The Depravity Of Dick Cheney

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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.

John Brennan Is Still Lying, Ctd

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[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.)

The Torture Doctors

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Michael Daly introduces us to the amateur goons who ran the torture freak show:

James Elmer Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen are not the first Americans to employ waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” against our enemies. But they are almost certainly the only ones to get rich doing it.

They did so by employing what is widely dismissed as “voodoo science” based on misapplied principles in a program that CIA records suggest produced little, if any, intelligence of significant value. And they might have gotten even richer. The Senate Intelligence Committee report says they secured a contract with the CIA in 2006 valued “in excess of $180 million.” The CIA canceled the deal three years later, but by then the duo had received $81 million.

This is one reason I remain befuddled by the pro-torture right’s response to the facts in the report. If you are in favor of torture, you should be horrified that the CIA contacted it out to goons with no relevant experience or interrogation training. If you care about wasting government money, you should be appalled by this instance of total incompetence, rewarded by tax-payers. But the Republicans’ rank partisanship precludes them from being internally consistent and coherent. They’re just backing their own team – even as that team clearly betrayed any confidence the torture-supporters might have expected.

Then there is the question of whether qualified psychologists or doctors were implicated in these war crimes. Roy Eidelson and Trudy Bond question whether the American Psychological Association was involved:

Responding to the new Senate report, the American Psychological Association (APA) was quick to issue a press release distancing itself from Mitchell and Jessen. The statement emphasized that the two psychologists are not APA members – although Mitchell was a member until 2006 – and that they are therefore “outside the reach of the association’s ethics adjudication process.” But there is much more to this story.

After years of stonewalling and denials, last month the APA Board appointed an investigator to examine allegations that the APA colluded with the CIA and Pentagon in supporting the Bush Administration’s abusive “war on terror” detention and interrogation practices.

The latest evidence of that collusion comes from the publication earlier this fall of James Risen’s Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless WarWith access to hundreds of previously undisclosed emails involving senior APA staff, the Pulitzer-prize winning reporter concludes that the APA “worked assiduously to protect the psychologists…involved in the torture program.” The book also provides several new details pointing to the likelihood that Mitchell and Jessen were not so far removed from the APA after all.

Jefferson M. Fish also cites Risen’s book:

In the book, Risen documented the extensive contacts between APA and the U.S. government, both leading to and following the change in ethical Standard 1.02. Risen wrote:

Perhaps the most important change was a new ethics guideline: if a psychologist faced a conflict between APA’s ethics code and a lawful order or regulation, the psychologist could follow the law or “governing legal authority.” In other words, a psychologist could engage in activities that the U.S. government said were legal—such as harsh interrogations—even if they violated APA’s ethical standards. This change introduced the Nuremberg defense into American psychology—following lawful orders was an acceptable reason to violate professional ethics. The change in the APA’s ethics code was essential to the Bush administration’s ability to use enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees. (Pp. 194-195)

In December 2008, following a presidential election in which both Barak Obama and John McCain condemned torture, the APA proposed removing the offending sentence and replacing it with, “Under no circumstances may this standard be used to justify or defend violating human rights.” This change, which was subsequently implemented, would seem to imply that the sentence had been created for just the purpose described by Risen.

Relatedly, Steven Miles, author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctorstalked to Julie Beck about the role of doctors in torture. Beck asks, “Why would people use medical knowledge and expertise learned to heal people for the opposite purpose?” Miles responds:

It’s pretty interesting, I’m writing a book on just that question. The docs who get involved in this, number one, are careerists. They get involved for rank and career, and the regimes never coerce them, or extremely rarely coerce them. Instead what happens is the regimes treat them as some kind of elite. The docs are generally not sadists. This is not the stuff of Saw, for example. They go along with the dominant political theme of the prison: “These are our enemies and we gotta squeeze them for the information.” The thing that’s so interesting is that there is research showing that force of interrogation does not work, that it’s counterproductive. These docs seem to be entirely unaware, not only of the ethics codes, but also of the ineffectiveness of these interrogation strategies, that they never mount a protest.

The banality of evil.

(Image via ABC News)

What Did Congress Know?

David Ignatius believes that the torture report “should have addressed Congress’s own failure to oversee these activities more effectively”:

A CIA review of “contemporaneous records” shows that [a 2002] briefing to Sens. Bob Graham and Richard Shelby and Reps. Porter Goss and Nancy Pelosi included “a history of the Zubaydah interrogation, an overview of the material acquired, the resistance techniques Zubaydah had employed, and the reason for deciding to use the enhanced measures,” along with a description of “the enhanced techniques that had been employed.”

Did the members of Congress push back hard, as we now realize they should have? Did they demand more information and set stricter limits? Did they question details about the interrogation techniques that were being used? It appears that, with rare exceptions, they did not.

I agree with David that the role of the Congress in acquiescing to torture needs far more attention. But, again, secrecy makes that very hard. I’d like to ask Pelosi on the record what she was actually told. When you absorb the full report and see the CIA’s relentless campaign of deceit about the program, it’s an open question whether they were lying to the Senators as well. There are euphemisms for torture techniques that do not convey the reality. That doesn’t excuse the Senators one bit. But maybe they did ask for more details. Maybe they wanted to stop it. But what options did they actually have? PM Carpenter asks:

The CIA’s “covert” torture program was by definition top secret. Had, for instance, Nancy Pelosi strenuously objected to the gruesome details she was hearing in the CIA’s briefings, just what, precisely, could she have done about it? She possessed no legal authority to go to the press and certainly none to effectively commit treason by blaring her horrified knowledge from the floor of the House–and taking complaints to the war-criminal Bush administration would have been like exposing unsavory extortion rackets to the Gambino family.

And it’s hard to imagine Congress g0t a complete briefing when even top CIA officials claim they were unaware of some of these abuses:

Working from CIA documents, the report said detainees were made to stand on broken limbs, or forced to take in food or water rectally. But Jose Rodriguez, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center at the time, said the newly revealed abuses caught him off-guard, too. “I have no knowledge of people forced to stand with broken bones,” Rodriguez said in an interview the day after the Senate Intelligence Committee Democrats, led by Chairman Dianne Feinstein, released its report after five years of delays.

Nor was he aware of detainees being given water or food via their rectum. “Rectal hydration thing sounds like a medical procedure, but it was not part of the approved and sanctioned techniques that were given to us by our guys and approved” by the Justice Department, he said. (Former CIA Director Michael Hayden made similar remarks Wednesday on CNN, saying that he hadn’t heard of the practice, but that it sounded like a medical procedure.)

And the beat goes on.

The War Crimes The CIA Has Admitted

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Yesterday, Brennan acknowledged that, “in a limited number of instances, agency officers used interrogation techniques that had not been authorized, were abhorrent, and rightly should be repudiated by all.” Friedersdorf asks why those officers are going unpunished:

If CIA officers did abhorrent things that even their waterboarding colleagues managed to avoid, exceeding the orders and legal strictures they were given, why haven’t they been prosecuted for torture as a duly ratified treaty compels the U.S. to do? Why hasn’t Brennan ever remedied the failure to hold those men accountable? Why has he allowed people even he regards as criminals to remain at the CIA?

The reason is that he does not believe the rule of law should apply to the CIA.

Dick Cheney, Michael Hayden, and Brennan make a big show of invoking the legal cover given by John Yoo and others, as if they respect the rule of law. But beneath the posturing, they oppose jailing CIA officers no matter what, perhaps because those officers know things that could put them in prison. Among torturers, there can be only one code: Stop Snitchin’. Do you think that I exaggerate? As The Week notes, the only person in jail over CIA torture is a man who tried to expose it.

The CIA is above the law. It can do anything because it can also hide anything. It took years of extraordinary hard work and political struggle to get the Senate Report out – and the CIA did all it could to derail it. It was delayed for two years as the CIA objected and objected and redacted and redacted. The president, through John Kerry, tried to kill it at the last minute. And when it is revealed that 26 human beings were tortured – because of mistaken identity – no one is disciplined. No one. When someone is tortured to death, the officer in charge of the torture camp is promoted. There is simply no other institution that exists that has this level of utter impunity under the law. And that puts the CIA in a more powerful position even than the president. If the president breaks the law, he can be prosecuted and even impeached. If the CIA does, it can hide that fact, and even if it is exposed, can escape any consequences.

What I simply don’t understand is how conservatives – those most skeptical of the power and reach of big government – are not appalled by this state of affairs. It is the biggest threat to our liberty and constitution around. And yet they defend it. And find excuses for it. And even celebrate it.

(Photo: CIA director John Brennan speaks during a press conference at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, December 11, 2014. By Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

America’s History Of Torture

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Beinart wants us to face it:

In the 19th century, American slavery relied on torture. At the turn of the 20th, when America began assembling its empire overseas, the U.S. army waterboarded Filipinos during the Spanish-American War. As part of the Phoenix Program, an effort to gain intelligence during the Vietnam War, CIA-trained interrogators delivered electric shocks to the genitals of some Vietnamese communists, and raped, starved, and beat others.

He argues that “when you claim that the United States is intrinsically moral, and torture therefore represents an aberration, you undermine the fight against such practices”:

Being a successful American politician today requires declaring that America is different, blessed, exceptional. Thus, when other countries torture, it reflects their basic character. When we torture, it violates ours. But the wisest American thinkers have found a way to reconcile this need to feel special with the recognition that, as human beings, Americans are just as fallen as everyone else. In the mid-20th century, men like Schlesinger and Reinhold Niebuhr argued that, paradoxically, the more Americans recognized their sinfulness, and restrained it within systems of law, the more America would prove its superiority over those totalitarian systems that refused such restraints.

(Caption from The New Yorker: “A picture of a “water detail,” reportedly taken in May, 1901, in Sual, the Philippines. “It is a terrible torture,” one soldier wrote. Credit attributed to Corporal George J. Vennage/Ohio State University Rare Books and Manuscripts Library)

Watching Cheney: He’s Got Nothing

[Re-posted from earlier today]

His interview last night is worth revisiting again. He says what he has previously said – adding nothing to the factual record, and addressing none of the specifics in the report. But he is also clearly rattled. He is used to proclaiming categorical truths about things he knows will never be made public. He is used to invoking what he says he knows from secret intelligence without any possibility of being contradicted. This interview is the first time he has made statements about torture that can be fact-checked by the record. And, he is proven to be a liar, as shown below.

When someone presents a public official with a large tranche of the CIA’s own documents and operational cables and internal memos, and that paper-trail contradicts previous statements by the public official, he has a couple of options. The first is to point out where any particular allegation is factually wrong, to show a flaw in the data, to defend himself factually from the claims presented. The second is to flail around, dodge any specifics and double-down on various talking points that evade the central facts at hand.

Cheney picked the second path. That tells you a huge amount, it seems to me. He doesn’t address abugrahib4_gallery-dish-SDthe mountain of evidence. He is simply ruling it out of bounds – after admitting he hasn’t even read it! If you had a two-bit tax evader who is presented by the IRS with a tranche of his own tax records proving he was delinquent, and he simply insisted that he hadn’t read them and still emphatically denies the charge, he’s self-evidently guilty. Why is this not self-evidently the case with Cheney?

His response to the facts as documented is simply: I know otherwise. He gives no specifics. He merely invokes other CIA official denials as an authority – when they too are charged with war crimes. That’s like a gangster claiming he is innocent on the basis of his gang-members’ testimony. He blusters on. In a court of law, his performance would be, quite simply, risible as an act of self-defense. It becomes some primal scream version of “Because I said it worked!”

Now look at what else he said. He describes this as a classic example of politicians throwing the “professionals” under the bus. One is forced to ask: what professionals? All the professionals in interrogation in the military and the FBI were kept out of the torture program, which was assigned to two contractors, who assessed themselves, who had never interrogated anyone in their lives, and who had no linguistic or interrogation backgrounds. What this report does is throw the amateurs under the bus, and among those rank amateurs is Dick Cheney.

When Cheney is asked about a prisoner chainedAbu_Ghraib_56 to the ceiling in a cell and forced to defecate on himself in a diaper, he says “I’ve never heard of such a thing.” As if that is relevant. If he hadn’t heard of such a thing, he should have. And if he hadn’t until this week, he could have read about it in the report. And then, revealingly, he immediately gets angry. He expresses no regret and no remorse about another human being’s unimaginable suffering. He cites the alternative to torture – legal powerful, effective interrogation that the report proves gave us great intelligence – as “kiss him on both cheeks and tell us, please, please tell us what you know”. Again, this is risible as an argument.

In fact, it is prima facie evidence that torture was used as a first resort, and it was a first resort because Cheney already knew it was the only way to get intelligence. How he knew we don’t know. No one in professional interrogation believed or believes it. So you have clear evidence that the decision to torture was taken early on – and nothing was allowed to stand in its way. This was an ideological decision – not a policy judgment based on evidence.

Here’s the truly revealing part. Cheney is told about a prisoner, Gul Rahman, who died after unimaginable brutality – beaten, kept awake for 48 hours, kept in total darkness for days, thrown into the Gestapo-pioneered cold bath treatment, and then chained to a wall and left to die of hypothermia. The factors in his death included “dehydration, lack of food, and immobility due to ‘short chaining.” This is Cheney’s response:

3,000 Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did, and I have no sympathy for them. I don’t know the specific details … I haven’t read the report … I keep coming back to the basic, fundamental proposition: how nice do you want to be to the murderers of 3000 Americans?

But Gul Rahman had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 plot.

He had engaged in no plots to kill Americans. He was a guard to the Afghan warlord, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, part of an organization that began by fighting the Soviets in occupied Afghanistan. It had alliances with al Qaeda at the time, but subsequently engaged in peace negotiations with the Karzai government. His brother claims Rahman was even involved in rescuing Hamid Kharzai in 1994.  To equate him with individuals who committed mass murder of Americans or who were actively plotting against Americans is preposterous. He was emphatically not a threat to the US. Yet we tortured him to death. And the man running the torture camp was promoted thereafter.

To put it more bluntly, Cheney’s response is unhinged. It is suffused with indiscriminate rage which is indifferent to such standards as whether the prisoner is innocent or guilty, or even if he should be in a prison at all. He is acting out a revenge fantasy, no doubt fueled in part by the understanding that 3,000 Americans lost their lives because he failed to prevent it – when the facts were lying there in the existing surveillance and intelligence system and somehow never got put together.

What we have here is a staggering thing: the second highest official in a democracy, proud and unrepentant of war crimes targeted at hundreds of prisoners, equating every single one of the prisoners – including those who were victims of mistaken identity, including American citizens reading satirical websites, including countless who had nothing to do with any attacks on the US at all – with the nineteen plotters of one terror attack. We have a man who, upon being presented with a meticulous set of documents and facts, brags of not reading them and who continues to say things that are definitively disproved in the report by CIA documents themselves.

This is a man who not only broke the law and the basic norms of Western civilization, but who celebrates that. If this man is not brought to justice, the whole idea of justice in this country is a joke.

(Photos: scenes from Abu Ghraib prison, showing the results of torture techniques pioneered by Dick Cheney.)