One of the worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told itself about the torture debate is that the controversy is limited to three cases of waterboarding at Guantánamo and a handful of bad Republican actors. In fact, a wide array of torture techniques were approved at the highest levels of the U.S. Government and then systematically employed in lawless US prisons around the world – at Bagram (including during the Obama presidency), CIA black sites, even to US citizens on US soil. So systematic was the torture regime that a 2008 Senate report concluded that the criminal abuses at Abu Ghraib were the direct result of the torture mentality imposed by official Washington.
American torture was not confined to a handful of aberrational cases or techniques, nor was it the work of rogue CIA agents. It was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress. It was motivated by far more than interrogation. The evidence for all of this is conclusive and overwhelming. And the American media bears much of the blame, as they refused for years even to use the word “torture” to describe any of this (even as they called these same techniques “torture” when used by American adversaries), a shameful and cowardly abdication that continues literally to this day in many of the most influential outlets.
The Senate Intelligence Committee today will release part of its “torture report.” The report is the by-product of four years of work (2009-2013) and is 6,000 pages long. Only the Executive Summary, roughly 600 pages, will be released today. Even some of that is redacted: the names of CIA agents participating in the torture, countries which agreed to allow CIA black sites, and other details. For months, top Democrats on the Committee warred with the Obama White House due to the latter’s attempts to redact far more vital information than even stalwart CIA ally Dianne Feinstein thought necessary.
None of this has been in any plausible doubt for years. Recall that Gen. Antonio Taguba, who led an official investigation into prisoner abuse, said in 2008: “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.” Gen. Barry McCaffrey said : “We tortured people unmercifully. We probably murdered dozens of them during the course of that, both the armed forces and the CIA.” Nobody needs this Senate report to demonstrate that the U.S. government became an official squad of torture (with the American public largely on board).
Still, this will be by far the most comprehensive and official account of the War on Terror’s official torture regime. Given the authors – Committee Democrats along with two Maine Senators: Angus King (I) and Susan Collins (R) – it’s likely to whitewash critical events, including the key, complicit role members of Congress such as Nancy Pelosi played in approving the program (important details of which are still disputed), as well an attempt to insulate the DC political class by stressing how the CIA “misled” elected officials about the program. But the report is certain to lay bare in very stark terms some of the torture methods, including “graphic details about sexual threats” and what Reuters still euphemistically and subserviently calls “other harsh interrogation techniques the CIA meted out to captured militants.”
Important parts of the Obama administration engaged in all sorts of gamesmanship to prevent the report’s release, including a last-minute call from John Kerry to Feinstein in which the Secretary of State warned that release of the report could endanger American lives (a warning affirmed yesterday by the White House) And a vital part of President Obama’s legacy will be his repeated and ultimately successful efforts to shield the torturers from all forms of legal accountability – which, aside from being a brazen breach of America’s treaty obligations, makes deterrence of future American torture almost impossible (Obama did that even in the face of some polls showing pluralities favored criminal investigations of torture).
To see how little accountability there still is for national security state officials, recall that the CIA got caught spying on the Senate Committee and then lying about it, yet John Brennan kept his job as CIA Director (just as James Clapper is still Director of National Intelligence despite getting caught lying about NSA domestic spying). Any decent person, by definition, would react with revulsion to today’s report, but nobody should react with confidence that its release will help prevent future occurrences by a national security state that resides far beyond democratic accountability, let alone the law.
The Intercept will have comprehensive coverage of the report throughout the day. We’ll have full annotations of the report; graphical guides to the key parts; reporting in Washington from Dan Froomkin, who has been covering the report for months, and other reporters; and I’ll be live-blogging key parts of the report and other fallout in this space all day, appearing, in reverse chronological order, underneath these initial observations.
Torture used to extract false information to justify Iraq War
Buried in footnote 857 of the report is this remarkable account of how the CIA rendered a detainee to an unknown country, had him tortured, and then used the false information he provided about Saddam’s WMDs and “alliance” with al Qaeda to justify the U.S. attack, including information used by Colin Powell at his notorious 2003 U.N. speech (via Sam Husseini):
This is simply repulsive, for reasons that speak for itself (contributed by The Intercept‘s Margot Williams):
When releasing the report, Dianne Feinstein delivered a speech that contained some rather stark accusations against the CIA. My colleague Peter Maass wrote the following summation of the highlights:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, unveiling the report on the floor of the Senate, described the CIA’s use of torture as “a stain on our values and our history,” and she issued a particularly harsh condemnation of one of the agency’s former directors, Michael Hayden, whom she said had misled her committee and the public.
Referring to the contrast between what CIA cables said about the actual interrogations and Hayden’s portrayal of the interrogations, Feinstein said the CIA’s own documents “presented a starkly different picture from Director Hayden’s testimony before the committee.” She added, “I remember clearly when Director Hayden briefed the committee (and) referred specifically to a ‘tummy slap’… and presented the entire set of techniques as minimally harmful….They were not. The committee’s report demonstrates that these techniques were very harmful and that the constraints that existed on paper in Washington did not match the way the techniques were used around the world.”
Feinstein also accused Hayden of misleading the committee by saying the CIA had decided to destroy videotapes of interrogations because Congress had not requested them. “Director Hayden stated that if the committee had asked for the tapes they would have been provided–but of course the committee did not know the tapes existed,” Feinstein said.
In addition, Feinstein said the agency misled and provided false information to Department of Justice officials who were investigating whether the CIA program was legal. It is not clear whether her statements indicate a desire on her part for the DOJ to reopen its now-closed investigation.
“The CIA provided inaccurate memoranda and explanations to the Department of Justice while its legal counsel was considering the legality of the coercive techniques,” Feinstein said, noting that the DOJ relied on CIA assurances about the conduct of interrogations that were not “consistently or even routinely carried out” in the actual interrogations. She added that “in many cases important information was withheld from policy makers” for years—and she provided specifics:
“The CIA didn’t tell President Bush about the full nature of the [enhanced interrogation techniques] until April 2006. That’s what the records indicate. The CIA similarly withheld information or provided false information to the CIA inspector general…in 2004. Incomplete and inaccurate information was used in documents provided to the Department of Justice and as a basis for President Bush’s speech on September 6, 2006, in which he publicly acknowledged the CIA program for the first time. In all of these cases, other CIA officers acknowledged internally that information the CIA provided was wrong.”
The CIA’s obstruction continued until recently, Feinstein added, with the agency requesting redactions to the Senate report that were apparently intended to weaken its impact, rather than keep out of the public realm classified information that was legitimately sensitive. “The [requested] redactions to our report prevented a clear and understandable reading of our study and prevented us from substantiating the findings and conclusions…we objected.”
Look Forward, Not Backward, the leader instructs again
Barack Obama – who notoriously protected all torturers from all forms of legal accountability based on his lawless, repellent and selectively applied decree that we should Look Forward, Not Backward – today said much the same thing in response to this report:
In August, he acknowledged – with casual language more suitable to describing a purchase of new socks – that “we tortured some folks,” but warned us not to get “too sanctimonious” about it. So if you’re feeling sickened and outraged by today’s revelations, just listen to the President: stop Looking Backward and being sanctimonious, and just forget about all this unpleasant business about torture – just like he did.
Pure sadism: “Rectal rehydration,” threats to rape and kill detainees’ mothers
The U.S. media – beyond what I explained above (most would not even call it “torture”) – played a central role in first obscuring, then justifying, the Bush torture regime to the public. One of the most extreme examples was this Joe Klein column in The Guardian viciously mocking those who claimed the U.S. was torturing detainees (“total rubbish, of course”), and he even wrote this about detainees:
They wear orange jump suits, which are probably an improvement over their Afghan cave-wear (I would actually prefer they be dressed in pink tutus, to give them an appreciation of the freedoms accorded western ballerinas).
Liberal journalist Jonathan Alter wrote a Newsweek column expressly demanding that the U.S. Government use torture, headlined “Time to Think About Torture.” It began: “In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to … torture.”
Now we have new examples. Today’s Senate Committee report describes how Douglas Jehl, then a New York Times reporter, now The Washington Post‘s Foreign Editor, promised the CIA positive coverage of its torture program (a common practice among some DC national security reporters):
My colleague Dan Froomkin emails to say:
Many of the same news organizations you are trusting today to accurately inform you about the torture report were either naive or knowing dupes in a CIA misinformation campaign orchestrated by top CIA officials, that included leaks of information that was amazingly enough both classified and inaccurate at the same time.Finding No. 10 of the summary reads as follows:
Moments after the report was issued, Marco Rubio tweeted this in defense of CIA torture:
Yesterday, the very same Marco Rubio boasted of his efforts to impose sanctions on “human rights violators” in Venezuela:
Does anyone at all have any difficulty seeing why few people outside the U.S. media take seriously the lectures of the Leader of the Free World?
This is not only a profound and disgraceful violation of all professional ethics, but also a perfect illustration of what the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer calls “the torture-industrial complex”, as those torture psychologists received contracts totaling $81 million as part of their outsourced work:
CIA leaked classified information to the media for propaganda purposes
For all the claims in Washington about how leaking classified information is destructive and criminal, the CIA – consistent with what the Obama administration frequently does – routinely leaked classified information to the media to propagandize about their torture program. Will there be any criminal investigations the way there are when whistleblowers leak information that embarrasses (rather than serves) the government? Yes, that’s a rhetorical question:
-Glenn Greenwald at 11:55 a.m. EST
More waterboarding, and more brutal, than previously known
Innocent people detained and tortured
From Dianne Feinstein’s summary of the report: