Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Wrong Torture Question


When Americans get "ethical" these days they ponder the great moral mysteries, like "Is public health coverage fair to insurance companies?" or "If we increase the military budget but reduce one section of it, can the whole world still be safe?" or "Would you still oppose torture if it worked?"

Let me suggest a few reasons why I think that last question is the wrong one.

First, torture DID work. It forced false agreement with war lies, helping to launch a long-desired illegal war. And it persuaded many Americans that some very scary and very foreign people were out to get them, people so scary that they had to be tortured in order to talk with them, people whose every false utterance, aimed at stopping the pain, instead generated color-coded horror warnings.

Second, torture has boosted recruitment for anti-U.S. organizations tremendously, horribly damaged the United States' image, stripped U.S. diplomats of the power to address human rights abuses abroad, as well as stripping U.S. citizens of a clear moral right to protest being tortured, and set an example that has spread far and wide. Torture has brutalized participants and witnesses, and we are all witnesses, and it has destroyed lives both through torture to the point of death and through torture to the point of unbearable life.

Third, if you're going to violate particular laws and treaties, you can either repeal them and leave all the other ones intact, or you can simply proceed criminally, thereby assaulting the whole structure of law, leaving everyone in doubt whether ANY laws will be enforced against important people. Our government has taken the latter approach and redefined crimes as "policy differences," which is why torture is ongoing and no criminal penalty will deter its future expansion or the commission of other crimes of whatever sort by high officials.

Fourth, if torture had produced life-saving information, we would have long since heard that fact shouted from every television studio. In fact, we did hear such claims made. They just all turned out to be fictional. In the latest claim of this sort, torture supposedly produced information on the planned bombing of a building in Los Angeles, and this information was transported back in time to the moment at which investigators had already discovered that proposal and laughed heartily at the then-debunked claim that a serious plot had ever developed. The fact that Dick Cheney is pushing this nonsense on us is not actually a compelling reason to believe it unquestioningly.

Fifth, if torture ever produced life-saving information it would be through sheer luck and not intention. Nobody tortures with that intention, because expert interrogators believe other methods are more effective than torture. And if that lucky day ever came, there would be no basis on which to surmise that other methods would not have been at least as effective as the torture was. So, even if a real ticking time bomb situation could be created, there would be no reason to believe torture to be the best tool. And if you could magically design a situation in which, by definition, torture was the ethical choice, you still would not have created a situation in which ignoring the crime of torture would do less damage than pardoning the torturers.

So, do ends justify means? Is torture just plain wrong even in those cases when it would save more lives than it cost? These are intensely ignorant questions. Ends must always be made to justify any means, but the ends must be understood in their entirety. If one result of an action is damage to the rule of law or exacerbation of international hatred or promotion of senseless fear, that must be part of the calculation. Of course torture would not be wrong in a situation in which, all things considered, it did more good than harm; but that situation cannot be found. Whether you claim to simply adhere to a blanket rule, or you consider all the consequences of your actions, you arrive at the same conclusion: torture must be abolished.

But so must the debate over whether torture must be abolished. Torture is illegal. Our laws must be enforced. Torture's recent prominent use by the United States came about in an attempt to promote a far worse crime than torture, the crime of aggressive war. We should not be asking ourselves whether torture was an acceptable means toward that end. We should be asking ourselves how we can best rid the world of wars of aggression.

David Swanson is the author of "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press. He can be reached at:

Farewell, the American Century

Rewriting the Past by Adding In What's Been Left Out

by Andrew J. Bacevich

In a recent column, the Washington Post's Richard Cohen wrote, "What Henry Luce called 'the American Century' is over." Cohen is right. All that remains is to drive a stake through the heart of Luce's pernicious creation, lest it come back to life. This promises to take some doing.

When the Time-Life publisher coined his famous phrase, his intent was to prod his fellow citizens into action. Appearing in the February 7, 1941 issue of Life, his essay, "The American Century," hit the newsstands at a moment when the world was in the throes of a vast crisis. A war in Europe had gone disastrously awry. A second almost equally dangerous conflict was unfolding in the Far East. Aggressors were on the march.

With the fate of democracy hanging in the balance, Americans diddled. Luce urged them to get off the dime. More than that, he summoned them to "accept wholeheartedly our duty and our opportunity as the most powerful and vital nation in the world... to exert upon the world the full impact of our influence, for such purposes as we see fit and by such means as we see fit."

Read today, Luce's essay, with its strange mix of chauvinism, religiosity, and bombast ("We must now undertake to be the Good Samaritan to the entire world..."), does not stand up well. Yet the phrase "American Century" stuck and has enjoyed a remarkable run. It stands in relation to the contemporary era much as "Victorian Age" does to the nineteenth century. In one pithy phrase, it captures (or at least seems to capture) the essence of some defining truth: America as alpha and omega, source of salvation and sustenance, vanguard of history, guiding spirit and inspiration for all humankind.

In its classic formulation, the central theme of the American Century has been one of righteousness overcoming evil. The United States (above all the U.S. military) made that triumph possible. When, having been given a final nudge on December 7, 1941, Americans finally accepted their duty to lead, they saved the world from successive diabolical totalitarianisms. In doing so, the U.S. not only preserved the possibility of human freedom but modeled what freedom ought to look like.

Thank You, Comrades

So goes the preferred narrative of the American Century, as recounted by its celebrants.

The problems with this account are two-fold. First, it claims for the United States excessive credit. Second, it excludes, ignores, or trivializes matters at odds with the triumphal story-line.

The net effect is to perpetuate an array of illusions that, whatever their value in prior decades, have long since outlived their usefulness. In short, the persistence of this self-congratulatory account deprives Americans of self-awareness, hindering our efforts to navigate the treacherous waters in which the country finds itself at present. Bluntly, we are perpetuating a mythic version of the past that never even approximated reality and today has become downright malignant. Although Richard Cohen may be right in declaring the American Century over, the American people -- and especially the American political class -- still remain in its thrall.

Constructing a past usable to the present requires a willingness to include much that the American Century leaves out.

For example, to the extent that the demolition of totalitarianism deserves to be seen as a prominent theme of contemporary history (and it does), the primary credit for that achievement surely belongs to the Soviet Union. When it came to defeating the Third Reich, the Soviets bore by far the preponderant burden, sustaining 65% of all Allied deaths in World War II.

By comparison, the United States suffered 2% of those losses, for which any American whose father or grandfather served in and survived that war should be saying: Thank you, Comrade Stalin.

For the United States to claim credit for destroying the Wehrmacht is the equivalent of Toyota claiming credit for inventing the automobile. We entered the game late and then shrewdly scooped up more than our fair share of the winnings. The true "Greatest Generation" is the one that willingly expended millions of their fellow Russians while killing millions of German soldiers.

Hard on the heels of World War II came the Cold War, during which erstwhile allies became rivals. Once again, after a decades-long struggle, the United States came out on top.

Yet in determining that outcome, the brilliance of American statesmen was far less important than the ineptitude of those who presided over the Kremlin. Ham-handed Soviet leaders so mismanaged their empire that it eventually imploded, permanently discrediting Marxism-Leninism as a plausible alternative to liberal democratic capitalism. The Soviet dragon managed to slay itself. So thank you, Comrades Malenkov, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov, Chernenko, and Gorbachev.

Screwing the Pooch

What flag-wavers tend to leave out of their account of the American Century is not only the contributions of others, but the various missteps perpetrated by the United States -- missteps, it should be noted, that spawned many of the problems bedeviling us today.

The instances of folly and criminality bearing the label "made-in-Washington" may not rank up there with the Armenian genocide, the Bolshevik Revolution, the appeasement of Adolf Hitler, or the Holocaust, but they sure don't qualify as small change. To give them their due is necessarily to render the standard account of the American Century untenable.

Here are several examples, each one familiar, even if its implications for the problems we face today are studiously ignored:

Cuba. In 1898, the United States went to war with Spain for the proclaimed purpose of liberating the so-called Pearl of the Antilles. When that brief war ended, Washington reneged on its promise. If there actually has been an American Century, it begins here, with the U.S. government breaking a solemn commitment, while baldly insisting otherwise. By converting Cuba into a protectorate, the United States set in motion a long train of events leading eventually to the rise of Fidel Castro, the Bay of Pigs, Operation Mongoose, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and even today's Guantanamo Bay prison camp. The line connecting these various developments may not be a straight one, given the many twists and turns along the way, but the dots do connect.

The Bomb. Nuclear weapons imperil our existence. Used on a large scale, they could destroy civilization itself. Even now, the prospect of a lesser power like North Korea or Iran acquiring nukes sends jitters around the world. American presidents -- Barack Obama is only the latest in a long line -- declare the abolition of these weapons to be an imperative. What they are less inclined to acknowledge is the role the United States played in afflicting humankind with this scourge.

The United States invented the bomb. The United States -- alone among members of the nuclear club -- actually employed it as a weapon of war. The U.S. led the way in defining nuclear-strike capacity as the benchmark of power in the postwar world, leaving other powers like the Soviet Union, Great Britain, France, and China scrambling to catch up. Today, the U.S. still maintains an enormous nuclear arsenal at the ready and adamantly refuses to commit itself to a no-first-use policy, even as it professes its horror at the prospect of some other nation doing as the United States itself has done.

Iran. Extending his hand to Tehran, President Obama has invited those who govern the Islamic republic to "unclench their fists." Yet to a considerable degree, those clenched fists are of our own making. For most Americans, the discovery of Iran dates from the time of the notorious hostage crisis of 1979-1981 when Iranian students occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran, detained several dozen U.S. diplomats and military officers, and subjected the administration of Jimmy Carter to a 444-day-long lesson in abject humiliation.

For most Iranians, the story of U.S.-Iranian relations begins somewhat earlier. It starts in 1953, when CIA agents collaborated with their British counterparts to overthrow the democratically-elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh and return the Shah of Iran to his throne. The plot succeeded. The Shah regained power. The Americans got oil, along with a lucrative market for exporting arms. The people of Iran pretty much got screwed. Freedom and democracy did not prosper. The antagonism that expressed itself in November 1979 with the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran was not entirely without cause.

Afghanistan. President Obama has wasted little time in making the Afghanistan War his own. Like his predecessor he vows to defeat the Taliban. Also like his predecessor he has yet to confront the role played by the United States in creating the Taliban in the first place. Washington once took pride in the success it enjoyed funneling arms and assistance to fundamentalist Afghans waging jihad against foreign occupiers. During the administrations of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, this was considered to represent the very acme of clever statecraft. U.S. support for the Afghan mujahideen caused the Soviets fits. Yet it also fed a cancer that, in time, exacted a most grievous toll on Americans themselves -- and has U.S. forces today bogged down in a seemingly endless war.

Act of Contrition

Had the United States acted otherwise, would Cuba have evolved into a stable and prosperous democracy, a beacon of hope for the rest of Latin America? Would the world have avoided the blight of nuclear weapons? Would Iran today be an ally of the United States, a beacon of liberalism in the Islamic world, rather than a charter member of the "axis of evil?" Would Afghanistan be a quiet, pastoral land at peace with its neighbors? No one, of course, can say what might have been. All we know for sure is that policies concocted in Washington by reputedly savvy statesmen now look exceedingly ill-advised.

What are we to make of these blunders? The temptation may be to avert our gaze, thereby preserving the reassuring tale of the American Century. We should avoid that temptation and take the opposite course, acknowledging openly, freely, and unabashedly where we have gone wrong. We should carve such acknowledgments into the face of a new monument smack in the middle of the Mall in Washington: We blew it. We screwed the pooch. We caught a case of the stupids. We got it ass-backwards.

Only through the exercise of candor might we avoid replicating such mistakes.

Indeed, we ought to apologize. When it comes to avoiding the repetition of sin, nothing works like abject contrition. We should, therefore, tell the people of Cuba that we are sorry for having made such a hash of U.S.-Cuban relations for so long. President Obama should speak on our behalf in asking the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki for forgiveness. He should express our deep collective regret to Iranians and Afghans for what past U.S. interventionism has wrought.

The United States should do these things without any expectations of reciprocity. Regardless of what U.S. officials may say or do, Castro won't fess up to having made his own share of mistakes. The Japanese won't liken Hiroshima to Pearl Harbor and call it a wash. Iran's mullahs and Afghanistan's jihadists won't be offering to a chastened Washington to let bygones be bygones.

No, we apologize to them, but for our own good -- to free ourselves from the accumulated conceits of the American Century and to acknowledge that the United States participated fully in the barbarism, folly, and tragedy that defines our time. For those sins, we must hold ourselves accountable.

To solve our problems requires that we see ourselves as we really are. And that requires shedding, once and for all, the illusions embodied in the American Century.

© 2009 Andrew Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of history and international relations at Boston University. His most recent book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, is just out in paperback.

The Iraq We Leave Behind

by Kelley B. Vlahos, April 30, 2009

For years, a majority of Iraqis have just wanted the Americans to leave.

As of June 30, urban Iraqis will likely get their wish. But let’s step back for a moment and think about why some Iraqis, particularly in the Sunni areas, may be having second thoughts, and why others, their lives blistered over with varying degrees of dismal circumstances, are too depleted to engage in the hearty sendoff they’ve always dreamed of.

As many reports "from the ground" now reveal, the dirty little secret of American withdrawal from Iraq is that for many Iraqis, their world looks uncomfortably like the one the U.S. delivered them from in 2003, particularly in terms of corruption and greed – in the central government and police – and a substandard quality of life caused by unemployment and deteriorating infrastructure.

After more than six years of fighting and nearly a trillion dollars spent "to free the Iraqi people" – as exclaimed by invading President George W. Bush in 2003 – we find Iraqis in places like Anbar province fearing their new freedom could come at too high a cost.

"We feel many bad things are coming," said Kareem Arak, head of the North Ramadi city council, in a recent Associated Press report.

Raheem Kalaaf Mohammed, vice president of the council, shares his friend’s dire prediction. "We feel there will be disaster here."

Among other security concerns, such as the increasing suicide bomb attacks against security forces throughout Anbar, local business leaders in Ramadi fear a "wave of corruption" and charge the local police with stealing from their stores.

And that’s not all they’re accused of doing. The London Times produced a disturbing piece on April 24 indicating that Saddam-era tactics are alive and well throughout the Sunni and Shia-led police and security forces in the very cities slated for U.S. withdrawal in June.

"In this vast and largely unaccountable security apparatus, with almost a million people in uniform, corruption is rife," writer James Hider intones after telling this horrific story: "A young woman, evidently drugged, vomiting and occasionally calling for her mother, tries weakly to stop the grinning man in a white T-shirt and boxer shorts from pulling off her underwear."

She is raped. Her rapist and his accomplice, who shot the whole thing with the camera on his cell phone, are Ramadi police officers, according to the victim.

The accused rapist, being the nephew of a senior police officer, was held briefly before "mysteriously" freed, fleeing possibly to Syria. The girl’s fate, her family name now sullied by the rape, was much worse, as it was suggested to Hider by a government official that she was later the victim of a family honor killing.

No surprise, then, that when the group of businessmen in Ramadi was told by a U.S. officer that "very soon, there won’t be any Marines coming here," there were "murmurs of dismay" in response. Granted, these minority Sunnis have never been keen on the Americans leaving, but their reasons now are clear enough: two years ago, al-Qaeda bloodied the streets, targeting their local tribesmen who were standing in line to join the police. Now, al-Qaeda is largely gone, and it’s the police who are doing the terrorizing.

Fear and Loathing in Baghdad

Miles away in Baghdad, the corruption is blatant and somewhat more complicated, tied in with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shia-led government. Formally oppressed, these Shia knew well the cruel fist of Saddam’s Ba’athist henchmen. But the corruption today, alleged in emerging, scattered reports, looks eerily familiar – from men being yanked off the street, beaten, detained, and bribed for their last dime, to kidnappings, rape, and even assassinations. Now add the worst thing imaginable: the selling and exploitation of Iraqi children.

"MPs and American officials now believe that they [security forces] are often a law unto themselves," writes Hider, "admired when they defeat terrorists but also feared for their widespread abuse of power."

According to an April report in Time, corruption within the security forces "is enabling [sex] traffickers to operate with impunity," in that traffickers have established relationships with the local police. Girls and women are sold into prostitution by their families, and in some incredible cases, prostitutes who escape are returned right to their brothels – by police.

Meanwhile, children are being sold to adoptive parents, or worse, pedophiles, outside of Iraq – with the cover provided by corrupt government officials, reports allege.

The Guardian recently reported that scores of Iraqi children were being abducted from poor Iraqis and spirited off to foreign buyers by as many as 12 criminal gangs operating within the country. In this case, underpaid bureaucrats taking bribes and falsifying documents are making these unspeakable crimes happen.

As in Anbar, there is an acute tension in Baghdad, in part over fears that when the Americans eventually pull out, this perfect storm of bureaucratic corruption, police brutality, and the growing cancer of mistrust between the ruling Shia and the Sunni Awakening Councils that helped to sideline al-Qaeda will tear asunder any remaining hope for healing this scarred city.

Maliki’s government has promised to absorb into the government many of the former Sunni insurgents (also known as the "Sons of Iraq") now securing walled Sunni neighborhoods and communities beyond Baghdad. After months of red tape, some 90,000 fighters were given a paycheck in April. Tensions had already reached a critical pitch when the Iraqi army arrested Adel Mashadani, the Awakening Council leader in Baghdad’s Sunni Fadhil district, on March 28.

U.S. forces aided in his arrest and the detention of several other Awakening members in Fadhil. A statement was issued afterward insisting that Mashadani had been targeted for committing crimes – like involvement in sectarian violence and extorting more than $160,000 from neighborhood residents – not for his status as an Awakening Council leader. But Maliki’s mistrust of the Awakening Council movement is well known, and many fear this was just the opening salvo in an effort to bring about its ultimate demise.

Meanwhile, Iraq’s interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, recently claimed in an American press op-ed, "We’ve tackled corruption by firing 62,000 employees and begun to dismantle sectarianism by prohibiting all political activity by police officers and creating a force made up of all Iraqis — Shia, Sunni, and Kurd."

What to believe? As of March, when Bolani’s op-ed was published, only 5,000 Sons of Iraq had been hired by Maliki’s government, according to reports, and the tales of corruption continue to confuse Bolani’s hopeful spin.

Who’s to Blame?

That the police have become so corrupt is no surprise to people who saw how they were trained and managed from the beginning. Details of the initial dismantling of the Ba’athist police after the fall of Saddam in 2003 and the unsuccessful scramble to replace them have been well documented. Considering the whole of the post-invasion catastrophe, it is no surprise that the blame has been largely placed on poor planning and execution by American policymakers.

While former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik was parachuted into the country as interim interior minister and police trainer in 2003, Shia militias began taking over the fledgling police force to become, as researcher Robert Perito described it as recently as 2007, "a patchwork organization of commando-style, counter-insurgency units [that] harbors sectarian death squads."

Kerik, who told the New York Times in 2006 that he was so unprepared he watched A&E Network documentaries beforehand to learn about Saddam Hussein, was a "waste of time and effort," charged retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, in a 2008 interview.

The loss of time putting a minor celebrity – Kerik had been celebrated for his police work following the 9/11 attacks in New York – into the role of creating an entire police force out of whole cloth cost the country dearly. Even today, people complain that Maliki has merely reduced the number of militias operating within the system down to one – his own. Meanwhile, in places like Ramadi, former Sunni militiamen-turned-police have seemingly picked up where their Ba’athist predecessors left off. As Perito wrote, the police under Saddam were "poorly trained and equipped, badly led, and underpaid … notorious for brutality and corruption." How much has changed?

As always, U.S. military officials must convey a sense of evolution in these matters so that their long years in Iraq won’t seem so futile. "[T]hey’re trying. They’re trying to move forward," said Maj. Joseph A. Musacchia, chief of security forces, commander of the 81st Security Forces Squadron, in a teleconference with bloggers on April 17 [.pdf].

"They’re trying to get to that point to where they can make up a gap of almost 100 years of police evolving. You know, they can’t go from Barney Fife to CHIPS overnight," he told listeners.

Why not – didn’t President Bush promise as much for the Iraqi people when he invaded?

The dream of such a turnaround has become a daily nightmare for many Iraqis, particularly city residents who anticipate the fresh vulnerabilities when U.S. forces finally decamp.

As Baghdad-born director Ghaith Abdul-Ahad asked in his dark and striking 2008-09 video series, Baghdad: City of Walls, "What will be left for the next generation when the Americans leave?" Hopefully, not just a mirror to the past.

Kelley Beaucar Vlahos, a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer, is a longtime political reporter for and a contributing editor at The American Conservative. She is also a Washington correspondent for Homeland Security Today magazine.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Obama's Iraq

The Picture of Dorian Gray


Remember when Barack Obama made that big announcement at Camp Lejeune about how all US combat troops were going to be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by June 30? Liberals jumped around with joy, praising Obama for ending the war so that they could focus on their “good war” in Afghanistan.

Of course, the celebrations were and remain unwarranted. Obama’s Iraq plan is virtually identical to the one on Bush’s table on January 19, 2009. Obama has just rebranded the occupation, sold it to liberals and dropped the term “Global War on Terror” while, for all practical purposes, continuing the Bush era policy (that’s why leading Republicans praised Obama’s plan). In the real world, US military commanders have said they are preparing for an Iraq presence for another 15-20 years, the US embassy is the size of Vatican City, there is no official plan for the withdrawal of contractors and new corporate mercenary contracts are being awarded. The SoFA Agreement between the US and Iraq gives the US the right to extend the occupation indefinitely and to continue intervening militarily in Iraq ad infinitum. All it takes is for the puppets in Baghdad to ask nicely…

In the latest episode of the “Occupation Rebranded” mini-series, President Obama is preparing to scrap the June 30 withdrawal timeline.

As The New York Times reports: “The United States and Iraq will begin negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraqi cities, focusing on the troubled northern city of Mosul, according to military officials. Some parts of Baghdad also will still have combat troops.”

According to the Times, the US is playing with the definition of the word “city” when speaking of withdrawing combat troops from all cities:

[T]here are no plans to close the Camp Victory base complex, consisting of five bases housing more than 20,000 soldiers, many of them combat troops. Although Victory is only a 15 minute drive from the center of Baghdad and sprawls over both sides of the city’s boundary, Iraqi officials say they have agreed to consider it outside the city.

In addition, Forward Operating Base Falcon, which can hold 5,000 combat troops, will also remain after June 30. It is just within Baghdad’s southern city limits. Again, Iraqi officials have classified it as effectively outside Baghdad, so no exception to the agreement needs to be granted, in their view.

Combat troops with the Seventh Field Artillery Regiment will remain in the heart of Baghdad at Camp Prosperity, located near the new American Embassy compound in the Green Zone. In addition to providing a quick reaction force, guarding the embassy and noncombat troops from attack, those soldiers will also continue to support Iraqi troops who are now in nominal charge of maintaining security in the Green Zone.

Camp Victory is of tremendous strategic importance to the US occupation. In addition to the military’s share of Baghdad International Airport, it includes four bases—Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer—as well as the US-run prison “Camp Cropper.” That’s where the US keeps its “high value” prisoners. While the US officially handed control of Forward Operating Base Freedom to “Iraqi control,” the US military is keeping the swimming pool.

Meanwhile, future plans are being laid for other US bases. Camp Prosperity is going to house US contractors and other personnel, while at Camp Union III housing is being built for several thousand soldiers, trainers and advisers.

What is abundantly clear is that there are enough cosmetic changes going on in Baghdad intended to make it look like the occupation is ending, while continuing it. Again, from the Times:

The Green Zone was handed over to Iraqi control Jan. 1, when the agreement went into effect. In addition to the United States-Iraqi patrols, most of the security for the Green Zone’s many checkpoints and heavily guarded entry points is still done by the same private contractors who did it prior to Jan. 1.

“What you’re seeing is not a change in the numbers, it’s a doctrine change,” said First Sgt. David Moore, a New Jersey National Guardsman with the Joint Area Support Group, which runs the Green Zone. “You’re still going to have fighters. Every U.S. soldier is trained to fight.”

The Iraq occupation is like The Picture of Dorian Gray. No matter what public face the Obama administration attempts to present, it only grows more heinous with each passing day.

Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.His new website is

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Brave New World Order

by Jeff Huber

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."
- Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1572)

A new world order began when the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989. The next new world order began when the U.S. Army staged the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue after the fall of Baghdad in late 2003. A brave new world order, the one we’re now in the early stages of, began in late 2008 when the U.S. economy dropped down a rabbit hole that may go all the way to China. The trajectory should look familiar; it traces a path taken by hegemons throughout the ages, straight to the cliff they fell from. As with great powers before us, the military might that created our empire has become the instrument of its downfall.

Niccolo Machiavelli, who served as secretary to Florence and had extensive dealings with the infamous Cesare Borgia, is probably history’s premier political scientist. Machiavelli insisted that “A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline.” So we can see that the guy was no hand-wringing peace pansy. Conversely, however, he said of war that, “a well-established republic or kingdom would never permit its subjects or citizens to employ it for their profession.” Machiavelli asserted that “as long as [the Romans] were wise and good, never permitted that their citizens should take up this practice as their profession.” It was only when Pompeii and Caesar established the institution of emperor as professional warrior that Rome’s republic began to erode. Eventually the army’s elite Praetorian Guard “became formidable to the Senate and damaging to the emperor” and “gave the Empire and took it away from anyone they wished.”

In his 1961 farewell address, President Dwight Eisenhower warned America to “guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence” by the “military-industrial complex” for the same reason Machiavelli cautioned heads of state of his day to beware of advisers who “in times of peace, desire war because they are unable to live without it.” In ‘61, Eisenhower admonished that the “economic, political, even spiritual” influence of America’s new war industry was “felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the federal government.” A decade into the new American century, militarism has woven itself into the very fiber of our society. Political careers and regional economies are wholly dependent upon it. The defense industry has transformed America into a warfare-welfare state, and it doesn’t bother making a secret of it.

Witness the recent uproar over Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ proposed defense budget “cutbacks” that are actually an increase. Lipstick neocon Joe Lieberman led the protest over Gates’ refusal to expand the F-22 stealth fighter purchase. At $360 million a pop, the F-22 is a Cold War albatross that was designed to go toe-to-toe with the Russkies in the skies over Europe. Now, its mission involves air-to-air combat against jumbo jets armed with box cutters; but it’s built in Joe’s state of Connecticut, so it’s of vital importance to national security.

Even more deplorable than the persistence of Lieberman and other congressional war mongrels at investing in what defense analyst William Lind calls “a military museum” is their willingness to let the Pentagon dictate policy. From the beginning of our Mesopotamian mistake, the generals, supposedly, were calling the shots. When then-Army chief of staff Eric Shinseki said we weren’t taking enough troops into Iraq, then-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld handed him a Purple Heart for the bruise he got where the door hit him on his way out. From then on, all the generals said we didn’t need any more troops in Iraq than we already had there, so we didn’t need any more troops in Iraq.

Then the GOP lost the 2006 election, and Rumsfeld got his Purple Heart. Young Mr. Bush decided it was time to go on a surgin’ safari, and Gen. David Petraeus signed on to play bwana. Even the once credible Thomas E. Ricks, who has done more than anyone to exalt Petraeus, admits that his idol has been pulling a confidence game on the American Congress and public since he assumed command of forces in Iraq. In a February 2009 Washington Post article, Ricks wrote that Petraeus’ agenda was “not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.” Congress, the public, and Petraeus’ critics in the military largely failed to recognize what he was up to, mainly because he patently misled them when he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee, “We’re after conditions that would allow our soldiers to disengage.”

He was, in fact, after conditions that would never allow his soldiers to disengage, at least not during his lifetime, and possibly not during theirs. Throughout his tenure in Iraq – first as commander in Mosul (where he made his reputation as a counterinsurgency “genius” thanks to Ricks’ fabrications), then as the general in charge of training Iraqi security forces, and finally as commander of international forces in Iraq – Petraeus has achieved short-term results by handing out guns to everybody and bribing them not to use the guns against U.S. troops or Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s forces. As a result, Ricks admits, we have poured “a lot of gasoline on the fire,” and if we leave, “it will be much worse than it was when Saddam was there.” So we can never leave.

What Petraeus deserves for his perfidy would cauterize his exit ramp. He has been, instead, elevated to five-star deity status. David Petraeus is the Douglas MacArthur of the 21st century – a general so dangerous that he challenges the commander in chief’s constitutional authority. As MacArthur did with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, Petraeus poses the threat of challenging Barack H. Obama for his job come the next general election. Don’t think for a minute that a Petraeus/Palin ticket is too absurd to come to pass. Look what’s happened so far in the new American century.

In April 2008, Mr. Bush announced that his “main man” Petraeus would be the decider of when and how U.S. troops would withdraw from Iran, and “King David,” now in charge of Central Command, has been the de facto commander in chief of the U.S. military ever since. Now, President Obama’s decisions must be sanctioned by Petraeus and the rest of the long-war generals.

Petraeus, his pet ox Ray Odierno, and Joint Chiefs chairman Mike Mullen all publicly opposed withdrawal timelines (and the Obama candidacy) during the 2008 presidential race. Individually and as a group, they have waged an information campaign to desensitize the American public to the reality that their country may always be ensnared in counterproductive wars. Babe Odierno is on record as wanting to keep more than 30,000 troops in Iraq until 2015 or so. If you’re watching, you’ll see that they’re blaming the resurgent violence in Iraq on the pending withdrawals from Iraqi cities, i.e., the “timelines.” When the 2012 political season rolls around, the reasons we’re still in Iraq will be as slippery and amorphous as the reasons we invaded in the first place.

The Petraeus patrol is steering us into the same trap in the Bananastans, and President Obama either doesn’t see that the road ahead looks identical to the one in the rear view mirror, or he figures he’s powerless to reverse America’s vector toward self-immolation, or he’s dumber than he looks, or he just doesn’t care.

These generals of ours, whose authority is too formidable for either the president or the Congress to oppose, don’t have a clue how to win their wars. They don’t know their centers of gravity from their elbows, but that’s okay. They’re not supposed to win their wars. In fact, that would be counter to the real objective: to keep the gravy boat afloat and the cash caisson rolling along for as long as they possibly can. That they’re leaving tire tracks all over the Constitution they took an oath to support and defend by subverting the president’s authority matters little to them. Whether they’re Manchurian candidate true believers, or Orwellian double thinkers, or simply take the Machiavellian position that ends justify means, I just can’t say. I knew officers of all those flavors during my career. I also knew officers of genuine moral vision and clarity (as opposed to the Ann Coulter/Pat Robertson version of moral vision and clarity), but few of them were invited into the generals’ club, and the few who managed to slip past the doorman have by now earned their Purple Hearts the way Shinseki did. The generals we have left lie like other people eat, sleep, and go to the bathroom, all for the sake of preserving an institution that will never again have a peer competitor and will never be capable of defeating an -ism of any kind.

I believe we still have a window of opportunity to become the “kinder, gentler nation” and that “shining city on the hill” of a brave new world order, but the window is dwindling rapidly. Our generals, openly disdainful of their commander in chief and the legislature, have stolen our country. The zombie Republicans in Congress think it’s patriotic to back the generals against the president, and the Democrats have folded like the Chicago Cubs in August.

Obama needs to step up to the plate, fire all of his four stars and that bureaucratic dimwit Gates, and take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (retired), writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Obama Sustains the Status Quo

Obama's sins of omission

By Andrew J. Bacevich | April 25, 2009

THE HISTORY of American liberalism is one of promoting substantively modest if superficially radical reforms in order to refurbish and sustain the status quo. From Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal to Bill Clinton's New Covenant, liberals have specialized in jettisoning the redundant to preserve what they see as essential. In this sense, modern liberalism's great achievement has been to deflect or neutralize calls for more fundamental change - a judgment that applies to President Obama, especially on national security.

Granted, Obama has acted with dispatch to repudiate several of George W. Bush's most egregious blunders and for this he deserves credit. In abrogating torture, ordering the Guantanamo prison camp closed, and setting a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, Obama is turning the page on a dark chapter in American statecraft. After the hectoring and posturing that figured so prominently in his predecessor's style, the president's preference for dialogue rather than preaching is refreshing.

But however much Obama may differ from Bush on particulars, he appears intent on sustaining the essentials on which the Bush policies were grounded. Put simply, Obama's pragmatism poses no threat to the reigning national security consensus. Consistent with the tradition of American liberalism, he appears intent on salvaging that consensus.

For decades now, that consensus has centered on what we might call the Sacred Trinity of global power projection, global military presence, and global activism - the concrete expression of what politicians commonly refer to as "American global leadership." The United States configures its armed forces not for defense but for overseas "contingencies." To facilitate the deployment of these forces it maintains a vast network of foreign bases, complemented by various access and overflight agreements. Capabilities and bases mesh with and foster a penchant for meddling in the affairs of others, sometimes revealed to the public, but often concealed.

Bush did not invent the Sacred Trinity. He merely inherited it and then abused it, thereby reviving the conviction entertained by critics of American globalism, progressives and conservatives alike, that the principles underlying this trinity are pernicious and should be scrapped. Most of these progressives and at least some conservatives voted for Obama with expectations that, if elected, he would do just that. Based on what he has said and done over the past three months, however, the president appears intent instead on shielding the Sacred Trinity from serious scrutiny.

What the president is doing and saying matters less than what he has not done. The sins of omission are telling: There is no indication that Obama will pose basic questions about the purpose of the US military; on the contrary, he has implicitly endorsed the proposition that keeping America safe is best accomplished by maintaining in instant readiness forces geared up to punish distant adversaries or invade distant countries. Nor is there any indication that Obama intends to shrink the military's global footprint or curb the appetite for intervention that has become a signature of US policy. Despite lip service to the wonders of soft power, Pentagon spending, which exploded during the Bush era, continues to increase.

There are differences, to be sure. Bush counted on high-tech manned aircraft above and mechanized ground forces below to make quick work of any foe, with Iraq the point of main effort. Ostensibly learning from Bush's failures, Obama is taking a modified approach, centering his attention on "Af-Pak." His preference is for high-tech unmanned aircraft, the weapon of choice for an expanded Israeli-style program of targeted assassination in Pakistan. Meanwhile, when it comes to ground forces, Obama's inclination is to park the tanks and get troops out among the people, as his intensified effort to pacify Afghanistan suggests.

Obama's revised approach to the so-called Long War, formerly known as the Global War on Terror, should hearten neoconservative and neoliberal exponents of American globalism: Now in its eighth year, this war continues with no end in sight. Those who actually expected Obama to "change the way Washington works" just might feel disappointed. Far than abrogating the Sacred Trinity, the president appears intent on investing it with new life.

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor at Boston University, is the author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Maliki: US Raid ‘Crime’ That Violated Pact

Iraq Calls for Release of Detainees, Arrest of Those Responsible for "Criminal" Raid

by Jason Ditz, April 26, 2009

A pre-dawn US raid in the southern Iraqi city of Kut killed two people, including a woman and led to the capture of six Shi’ites, which the US alleges were part of an Iranian-backed militant force. Such raids are all too common and rarely amount to much politically. Not so today, as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the raid as a criminal act, and says it violated the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the two nations.

Spokesman Major General Qassim Moussawi confirmed Maliki’s view that “the killing of two citizens and detaining others in Kut is considered a violation of the security pact.” Maliki is asking that the Multi-National Forces (which is to say at this point, the United States and a handful of British and Australian soldiers busily packing their bags) to release all the detainees captured in the raid and hand over those responsible to Iraqi courts. The Iraqi government also arrested two of its own provincial military commanders over the raid.

The US insists the raid was approved by the Iraqi government and said the slain woman “moved into the line of fire,” but the Kut Provincial police chief says he had no prior knowledge of the raid, and police major Aziz al-Amara said that those arrested “were poor people. They did not cause any political or security problems.” Among those arrested were a clan leader, Ahmed Abdul Muneim al-Bdeir, and his brother - an Iraqi police captain. The other detainees all appear to have been Bdeir’s relatives.

The pact took effect on January 1, and just hours later US troops shot a deaf female employee of Iraq’s Biladi TV station. That shooting, and countless other incidents which seemingly violated the letter of the SOFA had been overlooked by the Maliki government. Even repeated comments that the military intended to “ignore” the June 30 deadline to withdraw from Iraqi cities, one of the cornerstones of the SOFA, prompted no comment. Whether there was something special about this seemingly unremarkable raid/killing or if it was simply the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back remains to be seen.

Straight to the Top

By Scott Horton

April 25, 2009 "Harpers" -- The torture trail starts and ends in the White House. That is perhaps the most inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the flurry of documents released in the last week—first the OLC memoranda, then a newly declassified report of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and finally an amazing document that Attorney General Eric Holder released yesterday, which has still gained little attention. The Holder note presents a summary of CIA interaction with the White House in connection with the approval of the torture techniques that John Yoo calls the “Bush Program.” Holder’s memo refers to the participants by their job titles only, but John Sifton runs it through a decoder and gives us the actual names. Here’s a key passage:
“[The] CIA’s Office of General Counsel [this would include current Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods [on Abu Zubaydah] that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”

The report continues to implicate more Bush officials: “On July 13, 2002, according to CIA records, attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel [including Rizzo] met with the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [Bellinger], a Deputy Assistant Attorney General from OLC [likely John Yoo], the head of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice [Michael Chertoff], the chief of staff to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [Kenneth Wainstein], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] to provide an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for Abu Zubaydah.”

It makes clear that sign-off for torture comes from Condoleezza Rice, acting with the advice of her ever-present lawyer, John Bellinger. Another figure making a key appearance is an Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel named M. Edward Whelan III–presumably the same Ed Whelan who is presently melting his keyboard with defenses of the torture-enablers at National Review. (Update: Andrew Sullivan also reported on the appearance of Whelan in the memo, but Whelan responded with a categorical denial that he was involved. This suggests that the memo’s chronology is incorrect and requires some clarification.) The central role played by Rice and Bellinger helps explain the State Department’s abrupt about-face on international law issues related to torture immediately after Rice became Secretary of State and Bellinger became Legal Adviser. It also makes clear that Vice President Cheney and President Bush were fully informed of what has happened and approved.

This disclosure comes after the Senate Armed Services Committee’s detailed report, which debunks almost all the claims that Bush Administration officials have thrown up to put investigators off the trail of the torture policy. The claim that the decision to introduce torture was done to accommodate interrogators who were frustrated by their inability to get results, for instance, is belied by the fact that the White House was busy pursuing torture techniques and authority to introduce them before any prisoners had yet been taken.

But each of these disclosures points again to a great mass of potential evidence remaining securely hidden. Colin Powell himself has repeatedly noted that the National Security Council was the center of activity with respect to the introduction of torture and that it carefully documents its internal processes with minutes and records. He urged those pursuing the issue to press for full disclosure of these materials. His guidance (which is remarkable among other things because he will himself be at the center of the inquiry) is revealed by the Holder memorandum to be spot-on.

President Obama and several of his senior advisors are now plainly concerned about the torture issue and the momentum it has achieved. They are troubled that it will seize center stage in Washington and disrupt the president’s ability to implement his agenda. These concerns are reasonable to some extent, but in fact that very concern provides a very good reason to remove the next steps in this crisis from the political process. Unlike the Beltway chatterboxes who fill our airwaves, most Americans appreciate the importance of the torture question. It is not a matter of partisan intrigue. It is a fundamental question of national identity and principle. And this points to a two-pronged solution. First a blue-ribbon commission should be constituted to get to the bottom of what happened, to declassify and publish the still hidden documents concerning the NSC process and what went on in the Justice Department, the Pentagon, and the CIA. The commission should take a long, hard look at Richard Cheney’s self-serving claims that “torture works.” And it should try to steer the country to a solution of these questions that restores a national consensus. If you support the idea of an accountability commission, take a few seconds to go on line here and note your endorsement of the proposal. The second prong will be a prosecutor who can take a look at all the facts and decide who should be charged for criminal wrongdoing. We know now that the White House considers it politically “inconvenient” to do this. So the big open question is whether we have an attorney general who enforces the law, or a Democratic version of Alberto Gonzales. That will become apparent soon enough.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

CIA Official: No Proof Harsh Techniques Stopped Terror Attacks

by Mark Seibel and Warren P. Strobel

WASHINGTON - The CIA inspector general in 2004 found that there was no conclusive proof that waterboarding or other harsh interrogation techniques helped the Bush administration thwart any "specific imminent attacks," according to recently declassified Justice Department memos.

Protestors hold signs against torture during a testimony of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington April 23, 2009. Holder said on Thursday he was considering forming a financial fraud task force and that a "more comprehensive" view was needed. REUTERS/Yuri GripasThat undercuts assertions by former vice president Dick Cheney and other former Bush administration officials that the use of harsh interrogation tactics including waterboarding, which is widely considered torture, was justified because it headed off terrorist attacks.

The risks and effectiveness of waterboarding and other enhanced techniques are at the center of an increasingly heated debate over how thoroughly to investigate the CIA's secret detention and interrogation programs.

"It is difficult to quantify with confidence and precision the effectiveness of the program," Steven G. Bradbury, then the Justice Department's principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a May 30, 2005, memo to CIA General Counsel John Rizzo, one of four released last week by the Obama administration.

"As the IG Report notes, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks. And because the CIA has used enhanced techniques sparingly, 'there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness'," Bradbury wrote, quoting the IG report.

Nevertheless, Bradbury concluded in his May 2005 memos that the program had been effective, although the still secret reports by Inspector General John Helgerson had been disseminated a full year earlier.

Helgerson also concluded that waterboarding was riskier than officials claimed and reported that the CIA's Office of Medical Services thought that the risk to the health of some prisoners outweighed any potential intelligence benefit, according to the memos.

The IG's report is among several indications that the Bush administration's use of abusive interrogation methods was less productive than some former administration officials have claimed.

Even some of those in the military who developed the techniques warned that the information they produced was "less reliable" than that gained by traditional psychological measures, and that using them would produce an "intolerable public and political backlash when discovered," according to a Senate Armed Services Committee report released on Tuesday.

President Bush told a September 2006 news conference that one plot, to attack a Los Angeles office tower, was "derailed" in early 2002 - before the harsh CIA interrogation measures were approved, contrary to those who claim that waterboarding revealed it.

Last December, FBI Director Robert Mueller told Vanity Fair magazine that he didn't believe that intelligence gleaned from abusive interrogation techniques had disrupted any attacks on America.

The New York Times first reported Helgerson's inspector general's report in November 2005, but details of its contents have remained secret. A version of the report that the CIA turned over to the ACLU in May 2008 in response to a lawsuit consisted primarily of heavy black lines and notations of sections that had been redacted.

A CIA spokesman said Friday that he knew of no plans to release a more complete version.

Jameel Jaffer, the director of the ACLU's National Security Project, said the declassification of the Helgerson report is the subject of a court case before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We hope that we'll be able to negotiate a less redacted version of that report," Jaffer said, adding that the release of the Justice Department memos has increased pressure for more revelations.

"It's a crucial document," he said. "It will shed light on what kind of measures the CIA was using before August 2002" and whether they exceeded limits imposed by the Justice Department lawyers.

Two of the memos declassified last week, however, cite the IG report at least 34 times, often quoting it verbatim. Those citations provide the first glimpse of the spy agency's inspector general's analysis of the interrogation program.

The Bradbury memos that cite the inspector general's report reveal that officials at CIA headquarters insisted on the repeated waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, the first prisoner to undergo the technique, even after the interrogators on the scene sought to discontinue the technique.

"According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have information," Bradbury wrote in his May 30, 2005, memo. "On at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques.

"On that occasion," Bradbury continued, "although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information . . . . At the direction of CIA headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah."

Bradbury wrote that CIA headquarters dispatched officials to observe that waterboarding session. After that session, "these officials reported that enhanced techniques were no longer needed," Bradbury wrote, citing the IG report.

Bradbury's May 2005 memos authorized both waterboarding and a technique called "walling," in which a prisoner is pushed against a plywood wall, but stressed that the Justice Department was doing so only so long as interrogators stuck to the procedures the CIA had outlined to the Justice Department. "Our analysis assumes adherence to these descriptions and limitations," Bradbury noted in the May 10, 2005, memo.

The memos, however, also suggest that interrogators went beyond what the Justice Department initially authorized in an Aug. 1, 2002, memo by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee.

Quoting IG Helgerson's report, then-deputy assistant attorney general Bradbury noted that in addition to waterboarding Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times, some prisoners had been subjected to walling "20 to 30 times consecutively."

"We previously concluded that the use of the waterboard did not constitute torture," Bradbury wrote in a May 10, 2005 memo. "We must reexamine the issue, however, because the technique, as it would be used, could involve more applications in longer sessions (and possibly using different methods) than we earlier considered."

As for walling, Bradbury wrote in the same May 10 memo that the Justice Department's initial 2002 authorization of walling "did not describe the walling technique as involving the number of repetitions that we understand may be applied."

Despite the information from the IG's report, Bradbury subsequently concluded that the techniques weren't torture.

Among the other details in the IG's report revealed in the Justice Department memos:

_ Contrary to Bush administration's insistence that waterboarding carried few risks and that medical concerns were a priority, the CIA didn't initially seek the help of medical professionals in setting up or carrying out the procedure.

"OMS (the CIA's Office of Medical Services) was neither consulted nor involved in the initial analysis of the risk and benefits of (enhanced interrogation techniques)," Bradbury wrote in his May 10, 2005, memo, quoting from the IG's report.

_ The Bush administration erred by depending on a military training program, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, (SERE) to assess the risks that a suspected terrorist might face when being waterboarded.

"Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program," Bradbury wrote, borrowing from the IG report's conclusion.

_ Waterboarding terrorist suspects also differed substantially from its limited use in the SERE program.

Quoting from the IG report, Bradbury wrote, "The waterboard technique . . . was different from the technique described in the DOJ opinion and used in the SERE training . . . At the SERE school . . . the subject's airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator . . . applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose."

Bradbury said the inspector general reported: "OMS contends that the expertise of the SERE psychologist/interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant."

After the medical services office became involved in the possible use of waterboarding - a step that didn't occur until after the inspector general's report was issued, according to the memos - the technique wasn't used again.

Waterboarding was rejected in the case of a prisoner who was believed to be a courier between Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist in Iraq, because the suspected courier was obese and complained of chest pressure, even though the CIA thought he might have critical information about plans to disrupt the 2004 U.S. presidential election, according to the memos.

The OMS issued guidelines in December 2004 setting out that the use of the waterboard required the presence of a physician," Bradbury wrote. Those guidelines, however, were issued more than a year and a half after the last known CIA use of waterboarding.

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

Torture Twister: Why Democrats Own Torture, Too

Torture Twister: Why Democrats Own Torture, Too

by Kristen Breitweiser

Once again, it would seem that the Bush Administration and their minions will be permitted to wipe the slate clean of their past criminal acts. This time around it will be for torture.

Republicans are not stupid, folks. When they intend to stretch the parameters of power, break the law, do bad or even evil things, they are smart enough to take along some hostages. And sadly, during the Bush years, those hostages too often included enough Democrats to ensure the Republicans' speedy, slippery getaway from the crime and any future liability tied to it.

The first time around when it came to bearing responsibility for starting the war in Iraq (a pre-emptive, illegal war that had no justification) Bush Republicans exonerated themselves by saying that Congress voted for the war and, therefore, bore equal responsibility for it.

Everybody's at fault, therefore nobody's at fault. Nifty little argument that apparently worked when it came to the war in Iraq.

After all, nobody was truly held accountable for the thousands killed, hundreds of thousands wounded, billions spent, and bad reputation we Americans encumbered ourselves with since the debacle known as Iraq.

Yet, in all fairness, back in 2002-03 too many Democrats were actually stunned, silent, and blindly willing to follow along to get along. Readily painting their hands red with blood and eagerly blindfolding their eyes in the process. And shouldn't Democrats take a lesson and learn from that? Wise up a bit, if you will. I mean, was their support of the invasion of Iraq due to their own true conviction for pre-emptive war? I doubt it. Or was their vote cast because it was politically expedient? Seems more likely. Or maybe because they were just plain-old scared? For whatever reason, how did all those votes turn out for the Democrats in the end? Not well.

Sadly, too few Democratic (and Republican) Senators and Congressmen took the time to actually read the classified reports discussing the "real" threat posed by WMD. Just like far too many were disinterested in really getting to the bottom of the horrible, swirling rumors of unlawful and inhumane torture of enemy combatants and/or the illegal wiretapping allegedly being carried out within the US. These were all ripe and worthy issues that were screaming for oversight during the Bush years. And yet they were, for the most part, left alone.

Too many Congressmen and Senators--both Democrat and Republican-- were negligent in their duties and merely followed the advice of their young staffers, their political strategists, and their party "leadership." They mechanically fell in line. Some blamed being in the helpless minority for their inaction. What could they do? They weren't in power. Others claimed that to do anything otherwise would be unpatriotic. Leaders they were not.

Now with the advent of the Obama Administration, we find renewed calls for an investigation into the acts of torture that were authorized and committed during the Bush years. Indeed, for a few days it seemed as if the threat of very real accountability--maybe even criminal liability--loomed on the horizon. Not so fast.

Once again we find Republicans with their backs against the wall, parading their poor, pathetic Democrat hostages, anew. All over the news, it's the same mantra and veiled threat: But the Democrats knew about it, too. The Democrats have blood on their hands, too. If you prosecute us, then you have to prosecute them, too.

And with dutiful tail between the legs, we find Democrats one by one shrinking off into the background. Changing the subject, their story, their role in it, and even their interest in getting to the bottom of it. Shameful, really.

When are the Democrats going to learn? Get a backbone? And stop being held hostage?

Look, a lot of really bad things went down and went wrong during the Bush years. Unbridled, unchecked, and unconstitutional Executive Power is a BAD thing. And admittedly, far too many Democrats (and American citizens, and journalists, too, for that matter) sat idly back either too afraid to speak out or too willing to go along. But when the facts bear out, these Democrats and others will own a vastly smaller amount of responsibility than those who stood behind the creation of it all. Democrats need to remember this in answering the current, clarion call for an investigation into the torture practices and procedures employed by the Bush Administration.

Torture: "It's Perfectly Legal -- But We Don't Do It"

Torture: "It's Perfectly Legal -- But We Don't Do It"

by Joseph A. Palermo

Liz and Dick Cheney, Bill Bennett, Ari Fleischer, and countless other commentators have saturated the public airwaves of late ever since the Obama Administration decided to make public the Bush torture memos. These apologists for war crimes have been jawboning the issue from every conceivable angle. Why are these barbarians who defend torturing other human beings appearing on my television and radio? So far, the arguments I've heard in favor of torturing people are the following:

1). They say "it's not torture" because these same techniques were used on American servicemen as part of their "Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape" (SERE) training and, as Liz Cheney told Campbell Brown on CNN, "We didn't torture our own servicemen."

But the SERE training was designed to give American servicemen skills to counter Chinese communist torture practices through resisting and learning to endure them. So the United States, by aping the Chinese' techniques and applying them to our own prisoners, is really guilty of the same types of torture the Chinese practiced, which the U.S. condemned at the time as illegal and barbaric.

2). They say "it's not torture" because waterboarding, the harshest of the Bush-approved interrogation techniques, is only a "quick" and "painless" way to disorient a subject like an open-fingered face slap. It leaves no lasting physical or psychological effects.

Although Sean Hannity and Christopher Hitchens are free to volunteer to be waterboarded in an effort to trivialize its status as "torture" but American servicemen faced court martial for waterboarding Filipinos and Vietnamese, and Japanese soldiers were executed for doing it to Americans, and sheriffs faced criminal prosecution for doing it. And American interrogators waterboarded the "high value" terrorist suspect Khalid Sheik Muhammed (KSM) 183 times in one month, averaging about six times a day, and Abu Zubaydah got waterboarded a total of eighty-three times. We've heard little public discussion about the effects of these techniques being used together or in tandem along with eleven days of sleep deprivation.

3). They say "it's not torture" because Bush said unequivocally "the U.S. does not torture."

But these statements from Bush and other former officials are simply lies to cover up what they know was a criminal act. If it were not against the law there'd be no need to lie about it. In effect, they're saying: "It's perfectly legal -- but we don't do it."

4). They say their "enhanced interrogation techniques" are "lawful" because the professional lawyers were careful to limit the duration of each technique and took great pains to ensure each technique did not violate the law.

But these "lawyers" are nothing by legal quacks who cooked up their dreary documents under a veil of secrecy. These torture memos were not peer-reviewed by their colleagues or evaluated by any judge. There "legal opinions" were pure sophistry and the lawyers who drew them up knew they would never hold up in court or with their peers or with the public.

5). They say it was not unlawful because the Commander-in-Chief ordered it in a "time of war." (John Yoo was particularly fond of this argument.)

But the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the leadership of the United States military advised against using these new techniques and preferred to rely on the Army Field Manual instead of the Bush Justice Department. There was no declaration of war and even in "war time" the President does not have the right to break the law. This argument is just a repackaging of Richard Nixon's old adage: "If the President does it then it's not illegal."

6). They say that it was lawful because leading Democrats in Congress were "fully" briefed about these new interrogation techniques and raised no objections.

But the very limited briefings the Bush Administration offered Congress were consistent with Dick Cheney's contempt for that body and were thin on details. Besides, under the intelligence committee guidelines members of Congress who are briefed with classified information cannot go public or even share it with their own staffs (in fear of leaks). So what were these Congressional leaders expected to do? And if we're asked to put the green-lighting of torture in the context of the emergency of 9-11 and the desire of preventing another attack doesn't that argument also apply to the Congressional leaders who were briefed? And if Democrats were complicit in covering up the crime of torture who said they should be immune to prosecution because of their party affiliation? Any Democratic member of Congress who was involved in covering up these crimes should be prosecuted along with any member of the Bush Administration who did so. This is not a "partisan" issue.

7). They say these NOT-torture techniques are legitimate in any case because they "worked." Cheney claims that "we" got "actionable intelligence" from the information from these "harsh" interrogations.

But this line of reasoning sounds like just another lie to cover up the original crime. We need to see the real concrete proof that torturing suspects provided intelligence personnel with anything other than gibberish. They say that their torture "saved lives." Prove it. Besides, this is like hearing practitioners of genocide argue that it is legitimate because it "worked."

8). They say it's not torture because these were good men with the best of intentions operating in a difficult emergency environment and were aiming to save American lives.

But the road to hell is paved with good intentions and the end does not justify the means.

9). They say the post-9-11 emergency environment, complete with "chatter" about another attack, influenced their reasoning so we mustn't question it now in a period of relative calm but put ourselves in their shoes back then.

But it is precisely in times of crisis and turmoil when we need most to stand firm behind our values and honor our laws and customs. Bush said the terrorists attacked us because "they hate our freedom" and then he turned around and threw away any semblance of morality and violated the honor and protections of our freedom: the rule of law.

10). They say it wasn't torture because physicians and psychologists carefully monitored the situation.

But it is the physicians and psychologists who so violated their professional ethics who should be prosecuted first for playing a role in this illegal torture activity, not praised for their participation.

Finally, Liz Cheney told Campbell Brown on CNN that because Al Qaeda would "cut off an American's head" if they took him prisoner we shouldn't worry about torture making it more likely that U.S. personnel might be tortured in return. So, this daughter of Dick, found Al Qaeda's practices to be an acceptable moral referent; she was arguing, in effect, that the United States should become more like Al Qaeda instead of fighting to preserve our differences. Or, like Rummy before her, she was saying that we all should pat ourselves on the back because we only torture people instead of cutting their fucking heads off.

Now, I just want to make two points:

1). The Torture was Racist

This American torturing of dark-skinned Arab and Afghan prisoners was inherently racist. They never would have considered treating white northern Europeans like this with all the forced nudity, "confinement boxes," waterboarding, and all the other kinky and sadistic abuses. It just never would have happened -- (unless, of course, you can picture in your mind Lyndie England stacking up in a pyramid a bunch of naked Norwegians).

2). The Torture Stripped the United States of the Moral High Ground

American officials and representatives of the U.S. government forfeited the right to criticize or raise objections internationally of the human rights records and violations of other regimes and organizations -- including the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The United States practicing torture undermined all the efforts of torture victims and human rights activists all over the world. In fact, the Bush Administration put the lives at risk of anyone who is fighting authoritarian regimes in the name of human rights. Former authoritarian government officials who might now be in custody awaiting trial for committing torture can use the U.S. example as they fashion their defense: "The End Justifies the Means." And all the thugs and murderers and torturers around the globe can now point to the United States and say: "We too are torturing for our national security; we too got 'actionable' intelligence from our enemies; we too have the best of intentions; we too are operating in a state of emergency." All of the torturers from the world's worst, most brutal regimes can now rise up and proclaim their solidarity with the United States: "We Are All Americans Now!"

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Crime That Cannot Be Wiped Away

by Laurence M. Vance

One of the great tragedies of history is that too many men have been all too willing to kill for the state. Even worse is that most of the killing has taken place in senseless and unjust wars.

Regardless of who orders them into battle, regardless of whether they are drafted, and regardless of the reasons they are told the war is necessary, it is the soldiers who do the actual fighting, maiming, and killing. This has been true throughout history.

Even if we accept Hannah Arendt’s principle that "in general the degree of responsibility increases as we draw further away from the man who uses the fatal instrument with his own hands," the soldiers at the bottom still bear diffused responsibility for their actions. Responsibility is not all concentrated in the state’s leaders.

To soothe their consciences as they kill and plunder for the state, soldiers justify their acts of death and destruction by the doctrine of concentrated responsibility. This is the idea that the responsibility for the murder and mayhem we call war is concentrated in the sovereign or the heads of state responsible for ordering the troops into battle. This has also been true throughout history.

We can see this in Shakespeare’s play Henry V, written about 1599, which deals with events surrounding the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 – an English victory against the French in the Hundred Years’ War. In scene 1 of act 4, King Henry disguises himself and wanders about the English camp on the night before the battle begins.

Three soldiers – Bates, Court, and Williams – are standing around talking when they are approached by the king in disguise.

Court: "Brother John Bates is not that the morning which breaks yonder?"

Bates: "I think it be: but we have no great cause to desire the approach of day."

Williams: "We see yonder the beginning of the day, but I think we shall never see the end of it. Who goes there?"

King Henry V: "A friend."

Williams: "Under what captain serve you?"

King Henry V: "Under Sir Thomas Erpingham."

Williams: "A good old commander and a most kind gentleman: I pray you, what thinks he of our estate?"

King Henry V: "Even as men wrecked upon a sand, that look to be washed off the next tide."

Bates: "He hath not told his thought to the king?"

King Henry V: "No; nor it is not meet he should. For, though I speak it to you, I think the king is but a man, as I am: the violet smells to him as it doth to me: the element shows to him as it doth to me; all his senses have but human conditions: his ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and though his affections are higher mounted than ours, yet, when they stoop, they stoop with the like wing. Therefore when he sees reason of fears, as we do, his fears, out of doubt, be of the same relish as ours are: yet, in reason, no man should possess him with any appearance of fear, lest he, by showing it, should dishearten his army."

Bates: "He may show what outward courage he will; but I believe, as cold a night as ’tis, he could wish himself in Thames up to the neck; and so I would he were, and I by him, at all adventures, so we were quit here."

King Henry V: "By my troth, I will speak my conscience of the king: I think he would not wish himself any where but where he is."

Bates: "Then I would he were here alone; so should he be sure to be ransomed, and a many poor men's lives saved."

King Henry V: "I dare say you love him not so ill, to wish him here alone, howsoever you speak this to feel other men’s minds: methinks I could not die any where so contented as in the king’s company; his cause being just and his quarrel honourable."

Williams: "That’s more than we know."

Bates: "Ay, or more than we should seek after; for we know enough, if we know we are the kings subjects: if his cause be wrong, our obedience to the king wipes the crime of it out of us."

Williams: "But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all ‘We died at such a place;’ some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection."

King Henry V: "So, if a son that is by his father sent about merchandise do sinfully miscarry upon the sea, the imputation of his wickedness by your rule, should be imposed upon his father that sent him: or if a servant, under his master’s command transporting a sum of money, be assailed by robbers and die in many irreconciled iniquities, you may call the business of the master the author of the servant’s damnation: but this is not so: the king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers, the father of his son, nor the master of his servant; for they purpose not their death, when they purpose their services. Besides, there is no king, be his cause never so spotless, if it come to the arbitrement of swords, can try it out with all unspotted soldiers: some peradventure have on them the guilt of premeditated and contrived murder; some, of beguiling virgins with the broken seals of perjury; some, making the wars their bulwark, that have before gored the gentle bosom of peace with pillage and robbery. Now, if these men have defeated the law and outrun native punishment, though they can outstrip men, they have no wings to fly from God: war is his beadle, war is vengeance; so that here men are punished for before-breach of the king’s laws in now the king’s quarrel: where they feared the death, they have borne life away; and where they would be safe, they perish: then if they die unprovided, no more is the king guilty of their damnation than he was before guilty of those impieties for the which they are now visited. Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own. Therefore should every soldier in the wars do as every sick man in his bed, wash every mote out of his conscience: and dying so, death is to him advantage; or not dying, the time was blessedly lost wherein such preparation was gained: and in him that escapes, it were not sin to think that, making God so free an offer, He let him outlive that day to see His greatness and to teach others how they should prepare.

Williams: "’Tis certain, every man that dies ill, the ill upon his own head, the king is not to answer it."

Bates: "But I do not desire he should answer for me; and yet I determine to fight lustily for him."

Nothing has changed. Soldiers think they can have the best of both worlds. They think they can kill with impunity in a just cause and with immunity in an unjust cause. But should some of the king’s soldiers get a little reckless and cause some collateral damage, even though the king, like General Tommy Franks, says "we don’t do body counts," they are the ones who are fully responsible since "the king is not bound to answer the particular endings of his soldiers." And as for soldiers determining to fight lustily for king and crown or for president and government or, as so many of them think, for flag and freedom or for God and country, there has never been a shortage of willing participants.

Are soldiers excused for the death and destruction they cause in an unjust and immoral war, like say, the war in Iraq? Just what is it that excuses them? Because their government tells them to do it? Because their commander in chief tells them to do it? Because their commanding officer tells them to do it? Because they wear a military uniform? Because they need to fight "over there" lest they have to fight "over here"? Because they are defending our freedoms? I have answered all of these questions in the negative here, here, here, here, and here. The terrible truth is that U.S. soldiers in Iraq are fighting and dying for a lie.

In King Henry’s reply to Williams, he eludes taking blame by his elaborate analogy. But Henry is missing something here. Sending soldiers to fight in a foreign war is not the same as a father sending his son or a master sending his servant on a legitimate business trip. Bombing, invading, and occupying other countries, and otherwise fighting foreign wars, are illegitimate – even when done under the guise of defense, liberation, regime change, national interest, national security, or humanitarianism.

There are thousands of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, and thousands more on the way (thanks to the new war criminal in chief) who just a short time ago could neither spell Afghanistan nor locate it on a map. And as far as I know, no Afghan ever lifted a finger against an American until our troops landed on their soil. U.S. soldiers, like most soldiers throughout history, have been duped.

The crime of unjustly killing another human being cannot be wiped away. No matter what his religion, skin color, ethnicity, or nationality. No matter who tells you to drop the bomb, launch the missile, throw the grenade, or pull the trigger. And no matter what kind of uniform you are wearing.

April 24, 2009

Laurence M. Vance writes from Pensacola, FL. He is the author of Christianity and War and Other Essays Against the Warfare State. His newest book is The Revolution that Wasn't. Visit his website.

Copyright © 2009 by Permission to reprint in whole or in part is gladly granted, provided full credit is given.

Torture Used to Try to Link Saddam with 9/11


When I testified last year before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties about Bush interrogation policies, Congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz) stated that former CIA Director Michael Hayden had confirmed that the Bush administration only waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zabaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashirit for one minute each. I told Franks that I didn’t believe that. Sure enough, one of the newly released torture memos reveals that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times and Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. One of Stephen Bradbury’s 2005 memos asserted that “enhanced techniques” on Zubaydah yielded the identification of Mohammed and an alleged radioactive bomb plot by Jose Padilla. But FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated Zubaydah from March to June 2002, wrote in the New York Times that Zubaydah produced that information under traditional interrogation methods, before the harsh techniques were ever used.

Why, then, the relentless waterboarding of these two men? It turns out that high Bush officials put heavy pressure on Pentagon interrogators to get Mohammed and Zubaydah to reveal a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 hijackers, in order to justify Bush’s illegal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq in 2003. That link was never established.

President Obama released the four memos in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU. They describe unimaginably brutal techniques and provide “legal” justification for clearly illegal acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the face of monumental pressure from the CIA to keep them secret, Obama demonstrated great courage in deciding to make the grotesque memos public. At the same time, however, in an attempt to pacify the intelligence establishment, Obama said, “it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”

In startlingly clinical and dispassionate terms, the authors of the newly-released torture memos describe and then rationalize why the devastating techniques the CIA sought to employ on human beings do not violate the Torture Statute (18 U.S.C. sec. 2340).

The memos justify 10 techniques, including banging heads into walls 30 times in a row, prolonged nudity, repeated slapping, dietary manipulation, and dousing with cold water as low as 41 degrees. They allow shackling in a standing position for 180 hours, sleep deprivation for 11 days, confinement of people in small dark boxes with insects for hours, and waterboarding to create the perception they are drowning. Moreover, the memos permit many of these techniques to be used in combination for a 30-day period. They find that none of these techniques constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Waterboarding, admittedly the most serious of the methods, is designed, according to Jay Bybee, to induce the perception of “suffocation and incipient panic, i.e. the perception of drowning.” But although Bybee finds that “the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death,” he accepts the CIA’s claim that it does “not anticipate that any prolonged mental harm would result from the use of the waterboard.” One of Bradbury’s memos requires that a physician be on duty during waterboarding to perform a tracheotomy in case the victim doesn’t recover after being returned to an upright position.

As psychologist Jeffrey Kaye points out, the CIA and the Justice Department “ignored a wealth of other published information” that indicates dissociative symptoms, changes greater than those in patients undergoing heart surgery, and drops in testosterone to castration levels after acute stress associated with techniques that the memos sanction.

The Torture Statute punishes conduct, or conspiracy to engage in conduct, specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. “Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from either the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering, or from the threat of imminent death.

Bybee asserts that “if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.” He makes the novel claim that the presence of personnel with medical training who can stop the interrogation if medically necessary “indicates that it is not your intent to cause severe physical pain.”

Now a federal judge with lifetime appointment, Bybee concludes that waterboarding does not constitute torture under the Torture Statute. However, he writes, “we cannot predict with confidence whether a court would agree with this conclusion.”

Bybee’s memo explains why the 10 techniques could be used on Abu Zubaydah, who was considered to be a top Al Qaeda operative. “Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from [the CIA’s] proposed interrogation methods,” the CIA told Bybee. But Zubaydah was a low-ranking Al Qaeda operative, according to leading FBI counter-terrorism expert Dan Coleman, who advised a top FBI official, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.” This was reported by Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine.

The CIA’s request to confine Zubaydah in a cramped box with an insect was granted by Bybee, who told the CIA it could place a harmless insect in the box and tell Zubaydah that it will sting him but it won’t kill him. Even though the CIA knew that Zubaydah had an irrational fear of insects, Bybee found there would be no threat of severe physical pain or suffering if it followed this procedure.

Obama’s intent to immunize those who violated our laws banning torture and cruel treatment violates the President’s constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

U.S. law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and requires that those who subject people to such treatment be prosecuted. The Convention against Torture compels us to refer all torture cases for prosecution or extradite the suspect to a country that will undertake a criminal investigation.

Obama has made a political calculation to seek amnesty for the CIA torturers. However, good faith reliance on superior orders was rejected as a defense at Nuremberg and in Lt. Calley’s Vietnam-era trial for the My Lai Massacre. The Torture Convention provides unequivocally, “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture.”

There is evidence that the CIA was using the illegal techniques as early as April 2002, three to four months before the August memo was written. That would eliminate “good faith” reliance on Justice Department advice as a “defense” to prosecution.

The Senate IntelligenceCommittee revealed that Condoleezza Rice approved waterboarding in July 17, 2002 “subject to a determination of legality by the OLC.” She got it two weeks later from Bybee and John Yoo. Rice, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and George Tenet reassured the CIA in spring 2003 that the abusive methods were legal.

Obama told AP’s Jennifer Loven in the Oval Office: “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don't want to prejudge that.” If Holder continues to carry out Obama’s political agenda by resisting investigations and prosecution, Congress can, and should, authorize the appointment of a special independent prosecutor to do what the law requires.

The President must fulfill his constitutional duty to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. Obama said that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” He is wrong. There is more to gain from upholding the rule of law. It will make future leaders think twice before they authorize the cruel, illegal treatment of other human beings.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild and author of Cowboy Republic. and co-author of the new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. Her articles are archived at