You've got to hand it to them. Torture aficionados
at the White House and CIA have conned key congressional leaders into insisting
not only that torture-lite would be a swell idea, but advocating that the overseers
of torture be kept on.
From change-you-can-believe-in, we seem to be slipping back to fear-you-can-trade-on.
Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has publicly
warned those in charge of the administration transition that "continuity
is going to be pivotal in keeping us safe and secure."
Thus, he argues, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director
Michael Hayden should stay in their posts.
If that were not enough, Reyes told Congress Daily's Chris Strohm that
he [Reyes] had advised the Obama team that some parts of what Strohm referred
to as "CIA's controversial alternative interrogation program" should
be allowed to continue.
Using some of the same euphemisms and circumlocutions employed by the ersatz-lawyers
hired by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Reyes fired
this shot across the bow of Barack Obama's transition ship:
"It gets back to a world that is very dangerous.
There are some
options that need to be available.
We don't want to be known for torturing
people. At the same time, we don't want to limit our ability to get information
that's vital and critical to our national security. That's where the new administration
is going to have to decide what those parameters are, what those limitations
Someone needs to tell Reyes what those parameters
what those limitations should be. They are set by the Geneva Accords
and the US War Crimes Act of 1996. Those are the laws that President Bush's
overly clever lawyers told him he could safely well, pretty safely
disregard, because of the "new paradigm" post 9/11.
Pretty safely? Even those Mafia-type lawyers felt it necessary to warn their
clients that Section 2441 of the US War Crimes Act, passed by a Republican-led
Congress in 1996, could conceivably come back to haunt the president and others
who approved of or took part in torture. This is the best they could do by way
of offering reassurance:
"It is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent
counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges based on
Section 2441. Your determination [that Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda and
Taliban] would create a reasonable basis in law that Section 2441 does not apply,
which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."
If that sounds like the kind of advice one would expect to get from lawyers
for the Mob, that's because it is.
The casuistry virtually drips from a Jan. 25, 2002, memorandum for the President
drafted by then-counsel to the Vice President, David Addington, and signed by
then-counsel to the President, Alberto Gonzales. Former Secretary of State Colin
Powell objected for a day or so but then saluted sharply, as is his wont.
As will be seen below, the lawyers' advice did come back to haunt the
President, putting him in a real sweat until he got Congress to grant him retroactive
To say President Bush was dumb to take their dubious advice is not the half
of it. Really dumb was his decision to put it in writing, since the goons uncovered
by CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were not
about to torture without a signed authorization from the President.
Bush decided to go ahead on the basis of the Addington/Gonzales opinion and
signed a presidential memorandum on Feb. 7, 2002, incorporating the advice.
The opinion is written verbatim, twice, into that short executive
Over the President's large black felt-tip signature appears convoluted
text depicting, despite itself, a circle that refuses to be squared. Bush orders
that detainees be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and
consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles
That was the official start of post-9/11 torture authorized from the top, although
an American, John Walker Lindh, was the first to be actually tortured after
being captured on Nov. 25, 2001, during the US invasion of Afghanistan
when senior Justice Department officials deliberately chose not to prevent it.
In the wake of the smoking-gun presidential memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, subsequent
memos by the administration's Mob lawyers were mostly ex post facto attempts
What incalculable shame this has brought on the
US Army and the Central Intelligence Agency, in both of which I was privileged
to serve. I am hardly the first to use a Mafia analogy.
Consider the case of Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who was the first to
investigate the Abu Ghraib prison abuse the most glaring result of the
President's memo and Rumsfeld's implementing instructions.
"Make sure this happens!" in Rumsfeld's handwriting appeared
on a memo over Rumsfeld's signature that was prominently posted at Abu
Taguba issued a tough report, which was then leaked to the press and
thus was largely responsible for preventing the scandal from being swept entirely
under the rug. Rather than thank Taguba for upholding the honor of the US
military, the Bush administration singled him out for ridicule, retribution
and forced retirement.
Taguba told Seymour Hersh of a chilling conversation he had with Gen. John
Abizaid, then head of Central Command, a few weeks after Taguba's report
became public in 2004. Sitting in the back of Abizaid's Mercedes sedan
in Kuwait, Abizaid quietly told Taguba, "You and your report will be investigated."
"I'd been in the Army 32 years by then," Taguba told Hersh,
"and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia."
Getting Squared Away
The Army, to its credit, was able to push brownnosers
like Abizaid off to the margins and, more important, to keep Mob lawyers out
of the process of updating the Army Field Manual for interrogation.
Such was not the case at CIA, where Mob lawyers continued to prosper
including the one who offered interrogators the following basic guidance: "If
the victim dies, you're doing it wrong."
I like to think that our nation's decisions are not totally bereft of
moral considerations, and that a majority of Americans would agree that torture
like rape or slavery is intrinsically evil.
But torture is also intrinsically dumb. And an Army general with guts said
precisely that on the very day President Bush was extolling the merits of "alternative
sets of procedures" for interrogation.
Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, a career intelligence officer and expert in interrogations,
minced no words in describing the new Army Field Manual (FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence
He stressed that it is "consistent with the requirements of law, the Detainee
Treatment Act, and the Geneva Conventions, and that it was endorsed by the Director
of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Director of National Intelligence.
The DNI, Kimmons said, "coordinated laterally with the CIA."
Doesn't take a crackerjack intelligence analyst to figure out why the
CIA would not "endorse" it.
As a former Army intelligence officer, who had to commit the previous interrogation
field manual virtually to memory, I was particularly proud that Kimmons had
the guts to seize the bull by the horns:
Conceding past "transgressions and mistakes," Kimmons insisted: "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.
"Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress through
the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility. And additionally,
it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive
practices were used. And we can't go there.
"Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been
in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them have accrued
from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized, humane interrogation
practices in clever ways that you would hope Americans would use them, to push
the envelope within the bookends of the legal, moral, and ethical now
as further defined by this field manual. So we don't need abusive practices
in there. Nothing good will come from them."
No Torture Commandments
Kimmons emphasized that the new manual is written
in "straightforward language for use by soldiers, sailors, airmen, and
marines; it is not written for lawyers." He explained that the field manual
explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or
Among the specific prohibitions were:
-Interrogators may not force a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or
pose in a sexual manner;
-They cannot use hoods or place sacks over a detainee's head or use duct
tape over his eyes;
-They cannot beat or electrically shock or burn them or inflict other forms
of physical pain any form of physical pain;
-They may not use water boarding, hypothermia, or treatment which will lead
to heat injury;
-They will not perform mock executions;
-They may not deprive detainees of the necessary food, water, and medical care;
-They may not use dogs in any aspect of interrogation.
Meanwhile, just across the Potomac at the White House an hour later that same
day (Sept. 6, 2006), President Bush devoted half of a long speech to cops-and-robbers
examples, none of them confirmed or persuasive, showing how "tough"
interrogation techniques he called them "an alternative set of procedures"
had yielded information preventing all manner of catastrophe.
He made clear that his government had "changed its policies," giving
intelligence personnel "the tools they need" to fight terrorists,
and that he wanted the "CIA program" to continue.
Bush appealed for and, just before Congress changed hands in November 2006,
got legislation granting retroactive immunity to him and other practitioners
of "alternative" procedures.
Several months earlier, on June 29, 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the US Supreme
Court had ruled that Geneva DOES apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees, and
rejected the artifice of "unitary executive power" used by the Bush
administration to "justify" practices like torture.
One senior Bush official is reported to have gone quite pale when Justice Anthony
M. Kennedy raised the ante, warning that "violations of Common Article
3 [of Geneva] are considered war crimes.'"
That threw a scare into a whole bunch of what one might call "unitary
executives," prompting the President on Sept. 6, 2006, to ask Congress
to give "top priority" to new legislation holding them harmless for
violation of Geneva, which they got a couple of months later.
Back to the Future
You may have been told, Chairman Reyes, that when
Rep. Charlie Wilson took the reins of a House intelligence oversight panel,
he immediately wrote to the operations people at CIA, saying, "Well, gentlemen,
the fox is in the hen house. Do whatever you like."
Your predecessor as House Intelligence Committee chair, Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan,
also gave the CIA free rein as long as then-Director George Tenet did the White
House's bidding whatever that bidding happened to be.
Is that how you see your role, Mr. Congressman? Why have you been running interference
for the Bush/Cheney administration?
Specifically, why did you stiff-arm those of your colleagues who wanted to
put language into the FY09 Intelligence Authorization Bill ordering CIA interrogators
to adhere to the Army Field Manual for interrogation?
Have a look at the above list of practices expressly forbidden by the manual.
Have the folks in the hen house told you that some are absolutely necessary?
You served in Vietnam. Did you see "alternative techniques" in use
there? Could you visualize them being used on you or your grandsons?
Do you think former Air Force General and now CIA Director Michael Hayden or
former Navy Admiral Mike McConnell know more about effective interrogation techniques
than the head of Army intelligence?
Are you not aware that many of those on the operations
side of CIA ply their trade as con men? Such activities are supposed to be directed
abroad. But all too often they are applied with consummate, smirking skill to
Don't believe the stories they tell you about alleged "successes"
of torture techniques. They are normally told by folks with zero experience
or folks simply snowing you.
Take former Deputy Director John McLaughlin, for example. I have known John
for 40 years; he would not recognize an interrogation if he tripped over one.
And he and his boss Tenet were so duplicitous that the former head of State
Department intelligence permitted himself the undiplomatic comment that the
two should have been shot for their role in deliberately falsifying intelligence
like that concerning those nonexistent "mobile biological weapons
laboratories" in Iraq.
Not long ago, McLaughlin made the mistake of purveying the myth about how effective
harsh interrogation techniques have been, with the usual "If you saw the
intelligence I have seen
Trouble was, the senior intelligence officer he was talking to had seen it
all, and more, and answered, "I have seen all of it John. Either you are
naïve, incredibly credulous, or you are lying."
How McLaughlin and John Brennan, both eager accomplices of George Tenet, got
picked for the intelligence transition team boggles the minds of those of us
who are familiar with their role in the saddest and most unconscionable chapters
of US intelligence both analysis and operations.
But there they are, whispering into the credulous ears of people like Silvestre
Chairman Reyes, go talk to Gen. Kimmons.