Condi And Colin: War Criminals Too

Steve Coll leafs through the new memoir by John Rizzo, a former CIA lawyer familiar with the Bush administration’s torture program. I noted earlier how Rizzo claims the president had no idea what was being done to prisoners, which gives us a whole new level of presidential negligence in the Bush years. But so many others were briefed in detail. Coll is most interested in how “Rizzo provides an eyewitness account of how the early brutal interrogation sessions were described in detail to President George W. Bush’s leading national-security advisers in the Situation Room”:

As [CIA director George] Tenet described, case by case, how the C.I.A. used waterboarding and other harsh methods on its Al Qaeda detainees, the White House chief of staff Andy Card and General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “would sit there stoically,” Rizzo writes. Attorney General John Ashcroft “was mostly quiet except for emphasizing repeatedly that the E.I.T.s were lawful.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld “was notable more for his frequent, conspicuous absences…. It was quickly apparent that Rumsfeld didn’t want to get his fingerprints anywhere near” the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Condi Rice seemed “troubled by the fact that the detainees were required to be nude when undergoing some of the E.I.T.s. Colin Powell, on the other hand, seemed to view sleep deprivation as the most grueling of all the techniques.”

None of these senior Bush Administration decision-makers has yet provided a full or thoughtful account of their recollections, emotions, or practical analysis in endorsing the C.I.A.’s interrogations. This forgetting is a bipartisan phenomenon. Agency officials briefed Nancy Pelosi in September, 2002, about waterboarding that was then underway, notes of that meeting show, but Pelosi later claimed that she had heard no such thing. Other senior Democrats who were briefed about brutal C.I.A. interrogations in 2002 and 2003 have suffered from similar impairments.

At some point, we will find out how many of America’s leadership were fully apprised of and complicit in widespread war crimes that, if they had occurred in any other country, the US would now be prosecuting under the Geneva Conventions. Yes: Colin Powell sat there and was briefed on ending two centuries of the American prohibition of torture or anything even approximating it. And he, representing the finest traditions of the US military and its honor, did not resign. He, Pelosi and Rice are as deep in this as Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Addington. And one day, even if it’s posthumously, they will be brought to justice.