Ray McGovern / Consortium News & AntiWar.com & Scott McPherson / Open Post & Melvin A. Goodman / Consortium News – 2014-12-14 00:05:42
What’s the Next Step To Stop Torture?
Ray McGovern / Consortium News & AntiWar.com
(December 11, 2014) — “I want you to listen to me,” said George Tenet lunging forward from his chair, his index finger outstretched and pointed menacingly at CBS’ Scott Pelley, “We don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people; we don’t torture people!”
Appearing on 60 Minutes on April 29, 2007, to hawk his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director Tenet was imperiously definitive on the issue of CIA and torture. Could he have thought that repeating his denial five times, with the appropriate theatrics, would compel credulity? Is this the kind of assertion over reality that worked at CIA Headquarters during his disastrous tenure?
The frequently pliant Pelley seemed unmoved this time — since the basic facts about the CIA’s waterboarding and other torture of “war on terror” detainees were well known by then. You would have had to be deaf and dumb to be unaware that Tenet had eagerly embraced the role of overseer in the Bush/Cheney “dark side” torture centers after 9/11.
In the memoir — a kind of apologia sans apology — Tenet was less self-confident and pugnacious than on 60 Minutes. While emphasizing the importance of detaining and interrogating al-Qaeda operatives around the world, he betrayed some worry that the chickens might some day come home to roost.
Enter the feathered fowl this week with the release of the Senate report on CIA torture and all the mind-numbing details about lengthy sleep deprivations, painful stress positions, waterboarding and “rectal rehydration.”
One remaining question now is whether egg on Tenet’s face will be allowed to suffice as his only punishment, or whether he and his deputy-in-crime John McLaughlin will end up in prison where they, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and several other senior officials properly belong.
The usual suspects are already crying foul over an extraordinarily professional investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee staffers and committee chair, Dianne Feinstein, who refused to chicken out and abandon her investigators despite political pressure to do so.
Possibly dreading this day, Tenet wrote in his memoir: “We raised the importance of being able to detain unilaterally al-Qa’ida operatives around the world. . . . We were going to pursue al-Qa’ida terrorists in ninety-two countries. . . . With the right authorities, policy determination, and great officers, we were confident we could get it done. . . .
“Sure, it was a risky proposition when you looked at it from a policy maker’s point of view. We were asking for and we would be given as many authorities as CIA ever had. Things could blow up. People, me among them, could end up spending some of the worst days of our lives justifying before congressional overseers our new freedom to act.” (At the Center of the Storm, p. 177-178.)
Note, however, that Tenet didn’t anticipate “spending some of the worst days of our lives” in a federal prison.
Former CIA leaders are now squirming. And while they still enjoy the dubious services of a gruff and aging PR specialist named Dick Cheney, cries are again mounting that the lot of them, together with other former senior officials, be finally held to account in some palpable way.
Many will recall that Cheney — champion of the “dark side” techniques — was the first senior official to express public approval for waterboarding. On Oct. 24, 2006, he was asked by a friendly interviewer, “Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?”
“It’s a no brainer for me,” answered Cheney, “but for a while there I was criticized as being the Vice President for Torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”
Cheney followed up in January 2009, telling AP that he had no qualms about the reliability of intelligence obtained through waterboarding: “It’s been used with great discrimination by people who know what they’re doing and has produced a lot of valuable information and intelligence,” he said.
Thus, it was very much in character for Cheney, on Monday, to protest press reports about torture being a “rogue operation” by the CIA, calling that “all a bunch of hooey” and saying: “The program was authorized. The agency did not want to proceed without authorization, and it was also reviewed legally by the Justice Department before they undertook the program.”
Yet, the trouble with Cheney’s defense is that one can no more “authorize” torture than rape or slavery. Torture inhabits that same moral category, which ethicists label intrinsic evil, always wrong — whether it “works” or not.
In other words, torture is not wrong because there are US laws and a UN Convention prohibiting it. It’s the other way around. The legal prohibitions were put in place because it is — or used to be, at least — widely recognized that humans simply must not do such things to other humans. For instance, after World War II, Japanese commanders were tried for war crimes because they used waterboarding on captured US soldiers.
Sadly though, virtually all of the public discussion on torture focuses on its possible efficacy, even though all but the most sadistic of people have long recognized that torture would be wrong even if it “works” — and it often doesn’t “work” because it induces those being tortured to fabricate answers that they think the torturers want to hear.
The Senate report is simply the latest study showing torture does not produce reliable information. It is, after all, common sense. One need only be aware that almost anyone will say anything — true or false — to stop being tortured.
It would, I think, be difficult to come up with anyone more authoritative on this issue than Gen. John Kimmons, the head of Army intelligence in 2006, whose long career dealt largely with interrogation. After the cat was out of the bag on CIA torture — and the Bush administration’s wordsmiths were working on innocent-sounding euphemisms such as an “alternative set of procedures” or “enhanced interrogation techniques” — Kimmons seized the “bull” by the horns by arranging his own press conference.
Sounding the death knell for utilitarian arguments, Kimmons warned: “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”
Then Why Torture?
Kimmons stated definitively that abusive techniques do not yield “good intelligence.” But if it’s bad intelligence you’re after, torture works like a charm. If, for example, you wish to “prove,” post 9/11, that “evil dictator” Saddam Hussein was in league with al-Qaeda and might arm the terrorists with WMD, bring on the torturers.
It is a highly cynical and extremely sad story, but many Bush administration policymakers wanted to invade Iraq before 9/11 and thus were determined to connect Saddam Hussein to those attacks. The PR push began in September 2002 — or as Bush’s chief of staff Andrew Card put it, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”
By March 2003 — after months of relentless “marketing” — almost 70 percent of Americans had been persuaded that Saddam Hussein was involved in some way with the attacks of 9/11.
The case of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, a low-level al-Qaeda operative, is illustrative of how this process worked. Born in Libya in 1963, al-Libi ran an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from 1995 to 2000. He was detained in Pakistan on Nov. 11, 2001, and then sent to a US detention facility in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was deemed a prize catch, since it was thought he would know of any Iraqi training of al-Qaeda.
The CIA successfully fought off the FBI for first rights to interrogate al-Libi. FBI’s Dan Coleman, who “lost” al-Libi to the CIA (at whose orders, I wonder?), said, “Administration officials were always pushing us to come up with links” between Iraq and al-Qaeda.
CIA interrogators elicited some “cooperation” from al-Libi through a combination of rough treatment and threats that he would be turned over to Egyptian intelligence with even greater experience in the torture business.
By June 2002, al-Libi had told the CIA that Iraq had “provided” unspecified chemical and biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda operatives, an allegation that soon found its way into other US intelligence reports. Al-Libi’s treatment improved as he expanded on his tales about collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iraq, adding that three al-Qaeda operatives had gone to Iraq “to learn about nuclear weapons.”
Al-Libi’s claim was well received at the White House even though the Defense Intelligence Agency was suspicious.
“He lacks specific details” about the supposed training, the DIA observed. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers. Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.”
Meanwhile, at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist sent there in summer 2002, told the Senate, “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link . . . there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
Just What the Doctor Ordered
President Bush relied on al-Libi’s false Iraq allegation for a major speech in Cincinnati on Oct. 7, 2002, just a few days before Congress voted on the Iraq War resolution. Bush declared, “We’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and deadly gases.”
And Colin Powell relied on it for his famous speech to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, declaring: “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda. Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.”
Al-Libi’s “evidence” helped Powell as he sought support for what he ended up calling a “sinister nexus” between Iraq and al-Qaeda, in the general effort to justify invading Iraq.
For a while, al-Libi was practically the poster boy for the success of the Cheney/Bush torture regime; that is, until he publicly recanted and explained that he only told his interrogators what he thought would stop the torture.
You see, despite his cooperation, al-Libi was still shipped to Egypt where he underwent more abuse, according to a declassified CIA cable from early 2004 when al-Libi recanted his earlier statements. The cable reported that al-Libi said Egyptian interrogators wanted information about al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq, a subject “about which [al-Libi] said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.”
According to the CIA cable, al-Libi said his interrogators did not like his responses and “placed him in a small box” for about 17 hours. After he was let out of the box, al-Libi was given a last chance to “tell the truth.” When his answers still did not satisfy, al-Libi says he “was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and fell on his back” and then was “punched for 15 minutes.”
After Al-Libi recanted, the CIA recalled all intelligence reports based on his statements, a fact recorded in a footnote to the report issued by the 9/11 Commission. By then, however, the Bush administration had gotten its way regarding the invasion of Iraq and the disastrous US occupation was well underway.
In At the Center of the Storm, Tenet sought to defend the CIA’s use of al-Libi’s claims in the run-up to the Iraq war, suggesting that al-Libi’s later recantation may not have been genuine.
“He clearly lied,” Tenet writes in his book. “We just don’t know when. Did he lie when he first said that Al Qaeda members received training in Iraq or did he lie when he said they did not? In my mind, either case might still be true.”
Really, that’s what Tenet writes despite the fact that intensive investigations into these allegations — after the US military had conquered Iraq — failed to turn up any credible evidence to corroborate these allegations. What we do know is that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were bitter enemies, with al-Qaeda considering the secular Hussein an apostate to Islam.
Al-Libi, who ended up in prison in Libya, reportedly committed suicide shortly after he was discovered there by a human rights organization. Thus, the world never got to hear his own account of the torture that he experienced and the story that he presented and then recanted.
Hafed al-Ghwell, a Libyan-American and a prominent critic of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime at the time of al-Libi’s death, explained to Newsweek, “This idea of committing suicide in your prison cell is an old story in Libya.”
He added that, throughout Gaddafi’s 40-year rule, there had been several instances in which political prisoners were reported to have committed suicide, but that “then the families get the bodies back and discover the prisoners had been shot in the back or tortured to death.”
As Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, once put it during a Senate hearing on torture — with an apparently unintentional hat-tip to the Inquisition — “One of the reasons these techniques have been used for about 500 years is that they work.” Well, they work if what you want is a false confirmation of your false assumption.
The question now is what does the United States do next.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He is a 30-year veteran of the CIA and Army intelligence and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). McGovern served for considerable periods in all four of CIA’s main directorates. Reprinted from Consortium News.
Opinion: Torture Report Reveals Brutality, Dishonesty
It’s Time Some Folks Are Held Accountable
Scott McPherson / Open Post
(December 9, 2014) — Great distress surrounded the impending release of the US Senate’s long-awaited “torture report.” Now that it’s out, it’s not hard to understand why.
Fox News couldn’t stop reminding us that danger lurked right around the corner, should the truth be revealed. The lives of Americans — that most hallowed of all people — could be put at risk!
The Washington Post reports today that “An exhaustive, five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects renders a strikingly bleak verdict of a program launched in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, describing levels of brutality, dishonesty and seemingly arbitrary violence that at times brought even agency employees to moments of anguish.” [Emphasis mine]
The report by the Senate Intelligence Committee delivers new allegations of cruelty in a program whose severe tactics have been abundantly documented, revealing that agency medical personnel voiced alarm that waterboarding methods had deteriorated to “a series of near drownings” and that agency employees subjected detainees to “rectal rehydration” and other painful procedures that were never approved.
The 528-page document catalogues dozens of cases in which CIA officials allegedly deceived their superiors at the White House, members of Congress and even sometimes their own peers about how the interrogation program was being run and what it had achieved. In one case, an internal CIA memo relays instructions from the White House to keep the program secret from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell out of concern that he would “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on.” [Emphasis mine]
There’s more, if you can stomach it.
Apologists for our government’s despicable practice of torture — a witch’s brew of Neo-Conservative war-mongers and water-carriers for the Obama Administration (sometimes one and the same) — claim that this report should have been kept under wraps, lest it cause such an uproar in the countries that have been invaded, bombed, droned, occupied, and otherwise terrorized by the current and previous occupants of the White House, that they rise up and start killing Americans in protest.
That is how it always works out: Our government stirs up trouble, and we pay the price.
One has to wonder if the real concern of the political class is that such truth-telling will undermine the carefully constructed facade that depicts the US as some kind of international force for The Good — because the “good guys” were regularly brutalizing people in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and lying about it.
They still are.
The Post report continues, “The release of the report comes at an unnerving time in the country’s conflict with al-Qaeda and its off-shoots. The Islamic State has beheaded three Americans in recent months and seized control of territory across Iraq and Syria. Fears that the report could ignite new overseas violence against American interests prompted Secretary of State John F. Kerry to appeal to Feinstein to consider a delay” the report’s release. [Emphasis mine]
Funny that those who deny any possibility that terrorists target Americans because of the actions of our government ( “They hate our freedoms,” remember?) are now so very concerned that revelations of the actions of our government will lead terrorists to target Americans.
There is nothing humorous about this, but one can’t help but chuckle that the report’s “central conclusion is that harsh interrogation measures…didn’t work.” A government program that doesn’t work? Nooooo.
Agents within the CIA lied and covered up to keep this information from coming to light.
If legitimate government requires that the people remain informed of the actions of those whom they employ, then there is no excuse for delaying the release of this report.
From the agents who tortured prisoners right up to former President George W Bush, it would appear that criminal prosecutions are in order.
Let justice be done, though the heavens fall.
Torture Report Exposes Sadism and Lies
Melvin A. Goodman / Consortium News
(December 9, 2014) — CIA Director John Brennan, having failed to block the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture and abuse, is now abetting the efforts of former CIA directors and deputy directors to rebut the report’s conclusions that the interrogation techniques amounted to sadism and that senior CIA officials lied to the White House, the Congress, and the Department of Justice about the effectiveness of the enhanced interrogation program.
Former CIA directors George Tenet and Michael Hayden and deputy directors John McLaughlin and Steve Kappes, who were guilty of past deceit on sensitive issues, have threatened to make documents available to undermine the findings of the Senate committee.
The senior operations officer who ran the CIA’s torture and abuse program, Jose Rodriquez, has been permitted to write a book and a long essay in the Washington Post that argue the interrogation techniques were legal and effective. Their charges are completely spurious and their credibility is non-existent.
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney receive an Oval Office briefing from CIA Director George Tenet. Also present is Chief of Staff Andy Card (on right). (White House photo)
CIA directors Tenet and Hayden, who signed off on the enhanced interrogation program, were involved in numerous efforts to politicize the work of the CIA. In addition to deceiving the White House on the efficacy of the torture program, Tenet provided misinformation to the White House on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.
His role on Iraqi WMD has been comprehensively and authoritatively documented in the reports of the Robb-Silberman Committee, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
In response to President George W. Bush’s demand for intelligence to make the case for war in Iraq, Tenet responded that it would be a “slam dunk” to do so. He resigned from the CIA in 2004 in order to avoid testifying to a series of congressional committees about his perfidy.
General Hayden’s record is similarly flawed. Even before taking over the CIA in 2006, Hayden was the director of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program that began after 9/11. This program violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution that prohibits unlawful seizures and searches.
At the CIA, Hayden named John Rizzo as the Agency’s general counsel although he knew that Rizzo had been the CIA’s leading lawyer in pursuing legal justification for torture and abuse of terrorist suspects. Fortunately, Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, who led the way in making sure that the CIA could not redact key aspects of the torture report, blocked the confirmation of Rizzo, who eventually withdrew his nomination.
Hayden also weakened the Office of the Inspector General, which had been critical of the CIA’s renditions and interrogations programs, and even targeted the IG himself, John Helgerson, who had recommended accountability boards for CIA officers involved in the 9/11 intelligence failure, torture and abuse, and illegal renditions.
Deputy directors McLaughlin and Kappes also misled senior US officials on key intelligence issues. McLaughlin, who actually delivered the “slam dunk” briefing to President Bush that CIA Director Tenet had promised, misled Secretary of State Colin Powell on the intelligence that became part of Powell’s speech to the United Nations in February 2003 to make the case for war in Iraq.
In addition to perverting the intelligence process, McLaughlin tried to silence the chief of the Iraq Survey Group, David Kay, who found no evidence of Iraqi WMD. McLaughlin was also a key advocate for the notorious “Curveball,” whose phony intelligence on mobile biological laboratories ended up in Powell’s speech to the UN.
Earlier in his career, McLaughlin had a key role in covering up the efforts of CIA deputy Robert Gates to politicize key intelligence in the 1980s.
Kappes may not have been involved in all of the decisions on torture and abuse and the secret prisons where the sadistic activity took place, but he was totally witting of the program. The Senate report cites the efforts of senior CIA leaders to impede the work of the Office of the Inspector General, and Kappes was a key part of this effort.
Kappesâ€˜s career eventually suffered from briefing the White House on a Jordanian agent who was going to lead the CIA to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri; the agent turned out to be a suicide bomber who decimated the leadership of the most sensitive CIA facility in Afghanistan in 2009.
Jose Rodriquez, like Kappes, was particularly hostile to the statutory IG, John Helgerson, and the work of the OIG on the enhanced interrogation techniques. Rodriquez, who destroyed 92 torture tapes over the objections of the White House, contends that the interrogation techniques were “blessed by the highest legal authorities in the land, conducted by trained professionals, and applied to only a handful of the most important terrorists on the planet.” The Senate report puts the lie to all of these contentions.
It is unfortunate that the Obama administration did not appoint a special prosecutor in order to get some accountability for the heinous crimes that were committed by senior CIA officials or the kind of truth and reconciliation committee that has proved useful in East Europe or South Africa where terrible crimes have been committed.
Nevertheless, the Senate’s authoritative report gives a full description of the unconscionable activities that took place in the name of the United States and offers sufficient evidence to block the outrageous efforts of former CIA directors and deputy directors to deceive the American people.
Melvin A. Goodman is senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and professor of government at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of The Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism and the forthcoming The Path to Dissent: The Story of a CIA Whistleblower (City Lights Publishers, 2015).
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