Archive for the ‘CIA’ Category
August 26, 2009. It would be nice to believe that sometimes an old dog can be taught new tricks. Definitely not the case with Dick. Now that the CIA report has made it clear just how immoral the so-called enhanced interrogations techniques were, all Dick can do is repeat his claim that we got results. Two obvious points: 1) Experts dispute this claim. Other methods are more productive. 2) The international agreements against torture don’t say, “Well, if you think it will get results, go ahead and torture.” They say, “Torture is immoral and unacceptable. Don’t do it!”
We tried enemy combatants in WWII as war criminals for some of the same acts that have recently been committed in our name.
Since old dogs like Dick Cheney can’t be taught new tricks, I thought it worth bringing back two posts from last spring.
Harsh Techniques (torture) to be used to Combat Swine Flu
April 26, 2009. The United States declared a public health emergency today. Although it appears that no one has died or become seriously ill in the U.S. from a new strain of the swine flu, health officials are taking no chances. All of the traditional measures to combat epidemics have been set in motion. Funds will be made available for anti-viral drugs, and time-tested and effective methods for tracking and preventing the spread of disease will be utilized. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) is reassuring the public, citing its decades of experience in handling epidemics and its recent preparation for pandemics.
However, former Vice President Cheney, through a spokesman, is calling on the CDC to avoid thinking within the box in deciding on measures to halt this attack on our nation. “We can’t afford not to act with every means available to us,” said his spokesman. Inside the CDC there is mounting pressure to consult with agents from the CIA to examine how harsh interrogation techniques might be of service. With fear mounting and pressure growing, expert legal advice is being sought in order to provide the proper “legal cover” for actions that international agreements have outlawed as torture.
“Look,” said a representative from the former VP’s office, “you gotta do what you gotta do. There are swine out there who, or I should say, that are dangerous. We need to know what, where, and when.” The plan seems to be to find the pigs that are harboring the terrorist virus, and apply harsh techniques, torture if you will, in order force them to provide operational intelligence.
There has been some concern that the swine won’t talk. But everyone should know that swine are among the most intelligent animals, according to experts in covert intelligence. A spokesperson for the CDC insists that with proper guidance, waterboarding a pig is possible, and it will get the animal to talk, and talk fast. (He then handed this reporter a copy of Animal Farm.)
Questioned about violating the rights of these animals, a Cheney spokesman said, “What’s the difference? Whether it’s a human animal or an animal animal. If it attacks you, or if you believe that it might possibly attack, you go after it.” There was little response to a question directed to Cheney himself (as he was walking his dog) by one reporter, “What about all of the innocent pigs, for example, the three little ones, that were just minding their business, trying to build lives for themselves?” Cheney did say that if we could apply harsh techniques to the virus itself, we would. But since we don’t have the technical means to do so, as many of the swine as possible gotta be boarded.
Asked to comment, The White House declined, claiming that as an inanimate object it had little to say. Although a spokesman for the President did say that if the tactics were forward-looking enough, and did not constitute a threat to his domestic agenda, he might be able to get his team behind the CDC. In any case, no CDC employee will be prosecuted for actions deemed acceptable by agency lawyers.
A spokesperson for the Humane Society claimed to be too upset to return this reporter’s call.
April 21, 2009
The New York Times reports the following comments by Cheney in reaction to Obama’s release of the Bush administration memos defending acts of torture:
As the debate escalated, Mr. Cheney weighed in, saying that if the country is to judge the methods used in the interrogations, it should have information about what was obtained from the tough tactics.
“I find it a little bit disturbing” that “they didn’t put out the memos that showed the success of the effort,” Mr. Cheney said on Fox News. “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity.” ”Pressure Grows to Investigate Interrogations,” April 20, 2009,
Leaving aside the fact that experts in the field have consistently challenged the utility of torture, leaving aside the fact that we could have gotten more information through alternative methods of interrogation, and leaving aside the fact that by torturing prisoners we increase the chances that our own soldiers will be tortured, what Cheney’s comments reveal is the poverty of the ethical imagination of the Bush administration.
Yes, there are good arguments to be made for taking into consideration consequences in judging whether acts are ethical. There is a whole philosophical tradition built around this notion, Utilitarianism. However, the idea that we can justify torture based on “the success” of the method, which presumably means the successful gathering of intelligence, is precisely what every declaration of human rights, including the Geneva Convention, repudiates. (As does every form of sophisticated Utilitarianism.)
Imagine if I said, let’s rape prisoners in order to get the information that we need. No decent human being would tolerate this as a legitimate means of gathering information. Rape is a basic violation of the dignity and integrity of another human being. It’s horrific to think that governments might write legal briefs defending rape on the grounds that it produced information that they needed. Yet, how different is torture from rape? It too is a basic violation of the dignity and integrity of another human being. If one thinks about what the act of torture does to another human being (and what it does to the torturer), it can be viewed as a form of rape, just as rape can be understood as a form of torture. Nevertheless, the Bush administration’s lawyers wrote legal opinions defending acts that time and again have been labeled torture.
So, here is my suggestion in response to Cheney. When he says, “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of this activity,” replace the last part of the sentence, “There are reports that show specifically what we gained as a result of raping human beings.” Now, tell me whether anyone who is even moderately ethical, or anyone who wants to defend the ideals for which this country stands, would be willing to utter such a sentence? But this is in fact a sentence that follows from Cheney’s crude consequentialism.
Cheney is a clever but hopelessly thoughtless man, who was part of a thoughtless administration. He still doesn’t understand how much damage he did to this country in his efforts to protect us. (And let’s not forget, his methods aren’t even good ones in terms of protecting the country.)
UPDATE, April 22, 2009: Former FBI supervisory agent discusses recent claims about the effectiveness of torture.
“My Tortured Decision” (excerpt)
By ALI SOUFAN, April 22, 2009, The New York Times
FOR seven years I have remained silent about the false claims magnifying the effectiveness of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding. I have spoken only in closed government hearings, as these matters were classified. But the release last week of four Justice Department memos on interrogations allows me to shed light on the story, and on some of the lessons to be learned.
One of the most striking parts of the memos is the false premises on which they are based. The first, dated August 2002, grants authorization to use harsh interrogation techniques on a high-ranking terrorist, Abu Zubaydah, on the grounds that previous methods hadn’t been working. The next three memos cite the successes of those methods as a justification for their continued use.
It is inaccurate, however, to say that Abu Zubaydah had been uncooperative. Along with another F.B.I. agent, and with several C.I.A. officers present, I questioned him from March to June 2002, before the harsh techniques were introduced later in August. Under traditional interrogation methods, he provided us with important actionable intelligence….
The last two posts on UP@NIGHT have addressed the issue of torture. Today we learn, according to a New York Times article, that incompetence and ignorance led the Bush administration down the path of torture. The article is a must read. There is an excerpt below. I will say that it raises as many questions as it answers; for example. how could the moral imagination and understanding of our leaders be so impoverished that they were prepared simply to heed the words of so-called experts, without asking probing questions and paying attention to what could be called common sense? (I mean, certain actions seem like torture….it doesn’t take a rocket scientist.) Or how about, are the proposed “harsh” methods really as reliable as other methods? (Opinions from different camps were called for. But instead the advice our leaders wanted to hear, “we’ll get quick results,” was all that was needed to give the green light.)
Of course further investigation may reveal that they were not as ignorant as this article suggests. Time will tell.
By SCOTT SHANE and MARK MAZZETTI
Published: April 21, 2009
WASHINGTON — The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?
In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.
This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.
According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.
Obama is to be commended for releasing the memos on torture from Bush administration officials. He met stiff resistance from those who thought we would be safer if we hid our dirty laundry, which in fact most of the world is already well aware of. On the other hand, Obama has been rightly challenged for his refusal to support the investigation of those who actually did the torturing. Yet it can be argued that the release of the documents will, in the end, help to create the political will to go after the Justice Department officials who lent their legal “counsel” to rationalizing torture. One can only hope that this is Obama’s strategy and that he did not actually mean what he said: we must let the past go in order to move ahead. (This could well be Obama’s Achilles heal, that is, he may actually be too future directed. There is more to be said here, and I hope to say it in future blogs.)
However, Obama’s middle ground—release the memos but let the small fry torturers go in order to sustain morale at the CIA—simply cannot be sustained in the face of today’s newspaper headlines, if they prove true. What we are talking about here is not a few isolated instances of torture. We are talking about a veritable house of horrors. Here is an excerpt from The New York Times:
By SCOTT SHANE
Published: April 19, 2009
C.I.A. interrogators used waterboarding, the near-drowning technique that top Obama administration officials have described as illegal torture, 266 times on two key prisoners from Al Qaeda, far more than had been previously reported.
The C.I.A. officers used waterboarding at least 83 times in August 2002 against Abu Zubaydah, according to a 2005 Justice Department legal memorandum. Abu Zubaydah has been described as a Qaeda operative.
A former C.I.A. officer, John Kiriakou, told ABC News and other news media organizations in 2007 that Abu Zubaydah had undergone waterboarding for only 35 seconds before agreeing to tell everything he knew.
The 2005 memo also says that the C.I.A. used waterboarding 183 times in March 2003 against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-described planner of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
An editorial in Sunday’s NY Times took a position that I had been willing to support, although uncomfortably, because I wanted to give the administration a chance to act. Here is an excerpt from this editorial:
At least Mr. Obama is not following Mr. Bush’s example of showy trials for the small fry — like Lynndie England of Abu Ghraib notoriety. But he has an obligation to pursue what is clear evidence of a government policy sanctioning the torture and abuse of prisoners — in violation of international law and the Constitution.
That investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.
We should indeed start with these characters. But we cannot take off the table the possibility that once an investigation begins, those who engaged in clearly defined acts of torture will face prosecution. For example, if it turns out that same CIA agents were involved in, say, over a 100 episodes of waterboarding of the same individual, it would defy the rule of law to simply turn our backs and repeat the mantra, he (or she) was only following orders. There are limits to the “coverage” that so-called legal authorization provides. Certain acts are beyond the pale even if your superiors appear to authorize them.
Yes, we can not live in the past. But we cannot use “moving forward” as an excuse to avoid facing criminal acts done in our name. And quite frankly, I don’t think that we want these individuals working for the CIA. No one is that irreplaceable. We can find good people whose boundaries are more properly in place. There are plenty of them altready in the CIA.
UPDATE, April 20/21. The New York Times is running a piece in today’s paper (April 21st) that addresses the issue of whether we can walk away from what has taken place.
The article begins:
WASHINGTON — Pressure mounted on President Obama on Monday for more thorough investigation into harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects under the Bush administration, even as he tried to reassure the Central Intelligence Agency that it would not be blamed for following legal advice.
Mr. Obama said it was time to admit “mistakes” and “move forward.” But there were signs that he might not be able to avoid a protracted inquiry into the use of interrogation techniques that the president’s top aides and many critics say crossed the line into torture.
UPDATE, April 21, 2009. The New York Times is now reporting that Obama is not closing the door on investigating the actions of the lawyers who defended Bush’s terrorism policies. He is still opposed to prosecuting CIA operatives.
The article suggests a significant change in the public face that the Obama administration is putting on the prospect of an investigation in just the last 24 hours. Let’s see how this plays out in the next few weeks (and months). If a special prosecutor is appointed or if Congress actually gets moving, it’s possible that we could see some sort of action taken against not only Bush’s lawyers, but those who committed the most outrageous acts of torture. (Although I am not holding my breath.)