Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bad Apple Tree

This is not a surprise.

The evidence has been pointing that way for some time: President Bush personally authorized the CIA torture (ahem, alternative interrogation) techniques that migrated into Army practices at Abu Ghraib prison, Guantanamo Bay, and extra-judicial "black" detention sites.
The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged for the first time the existence of two classified documents, including a directive signed by President Bush, that have guided the agency’s interrogation and detention of terror suspects.

. . .

The contents of the documents were not revealed, but one of them is “a directive signed by President Bush granting the C.I.A. the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees,” the A.C.L.U. said, based on its review of published accounts.

The second document, according to the group, is a Justice Department legal analysis “specifying interrogation methods that the C.I.A. may use against top Al Qaeda members.”

A.C.L.U. lawyers said they would urge public disclosure of the contents of the documents. “We intend to press for release of both of these documents,” Jameel Jaffer, a lawyer for the group, said in a statement. “If President Bush and the Justice Department authorized the C.I.A. to torture prisoners, the public has a right to know.”
The buck stops with the President.

Bush and his political appointees lied about the "few bad apples" when the Abu Ghraib story broke. There is no question of a few "bad apples"; the question is how rotten is the whole tree, from root to branch?

Bush and his political appointees shamelessly opted to blame servicemen and women for using the wrongful acts they had deliberately chosen to unleash in Cuba and deliberately chosen to export to Iraq. Abu Ghraib was the clear and easily foreseeable consequence (and indeed it was foreseen) of a chain of bad decisions made by Bush, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, Tenet, Gonzalez, and a host of others.

As Newsweek reported in May:
[T]he single most iconic image to come out of the abuse scandal—that of a hooded man standing naked on a box, arms outspread, with wires dangling from his fingers, toes and penis—may do a lot to undercut the administration's case that this was the work of a few criminal MPs. That's because the practice shown in that photo is an arcane torture method known only to veterans of the interrogation trade. "Was that something that [an MP] dreamed up by herself? Think again," says Darius Rejali, an expert on the use of torture by democracies. "That's a standard torture. It's called 'the Vietnam.' But it's not common knowledge. Ordinary American soldiers did this, but someone taught them."

Who might have taught them? Almost certainly it was their superiors up the line. Some of the images from Abu Ghraib, like those of naked prisoners terrified by attack dogs or humiliated before grinning female guards, actually portray "stress and duress" techniques officially approved at the highest levels of the government for use against terrorist suspects. . . . Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods. It was an approach that they adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners of war. In doing so, they overrode the objections of Secretary of State Colin Powell and America's top military lawyers—and they left underlings to sweat the details of what actually happened to prisoners in these lawless places. . . .

The Bush administration created a bold legal framework to justify this system of interrogation, according to internal government memos obtained by NEWSWEEK. What started as a carefully thought-out, if aggressive, policy of interrogation in a covert war—designed mainly for use by a handful of CIA professionals—evolved into ever-more ungoverned tactics that ended up in the hands of untrained MPs in a big, hot war. Originally, Geneva Conventions protections were stripped only from Qaeda and Taliban prisoners. But later Rumsfeld himself, impressed by the success of techniques used against Qaeda suspects at Guantanamo Bay, seemingly set in motion a process that led to their use in Iraq, even though that war was supposed to have been governed by the Geneva Conventions. Ultimately, reservist MPs, like those at Abu Ghraib, were drawn into a system in which fear and humiliation were used to break prisoners' resistance to interrogation.

. . .

With the legal groundwork laid, Bush began to act. First, he signed a secret order granting new powers to the CIA. According to knowledgeable sources, the president's directive authorized the CIA to set up a series of secret detention facilities outside the United States, and to question those held in them with unprecedented harshness. . . .

The administration also began "rendering"—or delivering terror suspects to foreign governments for interrogation. Why? . . . Tenet suggested it might be better sometimes for such suspects to remain in the hands of foreign authorities, who might be able to use more aggressive interrogation methods. By 2004, the United States was running a covert charter airline moving CIA prisoners from one secret facility to another, sources say. The reason? It was judged impolitic (and too traceable) to use the U.S. Air Force.

. . .

The Pentagon's resistance to rougher techniques eroded month by month. In part this was because CIA interrogators were increasingly in the same room as their military-intelligence counterparts. But there was also a deliberate effort by top Pentagon officials to loosen the rules binding the military.

Toward the end of 2002, orders came down the political chain at DOD that the Geneva Conventions were to be reinterpreted to allow tougher methods of interrogation. "There was almost a revolt" by the service judge advocates general, or JAGs, the top military lawyers who had originally allied with Powell against the new rules, says a knowledgeable source. The JAGs, including the lawyers in the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Richard Myers, fought their civilian bosses for months—but finally lost. In April 2003, new and tougher interrogation techniques were approved.

. . .

While the interrogators at Gitmo were refining their techniques, by the summer of 2003 the "postwar" insurgency in Iraq was raging. And Rumsfeld was getting impatient about the poor quality of the intelligence coming out of there. . . . So he directed Steve Cambone, his under secretary for intelligence, to send Gitmo commandant Miller to Iraq to improve what they were doing out there. Cambone in turn dispatched his deputy, Lt. Gen. William (Jerry) Boykin—later to gain notoriety for his harsh comments about Islam—down to Gitmo to talk with Miller and organize the trip. In Baghdad in September 2003, Miller delivered a blunt message to Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, who was then in charge of the 800th Military Police Brigade running Iraqi detentions. According to Karpinski, Miller told her that the prison would thenceforth be dedicated to gathering intel. (Miller says he simply recommended that detention and intelligence commands be integrated.) On Nov. 19, Abu Ghraib was formally handed over to tactical control of military-intelligence units.

By the time Gitmo's techniques were exported to Abu Ghraib, the CIA was already fully involved. On a daily basis at Abu Ghraib, says Paul Wayne Bergrin, a lawyer for MP defendant Sgt. Javal Davis, the CIA and other intel officials "would interrogate, interview prisoners exhaustively, use the approved measures of food and sleep deprivation, solitary confinement with no light coming into cell 24 hours a day. Consequently, they set a poor example for young soldiers but it went even further than that."
There is little to zero doubt that Bush and his appointees must have known immediately after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke into the news that the actions depicted in those photographs were the result of their own decisions. They knew it--but made a deliberate decision to obfuscate, lie, and scapegoat the troops to save their own political necks.

There is no defending what the soldiers in the photographs did, and I won't begin now. Indeed, some did choose not to participate in torture (this soldier, Army Spc. Alyssa Peterson, an Arabic-speaking translator, reportedly committed suicide after refusing to participate in torture at a prison at Tal-afar airbase in Iraq; she "objected to the interrogation techniques used on prisoners," but the "records of those techniques have now been destroyed"). However, there is also no defending the people who deliberately inserted ambiguity into the rules of detention, who deliberately blurred the lines between appropriate interrogation and torture, who deliberately authorized what had previously been forbidden, who deliberately placed soldiers into such untenable and morally repugnant situations, and who denied all knowledge of these deliberations in the course of framing the soldiers' actions as unexpected, unAmerican, rogue behavior.

It has been said that the torturer is the enemy of mankind. The men who provide the soldier with the idea (and order) that torture is their lawful duty--and who then scapegoat and prosecute the soldier for the crimes they authored--are even worse.

The new Congress needs to provide some oversight on this issue.


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