Even though some Bush administration officials and lawyers are trying to finesse it, the bottom line is that waterboarding is now widely perceived to not just be torture now but to have been torture when it occurred. The issue now has been whether it’s permissible and actually “useful” in getting solid information or not.
But now another issue has emerged:
I’ve put this detail in a series of posts, but it really deserves a full post. According to the May 30, 2005 Bradbury memo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in March 2003 and Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in August 2002.
On page 37 of the OLC memo, in a passage discussing the differences between SERE techniques and the torture used with detainees, the memo explains:
“The CIA used the waterboard “at least 83 times during August 2002″ in the interrogation of Zubaydah. IG Report at 90, and 183 times during March 2003 in the interrogation of KSM, see id. at 91.”
Note, the information comes from the CIA IG report which, in the case of Abu Zubaydah, is based on having viewed the torture tapes as well as other materials. So this is presumably a number that was once backed up by video evidence.
The same OLC memo passage explains how the CIA might manage to waterboard these men so many times in one month each (though even with these chilling numbers, the CIA’s math doesn’t add up).
” …where authorized, it may be used for two “sessions” per day of up to two hours. During a session, water may be applied up to six times for ten seconds or longer (but never more than 40 seconds). In a 24-hour period, a detainee may be subjected to up to twelve minutes of water appliaction. See id. at 42. Additionally, the waterboard may be used on as many as five days during a 30-day approval period.”
183 times in a month is what Hollywood and some in the media will tell you is “high concept”: the operative phrase is “183 times.”
It fits easily into newspaper headlines. It can be said one phrase in radio reports and on talk shows. It can be worked to be portrayed in editorial cartoons. It’s a phrase that will stick in the mind — and it’s going to be a tidbit that could well shift the debate about what is torture, how much of it was done over the Bush administration and whether there should be an investigation to document what was done onto another level.
That number will make it harder to nuance waterboarding as something done as a last resort — or even effective: if it was that terrific a technique, the just why did it have to be done 183 times on one guy?
Read this MUST READ by Ron Beasley about what he learned about the efficacy of torture when he worked for the the Defense Intelligence Agency during the 1970s.
The documents do not provide details on the results of the methods. Bush and U.S. intelligence officials have said that Zubaydah subsequently provided crucial intelligence that allowed the CIA to capture other Al Qaeda operatives — including self-proclaimed Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed — and disrupt a number of plots.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said the CIA’s cables on Zubaydah and other prisoners make a compelling case for restoring the agency’s ability to use certain coercive interrogation methods, even if the agency is permanently barred from the most severe techniques, such as waterboarding.
But critics have questioned the value of the intelligence provided by Zubaydah, as well as whether enhanced methods were necessary.
Here’s a cross section of other reaction: These are EXCERPTS so be sure to go to the links to read the entire piece:
—Boston Globe editorial:
Besides, final responsibility for torture lies with those who authorized it; they deserve no chance to push the blame toward interrogators on the ground. For that reason, Congress should be investigating the Bush administration’s use of techniques that fit the definition of torture.
Reflecting an understandable presidential perspective, Obama has been emphatic about wanting to look forward, not backward. “This is a time for reflection, not retribution,” he said Thursday in his statement on the release of the torture memos.
Still, neither Obama nor Attorney General Eric Holder has ruled out prosecution of those Bush administration officials who authorized these methods. This is a crucial distinction. Obama is not limiting accountability to a release of declassified documents. And he is not treating past incidents of torture purely as a pragmatic problem requiring him to balance CIA morale against America’s moral standing in the world.
—New York Times editorial needs to be read in full. Here’s how it begins:
To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush’s Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.
Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect — all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.
In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.
The Times isn’t finished yet
These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors’ statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country’s most basic values.
It sounds like the plot of a mob film, except the lawyers asking how much their clients can get away with are from the C.I.A. and the lawyers coaching them on how to commit the abuses are from the Justice Department. And it all played out with the blessing of the defense secretary, the attorney general, the intelligence director and, most likely, President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney.
Read it all.
—The Financial Times:
Mr Obama rightly suspended these legal findings on taking office. He confined the Central Intelligence Agency and other departments to the milder techniques laid down in the Army Field Manual. The question this week was not what policy on interrogations should be, but how to deal with what it used to be – how much to disclose and what action to take against the officials and interrogators concerned.
The president can take comfort in seeing his answers attacked from both sides.
Prominent officials from the Bush administration argue that the disclosures unduly limit the government’s options in future. One can imagine circumstances, they say, in which harsh interrogation may be necessary. Releasing the memos in effect forecloses that possibility. It lets the country’s enemies train to withstand specific methods. In addition, by exposing officials and interrogators to furious criticism and calls for prosecution, it will incline the CIA to the timidity for which it was roundly criticised in the aftermath of 9/11. Leon Panetta, the new CIA chief, reportedly opposed the release on the grounds that it set a bad precedent.
Yet civil libertarians are no less offended by the other part of the president’s decision, which was to reassure the CIA that operatives acting under the earlier legal authorisations will not be prosecuted.
But the most striking aspect of their publication by the Obama administration is the detailed legal advice that was used to justify their use. Although the consensus now appears to be that the techniques amounted to straightforward torture, Bush-era lawyers argued that they were not, giving the green light for the CIA to apply them as they saw fit.
President Barack Obama took the decision to allow the Justice Department to release the memos despite pleas from four previous CIA directors and the present holder of the post that they should not be in the public domain. The President is believed to have wanted to be seen to be acting voluntarily rather than being forced to publish them under a Freedom of Information legislation request lodged by the American Civil Liberties Union.
But his further decision to rule out any prosecution of the CIA operatives involved in applying the techniques has brought a flood of criticism from liberal commentators who fear the President, despite his own objections to the methods, has now become complicit in their application.
David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University Law Centre, and the author of Justice At War: The Men and Ideas That Shaped America’s ‘War on Terror’, said: “The four legal memos released by the Obama administration on Thursday confirm in excruciating detail that the Bush administration employed twisted and macabre legal reasoning to authorise the unspeakable – the torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of human beings.
“Obama’s refusal to hold accountable those responsible for the wrongs so evident from the memos is unacceptable. A child would recognise these tactics as cruel and inhumane.”cted calls for a fuller “Truth Commission” inquiry into what went on. “Nothing will be gained,” he said, “by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” To those who consider methods such as waterboarding to be outright criminal, this is disappointing to say the least.
Finally, Obama’s decision outraged many conservatives, who accuse him of tipping off terrorists to our interrogation methods, and some liberals, disgusted by his refusal to prosecute CIA agents who inflicted this punishment on detainees.
That said, he took the proper path. He promised more transparency in his administration, and this is what transparency looks like. President George W. Bush repeatedly insisted that the U.S. did not torture terrorism suspects. This is not true. The recently disclosed secret Red Cross report, revealed by journalist Mark Danner in The New York Review of Books, made claims of innocence difficult to believe.
Obama’s release of the four memos shatters them.
It’s enough simply to read the details of the sadistic techniques to which CIA interrogators subjected prisoners. As if that weren’t enough, a May 10, 2005, memo from Office of Legal Counsel chief Steven Bradbury not only takes legal sophistry to dizzying heights to get around the clear meaning of Congress’ anti-torture law but also explicitly recognizes that these same techniques he endorses are condemned by the U.S. State Department as torture when other nations do them.
This is a democracy. Americans have to take responsibility for what our elected leaders do in our name. We cannot hide behind official assurances, bland euphemisms or twisted legal rationales to keep from confronting what agents of the U.S. government, with the full backing of top leadership, did. The new president understands that America cannot say it won’t happen again unless we clearly understand that which we’re repenting.
Remember folks that all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing! There are only a few perpetrators but there are a lot of us. So we CAN collectively exercise our power to stop these bad things from continuing. The good news in social psychologist Soloman Asch’s and Stanley Milgram’s experiments was there’s always 1/3 to 1/2 of us who see the truth and choose to do the right thing. And that’s plenty to stop the handful of perpetators.
C’mon Attorney General Holder, c’mon good American people–it’s time to end the experiment!
After eight years without transparency or accountability, Mr. Obama promised the American people both. His decision to release these memos was another sign of his commitment to transparency. We are waiting to see an equal commitment to accountability.
My position is the same as it has been all along. I believe that torture is wrong and that it is never justified, whatever the circumstances. I support investigating the matter and, if enough evidence is found, prosecuting the perpetrators to the full extent of the law whoever they might be and whatever the political fallout is.
Unlike my friend Joe Gandelman, I’m not dismayed that members of the Bush Administration broke the law. Members of every administration break the law. Believing otherwise is simply to deny the manifest evidence. What dismays me is that these offenses were committed despite the fact that they were wrong.
The law is the minimum code of ethics not the maximum code of ethics. There are all sorts of things that we shouldn’t do because they are wrong, because they are dishonorable, whether they’re legal or illegal. Our system of government and our economic system require it. The amount of police power that we’d need in order to enforce the law in the absence of the barriers of conscience and honor is inconsistent with a free or prosperous society.
It’s doubtful this is accurate, but since Khalid and Abu are responsible for the deaths of over 3000, I would think one time for each person who was incinerated on that day, at least once for every person who was forced to jump out of a window of the WTC only to splat on the sidewalk like a proverbial watermelon. Discomfort vs. unspeakable death, you do the math.
Again if waterboarding is torture then I’m a victim, went through it twice. In fact we have hundreds of victims today as it’s still being used during SEER and EV training in the Army, Marines, Navy.
If you asked anyone who really counted, such as the family member of a victim of 9/11, if Khalid or his hell-spawned buddy Abu were captured beforehand if they would have objected to waterboarding the creeps if it meant they could have their love one’s spared, what do you think they would say?
It is hard for me to empathize with terrorist whatever their circumstances and it is just as hard to understand the the empathy expressed by liberals for the discomfort caused people like KSM in retrieving information about his current operations when he was captured. I think many of the people complaining about his treatment now would have encouraged it at the time. Their latent hypocrisy is what I find much more disgusting.
Do these so called human rights activist speak out on a regular basis about the enemies handling of captives. It is much more brutal, but they don’t seem to care. That tells me they are more anti American than anti torture.
—Jules Crittenden’s long post must be read in its entirety. Here’s part of it:
Lefty outrage cherry-picking fails to note the CIA’s assertion that this was done solely for the purposes of extracting actionable intelligence from high-value subjects, not for purposes of punishment or extracting confessions, and that a great deal of actionable intelligence reportedly was obtained. Also fails to note that, in accordance with CIA guidelines, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who apparently was subjected to the most extensive dousing, demonstrably suffered no lasting physical or pyschological harm, nor was much cowed by it, given that in recent appearances before a military tribunal, he not only remained a proud and defiant terrorist, but was actively trying to manipulate the behavior of other members of his cell in Guantanamo.
At this point it is all academic, as the practice is no longer in use, and the current administration has declined to attempt a prosecution, perhaps having recognized that it is more productive to focus on combating al-Qaeda and its offshoots than engaging in Ed Norton “Fight Club”-style beatdowns on ourselves, particularly when you consider the potential of political collateral damage.* Here’s an interesting one from NYT, mulling why no one gets worked up about Predator hits that actually kill innocent bystanders, as opposed to dunkings that six years ago caused some brief discomfort to three people. It’s a heat of battle vs. helpless captive thing, NYT informs. That and, I’d suggest, the fact of who is giving the orders when those triggers are pulled nowadays. They could never get enough of denouncing collateral damage in the old days. In other deep, abiding mysteries to occupy a few idle Sunday morning hours, we could also gaze deep into our navels and ponder the lack of lefty concern about any number of gross human rights violations by extreme Islamists.
What the torture fetishists want, of course, is not to have the option to torture in these bizarre ticking time scenarios that will never happen outside a Hollywood plot, but to justify torture, period….
There better be a pretty damned long fuse on that ticking time bomb.
And yes, this is nothing but pure sadism.
Here is what I would like to see (within the context of what Obama and Holder have already announced).
1. That they determine that the OLC violated the law when they authorized torture. They should recommend that Judge Bybee be impeached, and they should move to disbar Yoo, Bradbury, and any other lawyers intimately involved in the process. Grand juries can determine whether prosecution is appropriate.
2. All interrogators, medical personnel, and psychological staff that engaged in acts of torture should be quietly terminated from government jobs or their contracts should be terminated.
3. High-ranking CIA officers that pressed for torture authorization should be quietly terminated. Grand juries should decide if they should be prosecuted.
4. An independent prosecutor should be introduced to unravel the decision making at the top, and their grand juries should make the ultimate decisions on who should be prosecuted and for what.
At the end of this process, Obama will still have the option to use his pardon power if he deems it in the national interest. But that’s a decision that is far down the line. If Obama and Holder follow these basic outlines, they will have done enough, in my opinion, to satisfy the requirements of our obligations. But I will still see it as overly lenient.
The above cartoon by John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune, is copyrighted and licensed to run on TMV. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.