Steve Weissman / t r u t h o u t | Perspective – 2004-08-26 21:44:02
(August 27, 2004) — How much torture will it take before someone in power asks the right question: Who gave the orders that put the torturers to work?
Forget, for a moment, the failure of leadership, prison overcrowding, and personal sadism and brutality that led to much of what we saw in all those dirty pictures from Abu Ghraib. Put aside even more horrific tales of forced sex involving women, children, and dogs, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Focus, if you can, on how the torture started.
Bush Gave the Go-ahead in September 2001
Though you would never guess it from either official Army investigations or former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger’s blue-ribbon commission, America’s major newspapers and magazines — and several writers on this website — documented the answer weeks and months ago. President George W. Bush gave the go-ahead in the days after 9/11, when he signed a series of Presidential Directives giving the CIA authority to kill or capture suspected al-Qaeda leaders and “disappear” those who survived into a global network of secret torture centers around the world.
Richard C. Clarke, the president’s chief of counter-terrorism, summed up the White House mood. “I don’t care what the international lawyers say,” he quotes Mr. Bush, “we are going to kick some ass.”
To be fair, the CIA and Special Forces had used what they called “stress and duress” torture techniques at least as far back as the early days of the Vietnam War, as you can see in the CIA’s KUBARK Counter-intelligence Interrogation Manual (1963) and their updated Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual (1983). These savage skills remained part of the American arsenal, with trained professionals ready to use them or teach them to client armies. Mr. Bush ordered their use.
Bush Approved Secret Waivers on Torture
He also signed off on secret legal justifications, accepting the argument made by White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales, that the need to obtain information quickly to prevent terrorist attacks “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
Denying POW status to suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda captives in Afghanistan and elsewhere, Mr. Bush sought to deprive them of the “humane treatment” the Geneva Conventions requires. He also walked away from the International Criminal Court, fearing that American soldiers and political leaders might face prosecution for war crimes. The president knew what he was doing.
The result became clear with the first captives in Afghanistan. American forces kept “enemy combatants” hooded and shackled, forced them to stand or kneel in painful stress positions, deprived them of food, water, and medicine, subjected them to threats, interrupted sleep, sensory deprivation and sensory assault, and extremes of hot and cold. The Americans also kept captives naked and began the routine sexual humiliation that we later saw in Iraq.
Rumsfeld Discussed Torture with Apparent Delight
All the while, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld delighted in the harsh treatment his soldiers were handing out. While the Schlesinger Commission faults him for sowing confusion about which interrogation techniques he would — and would not — permit, he publicly defended harsh interrogation, often with glee. He also defended the handling of captives at Guantánamo Bay, or Gitmo, where Major General Geoffrey Miller routinely subjected them to the same kind of torture.
Rumsfeld’s protégé Dr. Stephen A. Cambone, now Deputy Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, then sent Gen. Miller to Iraq to “Gitmoize” interrogations at Abu Ghraib and other American prisons.
“At Guantánamo Bay we learned that the prisoners have to earn every single thing that they have,” Miller told Brig. General Janis Karpinski, as she recalled on BBC’s Radio 4.
“He said they are like dogs and if you allow them to believe at any point that they are more than a dog then you’ve lost control of them.”
Rumsfeld’s Hand-picked Investigators Fail to Fault White House
The Schlesinger Commission, which Secretary Rumsfeld handpicked, acknowledges that the interrogation techniques he approved at Guantánamo “migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq, where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” But the four commissioners — two former defense secretaries, a former Republican Congresswoman, and a retired Air Force general — refuse to condemn the techniques or hold anybody responsible for ordering them.
Not Secretary Rumsfeld. And certainly not President Bush.
“The report talks about management failures when it should be talking about policy failures,” said Reed Brody, special counsel with Human Rights Watch. “The report seems to go out of its way not to find any relationship between Secretary Rumsfeld’s approval of interrogation techniques designed to inflict pain and humiliation and the widespread mistreatment and torture of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo.”
Why? Because the Schlesinger Commission is doing exactly what I predicted Rummy would do several weeks ago. He and they are trying their damndest to preserve Stress and Duress as long as the Pentagon and CIA restricts its use to making interrogations more productive…
Stop the excesses. Leave the torture.
Schlesinger even warned of the “chilling effect” that Abu Ghraib excesses might have on attempts to obtain better intelligence through interrogations.
“One consequence of the publicity that has been associated with the activities at Abu Ghraib and the punishments that prospectively will be handed out is that it has had a chilling effect on interrogation operations,” he said. “It is essential in the war on terror that we have adequate intelligence and that we have effective interrogation.”
Significantly, the panel did not have “full access to information involving the role of the Central Intelligence Agency in detention operations.” Critics will see the panel as an effort to save Rumsfeld’s job, and Schlesinger has indeed warned that firing the Secretary, or asking him to resign, “would be a boon for all of America’s enemies.” But the bigger goal is to save the system of torture that America will continue to use to gather the information it wants.
A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.