WAMM’s “Tackling Torture at the Top” Committee is gratified to finally witness today’s release of a redacted summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Report.
Media Release December 9, 2014 (Direct to Rise Up Times)
From: Tackling Torture at the Top (T3) Committee of WAMM (Women Against Military Madness)
Re: Release of “Torture Report” by U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
Our “T3” committee of anti-torture activists was founded more than a decade ago when the first reports of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo began to surface. Our nation has had a long wait for real investigation, truthfulness, and accountability for one of the most egregious type of war crimes – termed a “jus cogens” crime because there is no possible legal justification for torture under the rule of law. This 6,000-page report has taken six years to be released, costing taxpayers more than $40 million. We trust this will inspire the important national discussion and public debate, which, if allowed to develop, may prevent a recurrence of such horrific war crimes perpetrated in the name of the U.S.
Pandora’s Box was opened. It’s difficult to put the evil back inside, but that is what must be done. We underscore former Vice President Walter Mondale’s wisdom: Torture should not be “like a loaded gun laid on the table for anyone to come along and use.” He’s repeated this warning over several years when hosting national security experts, many of whom were former government officials who witnessed how the box of evils was opened after Sept. 11, 2001.
We believe the Senate Committee was especially intelligent to realize they needed to demonstrate how the use of torture tactics are not merely unethical and illegal, but also how such tactics are totally ineffective and unwise as a matter of policy. The use of torture not only failed to obtain timely and accurate intelligence information, but actually resulted in false confessions that were used to gin up launching the unjustified and illegal war upon Iraq. Additionally, the blowback from U.S. use of torture has increased recruitment of terrorist groups and resulted in the deaths of numerous soldiers and other U.S. citizens because terrorists and insurgents could then point to the U.S. as having itself destroyed the previously well-ingrained rule of law and international prohibition upon use of torture.
Our T3 Committee’s concerns remain, however. This Report alone, since it deals mostly with relatively low-level (usually called “rogue”) instances of torture by CIA contractors, will not effectively ferret out the orders and “legal” architecture coming from “the Top” – from the politicians who granted the “green light” to those on the lower levels of the CIA and military hierarchies who then actually committed the war crimes. Already the news is full of Bush Administration officials strategizing as to whether to “circle the wagons” or to “throw CIA operatives under the bus” in an attempt to avoid blame. There are even reports that former Vice President Dick Cheney (the main torture architect) is voicing indignation that former President Bush is attempting to distance himself from the orders to commit torture.
T3Video Contest (Click on photo)
It must also be noted that a Minnesota connection exists. Apparently many of the early so-called “torture memos” of the Bush Administration were authored by Robert Delahunty, who currently teaches law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law and his then Office of Legal Counsel colleague John Yoo. The “torture memos” attempted to create a “get out of jail free” defense for the politicians who ordered torture. Bush Administration officials believed, if and when their having ordered acts of torture and cruel and inhumane abuse was discovered, they might point to this series of memos. The post-9/11 OLC memos claimed the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the “war on terror” and most were based on the notion that the President possessed unlimited unilateral “Commander in Chief” war presidency powers to override normal Constitutional law.
In addition to calling for more truthfulness about the responsibility of those at the top who gave the orders and concocted spurious “legalization” of torture defenses, our T3 Committee points to the analysis and recommendations recently set forth at “Just Security,” entitled “Disappearing People and Disappearing the Evidence: The Deeper Significance of the SSCI Report” ( http://justsecurity.org/14054/guest-post-disappearing-people-disappearing-evidence-deeper-significance-ssci-report/ ) written by Katherine Hawkins, the main investigator for the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment. Significantly, Hawkins writes, and our T3 Committee agrees with, the following:
On August 12, in response to these developments, twenty public interest organizations sent a letter to President Obama asking him to take three concrete steps:
1.Replace John Brennan as CIA Director;
2.Declassify the CIA Inspector General’s report on the CIA’s searches of Senate computers;
3.Remove the excessive redactions of the Executive Summary of the Senate torture report, and declassify the full report.
We expect that the first of these requests will receive the most attention. But the other two are every bit as important. The problem did not begin with John Brennan, nor will it end with him, even if he resigns or is fired. The problem is that no bureaucracy can be trusted with the power to disappear people, torture them, and then disappear the evidence of these abuses.
As our Committee name indicates, we believe that, in order to fully put the evil back into the box, torture and other war crimes must be “tackled at the top.”
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The Senate Report on the C.I.A.’s Torture and Lies
The report raises again, with renewed power, the question of why no one has ever been held accountable for these seeming crimes — not the top officials who set them in motion, the lower-level officials who committed the torture, or those who covered it up, including by destroying videotapes of the abuse and by trying to block the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation of their acts.
The Senate committee’s summary says that the torture by C.I.A. interrogators and private contractors was “brutal and far worse” than the agency has admitted to the public, to Congress and the Justice Department, even to the White House. At least one detainee died of “suspected hypothermia” after being shackled partially naked to a concrete floor in a secret C.I.A. detention center run by a junior officer without experience, competence or supervision. Even now, the report says, it’s not clear how many prisoners were held at this one facility, or what was done to them.
In that, and other clandestine prisons, very often no initial attempt was made to question prisoners in a nonviolent manner, despite C.I.A. assertions to the contrary. “Instead, in many cases the most aggressive techniques were used immediately, in combination and nonstop,” according to the summary of the declassified and heavily censored document. “Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads.”
Detainees were walked around naked and shackled, and at other times naked detainees were “hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.”
The C.I.A. appears to have used waterboarding on more than the three detainees it has acknowledged subjecting to that form of torture. During one session, one of those detainees, Abu Zubaydah, an operative of Al Qaeda, became “completely unresponsive.” The waterboarding of another, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the 9/11 attacks, became a “series of near drownings.”
Some detainees, the report said, were subjected to nightmarish pseudo-medical procedures, referred to as “rectal feeding.”
That some of these detainees were highly dangerous men does not excuse subjecting them to illegal treatment that brought shame on the United States and served as a recruiting tool for terrorist groups. To make matters worse, the report said that at least 26 of the 119 known C.I.A. prisoners were wrongfully held, some of them for months after the C.I.A. determined that they should not have been taken prisoner in the first place.
The C.I.A. and some members of the President George W. Bush’s administration claimed these brutal acts were necessary to deal with “ticking time bomb” threats and that they were effective. Former Vice President Dick Cheney, an avid promoter of “enhanced interrogation,” still makes that claim.
But “at no time” did the C.I.A.’s torture program produce intelligence that averted a terrorism threat, the report said. All of the information that the C.I.A. attributed to its “enhanced interrogation techniques” was obtained before the brutal interrogations took place, actually came from another source, or was a lie invented by the torture victims — a prospect that the C.I.A. had determined long ago was the likely result of torture.
The report recounted the C.I.A.’s decision to use two outside psychologists “to develop, operate and assess” the interrogation programs. They borrowed from their only experience — an Air Force program designed to train personnel to resist torture techniques that had been used by American adversaries decades earlier. They had no experience in interrogation, “nor did either have specialized knowledge of Al Qaeda, a background in counterterrorism or any relevant cultural or linguistic expertise.”
They decided which prisoners could withstand brutal treatment and then assessed the effectiveness of their own programs. “In 2005, the psychologists formed a company specifically for the purpose of conducting their work with the C.I.A. Shortly thereafter, the C.I.A. outsourced virtually all aspects of the program,” the summary said. And it noted that, “the contractors received $81 million prior to the contract’s termination in 2009.”
The litany of brutality, lawlessness and lack of accountability serves as a reminder of what a horrible decision President Obama made at the outset of his administration to close the books on this chapter in our history, even as he repudiated the use of torture. The C.I.A. officials who destroyed videotapes of waterboarding were left unpunished, and all attempts at bringing these acts into a courtroom were blocked by claims of national secrets.
It is hard to believe that anything will be done now. Republicans, who will soon control the Senate and have the majority on the intelligence panel, denounced the report, acting as though it is the reporting of the torture and not the torture itself that is bad for the country. Maybe George Tenet, who ran the C.I.A. during this ignoble period, could make a tiny amends by returning the Presidential Medal of Freedom that President Bush gave him upon his retirement.