Cheney Is Lying

In his deeply revealing interview on Fox News last night, former vice-president Dick Cheney was asked which plots were foiled using torture, thereby saving thousands of lives. The first and only case he cited last night was the “West Coast” “Second Wave” plot against buildings in Los Angeles. He’s cited this many times before. And here’s the thing: It’s a lie. It’s not true. And we now know it’s not true, because the CIA itself admitted it last year, after a decade of lying about it.

Cheney hasn’t read the report, although he knows it’s “full of crap.” What that tells you about this man’s integrity and honesty I’ll leave to you. But here is what he hasn’t read.

The CIA, from the beginning, cited this case as a critical piece of evidence for the efficacy of torture, in all its briefings to officials. To take one random example, here is a legal memo from Steven Bradbury, at the OLC, conveying what the CIA was telling him:

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 7.23.26 PMSo torture gave us the existence of the Guraba cell, which foiled the plot. The CIA told Bush the exact same thing:

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 7.30.58 PMThis was a lie. How do we know? Because CIA operational cables and internal documents tell a different story. The FBI arrested two operatives in August 2001, including a “suspected airline suicide attacker” and that provided the leads for further identification of al Qaeda operatives involved in the Gubara version of the attack. Another plot on similar lines by some Malaysian nationals, coordinated by KSM, was foiled when one Misran bin Arshad was arrested in January 2002, revealing, by the way, that the attack had already been canceled the month before. Arshad spilled the beans after legal and non-coercive interrogations. So, according to the CIA, torturing KSM gave us nothing that we didn’t already have; and agents deduced that what intelligence they did get from KSM about this was because he knew that Arshad had already been captured – not because he had been tortured.

And the CIA admitted as much last year:

The CIA’s June 2013 Response acknowledges that “[t]he Study correctly points out that we erred when we represented that we ‘learned’ of the Second Wave plotting from KSM and ‘learned’ of the operational cell comprised of students from Hambali.” Here’s the full section:

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 7.49.17 PMBut notice that they cannot quite admit what they have admitted. They accept that they misled the president, but called it “imprecision,” rather than untruth. Then they bizarrely continued to “assess this was a good example of the importance of intelligence derived from the detainee [torture] program.” Then they threw in another claim – that the capture of another figure, Hambali, had been critical to foiling the plot as well, and that his capture was a function of the torture program. But the CIA’s own documents show that Hambali’s capture was unrelated to to the program. After a while, when you read this report closely, you cannot avoid seeing that they’re flailing around. They’ve got nothing but bluster and bluff. And when you watch the amazing Cheney interview, you realize he has nothing else either. All he has is bluff. But what he said last night was wrong. The CIA itself has said it was untrue.

We have a former vice-president going on cable news and continuing to say things in defense of the CIA that the CIA itself admits are untrue. This is his p.r. strategy: asking the American people who they are going to believe: Dick Cheney or their own lyin’ eyes? More on the Cheney interview to come.

Team Torture

Noah Millman believes that our reasons for torturing weren’t based on torture’s effectiveness:

Willingness to torture became, first within elite government and opinion-making circles, then in the culture generally, and finally as a partisan GOP talking point, a litmus test of seriousness with respect to the fight against terrorism. That – proving one’s seriousness in the fight – was its primary purpose from the beginning, in my view.

It was only secondarily about extracting intelligence. It certainly wasn’t about instilling fear or extracting false confessions – these would not have served American purposes. It was never about “them” at all. It was about us. It was our psychological security blanket, our best evidence that we were “all-in” in this war, the thing that proved to us that we were fierce enough to win.

Larison agrees:

Because of the bias in our debates in favor of hard-line policies, preventive war and torture not only become acceptable “options” worth considering, but they have often been treated as possessing the quality–seriousness–that they most lack. The belief that a government is entitled to invade a foreign country and destroy its government on the off chance that the latter might one day pose a threat is an outstanding example of something that is morally unserious. That is, it reveals the absence or the rejection of careful moral reasoning. Likewise, believing that a government should ever be allowed to torture people is the opposite of what comes from serious moral reflection.

Update from a reader:

Thank you for your superlative torture coverage.  I am a writing to let you know of a revealing exchange I had recently on National Review Online. In reply to an article yesterday by David French accusing the torture report of being a “partisan mess,” and insisting on the usefulness of torture, I wrote the following:

If torture works, we want to be sure it works in the long run, not just the short run. I worry that even if via torture we foil a particular bomb plot in the short run, in the long run we will have just succeeded in making many more bombers, since the terrorists will successfully use the fact of American torture to recruit new terrorists.

One reply might be: so we should torture in secret. But that implies that everyone we torture must never tell about it. And the only way to guarantee THAT is to silence those we torture forever, by killing them or imprisoning them for life without trial. Is that where we really want to go as a country?

In reply, “Nightscribe” wrote:

I realize this is a waste of my time, but, the Republicans and I do NOT think interrogation/torture (if you like that word) is a recruitment tool for Islamic terrorists! It’s the WEAKNESS we show the world that we are willing to throw our military and their tactics under the bus for feeding them Ensure! For God Sake! Wake up!

And who gives a flying F*** if they tell anybody about it? We’re trading them off for deserters by the handful! They’re no doubt laughing so hard they can barely keep the blade straight on the next journalist’s neck!

I only hope the next torture tactic we use is eyeball with a grapefruit spoon! With VIDEO!

The rest of the comments contain many equally disturbing and deranged “hurray for torture!” claims. One common argument that crops up is the following:  (i) We are civilized; (ii) our enemies are not; so (iii) we should torture them.

Do such people really not see that (iii) refutes (i)?

How You Know He Hasn’t Read It

“I don’t believe these are torture at all. For instance, waterboarding, there were medical personnel present during the whole time. It creates tremendous discomfort – there’s no doubt about it. It creates tremendous fear, but the fact is there was no lasting damage to these people and we got information from them, which is very helpful. … We’re not talking about anyone being burned or stabbed or cut or anything like that. We’re talking about people being made to stand in awkward positions, have water put into their nose and into their mouth. Nobody suffered any lasting injuries from this,” – Congressman Peter King.

The Truth About Torture, Revisited

[Re-posted from earlier today]

Nine years ago, Charles Krauthammer wrote an essay in The Weekly Standard defending the use of torture by the United States. I responded with the essay excerpted below in The New Republic. I went back and read that debate this morning, just to see how it holds up in the wake of the mass of evidence we now have from the CIA itself about the torture that the US actually authorized and practiced under the Bush administration.

And what strikes me is how admirably emphatic Charles was about the gravity of the issue nine years ago. Here is a sentence and a sentiment I have yet to read in the various commentaries on the right since the report was published yesterday:

Torture is a terrible and monstrous thing, as degrading and morally corrupting to those who practice it as any conceivable human activity including its moral twin, capital punishment.

It seems to me that in a civilized and decent society, this is not something open to much caviling. Even if you believe, as Charles did, that torture was defensible in some very exacting circumstances, it is still a monstrous, morally corrupting evil. And yet that sentiment is strangely nowhere to be found on the current right. Which is itself proof of the statement. What we once instinctively regarded with moral horror has, over the years, become something most Americans are comfortable with. This is what torture does. In the words of Charles Krauthammer, it degrades and morally corrupts those who practice it. And so it has:

Torture Support

Notice that Krauthammer’s maximal position in 2005 is now dead last in public opinion: his view that torture should be used extremely rarely commands less than 20 percent support and is beaten by those Americans who now believe that torture should be employed often. Yes: often. And this, of course, is not an accident. When a former president and vice-president openly back torture, and when the CIA has been engaging in a massive p.r. campaign to argue – against what we now know are incontrovertible facts from the CIA’s own records – that it saved thousands of lives, it will affect public opinion. There are always atavist and repellent sentiments in war time. The difference now is that a huge section of the elite endorses them.

Whom should we torture? Krauthammer rules torture out of bounds for prisoners of war; permits it in the case of very few high-value terrorists; and then offers up a difficult category of torture victims – those with information about a “ticking time-bomb”:

Third, there is the terrorist with information. Here the issue of torture gets complicated and the easy pieties don’t so easily apply. Let’s take the textbook case. Ethics 101: A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He’s not talking … Question: If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it? Now, on most issues regarding torture, I confess tentativeness and uncertainty. But on this issue, there can be no uncertainty: Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.

Now consider what we now know about whom we tortured under the torture program under Bush and Cheney. First off, we tortured 26 people who were cases of mistaken identity. We tortured 26 innocent people. This is so far outside any of the parameters that even Krauthammer allowed for that it beggars belief. Amy Davidson:

Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be,” and including many others, such as,

“Gul Rahman, another case of mistaken identity.… Shaistah Habibullah Khan, who, like his brother, Sayed Habib, was the subject of fabrications.… Haji Ghalgi, who was detained as “useful leverage”…. Hayatullah Haqqani, whom the CIA determined “may have been in the wrong place at the wrong time”…. Ali Jan, who was detained for using a satellite phone, traces on which “revealed no derogatory information”.… Two individuals—Mohammad al-Shomaila and Salah Nasir Salim Ali—on whom derogatory information was “speculative”.… and Bismullah, who was mistakenly arrested … and later released with $[redacted] and told not to speak about his experience.”

It seems to me that proponents of torture should be horrified by this revelation. If torture is a monstrous thing, if it corrupts all who do it, as Krauthammer believes, what incalculable damage has been done by the US torturing innocents, in one case to death? Where was there any remorse – yes, remorse – expressed by the CIA yesterday for this compounding of a crime and a mistake?

Now consider Krauthammer’s view of who should be doing the torturing:

The exceptions to the no-torture rule would not be granted to just any nonmilitary interrogators, or anyone with CIA credentials. They would be reserved for highly specialized agents who are experts and experienced in interrogation, and who are known not to abuse it for the satisfaction of a kind of sick sadomasochism Lynndie England and her cohorts indulged in at Abu Ghraib.

We now know that the CIA contracted out the torture to two individuals without “specialized knowledge of al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism or any relevant cultural or linguistic experience.”  They had never interrogated anyone – yet they got a $181 million contract to run the program. They were sadists:

John Rizzo, the acting CIA general counsel who met with the psychologists, wrote in his book, “Company Man,” that he found some of what Mitchell and Jessen were recommending “sadistic and terrifying.” One technique, he wrote, was “so gruesome that the Justice Department later stopped short of approving it.”

They had a pecuniary interest in the criminal enterprise. And they were making things up as they went along:

One email from a CIA staff psychologist said “no professional in the field would credit” their judgments. Another said their “arrogance and narcissism” led to unnecessary conflicts in the field. The director of interrogations for the CIA called their program a “train wreck” and complained that they were blending the roles of doctor and interrogator inappropriately.

So the architects of the torture program also violated a core part of Krauthammer’s defense of torture. And shockingly so. Why aren’t the defenders of torture horrified by this amateurism? Where are the Republican voices of outrage that a serious torture program was handed out to amateur contractors who had no idea what they were doing and no moral compass at all?

Krauthammer also described two torture techniques he would approve of. One was the injection of sodium pentathol – which, given the rank brutality of the actual torture sessions – would have been a mercy, but was not widely used (so far as we know). The second technique was waterboarding, the torture perfected by the Communist Chinese, and for which previous US servicemembers were prosecuted. But notice what Charles says waterboarding is:

Less hypothetically, there is waterboarding, a terrifying and deeply shocking torture technique in which the prisoner has his face exposed to water in a way that gives the feeling of drowning. According to CIA sources cited by ABC News, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “was able to last between two and 2 1/2 minutes before begging to confess.” Should we regret having done that? Should we abolish by law that practice, so that it could never be used on the next Khalid Sheikh Mohammed having thus gotten his confession?

We now know that those CIA sources were lying. KSM was waterboarded 183 times over a matter of weeks. And the waterboarding was not just 2 1/2 minutes of panic. It was full-fledged, endless, soul-breaking, body-destroying torture of a kind practiced in the past by totalitarian or authoritarian police states:

Within days of the Justice Department’s approval to begin waterboarding the prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, the sessions became so extreme that some C.I.A. officers were “to the point of tears and choking up,” and several said they would elect to be transferred out of the facility if the brutal interrogations continued. During one waterboarding session, Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.” The interrogations lasted for weeks, and some C.I.A. officers began sending messages to the agency’s headquarters in Virginia questioning the utility — and the legality — of what they were doing. But such questions were rejected.

Krauthammer argued that the torture should “not be cinematic and ghoulish.” I wonder if he regards the following as non-ghoulish:

The interrogators didn’t know the languages that would have been useful for real intelligence, but they did come up with a lexicon of their own: “walling,” which meant slamming a person against a wall; “rough takedown,” in which a group would rush into a cell yelling, then drag a detainee down the hall while punching him, perhaps after having “cut off his clothes and secured him with Mylar tape”; “confinement box,” an instrument to make a prisoner feel he was closed in a coffin (the box came in large or small sizes); “sleep deprivation,” which might mean being kept awake for a hundred and eighty hours before succumbing to “disturbing hallucinations”; the ability to, as the report put it, “earn a bucket,” the bucket being what a prisoner might get to relieve himself in, rather than having to soil himself or being chained to a wall with a diaper (an “image” that President Bush was said to have found disturbing); “waterboarding,” which often itself seems to have been a euphemism for near, rather than simulated, drowning; “rectal rehydration as a means of behavioral control”; “lunch tray,” the assembly of foods that were puréed and used to rectally force-feed prisoners.

This is what the talk of family could look like: “CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families—to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’ ” The interrogation of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri included “implying that his mother would be brought before him and sexually abused.”

What this report proves – not asserts, but proves – is that the torture the US inflicted on prisoners was of an uncontrolled, nightmarish quality whose impact was so great that even the junior grunts on the night beat at Abu Ghraib knew what they were supposed to do. Remember what so many Republicans said after Abu Ghraib? They were horrified, when they could blame it on someone at the very lowest rung of the totem pole. But when it was sanctioned by the very highest levels of the CIA – and inflicted on two dozen innocents – it was kosher.

In a civilized society, there really would be no debate over this. And before 9/11, there wasn’t. Ever since, this country has slid and then fallen out of the civilized world and out of the core American traditions of humanity and legal warfare. Krauthammer can be seen as emblematic of that slide – someone whose early abhorrence at torture and defense of it only in its mildest and rarest forms has slowly succumbed to a full-fledged defense of a program that violated every rule he said should be in place to protect us from the abyss. This is not surprising. When you start to torture, the sheer evil of what you are doing requires that you believe ever more in its value. You can never admit error, because it would mean you have committed crimes against humanity without even the defense of acquiring any useful intelligence. You are revealed as monsters – and you cannot accept that of yourself or of those you know. And so you insist – with ever-rising certainty – that the torture worked – even though that’s irrelevant as a matter of morality and of law, and even though your own internal documents prove that it didn’t.

And so you become the monster you were supposed to be fighting. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Katherine Bigelow, Propaganda Tool

A reader writes:

Please take a minute if you haven’t already to watch the segment on the Daily Show last night where Jon Stewart asks Zero Dark Thirty director Katherine Bigelow about the Senate report on torture (she was scheduled to be on the show to promote her new documentary on the ivory trade and terrorism – the timing was a coincidence as far as I know).  When asked for her reaction to the revelation of the CIA’s lies and misrepresentations (particularly about whether the information gleaned from torture was of any use) her two word answer was: “It’s complicated.”

That’s it.

Nothing else from her.  No apology for the damage her movie did in conveying the idea to the average American that torture “works”.  No attempt to explain how she was deceived (of course it was public knowledge even then that the salient information came from un-tortured sources but many/most people don’t know or understand that), and no attempt at a defense by her either. And then no follow up from Jon Stewart. Just her “It’s complicated” and then on to something new (with new bad guys who aren’t us).

She was had. And she’s not strong enough to admit it. Her movie does show some of the milder torture the US inflicted on prisoners, and it has some worth for that. But its subtle attempt to say that it somehow played a role in getting bin Laden … well, we now know that is not true. Another scowls at Stewart:

I’ve never thought of Jon Stewart as a journalists. But you guys have often written about him in those terms. If Stewart is a journalist, he was David Gregory during the Bigelow segment.

Don’t be too rough on him. A reminder of the facts of the Senate report as it relates to bin Laden:

Did waterboarding and other coercive interrogation techniques that were used on al Qaeda detainees in CIA custody eventually lead to the Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan early in the morning of May 2, 2011? The Senate Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday has a simple answer to that: Hell, no!

According to the Senate report, the critical pieces of information that led to discovering the identity of the bin Laden courier, Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, (Ahmed the Kuwaiti) whose activities eventually pointed the CIA to bin Laden’s hiding place in Pakistan, were provided by an al-Qaeda detainee before he was subjected to CIA coercive interrogation, and was based also upon information that was provided by detainees that were held in the custody of foreign governments. (The report is silent on the interesting question of whether any of these unnamed foreign governments obtained any of their information by using torture.)

Further critical information about the Kuwaiti was also provided by conventional intelligence techniques and was not elicited by the interrogations of any of the CIA detainees, according to the report.

Even worse for the CIA — which has consistently defended the supposed utility of the interrogation program, including in the hunt for bin Laden — a number of CIA prisoners who were subjected to coercive interrogations consistently provided misleading information designed to wave away CIA interrogators from the bin Laden courier who would eventually prove to be the key to finding al Qaeda’s leader.

Update from a reader with further media criticism:

I listened to “Morning Edition” this morning, very curious to hear their coverage on this important story. I was quite disappointed. First, they continued with the “enhanced interrogation” euphemism, refusing to call it torture. (She kept referring to it as “what some would call torture.”) But even more problematic was Renee Montagne’s interview with John Rizzo, former CIA General Counsel.

Their entire conversation centered on the specific practices that went beyond the authorized practices, with Rizzo emphasizing that when people exceeded the boundaries, they were reported (and punished). Montagne never asked him about the practices that were authorized, which is the much bigger problem at issue. Rizzo made it seem like there were two types of practices: (1) authorized practices that were effective (according to him); and (2) unauthorized, excessive practices. Montagne never asked him how or why practices like waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and keeping prisoners in stress positions were actually permitted, given that they have been legally prohibited previously. Nor did she ask if some of the other practices that were revealed in the report, such as “anal feeding,” were permitted (or were considered excessive according to the CIA guidelines he was defending).

Whitewash doesn’t even begin to capture what a lame interview it was (as most of the comments on NPR’s website point out).

The NYT Discovers Torture

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 4.30.41 AM

A reader writes:

I can’t help but notice that the CIA had no problems using the word “torture” as they devised legal strategies to shield them from the consequences of using it. They knew it was “torture,” and called it such,  but how long did it take The New York Times to use the word?

Another sends the above screenshot:

What a difference a Senate report makes. While the NYT decided to start using the word “torture” again previously, I couldn’t help but be struck by how many times the word occurred on its front web page yesterday. I counted nine instances of the word “torture” on the front page (whatever counts as “above the fold” for a web page). This is a reasonably easy question for a corpus linguist with access to the NYTs archive to answer: how many times in its history has the word “torture” occurred nine times in a single edition, let alone nine times above the fold? This may be completely unique in its 153-year history.

The NYT under Bill Keller revealed itself as a mere appendage to the US government, rather than a vital check upon it. They never had a good argument. They still don’t. Every now and again, the press is presented with a real test of their integrity and independence. On this vital matter, on telling the truth, the New York Times failed.

What The Right Used To Believe

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 3.26.15 PM

“We admit to looking forward to a fair trial of the accused [at Abu Ghraib] followed by their harsh punishment. They have endangered any American unlucky enough to find himself at the mercy of our enemies in the war on terror. They have impeded our progress in that war. More fundamentally, they traduced their mission, betrayed their fellow soldiers, and disgraced their country. Anyone up or down the chain of command who was criminally complicit should be prosecuted, too … There’s only one way to drain this poison, and it isn’t further breast-beating, from the administration or its foes. Bring on the trials, and the punishment,” – Richard Starr, for the editors, Weekly Standard.

“What was done [at Abu Ghraib] was against 1) regulations, 2) army convention, and 3) civilized tradition. What do the reformers want? Pre-induction courses for U.S. soldiers in which they are told not to strip and torture captives and photograph them naked? Should there be, also, a course on how they should not fire guns at their own officers? Is there nothing that can be taken for granted?” – William F Buckley Jr. who at the time did not realize that these techniques had been authorized by the president himself.

“The principle is: The response by the nation’s government must express horror, shame and contrition proportional to the evil done to others, and the harm done to the nation, by agents of the government. Americans are almost certainly going to die in violence made worse in Iraq, and not only there, by the substantial aid some Americans, in their torture of Iraqi prisoners, have given to our enemies in this war. And by the appallingly dilatory response to the certain torture and probable murder committed in that prison. The nation’s response must, of course, include swift and public prosecutions. And the destruction of that prison. And punctilious conformity to legal obligations — and, now, to some optional procedures — concerning persons in American custody,” – George F Will. in a column called “No Flinching From The Facts.”

How far they have all fallen. Where is the CIA’s expression of “horror, shame and contrition” today? And what has been revealed in the Senate report is far worse than what happened at Abu Ghraib – and stems from the very same executive branch decisions.

(Illustration from Foreign Policy)


It’s something so twisted that only Cartman had thought of it really. Marcy Wheeler connects the revelation to force-feeding at Gitmo:

Lawyers for Gitmo detainees, especially for the recently released Abu Wa’el Dhiab, argue the method used for force-feeding hunger-strikers amounts to to torture. Given the apparent use of force-feeding as torture in the past, that claim should receive renewed attention.

Brian Merchant discovers that rectal feeding is “a century-old technique that rose to prominence during World War I”:

It was invented by an American surgeon named John Benjamin Murphy (the apparatus is called the Murphy Drip to this day), and was used to both deliver drugs and to keep patients hydrated when they lost use of their mouth.

Over the course of the century, as physicians became more skilled at administering intravenous therapy, the Murphy Drip fell out of regular use. In ​a 2010 article in the journal Emergency Nurse, the author notes that while rectal rehydration is still occasionally used in Chinese medicine to administer herbal remedies, “With the widespread use of intravenous infusions in contemporary emergency nursing, some might question whether there is a place for proctoclysis.”

But the CIA used it anyway, and often.

Russell Saunders, a doctor, is appalled:

Even if one accepts the highly dubious notion that anyone believed “rectal feedings” were a legitimate means of nourishing someone, there was no reason to consider such extreme measures in the first place. The rule of thumb in medicine is “if the guts works, use it,” meaning that it’s best to use the stomach to hydrate a patient if it’s functioning properly. There is no indication that these detainees couldn’t have had tubes inserted into their stomachs through their noses for the purposes of feeding them, assuming that respecting their right to refuse food had already been thrown out the window. For hydration, an IV would have been effective, as CIA medical officers conceded.

What those same medical officers acknowledge is that using the rectum to hydrate prisoners (which would, in contrast to feeding, at least work) was an effective means of behavior modification. These procedures weren’t undertaken because they were necessary. They were done to give a thin patina of ersatz legitimacy to what is otherwise flagrant sexual assault. The details differ but the intent is the same as in a high-profile case of police brutality.

A reader imagines the response to this news:

The phrase “rectal feeding”, which I for one have never heard before (has anyone?), is what will ensure the viral power of the Senate Committee report. Whatever it takes I guess.

Take it away, Twitter:

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.

The Alleged Blowback Over The Torture Report

CIA Report

Former CIA director Michael Hayden claims that the torture report “will be used by our enemies to motivate people to attack Americans and American facilities overseas.” Drezner doesn’t buy it:

There is no shortage of US foreign policy actions and inactions in the region to inflame enemies. The Senate report is small potatoes compared to that.

Larison seconds Drezner:

It is extremely convenient for these people to discover the possibility that a report about past U.S. abuses might inspire outrage and even violence in response. There was no such concern among hawks about the foreign policy implications of torturing people when it was being done, and they expressed no similar worries that other U.S. actions would provoke violent responses. If one raises the possibility that aggressive U.S. actions in other parts of the world could have dangerous consequences for Americans later on, that is normally denounced as “blaming” America. Strangely enough, that doesn’t seem to apply when there is a chance of exposing our government’s egregious abuses to public scrutiny and some small measure of accountability for those abuses.

And many of the people crying blowback over this report were the same ones dismissing concerns that keeping Gitmo open would stoke resentment and terrorism in the Middle East. Waldman has it right:

The cynicism necessary to attempt to blame the blowback from their torture program on those who want it exposed is truly a wonder. On one hand, they insist that they did nothing wrong and the program was humane, professional, and legal. On the other they implicitly accept that the truth is so ghastly that if it is released there will be an explosive backlash against America. Then the same officials who said “Freedom isn’t free!” as they sent other people’s children to fight in needless wars claim that the risk of violence against American embassies is too high a price to pay, so the details of what they did must be kept hidden.

On that count, Drum argues that the release of the torture report will save lives:

[O]ur conduct during the early years of the war on terror almost certainly inflamed our enemies, bolstered their recruitment, and prolonged the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. This cost thousands of American lives.

President Obama may have banned torture during his administration, but is there any reason to think we’ve now given up torture for good? Not that I can tell, and it will cost many more thousands of American lives if it happens again. So for our own safety, even if for no other reason, we need to do everything we can to reduce the odds of America going on another torture spree.

(Photo by Charles Ommanney/Getty Images)