From The Annals Of CIA Incompetence

Dexter Filkins highlights an example – the gross mishandling of “Asset X”, the mysterious figure who eventually led the CIA to KSM:

Asset X was willing to help, for a price, the e-mail said. Then something went wrong. The C.I.A. agent who was meeting Asset X recommended that Asset X be paid a certain amount of money for his help, but the request was denied. Asset X disappeared. … Nine months later, the C.I.A. found Asset X, and he was still willing to help. Then something went wrong again: Asset X’s original C.I.A. handler had been transferred, and his replacement didn’t know Asset X’s real value. The replacement agent wrote several cables to C.I.A. headquarters seeking guidance and got no response. His cables were “disappearing into a ‘black hole’,’’ the agent later recalled.

With nothing to go on, the C.I.A. officer prepared to terminate his relationship with Asset X. While he was explaining his dilemma to a colleague, another C.I.A. officer—this one visiting from out of town—overheard him and explained that Asset X in fact was extremely valuable. Shortly thereafter, with no advance warning and no C.I.A. permission, Asset X travelled to Pakistan and unexpectedly met [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed. Asset X went into a bathroom and sent a text message to his C.I.A. handler: “I M W KSM. Within hours, the C.I.A. and Pakistani intelligence agents stormed the Rawalpindi compound and captured Mohammed.

After which KSM, of course, was tortured over and over again, with “no information provided by [him leading] directly to the capture of a terrorist or the disruption of a terrorist plot.” However, as Judith Levine reminds us, it shouldn’t ultimately matter whether torture “worked” or not:

“No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” pronounces Article 4 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  No one. That’s the thing about human rights. Everybody has them—civilian, combatant, citizen, stateless migrant, innocent or criminal. Eichmann had human rights. Osama bin Laden had them. You can’t even waive your human rights. They are inalienable.

To torture is to strip a person not only of rights but of the humanity to which they attach. Dehumanization is torture’s definition, its prerequisite.

Is torture effective? The question is akin to asking if slavery is good economic policy or forced sterilization is an effective means of slowing population growth. Even if torture does work, it is still wrong. And the minute we start considering it as a tool to select to get the job done—like a wrench or a pliers to turn a bolt, a spade or pickax to dig a hole—then we do not only dehumanize those we torture, we cease to be human ourselves.

Americans Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Torture, Ctd

Mark Danner reflects on the politics of torture following the release of the Senate report:

In 2005, when the program, still secret, was beginning to wind down, a major poll found that 38 percent of the public agreed that torture could and should be used on certain occasions; now that number, depending on the poll, has risen to about 50 percent. This means that the original argument, in defense of “enhanced interrogation techniques” or—in President Bush’s phrase—the “alternative set of procedures,” has led us down an increasingly dark dead end. For what is the conclusion here? If torture was such a good idea, if it was so necessary, if it saved so many thousands of lives when nothing else could, then why did we stop doing it? Why aren’t we doing it right now? And I think on the Republican side, some arguments lately have come very close to asserting this. So we have torture as a policy choice whose popularity is growing.

It’s a deeply perverse situation that goes beyond the original choice to use torture itself. It’s also a result of the ambivalent way this choice was treated by Barack Obama and his administration. Though President Obama formally abolished torture with an executive order on his second day in office, his refusal to take other steps—to approve investigations, prosecutions, or at least a bipartisan commission—means that only his signature on that executive order stands between us and the possibility of more torture in the future.

If this issue is raised in the Republican primaries in 2016, I’d expect that most politicians on that stage will declare themselves firmly in favor of “enhanced interrogation techniques.” We may not torture now, but because torture has become a recognized policy choice, it is perfectly conceivable that our political masters, depending on who they are, might well decide to do so in the future. This is where we find ourselves, a dozen years after Abu Zubaydah first was strapped down to that waterboard.

Read all the recent Dish on torture here.

Americans Learn To Stop Worrying And Love Torture, Ctd


Many atheists are surely passing around this post. One writes:

Dear Andrew (welcome back!), Chris et al: What jumped out at me in the chart accompanying your post is that the ONLY group of Americans in which a majority do not consider US torture justified is people with no religion. Hmmm. I thought that there was no morality without religion?

American religion is in pretty bad shape – or its leaders are terrible communicators, or it’s been totally hijacked by the RWNJ media – when Godless atheists exhibit more traditional morality than either Protestants or Catholics.  That 40% of atheists approve of torture is appalling to this atheist, but I’ll take it over the huge majorities of “believers.”

Another non-believer sends the above graphic. Another piles on:

I’m proud of my group (non-religious people)’s views on torture being the most enlightened. It’s a big reason why I ran from Christianity.

I wholeheartedly agree that most American Christians are not Christians in the slightest. It’s another reason I despise most American Christians – they claim to be inherently better than everyone else, especially Atheists and Agnostics – yet are obviously not. They support our modern Rome blindly; they put money ahead of everything; they support torture; they support persecution of minorities; they believe that supporting war is Christian; they don’t know their holy texts as well as Atheists and Agnostics do; etc.

Another is more nuanced:

Can we finally put an end to the notion that humans need God or religion in order to be moral? There is perhaps no act more morally corrupt than torture, but we find that the only religious group to disapprove of torture was: the non-religious. Protestants and Catholics considered torture justified by a margin of more than three to one. If the numbers were reversed, we would hear no end that this proves that without religion, you can’t have a true moral compass.

I won’t make the opposite claim – that religion is morally corrupting – because I think the actual relationship between religiosity and morality is essentially nil.

I appreciate your writing in part because you are unapologetically devout and at the same time profoundly respectful of non-believers. I would like to see more atheists extend the same respect toward the believers. Yet I still get the sense at times that you and other believers can’t quite grasp how an atheist‘s morality can be quite as good as yours. And so you resort to writing, “the staggering levels of support for torture by Christians merely reveals that very few of them are Christians at all.” Poppycock. They are Christians who have given in to fear and/or rage – something to which all of us, whether Christian, Hindu, Muslim or atheist are vulnerable.

So I repeat: Enough of the notion that without God or religion we can’t be truly moral. Letting go of that belief will take us another step toward truly religiously tolerant society where men and women are judged by their actions, not by their religious garb.

Another reader:

I sent your recent post on torture to my dad, who is a professor at a theological seminary in the U.S. My dad and I don’t usually see eye-to-eye on political or religious issues (me being a socialist atheist, him being a conservative evangelical), but our beliefs converge when it comes to torture. He responded to my e-mail with the following:

Thanks for this. I’m going to print off a copy and include a new topic on “torture” in my Old Testament Biblical Theology class notes on “Torah and Ethics.” It will also fit under my lectures on “image of God,” which are in two classes.

Last but not least, a dissent from a theology professor:

The US Catholic bishops have made plenty of mistakes, but overlooking torture is not one of them, as you claim in your post.  They did “stand up and be counted” on this issue, starting in 2005 right up to the present. Here‘s the resource page. And here is the 2008 study guide “Torture is a Moral Issue”.

Now, could they have done more?  Sure.  But you have to admit that the Catholics in the pews don’t respond very well to the top-down moral preaching that the bishops advise already.  The support of Catholics for torture thus indicates the complete assimilation of white Catholics to the general American population, not some lack of advocacy on the part of priests and bishops.

The USCCB was strong on this issue. Evangelical flagship Christianity Today was strong on this. Most leading figures were strong on this. Sadly, none of it could overcome our combination of nationalism and fear.

I’m aware of their efforts and indeed of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. I’m a big admirer of their work. But it remains true that on such a profound issue, it’s scandalous that Catholics of all people can defend the torture of human beings. I don’t think the hierarchy have broken through the general noise. And I have never heard a word about it from the pulpit in the last ten years. Maybe Francis will come through.

Torturing Her Way To The Top

by Dish Staff

Matthew Cole reports on a key torture apologist at the CIA who “repeatedly told her superiors and others – including members of Congress – that the ‘torture’ was working and producing useful intelligence, when it was not”:

The expert was not identified by name in the unclassified 528-page summary of the [torture] report, but U.S. officials who spoke with NBC News on condition of anonymity confirmed that her name was redacted at least three dozen times in an effort to avoid publicly identifying her. In fact, much of the four-month battle between Senate Democrats and the CIA about redactions centered on protecting the identity of the woman, an analyst and later “deputy chief” of the unit devoted to catching or killing Osama bin Laden, according to U.S. officials familiar with the negotiations.

Jane Mayer comments:

Her story runs through the entire report.

She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.

Had the Senate Intelligence Committee been permitted to use pseudonyms for the central characters in its report, as all previous congressional studies of intelligence failures, including the widely heralded Church Committee report in 1975, have done, it might not have taken a painstaking, and still somewhat cryptic, investigation after the fact in order for the American public to hold this senior official accountable. Many people who have worked with her over the years expressed shock to NBC that she has been entrusted with so much power. A former intelligence officer who worked directly with her is quoted by NBC, on background, as saying that she bears so much responsibility for so many intelligence failures that “she should be put on trial and put in jail for what she has done.”

Instead, however, she has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military, most recently working as the head of the C.I.A.’s global-jihad unit. In that perch, she oversees the targeting of terror suspects around the world. (She was also, in part, the model for the lead character in “Zero Dark Thirty.”)

A Republican Pop Quiz

by Dish Staff

A reader sent this in:

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

On Obamacare:

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

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

3. Bill O’Brien, New Hampshire state representative

4. Michele Bachmann, congresswomen

On torture:

1. Marco Rubio, senator

2. Palin

3. Peter King, congressman

4. Steve King, congressman

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

Torture’s Partisan Divide

by Dish Staff

It’s massive:

Torture Partisan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waldman wants the question raised during the next primary:

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

The Best Of The Dish This Weekend


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of us will see you in the morning.

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

The Depravity Of Dick Cheney

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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


[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.


So this canary sang without any torture at all.


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

Screen Shot 2014-12-12 at 5.49.36 PM

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)