Posts Tagged ‘CIA’
And if not, why do we fund the agency. Take a look at this:
And then note this by Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent:
In the [Obama administration's] view, a commission would expose secrets without any means of determining whether they’re properly protected or not, and they’ve been warned that the nation’s spy services would simply cease to function effectively if they’re forced to surrender exacting details about their immediate past conduct. The administration further worries that the Commission would be carried out in the context of vengeance and would not focus the rage on lessons learned for the future. This, again, is the point of view senior administration officials; it may or may not be my own.
My emphasis. On the effectiveness point, the history of the CIA is a history of telling Congress that looking at its operations too deeply will cause the entire apparatus to shatter. If it’s true, then the nation isn’t getting what it should be getting for its $50 billion annual intelligence budget anyway. But it’s a dubious point. The CIA did not cease to function “effectively” after the Church/Pike commissions in the 70s; after the 9/11 Commission and the Silberman/Robb Commission and the Intelligence Reform Act of the 2000s. It entered periods of adjustment after its excesses were exposed. Many if not most of those excesses resulted from the magical thinking of policymakers, a point often lost in the rush to blame CIA for assorted failings.
But speaking of those commissions. The recent history of the United States proves that it’s possible to have a thoroughgoing inquiry about the most politically explosive and potentially toxic events in American history and emerge with a consensus. The 9/11 Commission was not without its flaws, but it demonstrated that a group of wise men can avoid rancor, maintain the good faith of both political parties, display independence, yield an authoritative history of an American trauma and do this all in an election year.
That commission didn’t recommend prosecutions. Indeed, it labored to avoid placing guilt, to the point of copping out. That may or may not be appropriate in this case — let an investigation determine that conclusion — and I’m don’t mean to suggest that a truth commission on torture needs to follow the 9/11 Commission to the “T.” But its example refutes the idea that a commission into torture is necessarily an instrument of persecution and vindictiveness. That’s probably why its executive director favors repeating the experience.
The CIA vs. Sen. Bob Graham: how to keep score at home
It’s easy! If the CIA says one thing and former Sen. Graham says another, then the CIA is lying. Or, "in error," if you prefer.
(Background here and here, in which Graham says that some of the briefings in which he was allegedly filled in about waterboarding and related techniques never occurred. This matters, because the CIA’s claims are part of the same argument that Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats in Congress had known about and acquiesced to waterboarding all the way along.)
Part of the payoff of reaching age 72 and having spent 38 years in public office, as Graham has, is that people have had a chance to judge your reputation. Graham has a general reputation for honesty. In my eyes he has a specific reputation for very good judgment: he was one of a handful of Senators actually to read the full classified intelligence report about the "threats" posed by Saddam Hussein. On the basis of reading it, despite a career as a conservative/centrist Democrat, he voted against the war and fervently urged his colleagues to do the same. "Blood is going to be on your hands," he warned those who voted yes.
More relevant in this case, Graham also has a specific reputation for keeping detailed daily records of people he met and things they said. He’s sometimes been mocked for this compulsive practice, but he’s never been doubted about the completeness or accuracy of what he compiles. (In the fine print of those records would be an indication that I had interviewed him about Iraq war policy while he was in the Senate and recently spent time with him when he was on this side of the world.)
So if he says he never got the briefing, he didn’t. And if the CIA or anyone acting on its behalf challenges him, they are stupid and incompetent as well as being untrustworthy. This doesn’t prove that the accounts of briefing Pelosi are also inaccurate. But it shifts the burden of proof.
As first noticed by Marcy Wheeler this morning, former Senate intelligence committee chairman Bob Graham (D-Fla.) went on the Brian Lehrer radio show and said the CIA has conceded to him that it made some errors in its account of which members of Congress were briefed and when about “enhanced interrogation techniques.” (You can hear what Graham said around the 4:30-4:55 minute mark.) That’s the briefings timeline that Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said was “misleading” today. Graham:
When I asked the CIA when was I briefed, they gave me four dates, two in April and two in September of ‘02. On three of the four occasions, when I consulted my schedule and my notes, it was clear that no briefing had taken place, and the CIA eventually concurred in that. So their record keeping is a little bit suspect.
If Graham is telling the truth, then the CIA is aware of at least some errors in its timeline of congressional briefings, which gives an additional layer of meaning to CIA Director Leon Panetta’s statement that “in the end, you and the Committee will have to determine whether this information is an accurate summary of what actually happened.” And if Graham is right about identifying three errors, it raises the question about whether there are other errors, and if CIA will update its account of the congressional briefings.
The question might be raised, but it’s not answered. I asked CIA spokesman George Little whether Graham is telling the truth and he declined comment.
Jeff Stein has a very good column that makes me wonder if the best course might not be to disperse the CIA and start up a new agency. His column begins:
Nancy Pelosi and Ted Sorensen should have lunch next week and trade stories about the CIA.
Sorensen, of course, is the best known presidential speechwriter of the 20th century, if only on the strength of “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
But I was reminded by reading Sorensen’s engaging new autobiography this week that the speechwriter also became one of President John F. Kennedy’s closest national security advisers in the wake of the CIA’s disastrous invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.
“Long after the operation’s failure,” Sorensen writes, “secret minutes emerged of a November 15, 1960, CIA meeting — prior to briefing the new president-elect — in which the CIA’s own reviewers concluded that the invasion was ‘unachievable — [with no] internal unrest earlier believed possible — nor will [Castro’s] defense permit the type [of] strike planned,’ the minutes said.”
Of course, CIA bosses were telling Kennedy the invasion was a slam-dunk.
“To me,” Sorensen writes, “that fiasco earned for the CIA the motto frequently ascribed to it: ‘Often wrong, but never in doubt.’”
Such parts of Sorensen’s memoir, “Counselor: A Life at the Edge of History,” proved timely in light of the CIA ambush sprung on Speaker Pelosi a few days ago. A report it gave the “Senate Intelligence Committee and other Capitol Hill officials,” according to news reports, evidently showed that the California congresswoman knew a lot more about CIA enhanced interrogation techniques than she’s been saying.
Of course, if it turns out that Pelosi, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee in 2002, has been lying about what she knew and when about the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques, i.e., water boarding and other favorites of Middle Age dungeons, then she can’t complain too much about dirty tricks.
So on Friday I imagined Sorensen inviting Pelosi out for a commiserating drink.
“I know, I know,” Sorensen could murmur, patting the stylish Speaker’s hand over a drink at The Palm.
“Let me tell you what happened to me.”
In 1976, he recalls in his memoir, …
Interesting report from Jeff Stein in Congressional Quarterly:
The case of former CIA contractor William Bennett, slain while out on a walk with his wife in rural Loudoun County, Va., gets interestinger and interestinger.
Bennett, it turns out, was involved in the disastrously mistaken, May 1999 bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade by NATO warplanes.
That, and other curious facets of the case, has prompted the attention of influential national security bloggers Laura Rozen, who writes The Cable for Foreign Policy.com, and Pat Lang, the former top Middle East analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
"He and his wife were having a morning walk for exercise on a well known path when they apparently were set upon by several assailants reportedly armed with clubs. Bennett was beaten to death and his wife left nearby in such a condition that the attackers must have anticipated her death. As is recounted in this story, the sheriff of Loudon County is inclined to think this is the handiwork of gang members, perhaps in some bizarre initiation ritual," Lang wrote.
"There are a lot of Central American immigrants in Virginia now and there have been incidents of violent criminality, usually among rival gang members. Incidents against ‘gringos’ have been few. To be fair, most Latino immigrants in Northern Virginia are hard working family people who contribute to the community. To assume that immigrants are the killers seems a bit ‘hasty’ in the absence of evidence."
Bennett’s widow Cynthia has recovered enough to begin talking with investigators, the Loudoun Independent reported last week. The FBI has also been called into the case.
Geddie said Wednesday investigators have confided to him that …
You can see his views on torture in this article, which begins:
According to the latest polls, two-thirds of the American public believes that torturing suspected terrorists to gain important information is justified in some circumstances. How did we transform from champions of human dignity and individual rights into a nation of armchair torturers? One word: fear.
Fear is blinding, hateful, and vengeful. It makes the end justify the means. And why not? If torture can stop the next terrorist attack, the next suicide bomber, then what’s wrong with a little waterboarding or electric shock?
The simple answer is the rule of law. Our Constitution defines the rules that guide our nation. It was drafted by those who looked around the world of the eighteenth century and saw persecution, torture, and other crimes against humanity and believed that America could be better than that. This new nation would recognize that every individual has an inherent right to personal dignity, to justice, to freedom from cruel and unusual punishment.
We have preached these values to the world. We have made clear that there are certain lines Americans will not cross because we respect the dignity of every human being. That pledge was written into the oath of office given to every president, “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” It’s what is supposed to make our leaders different from every tyrant, dictator, or despot. We are sworn to govern by the rule of law, not by brute force.
We cannot simply suspend these beliefs in the name of national security. Those who support torture may believe …
The CIA has a great network in the media that will leap to do its bidding. Glenn Greenwald looks at the result in a column well worth reading. It includes:
… In all of these accounts [listed above], Brennan’s false claims of unfair persecution — that he was attacked simply because he happened to be at the CIA – are fully amplified in detail through his CIA allies, most of whom are quoted at length (though typically behind a generous wall of anonymity). But Brennan’s critics are almost never quoted or named (of all of the above-cited reports, only the National Journal article includes a quote from a named Brennan critic: a couple vague snippets from one of the pieces I wrote about Brennan). The “reporting” is all from the perspective of Brennan and his CIA supporters. None of these journalists even entertain the idea of disputing or challenging the pro-Brennan version.
(2) None of this reporting even alludes to, let alone conveys, the central arguments against Brennan and the evidence for those arguments. Unmentioned are his emphatic advocacy for rendition and “enhanced interrogation tactics.” None of the lengthy Brennan quotes defending these programs are acknowledged, despite the fact that not only bloggers, but also the much-cited psychologists’ letter, emphasized those defenses (that letter complained that Brennan “supported Tenet’s policies, including ‘enhanced interrogations’ as well as ‘renditions’ to torturing countries”). The seminal article on these CIA programs by The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer — who interviewed Brennan and identified him as a “supporter” of these programs despite “the moral, ethical, and legal issues” — does not exist in the journalists’ world.
What instead pervades these stories is the patently deceitful claim typified by Newsweek‘s Michael Hirsh, who asserted that the case against Brennan was made “with no direct evidence” and then chuckled that this is “common for the blogging world” — an ironic observations given that Hirsh himself is either completely ignorant of the ample evidence that was offered or is purposely pretending it doesn’t exist in order to defend the CIA official Hirsh lauded as “the first-class professional.” That’s how the persecution tale against Brennan is built — by relying on mindless reporters to distort (when they weren’t actively suppressing) the evidence against him.
Milt Bearden, who formerly worked for the CIA, writes a compelling report in the Washington Independent today. It begins:
Over the last several months, there has been a gradual, but unrelenting, outing of the highest level U.S. government involvement in the sordid business of torture. CIA Director Michael V. Hayden admitted, in his February testimony before Congress, that the Central Intelligence Agency used a technique known as waterboarding on three high-profile Al Qaeda detainees. He also said the CIA had not used the technique in five years — though the administration seems to be asserting that the agency can use it, when necessary.
President George W. Bush told ABC News in April, “I’m aware our national-security team met on this issue. And I approved.” The president was referring to reports that the National Security Council’s “principals committee” — the vice president, the secretaries of state and defense, the head of the NSC and the CIA director — discussed and approved the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking with Google employees in Mountain View, Calif., in May, said, “after Sept. 11, whatever was legal in the face of not just the attacks of Sept. 11, but the anthrax attacks that happened, we were in an environment in which saving America from the next attack was paramount.” She added, “there has been a long evolution in American policy about detainees and about interrogations…we now have in place a law that was not there in 2002 and 2003.”
In just the last few weeks, a parade of White House, Defense Dept. and CIA lawyers have squirmed before hostile Congressional committees, giving testimony eerie in its clinical treatment of what most of the world thinks is torture. The hearings produced countless stunning quotes, but one attributed to a CIA lawyer stands out: “If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”
Spencer Ackerman of The Washington Independent:
In January, the Justice Dept. announced its first-ever investigation of an official involved in the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation”—i.e., torture—program. Previously, prosecutions brought against individuals involved in torture were either directed at soldiers and Marines—usually enlisted men—and, in one case, a CIA contract employee in Afghanistan. But with the investigation into Jose Rodriguez, the former head of clandestine operations for the Central Intelligence Agency who allegedly destroyed videotapes displaying brutal interrogations, an important threshold was crossed: the CIA’s interrogation program was no longer off-limits to the Justice Dept.
Rodriguez’s potential indictment also represents another fear at Langley: that the interrogators would face criminal charges for doing what the Bush administration ordered them to do. “We knew that five, 10 years down the road, our people were going to get screwed, like they always do,” a former senior CIA official told me in January. The administration “wanted information, and they don’t give a damn how they get it. They just don’t want dirt on their plate.”
Indeed, many involved in the intelligence community consider it a matter of basic injustice for low-level CIA interrogators to face prosecution while Bush administration officials—who ordered the torture program to move forward and devised its legal rationales—almost certainly will not. “The sad and unfair truth,” e-mailed Mark S. Zaid, a criminal attorney who has represented CIA employees for years, “is that historically, especially in the intelligence community, it is far more common that the line officers and lower-level management take the heaviest hit for their actions while the political appointees/elected officials who directed or authorized the policy receive a free pass.” Zaid’s client Mark Kiriakou, who led the interrogation of al-Qaeda detainee Abu Zubaydah in 2002—Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded—is a possible candidate for prosecution, though the Justice Dept. has said it does not have an investigation currently open into him.
Well, he didn’t. But he did talk a lot, telling the CIA whatever he could think of to make them quit. Here’s the story.
Al-Qaeda captive Abu Zubaida, whose interrogation videotapes were destroyed by the CIA, remains the subject of a dispute between FBI and CIA officials over his significance as a terrorism suspect and whether his most important revelations came from traditional interrogations or from torture.
While CIA officials have described him as an important insider whose disclosures under intense pressure saved lives, some FBI agents and analysts say he is largely a loudmouthed and mentally troubled hotelier whose credibility dropped as the CIA subjected him to a simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding and to other “enhanced interrogation” measures.
The question of whether Abu Zubaida — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein — was an unstable source who provided limited intelligence under gentle questioning, or a hardened terrorist who cracked under extremely harsh measures, goes to the heart of the current Washington debate over coercive interrogations and torture.
The House has approved legislation that would require U.S. intelligence agencies to follow Army rules adopted last year that explicitly forbid waterboarding and other harsh measures, but it has stalled in the Senate under a veto threat by President Bush.
A public assessment of Abu Zubaida’s case has been complicated by the newly revealed destruction of the videotaped record of his questioning, according to congressional sources. Intelligence officials say no verbatim transcripts were made, although classified daily summaries were prepared.
Bush has sided publicly with the CIA’s version of events. “We knew that Zubaida had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking,” Bush said in September 2006. “And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures,” which the president said prompted Abu Zubaida to disclose information leading to the capture of Sept. 11, 2001, plotter Ramzi Binalshibh.
But former FBI officials privy to details of the case continue to dispute the CIA’s account of the effectiveness of the harsh measures, making the record of Abu Zubaida’s interrogation hard for outsiders to assess.
Much more at the link.
It’s biting them in the ass now. ThinkProgress:
Last week, in his letter to CIA employees informing them of the destruction of videotapes featuring interrogations, CIA director Michael Hayden claimed that “videotaping stopped in 2002.” Hayden said the agency “determined that its documentary reporting was full and exacting, removing any need for tapes.”
But the videotaping may not have actually stopped in 2002. The New York Times reports today that “a lawyer representing a former prisoner,” Muhammad Bashmilah, “who said he was held by the C.I.A. said the prisoner saw cameras in interrogation rooms after 2002“:
Meg Satterthwaite, a director of the International Human Rights Clinic at New York University who is representing Mr. Bashmilah in a lawsuit, said Mr. Bashmilah described cameras both in his cells and in interrogation rooms, some on tripods and some on the wall. She said his descriptions of his imprisonment, in hours of conversation in Yemen and by phone this year, were lucid and detailed.
According to an Amnesty International report, Bashmilah was detained in October 2003 and was transfered nearly a year later to a “detention facility run by US officials, apparently underground.” Bashmilah told Amnesty that there were “surveillance cameras in the cells.” He was released in May 2005.
CIA spokesperson Paul Gimigliano refused to comment on Bashmilah’s claims, telling the New York Times only that “he had nothing to add” to Hayden’s previous statements.
In November, a court filing revealed that “the CIA has three video and audio recordings of interrogations of senior al Qaida captives” that it had previously refused to disclose, but it is unclear when those recordings were made.
It’s possible that the cameras Bashmilah saw weren’t actually recording anything, but if they were, it would mean that Hayden was not being truthful when he said that “videotaping stopped in 2002.”
UPDATE: Spencer Ackerman comments: “The CIA lied for years about the existence of videotaped interrogations, so there’s no reason to credit Hayden’s account of when the recordings ceased.”
It wasn’t what the tapes showed, according to this column, it was what the guy said.
It seems obvious that the CIA destroyed the tapes of those interrogations because they fear ed criminal prosecution for what they had done. The reason offered by the CIA (that they destroyed the tapes because they might be leaked) doesn’t hold water: the CIA has all sorts of secret material that might be leaked—yet somehow they don’t destroy all that. Here’s the story from Center for American Progress:
In 2002, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) videotaped its officials administering harsh interrogation tactics on two al Qaeda operatives, but three years later, destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the incidents. The New York Times reports that one of the interrogations captured on tape was that of Abu Zubaydah, a high-level al Qaeda militant who was subjected to waterboarding. The Times adds that the videos “were destroyed in part because officers were concerned that tapes documenting controversial interrogation methods could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy.” The destruction of the tapes occurred in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal and “CIA officers became concerned about a possible leak of the videos and photos.” At the time, the CIA was led by Porter Goss. Current Director Michael Hayden defended the agency’s actions, arguing that keeping them “posed a security risk.” The revelation marks another legal and moral low for an administration that has rendered terrorism suspects to other countries to be tortured, argued for indefinite detention, signed off on secret torture memos, and committed potentially “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions.
DESTRUCTION OF EVIDENCE: “What matters here is that it was done in line with the law,” Hayden said of the agency’s tampering with evidence. Legal experts aren’t buying that argument. Jennifer Daskal, senior counsel with Human Rights Watch, said destroying the tapes was illegal. “Basically this is destruction of evidence,” she said. Daniel Marcus, a law professor at American University who served as general counsel for the 9/11 Commission, said if tapes were destroyed, “it’s a big deal, it’s a very big deal” because it could amount to obstruction of justice to withhold evidence being sought in criminal or fact-finding investigations. “The recordings were not provided to a federal court hearing the case of the terror suspect Zacarias Moussaoui,” which had made formal requests to the CIA for such documentary evidence. The U.S. District Judge in the case, Leonie Brinkema, said she can no longer trust the CIA and other government agencies on how they represent classified evidence in terror cases. The tapes also were not provided to the 9/11 Commission, whose members “demanded a wide array of material and relied heavily on classified interrogation transcripts in piecing together its narrative of events.” The ACLU “said the tapes were destroyed at a time when a federal court had ordered the CIA to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request.”
CONGRESS’ ROLE: In his agency’s defense, Hayden said, “The leaders of our oversight committees in Congress were informed of the videos years ago and of the Agency’s intention to dispose of the material. Our oversight committees also have been told that the videos were, in fact, destroyed.” Hayden’s statement didn’t suggest that the congressional leaders approved of the destruction, however. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who was ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee at the time, said, “I told the CIA that destroying videotapes of interrogations was a bad idea and urged them in writing not to do it.” Then-ranking member of Senate Intelligence Committee John Rockefeller (D-WV) said, “While we were provided with very limited information about the existence of the tapes, we were not consulted on their usage nor the decision to destroy the tapes.” Rockefeller does not deny, however, that he was informed of the agency’s intent to dispose of the tapes, and he acknowledged that he learned of the destruction one year ago, in Nov. 2006. An official with the House Intelligence Committee told the Times, “This is a matter that should have been briefed to the full Intelligence Committee at the time. This does not appear to have been done.”
CONGRESS TAKES KEY STEP TO END TORTURE: The startling disclosures of the CIA’s destruction of videotapes “came on the same day that House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement on legislation that would prohibit the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA and bring intelligence agencies in line with rules followed by the U.S. military.” The measure, which needs approval from the full House and Senate, would require all American interrogators to abide by Army Field Manual. In doing so, the new law would “effectively set a government-wide standard for legal interrogations by explicitly outlawing the use of simulated drowning, forced nudity, hooding, military dogs and other harsh tactics against prisoners by any U.S. intelligence agency.” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said such a provision “is something the president has opposed in the past and that we would have a veto threat on.”
In 2005, while “in the midst of congressional and legal scrutiny” over its secret detention program, the CIA “destroyed at least two videotapes documenting the interrogation of two Al Qaeda operatives in the agency’s custody,” the agency admitted today. The videotapes, which contained footage of “severe interrogation techniques,” were “destroyed in part” out of concern that they could “could expose agency officials to greater risk of legal jeopardy.” The decision to destroy the tapes was made “within the C.I.A. itself.”
UPDATE: The AP reports that “House and Senate intelligence committee leaders were informed of the existence of the tapes and the CIA’s intention to destroy them.”
Once again, dear friends, the US seems ready to overthrow another nation’s government, something we pretend to deplore:
The New York Times had a news article about Venezuela in Thursday’s edition, but it was about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez saying he would cut diplomatic ties with neighboring Colombia. There wasn’t a word about a memo from a CIA operative in Caracas to CIA Director General Michael Hayden, uncovered yesterday, outlining a plan for interfering with a Venezuelan referendum set for Dec. 2, and laying out the steps for instigating and backing a coup.
The plot, called “Operation Pliers,” and laid out in the letter to Hayden by an undercover operative named Michael Steele, who reportedly works in the US Embassy as a “regional affairs officer,” was intercepted by Venezuelan intelligence and released publicly on state TV yesterday.
In the Nov. 20-dated letter, Steele refers to an $8 million US-funded in-country propaganda campaign against Chavez and the referendum, already being implemented, which is designed to institutionalize many of Chavez’s socialist reforms and to permit him to continue to run for president beyond his current two-term limit. He proposes trying to stall the referendum, which pro-Chavez forces are expected to win handily, and failing that, to then promote a campaign to refuse to accept the results. Steele further confirms that the agency is working with international news agencies in an effort to distort reports about the referendum and the reforms. (CNN had to apologize for a “mistake” which led to the words “Who killed him?” superimposed over a photo of Chavez broadcast on CNN’s Spanish-language international broadcast in Venezuela. Was this a deliberate CIA-inspired black-op?)
Among the tactics Steele recommends in his letter are:
- Promoting street demonstrations and violent protests
- Creating a climate of ungovernability
- Provoking a general uprising
- Working through the US military attache at the embassy to coordinate with
- ex-military officers and former coup plotters against Chavez.
Even more darkly, the letter calls for initiating “military actions” to support opposition mobilizations and strategic building occupations, involving US military bases in neighboring Curacao and Colombia to provide support, and even taking control of parts of Venezuela in the days after the referendum, while encouraging a “military rebellion” inside the Venezuelan National Guard.
The CIA communication has been reported in articles filed by the Associated Press, but the Times and other major US news organizations have not mentioned it . Instead, the Times today ran a column by Roger Cohen, which compares Chavez to the fascists of 1930s Europe, and which calls for defeat of the referendum. (Are Cohen and the Times part of the CIA’s propaganda campaign?)
The Cohen column is so rabid that it would be almost comical, were it not for the fact that there is a real threat of a bloody CIA-inspired coup in the democratic nation of Venezuela.
In fact, I thought it would be fun and instructive to alter Cohen’s hit piece a bit, substituting the US for Venezuela, and Bush and Cheney for Chavez, to show its hypocrisy. Here then, a sample of the only lightly tweaked column:
I also thank you for your service. And I thank you for this important and disquieting article. I recall Franz Kafka’s reference to “An axe in the frozen sea”. He was talking about writing. And this is the effect your authoritative essay has had on me.
I, like so many of us, am still reeling from the shock of 9/11. The more I have learned about our enemies since that awful day, the more my heart has hardened against them. The more my heart has hardened, the less room is left for any form of compassion or compromise.
I see us as being weakened by our very own high-minded ethical standards. I continually try to see the enemy for who they are and stop trying to rationalize away their hatred or empathize with their positions. I want to see us toughen up as a nation and face these obvious threats clearly, without multiculturalist obfuscations.
I bristle at any suggestion of our moral failings by the highly-vocal, activist antiwar left. I feel that they are purposely undermining the moral foundations of their own country in a time of war for their own selfish political agenda.
This was my mindset coming into this article. I had come to terms with the whole “torture” debate by accepting its efficacy. To the often-asked question: “If there was a nuclear attack planned against a major US city, would you subject a captured terrorist to torture to reveal where it was planned to take place?” the answer was pretty obvious to me: Of course. Give him the full treatment.
The argument that if we use torture, then our enemies might use it against us seemed ludicrous. I could hardly visualize the beheaders of Nick Berg stopping for a moment to first consult their copy of the Geneva Conventions Rules.
However, because of your obvious experience and credentials, I followed your argument to the very end. And, thankfully, because I followed it to the end, my rock-solid certainity was shaken. I hadn’t considered what FUTURE governments might do with this precedent. I even began to question the efficacy of the whole idea.
In short, I’ve started to have some serious doubts about my previous convictions. I have to think about it some more. You may very well be right, after all. And I might be wrong.
Isn’t this what good political writing is all about? Not just preaching to the choir, but standing up for something you believe in and fighting for it with the best words you can conjure up.
In this you have most certainly been successful, and I thank you for upsetting this particular applecart.
I’d like to digress from my usual analysis of insurgent strategy and tactics to speak out on an issue of grave importance to Small Wars Journal readers. We, as a nation, are having a crisis of honor.
Last week the Attorney General nominee Judge Michael Mukasey refused to define waterboarding terror suspects as torture. On the same day MSNBC television pundit and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough quickly spoke out in its favor. On his morning television broadcast, he asserted, without any basis in fact, that the efficacy of the waterboard a viable tool to be sued on Al Qaeda suspects.
Scarborough said, “For those who don’t know, waterboarding is what we did to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is the Al Qaeda number two guy that planned 9/11. And he talked …” He then speculated that “If you ask Americans whether they think it’s okay for us to waterboard in a controlled environment … 90% of Americans will say ‘yes.’” Sensing that what he was saying sounded extreme, he then claimed he did not support torture but that waterboarding was debatable as a technique: “You know, that’s the debate. Is waterboarding torture? … I don’t want the United States to engage in the type of torture that [Senator] John McCain had to endure.”
In fact, waterboarding is just the type of torture then Lt. Commander John McCain had to endure at the hands of the North Vietnamese. As a former Master Instructor and Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School (SERE) in San Diego, California I know the waterboard personally and intimately. SERE staff were required undergo the waterboard at its fullest. I was no exception. I have personally led, witnessed and supervised waterboarding of hundreds of people. It has been reported that both the Army and Navy SERE school’s interrogation manuals were used to form the interrogation techniques used by the US army and the CIA for its terror suspects. What was not mentioned in most articles was that SERE was designed to show how an evil totalitarian, enemy would use torture at the slightest whim. If this is the case, then waterboarding is unquestionably being used as torture technique.
The carnival-like he-said, she-said of the legality of Enhanced Interrogation Techniques has become a form of doublespeak worthy of Catch-22. Having been subjected to them all, I know these techniques, if in fact they are actually being used, are not dangerous when applied in training for short periods. However, when performed with even moderate intensity over an extended time on an unsuspecting prisoner – it is torture, without doubt. Couple that with waterboarding and the entire medley not only “shock the conscience” as the statute forbids -it would terrify you. Most people can not stand to watch a high intensity kinetic interrogation. One has to overcome basic human decency to endure watching or causing the effects. The brutality would force you into a personal moral dilemma between humanity and hatred. It would leave you to question the meaning of what it is to be an American.
We live at a time where Americans, completely uninformed by an incurious media and enthralled by vengeance-based fantasy television shows like “24”, are actually cheering and encouraging such torture as justifiable revenge for the September 11 attacks. Having been a rescuer in one of those incidents and personally affected by both attacks, I am bewildered at how casually we have thrown off the mantle of world-leader in justice and honor. Who we have become? Because at this juncture, after Abu Ghraieb and other undignified exposed incidents of murder and torture, we appear to have become no better than our opponents.
With regards to the waterboard, I want to set the record straight so the apologists can finally embrace the fact that they condone and encourage torture.