S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

CIA-OLC-Gitmo Primer

It took a large number of people and organizations to get the torture program up and running at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. Spy Talk's Jeff Stein writes that repetetive interrogations revealed the CIA's lack of spies, according to a number of agency veterans. One of the most bizarre aspects of the program was the participation of psychologists. ProPublica has investigated this part of the story and written an important article on the subject: "A Secret E-mail Argument Among Psychologists About Torture," by Sheri Fink, (5/8/09). To quote:

As part of our report* we posted a listserv of internal emails between staff of the American Psychological Association and members of its "Psychological Ethics and National Security" task force. (Here’s the entire listserv.) That listserv offers a rare look into a process that led to the adoption of an influential and controversial policy for the world's largest professional organization of psychologists, which represents the profession of psychology in the United States. It also provides a window into a heated discussion among medical professionals grappling with their ethical obligations and their possible complicity in torture.

Liberals want accountability for those who wrote the "torture memos" regarding harsh interrogation techniques. President Obama is opposed to a "truth commission," as suggested by Senator Leahy; an independent inquiry, as suggested by House Speaker Pelosi and opposed by the Senate; or even an independent prosecutor, unless prosecution was recommended by the DOJ. Some liberals have suggested the impeachment of federal judge Jay Bybee, one of the memo authors. And, unlike many U.S. news sources, Al Jazeera headlined (5/6/09) that the "US [is] 'likely to probe Bush lawyers," citing Scott Horton, a professor of military law at Columbia University in New York. To quote Horton:

. . . the results of the inquiry would very likely form the basis "for a criminal investigation being commenced".

"There is likely to be a criminal investigation that will look at the entire process of introducing torture in Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and other places as a result of decisions that we now know were ultimately taken in the White House itself," he said.

"These lawyers played a key role in that entire process."

Horton added that the report would "heighten the pressure on the attorney-general [Eric Holder] for the appointment of a special prosecutor" to investigate the lawyers' actions.

"I think the attorney-general is going to find it impossible to avoid the investigation phase," he said.

President Obama banned torture and he and the Justice Department have said there will be no prosecution of those in the CIA who practiced the enhanced interrogation techniques on those detained by the U.S. Likewise the administration opposed prosecution of the authors of the torture memos. According to The Washington Post, there was intense debate in Obama's inner circle over the decision to release the memos. The President certainly walks a thin line in the entire interrogation question, analysts say. A great many American people believe that President Obama was absolutely right to release the torture memos, though there was, of course, debate about it.

The Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department has drafted a long-awaited report on the professional conduct of the torture memo lawyers. It looks as if it will only recommend professional sanctions against two of the three lawyers, Yahoo! News (5/5/09) reported. It should be pointed out that the OPR does not have the authority to press charges.

The CIA reportedly declined to closely evaluate harsh interrogations during the Bush administration, according to an excellent LA Times (4/26/09) story. There has been no study to see whether the methods worked or not. There is now a White House task force to examine the effectiveness of various interrogation approaches. The Senate Intelligence Committee has launched a similar review, one that has never been done before. From the horse's mouth comes a very believable piece by Ali Soufan on the New York Times Op-ed page of April 23, 2009: "My Tortured Decision." To summarize it --

A former F.B.I. agent who questioned Abu Zubaydah in 2002 says the terrorist operative provided important intelligence under traditional interrogation methods. The CIA had inflated the importance of what Zubayda had to say.

One of the first things President Obama did after taking office was announce that Guantanamo Bay, Cuba's detention facility would be closed. The project to close Guantanamo is not an easy one. There are costs involved, both monetary and political. Congress is getting increasingly worried about the possibility of detainees in their communities, and may impede the closure plans. Politico explains:

[Senate Minority leader Mitch] McConnell’s comments were most telling. . . just as many Democrats see Guantanamo as a legacy of the Bush years, the Kentucky Republican framed the fight as a test now of whether the Obama administration will protect Americans, fearful of the detainees being moved into corrections facilities in their states.
Former Vice President Cheney has led the Republican charge against the Obama administration's efforts to put things right. In an ironic twist ProPublica revealed that the government could destroy records in hundreds of Guantanamo cases. There is even talk of reviving the Guantanamo military court process. And Time Magazine examined the Army Field Manual for an article headlined, "Beyond Waterboarding: What Interrogators can still do." CIA Directer Leon Panetta has ruled that contractors are not allowed to interrogate any more, emptywheel reported.

"Libertarians" for a Torture State -- by Ed Kilgore at the Democratic Strategist (4/28/09), examined the Republicans' inconsistencies of position (between right-wingers and Libertarians) regarding the questions associated with the rule of law, torture and closing Guantanamo. J.P Green, in the same newsletter, explores "Obama's Measured Strategy on Torture." His closing argument could be persuasive:

America is honor-bound to address accountability for torture --- but later better than sooner. Maybe the best thing, strategy-wise, would be for Holder to initiate a thorough investigation, but save the investigation revelations and recommendations until after we get the economy on solid footing and health care reform safely enacted.


  1. *Report:"Tortured Profession: Psychologists Warned of Abusive Interrogations, Then Helped Craft Them," by ProPublica, May, 5, 2009

  2. "Interrogations Timeline," from The Washington Post (4/23/09)

  3. "Torture Memos vs. Red Cross Report: Prisoners' Recollections differ from Guidelines" -- a side by side comparison chart, from ProPublica (4/24/09)

  4. The significance of Obama's decision to release the torture memos, is an important and thoughtful piece by Glenn Greenwald at (4/23/09).

  5. "America's quick recovery from its torture program suggests it wasn't a torture program in the first place," by Slate Magazine's great writer Dahlia Lithwick (4/17/09). To quote:

    Laced like cynical poison through the four newly released Justice Department torture memos is the logic of quick healing: Eleven days of sleep deprivation is not illegal torture so long as the prisoner gets to sleep it off later. Writes then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee: "The effect of such sleep deprivation will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep." In that same memo we learn that water-boarding is also not illegal torture because the simulated drowning lasts only 20 to 40 seconds, and thus, "the waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering." By the same token, "walling" (i.e., slamming someone into a wall) isn't torture either because "the head and neck are supported with a rolled hood or towel that provides a c-collar effect to help prevent whiplash."

  6. A Tale of Torture Grows More Timely by the Day. This is from the New York Times THEATER section By PATRICK HEALY, May 02, 2009. To summarize: In a relatively rare confluence of theater and politics, the critically lauded production of "Torture" opened nine days before the Justice Department made public four memos that described brutal interrogation techniques.

[Post date May 10, 2009]

See also Behind the Links, for further info on this subject.

Carol Gee - Online Universe is the all-in-one home page for all my websites.

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