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti, was not related to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

But of course the lies were inevitable. Once you have decided to go down the path of torture, it’s essential that you continue to believe it must be useful. It’s psychologically very hard to admit you have been doing unspeakably evil things for no reason at all. And so all torture regimes contain self-serving lies. There are none that are halted half-way through for ineffectiveness, because that would expose those already neck-deep in barbarism to blame, and even legal consequences. And so the usual pattern is to double-down, to keep insisting that every single act of torture saved lives, even as it gave us no serious or reliable intelligence. These are the patterns of authoritarian and totalitarian states where torture reigns. And they are the patterns that George W Bush imported into the very heart of American democracy.

3.17 pm. I’m trying to keep count of the number of bald-faced lies that Michael Hayden told in the documents in this report. The NYT has a beaut:

In 2007, for instance, Michael V. Hayden, then the C.I.A. director, told the Senate Intelligence Committee that “all of those involved in the questioning of detainees are carefully chosen and screened for demonstrated professional judgment and maturity.” In fact, the Senate report concludes, no such vetting took place. The interrogation teams included people with “notable derogatory information” in their records, including one with “workplace anger management issues” and another who “had reportedly admitted to sexual assault.”

More to come.

3.07 pm. It’s worth noting that the Obama administration continues to refuse to use the word “torture” in dealing with the report. This is despite the president’s casual admission that “we tortured some folks” – a statement of staggering callowness now we can see what was done in our name. Paul Waldman:

Today I was on a background call with a group of senior administration officials, and they were asked repeatedly why they seemed so reluctant to use the word “torture,” even after President Obama admitted that “we tortured some folks.” One official replied, “We’re not going to go case by case in a report like this and try to affix a label to each action.” But they do affix a label: “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which they used again and again, accepting the euphemistic label the Bush administration affixed to it.

Obama has been a captive of the CIA since he got into office, and a de facto enabler of torture in his refusal to adhere to the Geneva Conventions. But there’s also a reason for his reticence and tone-deafness. If the administration formally concedes the use of torture, Obama will be legally obligated to prosecute it. But they refuse to.

I’ll just pose a simple question: is there any organization in the West that could be found responsible for these appalling acts of incompetence, cruelty, torture, murder, sadism, and deception and have no one in that organization resign or be disciplined, let alone be prosecuted? It’s inconceivable. Which means it really is important to see what is in front of our nose: a lawless, unaccountable criminal entity beyond any legal control or scrutiny. The CIA is a threat to this democracy. And a threat to the world.

3.03 pm. Now think for a second of what the reaction would be if a captive American were subjected to the following by a foreign power:

3.02 pm. Nathan Vardi notes the financial cost of the torture program:

In total, the report claims that the CIA’s detention and interrogation program cost “well over $300 million in non-personnel costs.” One individual associated with the CIA program on the ground level told U.S. government investigators that the program had “more money than we could possibly spend we thought, and it turned out to be accurate.” …

One person associated with the CIA program told government investigators that payments of more than $1 million were made without any paperwork, in cash, and out of boxes containing hundred dollar bills. “We never counted it. I’m not about to count that kind of money for a receipt,” the unidentified individual is quoted as saying by the report.

2.30 pm. The CIA and Cheney have long defended torture as having clear and positive results. Mike Zenko notes that the CIA as recently as 2013 acknowledged that it had no way of knowing whether the torture was working:

[T]here is one CIA acknowledgment that should be as disturbing as anything that is contained within the SSCI study itself. Page 24 of the CIA memo addresses the SSCI’s conclusion that the “CIA never conducted its own comprehensive analysis of the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.” The CIA’s response:

“We agree with Conclusion 10 in full. It underpins the most important lesson that we have drawn from The Study: CIA needs to develop the structure, expertise, and methodologies required to more objectively and systematically evaluate the effectiveness of our covert actions. We draw this lesson going forward fully aware of how difficult it can be to measure the impact of a particular action or set of actions on an outcome in a real-world setting.”

Therefore, the CIA admitted that—as late as June 2013—it was simply incapable of evaluating the effectiveness of its covert activity.

So all those statements by Cheney, Thiessen and every talking head on Fox that torture worked? They were bald-faced bluffs by utter incompetents. They were bullshit.

2.28 pm. The devastation to our alliances is real and just beginning:

2.26 pm. A tweet from a real interrgator, and not some outside contractor goon:

2.25 pm. The shame of Bill Keller:

2.19 pm. A close look at a torture session:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 2.19.30 PMScreen Shot 2014-12-09 at 2.21.07 PMNow you know why Rodriguez destroyed the tapes. Even after a torture victim is so broken that the interrogator only has to snap his fingers to get this shell of a human being to get back on the waterboard, they continued to torture him. Let me state this as plainly as I can: this is Nazi-level criminality and brutality. This is unimaginable sadism. If the people who did this and those who authorized this are allowed to get away with this, and even be praised by presidents for it, then we have left our civilization behind.

2.15 pm. Nothing to see here …


2.11 pm. When will Kethryn Bigelow apologize?

2.07 pm. Flipping through some conservative media today, the crickets are chirping. NRO has close to nothing on the subject – while finding space for posts on Lena Dunham and Swedish immigration policies. Unless you count this tweet:

Drudge is leading with Gruber and Dunham. I guess that’s better then defending the utterly indefensible.

2.00 pm. The New York Times today editorializes that the torture report is “a portrait of depravity that is hard to comprehend and even harder to stomach.” This is the same newspaper that refused to use the word “torture” for years out of deference to the Bush administration – even though it was plain as the light of day. So no surprise to find this little nugget about one of its reporters dealing with the CIA on this:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 1.59.48 PM1.47 pm. The international community will now rightly insist that the perpetrators of these war crimes be punished. Here’s the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights, Ben Emerson, today:

It is now time to take action. The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.

International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes.

As a matter of international law, the US is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.

My italics. If the Obama administration refuses to bring these war criminals to justice, it will effectively render moot any international efforts to curtail torture anywhere in the world. It will be arguing that crimes as grave as these need have no legal consequences. That, simply speaking, ends the United States’ participation in the civilized world, and removes any standing for us to criticize any foul despot anywhere who uses torture techniques as hideous as the ones we are now reading about.

Is that the legacy Obama wants? That he made the world safe for torturers? At some point, even he will have to acknowledge the gravity of these facts beyond his callow, off-hand admission that “we tortured some folks” but that the torturers were patriots and we shouldn’t get too “self-righteous” about them. Does the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize really want to go down in history as the president who made sure that war criminals are only punished if they are not American?

And notice too that the US is legally obliged to prosecute Bush and Cheney as well. Or become a rogue state at the UN and in the Geneva community of democracies. Both Bush and Cheney have celebrated their deployment of torture and taken full responsibility for it in public. It is simply impermissible to allow these men to escape justice. The only alternative is to pardon them.

1.46 pm. Yes, we did this too:

1.37 pm. The gravity of what is in front of our eyes is beginning to sink in:

1.35 pm. The war criminal Jose Rodriguez, whose destruction of the video evidence of torture precipitated this report, knew that what he was doing was illegal on its face, explosive and had to be kept top-secret. Any slip, any leak, any discussion could come back to haunt them:

Strongly urge that any speculative language as to the legality of given activities or, more precisely, judgment calls as to their legality vis-à-vis operational guidelines for this activity agreed upon and vetted at the most senior levels of the agency, be refrained from in written traffic (email or cable traffic). Such language is not helpful.

1.33 pm. For many in the CIA, watching these brutal torture sessions was too much:

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1.28 pm. As the CIA contends that the torture program was defensible because it worked (even though it plainly didn’t), it’s worth recalling the explicit language of the Geneva Conventions:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

The CIA’s self-defense is itself a violation of the Geneva Accords. This country has effectively destroyed those accords and the enormous achievement of Western civilization in constructing them. Obama as definitively as Bush.

1.24 pm. Even now, Obama’s cowardice is gob-smacking:

You mean: they cannot read the report? There are not two sides. The evidence that the interrogations gave us nothing that wasn’t otherwise available is … the CIA’s own assessment. That’s why this report is so conclusive. The CIA itself says the torture didn’t work! And now it claims otherwise. This is a dispute between the CIA and the CIA.

1.18 pm. In most organizations, if someone breaks the rules or commits serious wrongdoing, they are disciplined or corrected. Not in the CIA. No one is ever held to account within that organization, even murderers:

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By indicating that no one would be held responsible for going too far, the CIA effectively gave the green light for the very worst. This was an agency clearly believing it had the authority to break any law, kill any prisoner, use any torture technique … and would never be subject to legal consequences. When you unleash an agency with that power into the world, and remove all constraints, what did they think would happen?

1.12 pm. The goal in these torture sessions was, as in all torture sessions, to completely “break” a human being. The bizarre notion was that once you had reduced a prisoner to a quivering, incoherent mess, he would somehow give you decent intelligence. Serious commentators – Cliff May comes to mind – actually propagated this idea. But when a democracy based on individual life and liberty practices torture techniques designed to obliterate an individual entirely, it has effectively repealed itself:

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1.09 pm. Only totalitarian regimes have a record of doing this:

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Stress positions are insanely painful even when your limbs are in good condition. But when your limbs are already broken? And no one is going to be punished for this either?

1.05 pm. Yes, some were tortured to death:

1.01 pm. A victim of the Iran regime’s torture regime tweets:

12.57 pm. Rubio says we should “thank” those who raped and near-drowned prisoners, subjected them to hypothermia, rectal rehydration, and brutal beatings, and in some cases tortured prisoners to death. Bush believes the people who did these things were “patriots.” This is the moral universe in which some on the right now live. They are less willing to acknowledge the huge errors in this case than the CIA itself. Their defense of torture as something to be celebrated is, strictly speaking, fascist. They are a disgrace to any civilized conservatism.

12.46 pm. A detail from the Telegraph’s live-blog:

Some of the most important CIA-led interrogations were carried out by people with no specialist training or expertise, some of whom had histories of violence:

CIA employed people who had “personal and professional problems of a serious nature” – including histories of violence and abusive treatment of others. The report found that that should have called into question their employment, let alone their suitability to participate in the sensitive CIA program.

Two psychologists were employed as outside contractors – neither of them had any experience as an interrogator, nor did either have specialised knowledge of al-Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism, or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise. They personally conducted some of the most important interrogations. In 2005, they formed a company to expand their work with the CIA. Shortly thereafter, the CIA outsourced virtually all aspects of the program. The CIA paid the company more than $80 million.

Again, remember what we were told: that this was a professional program staffed by the very best of the CIA. Nothing could be further from the truth. It was pioneered by two goons paid a fortune to do what no serious interrogator or anyone with a moral sense would ever dream of. These were Cheney’s men – doing what his panicked mind thought would actually work. And the result was crime after crime after crime.

Noting the Telegraph’s coverage also highlights the deep and eternal damage done to the US by this foul program. America’s moral standing in the world has been permanently crippled, with all the attendant damage to our national security and alliances. And that’s something we have to understand better: far from improving our safety, Cheney’s war crimes made us – and make us – far less safe, our alliances now crippled, our foes given the biggest propaganda coup they could ever imagine. Bush and Cheney did this to this country. And they remain proud of it.

12.44 pm. This is what “oversight” meant during the Bush-Cheney years:

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12.39 pm. McCain is now speaking. He has been rock-solid through most of this. He has two crucial characteristics: he’s a Republican and a victim of torture. Those who will try to argue that this report is mere partisanship need to tell that to McCain’s face.

12.36 pm. Will Dick Cheney defend this?

These are the tactics of criminals, Jihadists and totalitarian states. They became the tactics of the US under Bush and Cheney.

12.33 pm. DiFi is on a roll:

And it’s worth recalling that Feinstein’s long record has been as a stalwart defender of the CIA, a barely functioning over-seer prone to give the CIA the benefit of every doubt. No one can plausibly call her reflexively anti-CIA. But here she is today, suffused with righteous fury – every ounce of it merited.

12.30 pm. The CIA, unlike Dick Cheney, acknowledges its own errors:

Screen Shot 2014-12-09 at 12.29.46 PMWhen will the GOP talking points actually reflect even the CIA’s own internal assessment of its grotesque failures of competence?

12.28 pm. Torture didn’t get us Osama bin Laden:

this report—based on an extensive analysis of the CIA’s own files—says Bin Laden’s courier had long been under surveillance, and more than two dozen sources discussed him. The person who provided the most detailed information, a senior Al Qaeda fundraiser and logistical facilitator named Hassan Ghul, provided it after being captured in 2004—before he was subjected to the “enhanced interrogation techniques.” An CIA officer reported that he “sang like a tweetie bird…opened up right away and was cooperative from the outset.”

But after providing that information, the report says he was taken to a different detention site, where he was shaved, stripped, and stood against a wall with his hands raised over his head for two hours at a time. After 59 hours of sleep deprivation, he began experiencing hallucinations and complaining of pain, but gave no further information. While additional details of his interrogation and release were redacted, the report says he eventually wound up in a Pakistani prison, was released and ultimately killed in 2012 by a US drone strike in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the CIA claimed that its techniques led to Bin Laden in hearings and public statements after the raid that killed him.

Kathryn Bigelow must feel like a tool now, mustn’t she? She just swallowed these liars’ spin and made a movie out of it. Will she apologize or retract?

12.25 pm. A simple question:

Yes, I think we can. And take a minute to absorb what we’re talking about. We’re talking about government officials raping prisoners – and nothing will be done to hold them to account. This is what America has become.

12.23 pm. They paid the torturers more than professional interrogators:

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12.21 pm. Greenwald on the CIA’s strategic leaks to the media:

For all the claims in Washington about how leaking classified information is destructive and criminal, the CIA – consistent with what the Obama administration frequently does – routinely leaked classified information to the media to propagandize about their torture program. Will there be any criminal investigations the way there are when whistleblowers leak information that embarrasses (rather than serves) the government? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question:

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12.18 pm. A reader writes:

Reading through some of the excerpts this morning, sometimes I literally need to turn away from my computer screen and stop reading.  This is simply gruesome.  It’s extremely disturbing that there are still a great many people defending this program and these torture techniques as somehow being compatible with American values.  These are also the same pieces of shit who criticize Obama for ruining America’s credibility through (fill in the blank.)  They’re deeply concerned with how the US is viewed and that the world see their country the same way they do.  And yet they can’t see that the rest of the planet looks at this and says, “Are you fucking kidding me!?”

I dare anyone to read this passage about the CIA holding a mentally challenged man simply to gain leverage on his family and think that the continued defense of these actions isn’t the greatest threat there is to American credibility:

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The Krauthammers of the world should crawl back into the dark, greasy caves whence they came.  They don’t deserve to be seen or heard ever again.

According to Dick Cheney, this kind of thing was “absolutely justified.”

12.15 pm. And the CIA mounted an extensive media-propaganda effort to disseminate the same lies they were feeding to their superiors:

The CIA’s Office of Public Affairs and senior CIA officials coordinated to share classified information on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program to select members of the media to counter public criticism, shape public opinion, and avoid potential congressional action to restrict the CIA’s detention and interrogation authorities and budget. These disclosures occurred when the program was a classified covert action program, and before the CIA had briefed the full Committee membership on the program.

Here’s the Deputy Director of the Counterterrorism Center: “we either get out and sell, or we get hammered, which has implications beyond the media. [C]ongress reads it, cuts our authorities, messes up our budget… we either put out our story or we get eaten. [T]here is no middle ground.”

Having done the indefensible, they had to mount an enormous effort to keep the program in place – largely by lying to anyone they could find.

12.12 pm. And yes, they tortured at least one prisoner to death:

Yes, the CIA can literally get away with murder.

12.08 pm. Here’s a real bombshell: Bush was first briefed on waterboarding in 2006! And he didn’t like it:

[D]espite agency efforts to keep the Bush administration informed about the program, top White House officials repeatedly resisted having the CIA brief cabinet-level figures about the details, and CIA officials were not permitted to brief Bush directly until mid-2006, more than four years after the president signed a broad executive order authorizing the program, according to Senate Democratic aides who briefed reporters ahead of Tuesday’s release.

When Bush finally heard the details of the harsh interrogation techniques that were used against CIA detainees, he was “uncomfortable” with some of them and expressed dismay that some detainees were required to remain in stress positions for long amounts of time, to the point that they had no choice but to soil themselves, the aides said.

What does it say about our democracy in the last decade that the one person ultimately designated to run the war was utterly oblivious to what was actually going on in such an extraordinarily vital area such as torture? That others were really running the country? That he was a disastrously disengaged and incompetent figure-head? Well, I guess what we suspected is now out there. But who was ultimately responsible for torturing suspects in a manner far far worse than stress positions if the president wasn’t?

11.58 am. More prisoners were waterboarded than we have been led to believe; and the Gestapo technique of inducing hypothermia via ice-cold baths was also practised. Some historical context for that torture technique:

The “cold bath” technique – the same as that used against al-Qahtani in Guantanamo – was, according to professor Darius Rejali of Reed College, “pioneered by a member of the French Gestapo by the pseudonym Masuy about 1943. The Belgian resistance referred to it as the Paris method, and the Gestapo authorized its extension from France to at least two places late in the war, Norway and Czechoslovakia. That is where people report experiencing it.”

In Norway, we actually have a 1948 court case that weighs whether “enhanced interrogation” using the methods approved by president Bush amounted to torture. The proceedings are fascinating, with specific reference to the hypothermia used in Gitmo, and throughout interrogation centers across the field of conflict. The Nazi defense of the techniques is almost verbatim that of the Bush administration…

And in that case, the US occupying power decided that the proper punishment for using this technique should be execution. And indeed the war criminals in that case were put to death. Few things show how steep our moral decline is in these matters that today, leading officials in the American government argue that not only should there be no punishment for these war crimes, but that their very existence should be covered up and the names of those who tortured kept permanently from public view.

11.53 am. So seven of the 39 prisoners given the full torture treatment gave no intelligence at all. How can you justify torturing them by the “saving lives” canard? If no intelligence was gleaned at all, their torture was utterly irrelevant to seeking intelligence. For seven torture victims, it was worthless on its face.

11.50 am. The Dish team is now busy absorbing the report. We’ll be adding our comments as we go further into the report. Please join us and email any insights or nuggets you think are important.

The Full Chaotic Horror Unfolds

CIA Torture Report

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Shane Harris and Tim Mak report on the “most gruesome moments” from the torture report. Among them:

[T]he CIA also forced some detainees who had broken feet or legs to stand in stress-inducing positions, despite having earlier pledged that they wouldn’t subject those wounded individuals to treatment that might exacerbate their injuries.

The CIA’s utter incompetence is staggering:

While the CIA has said publicly that it held about 100 detainees, the committee found that at least 119 people were in the agency’s custody. “The fact is they lost track and they didn’t really know who they were holding,” the Senate aide said, noting that investigators found emails in which CIA personnel were “surprised” to find some people in their custody. The CIA also determined that at least 26 of its detainees were wrongfully held. But due to the agency’s poor record-keeping, it may never be known precisely how many detainees were held, and how they were treated in custody, the committee found.

Or whether they died. The NYT summary has this:

Detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week, and were sometimes told that they would be killed while in American custody. With the approval of the C.I.A.’s medical staff, some C.I.A. prisoners were subjected to medically unnecessary “rectal feeding” or “rectal hydration” — a technique that the C.I.A.’s chief of interrogations described as a way to exert “total control over the detainee.” C.I.A. medical staff members described the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the chief planner of the Sept. 11 attacks, as a “series of near drownings.”

The report also suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The committee obtained a photograph of a waterboard surrounded by buckets of water at the prison in Afghanistan commonly known as the Salt Pit — a facility where the C.I.A. had claimed that waterboarding was never used. One clandestine officer described the prison as a “dungeon,” and another said that some prisoners there “literally looked like a dog that had been kenneled.”

This is the professionalism we’ve been told so much about – the tightly controlled, thoroughly humane interrogation practices that the CIA could keep firmly within legal parameters. And what, exactly, did we get for this barbarism? Nothing:

The Senate Intelligence Committee reviewed 20 cited examples of intelligence “successes” that the CIA identified from the interrogation program and found that there was no relationship between a cited counterterrorism success and the techniques used. Furthermore, the information gleaned during torture sessions merely corroborated information already available to the intelligence community from other sources, including reports, communications intercepts, and information from law enforcement agencies, the committee found.

Stay tuned as we mine the actual report for more info.

How The CIA Won The Beltway Battle … Till Now

by Scott Horton



There’s a simple, foundational question behind the publication of today’s report on CIA torture: Are the people and Congress entitled to know about these programs and the legacy they have left behind? The conflict between the right of a democracy to know what’s being done in its name and the necessary secrecy of intelligence services is what’s really being tested right now. And looking back on the struggle between the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the CIA over the report due to be released today tells us a lot about the state of play.

On this score, the report is likely to document, without highlighting, an embarrassing failure of oversight during the period from 2002-2006, when the core programs were in effect. That failure is almost certainly a combination of misdirection and misinformation from the CIA to SSCI, a desire by the White House not to share certain information, and a failure by the SSCI itself to probe with sufficient determination to find the facts. But the report should help us weigh these considerations.

The history of the production of the SSCI report already suggests very strongly that the CIA has been far more skillful player in the struggle than the Senate. In her now-famous speech on the Senate floor, Dianne Feinstein set out many of the historical steps. These make clear that from the outset to the last stages, the CIA has played a subtle and effective game of slow-down designed to stretch the process out. It has been fighting for time, and taking the view that every week of delay is a victory. Some of the tactics used included:

• Insisting on internal review prior to disclosure to SSCI, and then hiring outside contractors (who would not otherwise have had access to the documents) to do the review;
• Raising claims of privilege and relevance to disclosures;
• Insisting that review occur in CIA offices, using equipment that was owned and provided by the CIA;
• “Disappearing” documents once they had been provided;
• Bringing accusations of security breaches by SSCI staff;
• Requesting a Department of Justice probe of their allegations;
• Demanding aggressive redactions from the text of the report designed to make the report itself incomprehensible.

These tactics were successful at least in that they slowed down the report by several years.

In my mind, it is utterly unsurprising that the CIA would reach to these tactics—that is precisely the conduct I would expect from officers loyal to their institution, who are struggling to avoid disclosure of information which they believe will prove harmful to the institution’s interests. What is truly surprising is the indulgent, understanding posture of Senator Feinstein and her staff, who gave ground to the CIA on point after point, in derogation of the Senate’s rights and powers. Perhaps Feinstein thought that being deferential would help her with the CIA. If so, that was exceedingly naïve.

Chalk this up, then, as a huge win for the agency over its overseers. The CIA demonstrated a mastery of the politics of the Washington Beltway that far outstripped its investigators. So far at least it has only won them time—but it has gotten them close to their mark. Another week of delay and the report could have been buried for ever.

The final gambit in the delay game was the claim that American personnel abroad may face danger as a result of the disclosures. But the SSCI report is not likely to make entirely new disclosures on the key points. These disclosures occurred in a steady trickle from April 2004 through early 2009. The use of torture and the creation of black sites did indeed have consequences abroad for the United States—it fueled recruitment for terrorist groups on one hand, it helped inspire the Arab Spring and the cries of “dignity” that accompanied it on the other. In any event, it greatly complicated U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and other theaters of operation. However, the consequences that the SSCI will have for U.S. personnel are likely to be different. It is likely to have consequences precisely for the persons who are today heard most loudly objecting to its release: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Michael Hayden and Jose Rodriguez. Their reputations will be tarnished further, and, no doubt, demands for accountability will be renewed. And there are plenty of U.S. citizens, and U.S. intelligence officers, who reckon that a very good thing.


(Photo: CIA director John Brennan testifies before a full committee hearing during his nomination hearing in the Hart Senate Office Building in Washington, DC, on February 7, 2013. By Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images)

Awaiting The Torture Report

Glenn Greenwald and his team will be live-blogging (and we’ll be devouring and analyzing it as fast as we responsibly can):

[T]his will be by far the most comprehensive and official account of the War on Terror’s official torture regime. Given the authors – Committee Democrats along with two Maine Senators: Agnus King (I) and Susan Collins (R) – it’s likely to whitewash critical events, including the key, complicit role members of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi played in approving the program (important details of which are still disputed), as well an attempt to insulate the DC political class by stressing how the CIA“misled” elected officials about the program. But the report is certain to lay bare in very stark terms some of the torture methods, including “graphic details about sexual threats” and what Reuters still euphemistically and subserviently calls “other harsh interrogation techniques the CIA meted out to captured militants.”

Micah Zenko wants us to remember how widespread the support was for these heinous actions:

When reading the executive summary, Americans should try to look beyond these specific abuses and ask the fundamental question: How could senior officials at the CIA, White House, and the Department of Justice have unanimously approved the use of torture?

According to officials’ memoirs and historical accounts examining the four months between March 28, 2002, when al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was captured in Pakistan, and Aug. 1, when the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo authorizing the enhanced interrogation techniques was completed, not one senior official aware of the program registered an objection to it. Current CIA Director John Brennan, who was the agency’s deputy executive director in 2002, later claimed he had “personal objections” to “waterboarding, nudity, and others,” but he never made this officially known, not even to the CIA’s top lawyer, John Rizzo, whose office was just 15 feet away.

Dafna Linzer previews the spin from the CIA and the Senate:

The report is likely to blame CIA leaders for false portrayals of the value of the interrogations or for keeping details from congressional leaders and even the White House. Expect every named former CIA official to deny it. And expect to never know the truth. The Senate didn’t investigate itself. There is no gathered evidence of what the committee – which routinely meets behind closed doors – was told exactly, what it authorized or what CIA leaders believed they were authorized by Congress to do.

How Massimo Calabresi frames the debate over the report:

What effect will assigning blame have? The CIA says it is so burned by the EIT program that it is permanently out of the business of interrogation and Dianne Feinstein, the hawkish head of the Senate Intelligence committee, says that’s fine. The purpose of her report, she says, is to ensure such a program is never again acceptable to Americans.

But plenty of others, from ex-CIA officer Jose Rodriguez, to former Vice President Dick Cheney, to former CIA chief Michael Hayden, say the program should be available for use if there is another major attack on the U.S. Even Obama’s CIA chief says only that the EIT program is not now “appropriate,” suggesting it might be in other circumstances.

Ultimately, the report’s value lies in answering that simple question: should we ever do it again?

The people who approved torture had the means of knowing — should have known — it would elicit false confessions. It’s just that no one can prove whether that was the entire point or not. … It’s not just a question of whether torture is “effective” at obtaining intelligence. It’s also whether the entire point of it was to produce spies and propaganda.

The report is essential because it makes clear the legal, moral, and strategic costs of torture. President Obama and congressional leaders should use this opportunity to push for legislation that solidifies the ban on torture and cruel treatment. While current law prohibits these acts, US officials employed strained legal arguments to authorize abuse.

A law could take various forms: a codification of the president’s 2009 executive order banning torture, for example, or an expansion of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act so that key protections in it would apply to the CIA as well as the military. However it’s designed, a new law would help the country stay true to its ideals during times of crisis and guard against a return to the “dark side.”