Category Archives: torture

Just Folks

Right-wingers have called for the fainting couches because President Obama used the word “folks” when discussing post-9/11 torture. Specifically, he said,

“We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks.”

It apepars Obama’s use of the word “folks” has right-wingers more upset than the actual torture. Last night on Real Time With Bill Maher the Token Conservative™ derided Obama’s use of the word as “glib,” while Dan Froomkin Tweeted that it was a “malapropism” and inappropriate:

That’s just a sampling of the outrage, you can ask the Great Gazoogle for more.

Meanwhile, let’s take a trip into the Memory Hole and go back to Sept. 11, 2001 and President Bush’s very first comments about the tragedy while he was still at Booker Elementary School reading My Pet Goat:

I have spoken to the Vice President, to the Governor of New York, to the Director of the FBI, and have ordered that the full resources of the federal government go to help the victims and their families, and — and to conduct a full-scale investigation to hunt down and to find those folks who committed this act.

This was just minutes after the attacks. But the attackers were “folks.” I wonder if Dan Froomkin and the rest called for the fainting couches back then?

But by all means, let’s continue to attack Obama for using the word “folks,” not the Bush Administration for their actual torture policy. Our discourse in this country is so stupid.


Filed under 9/11, conservatives, President Barack Obama, President Bush, torture

War Crimes

[UPDATE]: has more….


I know, I know … the Bush Administration’s war crimes are so passe. Who cares! Get over it, hippie! So, just as Curveball’s latest confession that he completely fabricated the Saddam Hussein-WMD story has caused nary a ripple in the U.S. media’s constant election coverage, I’m sure the largely-unredacted release of Philip Zelikow’s 2006 torture memo won’t register, either. Zelikow was a senior advisor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and a strong critic of the Bush Administration’s authorization of torture. You can read his full memo warning that the use of torture is illegal here.

From the story:

Zelikow wrote that a law passed that year by Congress, restricting interrogation techniques, meant the “situation has now changed.” Both legally and as a matter of policy, he advised, administration officials were endangering both CIA interrogators and the reputation of the United States by engaging in extreme interrogations — even those that stop short of torture.

“We are unaware of any precedent in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here,” Zelikow wrote, “even where the prisoners were presumed to be unlawful combatants.”

Other “advanced governments that face potentially catastrophic terrorist dangers” have “abandoned several of the techniques in question here,” Zelikow’s memo writes. The State Department blacked out a section of text that apparently listed those governments.

“Coercive” interrogation methods “least likely to be sustained” by judges were “the waterboard, walling, dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement,” Zelikow advised, “especially [when] viewed cumulatively.” (Most CIA torture regimens made use of multiple torture techniques.) “Those most likely to be sustained are the basic detention conditions and, in context, the corrective techniques, such as slaps.”

The Obama Administration doesn’t get a pass on any of this, either, coming to the same conclusion as the Bush Administration regarding torture. I find this interesting:

Zelikow’s warnings about the legal dangers of torture went unheeded — not just by the Bush administration, which ignored them, but, ironically, by the Obama administration, which effectively refuted them. In June, the Justice Department concluded an extensive inquiry into CIA torture by dropping potential charges against agency interrogators in 99 out of 101 cases of detainee abuse. That inquiry did not examine criminal complicity for senior Bush administration officials who designed the torture regimen and ordered agency interrogators to implement it.

“I don’t know why Mr. Durham came to the conclusions he did,” Zelikow says, referring to the Justice Department special prosecutor for the CIA torture inquiry, John Durham. “I’m not impugning them, I just literally don’t know why, because he never published any details about either the factual analysis or legal analysis that led to those conclusions.”

Here’s a wild-haired tinfoil hat conspiracy theory for you: I have a friend who is convinced that the Obama Administration cut a deal with the Republican Party. The deal was that the GOP would not field any viable presidential candidate in 2012. In return, the Obama Administration wouldn’t prosecute any Bush Administration officials over the faulty intelligence that led to the Iraq War, their use of torture against detainees, etc.

Sounds crazy, I know — especially when you remember that Mitt Romney could easily win in November, what with all of the voter intimidation tactics, the river of money buying this election, the shaky economy, etc. But it’s an interesting theory.

The Bush Administration set the bar to a new low regarding human rights. This is a legacy we’ll be living with for a long, long time. I think this is one of those things they’ll be making movies about in 50 years, the way we look back with horror on the McCarthy hearings. The fact that no one seems interested in even discussing it right now strikes me as a collective admission of guilt by the American people. We know we were wrong, let’s just sweep it all under the rug. No need to worry our beautiful minds about it … yet.


Filed under Bush Administration, Condolezza Rice, Iraq War, torture

Don’t Look Under That Rock

Knowledge is power, which is perhaps why our glorious liberal media has ignored this story:

George W. Bush ‘knew Guantánamo prisoners were innocent

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld covered up that hundreds of innocent men were sent to the Guantánamo Bay prison camp because they feared that releasing them would harm the push for war in Iraq and the broader War on Terror, according to a new document obtained by The Times.

The accusations were made by Lawrence Wilkerson, a top aide to Colin Powell, the former Republican Secretary of State, in a signed declaration to support a lawsuit filed by a Guantánamo detainee. It is the first time that such allegations have been made by a senior member of the Bush Administration.

Let’s be clear: this isn’t some hearsay or gossip Wilkerson is spreading to boost book sales. This declaration is significant:

Still, Skinner said Wilkerson’s declaration is signficant because it marks the first time a Bush administration official is willing to state, under oath, that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and others knew many of the prisoners were innocent when they were sent to Guantanamo.

And had them tortured.

I’ve said this before (notably here) that the point of our torture program was not to gain accurate, actionable intelligence. It was to justify war. No one cared that intelligence obtained under torture might be wrong. Who cared? In fact, the more wrong the better (see Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi).

Some folks are calling for a “truth commission.” Screw that shit. I want a special prosecutor. I want subpoenas and frog marches and jail time.

We won’t go there, of course. We’re too candy-assed to look under the high crimes and misdemeanors rock of the Kennedy assassination let alone something that happened five or six years ago.

C’mon, America. What are you scared of? A little justice? A little soul-searching? It would do you some good.


Filed under George W. Bush, Guantanamo, torture, Vice President Dick Cheney

>The David Margolis Memory Hole

>Apparently there is no law that cannot be circumvented if you are really, really scared:

The ethics lawyers, in the Office of Professional Responsibility, concluded that two department lawyers involved in analyzing and justifying waterboarding and other interrogation tactics — Jay S. Bybee, now a federal judge, and John C. Yoo, now a professor at the University of California, Berkeley — had demonstrated “professional misconduct.” It said the lawyers had ignored legal precedents and provided slipshod legal advice to the White House in possible violation of international and federal laws on torture. That report was among the documents made public Friday.

But David Margolis, a career lawyer at the Justice Department, rejected that conclusion in a report of his own released Friday. He said the ethics lawyers, in condemning the lawyers’ actions, had given short shrift to the national climate of urgency in which Mr. Bybee and Mr. Yoo acted after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. “Among the difficulties in assessing these memos now over seven years after their issuance is that the context is lost,” Mr. Margolis said.

So apparently the law is fungible, susceptible to circumstance and the political climate of the times. This is good to know.


The report quotes Patrick Philbin, a senior Justice Department lawyer involved in the review, as saying that because of the urgency of the situation, he had advised Mr. Bybee to sign the memorandum, despite what he saw as Mr. Yoo’s aggressive and problematic interpretation of the president’s broad commander-in-chief powers in trumping international and domestic law.

Mr. Philbin said that “given the situation and the time pressures, and they are telling us this has to be signed tonight — this was like 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock at night on the day it was signed — my conclusion” was that it was permissible for Mr. Bybee to sign the memorandum. “They” apparently referred to White House officials.

So this was the “climate of urgency” Margolis was referring to. Apparently a really urgent deadline, and someone yammering at you that they need this thing right now goddammit! and it being past someone’s bedtime, are also more important than what the document actually says and the specious legal arguments to which it lays claim.

I would say there are some rather obvious flaws to David Margolis’ conclusion. The whole idea that you can commit professional misconduct if the situation is really really urgent is absurd. But I’m sure if anyone were so impolite as to point that out he would just say he was on a really tight deadline, and it was like 9 o’clock or 10 o’clock and his boss was yammering at him to turn the goddamn report in already, and also he was really scared that Liz Cheney would be mean to him on Meet The Press.

Although I just read the piece in yesterday’s New York Times, news of the Margolis report was leaked at the end of January. Jeff Kaye looked into the David Margolis memory hole at the time and found some pretty interesting “skeletons,” including a possible connection to the government’s persecution of Leonard Peltier.

He also may have covered up alleged misconduct by FBI interrogators:

More speculatively, and intriguing, given the claims involved, is Margolis’s involvement in the investigation of a forgotten FBI sting operation against NASA contractors in the early 1990s. Operation Lightning Strike was, according to a Washington Post article at the time, a “20-month Justice Department sting operation focusing on NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston… [resulting] in criminal fraud and bribery charges against nine men and one contractor.”

Later, in 1996, a defense committee was formed to support the “NASA-13”. The committee, in a petition to the U.S. House of Representatives Government Reform and Oversight Committee claimed that the men caught up in the Operation Lightning Strike, some of whom were victims of “’frame-ups’ and torture, to obtain prosecutions.” David Margolis was mentioned as admitting that an OPR investigation into the case was begun in 1994 to look into “investigative and prosecutive misconduct.” However, no results from that report were ever made public. The involvement of Margolis in this case deserves further scrutiny, given it involved serious allegations about coercive interrogations and torture.

There’s more over at the link, including excerpts of this press release claiming torture and “CP”–Coerceive Persuasion, aka “brain washing.”

It gets worse. Harper’s found this:

But “Yoda” Margolis also knows the “dark side” of political intrigue. He was long the man to whom political appointees could turn for protection and guidance when the going got rough, in both Democratic and Republican administrations. For instance, Bloomberg reported that both Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling turned instinctively to Margolis for protection and support when the U.S. attorney’s scandal erupted.

What this means in practice can be seen in dozens of cases involving seriously unethical conduct by political appointees. Margolis has a one-size-fits-all solution for these cases: sweep them under the carpet.


Justice Department insiders also note that Margolis single-handedly blocked efforts to secure a meaningful review of the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don E. Siegelman, after more than 90 attorneys general from around the country advised the Justice Department of a series of gross irregularities. Instead, with Margolis’s apparent knowledge, the Department fired a member of the prosecution team who had blown the whistle on some of the misconduct. (“What the Justice Department is Hiding.”)

As Kaye observed:

Margolis appears to have a long history of involvement in government frame-up and/or obfuscation of internal misconduct by the FBI or Justice Department prosecutors.

It would not surprise me in the least to learn that the FBI and DoJ have a “fixer” at the Justice Department.

Surprises me even less to learn that we’ve possibly been torturing people (and covering it up) for decades.

During the Clinton years I seem to recall an Independent Counsel being appointed for the most ridiculous fauxtroversies, from the death of Vincent Foster to Monica Lewinsky to “Whitewater.” But the Independent Counsel Act was allowed to expire in 1999, which in retrospect seems unfortunate.


Filed under David Margolis, Dept. of Justice, torture

The Horror of Abu Ghraib, Revisited

The Abu Ghraib photos President Obama has suppressed allegedly show prisoners being sexually violated by U.S. troops

At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee.

Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube.

Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts.

Detail of the content emerged from Major General Antonio Taguba, the former army officer who conducted an inquiry into the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq.

Allegations of rape and abuse were included in his 2004 report but the fact there were photographs was never revealed. He has now confirmed their existence in an interview with the Daily Telegraph.

The graphic nature of some of the images may explain the US President’s attempts to block the release of an estimated 2,000 photographs from prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan despite an earlier promise to allow them to be published.

Maj Gen Taguba, who retired in January 2007, said he supported the President’s decision, adding: “These pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency.

“I am not sure what purpose their release would serve other than a legal one and the consequence would be to imperil our troops, the only protectors of our foreign policy, when we most need them, and British troops who are trying to build security in Afghanistan.

“The mere description of these pictures is horrendous enough, take my word for it.”

Will there be no end to the horror that is the Iraq War, the insanity of our misguided exercise there, the fact that everything we’ve touched has turned to shit? Will no one be held accountable for this black spot on our country’s name?

And from the Memory Hole, Rush Limbaugh’s justification of the Abu Ghraib abuses, saying troops were “just blowing off steam”:

“This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we’re going to ruin people’s lives over it, and we’re going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time. You know, these people are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time, these people, you ever heard of emotional release? You [ever] heard of need to blow some steam off?”

Not like this, buddy. Not like this.

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Filed under Iraq War, torture

>Liz & Eugene’s Torture Comedy Hour

>I made a movie!

And now I know why Robert Smigel gets the big bucks.

This is the actual dialogue between Liz Cheney and Eugene Robinson on MSNBC’s Morning Joe–at least until the very end. (see the original here.)

Grateful h/t to The Kenosha Kid for directing me to the xtranormal site!

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Filed under torture

>Rebutting Cheney

>Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, rebuts Dick and Liz Cheney’s lies with a column that appeared in yesterday’s Washington Note. It is an absolute must-read.

Some highlights:

[W]hen Cheney claims that if President Obama stops “the Cheney method of interrogation and torture”, the nation will be in danger, he is perverting the facts once again. But in a very ironic way.

My investigations have revealed to me–vividly and clearly–that once the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in the Spring of 2004, the CIA, its contractors, and everyone else involved in administering “the Cheney methods of interrogation”, simply shut down. Nada. Nothing. No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.

What I am saying is that no torture or harsh interrogation techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator for the entire second term of Cheney-Bush, 2005-2009. So, if we are to believe the protestations of Dick Cheney, that Obama’s having shut down the “Cheney interrogation methods” will endanger the nation, what are we to say to Dick Cheney for having endangered the nation for the last four years of his vice presidency?

Excellent point and one which all of the Cheney lies cannot ignore. Plus, if torture is so good at preventing attacks on the homeland, what kept attacks at bay from 2005-2009? (And let me point out, there have been plenty of terrorist attacks over the past few years. Just not here at home.)

There’s more:

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

This is really the nut of the matter. Cheney and his daughter Liz are doing their damnedest to keep daddy and his friends out of jail.

Meanwhile, in today’s Wall Street Journal Karl Rove does some finger-pointing of his own:

Someone important appears not to be telling the truth about her knowledge of the CIA’s use of enhanced interrogation techniques (EITs). That someone is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. The political persecution of Bush administration officials she has been pushing may now ensnare her.

Here’s what we know. On Sept. 4, 2002, less than a year after 9/11, the CIA briefed Rep. Porter Goss, then House Intelligence Committee chairman, and Mrs. Pelosi, then the committee’s ranking Democrat, on EITs including waterboarding. They were the first members of Congress to be informed.

”EIT’s,” for those of you who haven’t kept up, is the polite way former Bush Administration officials refer to torture.

Of course, the name “Nancy Pelosi” is a Republican dog-whistle for “scary-lesbo-San Francisco-liberal-socialist-vagina.” Somehow this whole mess is supposed to be Nancy Pelosi’s fault but someone needs to remind Karl Rove which party was in power in 2002, and it wasn’t the Democrats. Someone is trying to insinuate that a member of the House Intelligence Committee from the minority party, who was not even House Minority Leader at the time (that was Dick Gephardt) would somehow be able to exert some kind of influence over the Republican Party and its rush to war at a time when we were being told to run out and buy duct tape and plastic sheeting because ZOMG WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!11!!1!!1!

Right. So torture was perfectly OK and if it wasn’t, well, it’s all Nancy Pelosi’s fault. Nice try, buddy.

This is, of course, not even taking into account Pelosi’s own assertions that the CIA misled Congress, which was corroborated by former Sen. Bob Graham.

We still have a lot to pick apart here, but the basic argument–torture works, it’s legal, it’s OK if it’s used to protect Americans, Jack Bauer is real and oh yeah, we didn’t torture anyway–that argument seems to have been lost. And let’s not get distracted by Karl Rove’s “ooh look, shiny sparkly Pelosi thing over there!” ploy.

It’s time to start some serious investigations into criminal activity here.

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Filed under torture, Vice President Dick Cheney

>Tortured Logic

>Sen. Lindsay Graham says that because torture techniques are still around after 500 years, “apparently they work.”

Lindsay Graham: The Vice President is suggesting that there was good information obtained, and I’d like the committee to get that information. Let’s have both sides of the story here. I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work.

Former FBI interrogator Ali Soufan responded, “Because, sir, there’s a lot of people who don’t know how to interrogate, and it’s easier to hit somebody than outsmart them.”

Hey Senator Graham: Here are some other things that have survived for hundreds of years, of dubious efficacy:

• Tossing a pinch of salt over your shoulder after accidentally spilling it.

• Astrology, palm reading, rune stones, reading tea leaves, tarot cards, etc.

Knocking wood to ward off bad luck.

• Wishing on a shooting star.

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Filed under Sen. Lindsay Graham, torture

>Tortured Arguments

>Liz Cheney tries to defend the indefensible, and it’s painful to watch. There’s so much wrong with this clip, it’s hard to know where to start. Really, the whole thing is just awful.

Watch it:

I feel sorry for Eugene Robinson, who at one point seems to throw up his hands because Liz Cheney isn’t making any sense. She’s still living in some wingnut post 9/11 fantasyland, Eugene. Reality does not live there.

One of the worst aaaargh moments starts at 10:45 when Liz Cheney makes what I call the “24” argument. Here’s my written transcription, if you don’t have the time–or blood pressure–to watch the whole clip:

Liz Cheney: Eugene let me ask you a question then. So, if you knew that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had information about an imminent threat on the United States. Information that would result in the death of your family members and the death of the people you care about and love, and that if he were waterboarded you would be able to get that information and prevent the attack, you wouldn’t do it? You’d let him go ahead and launch the attack?

Eugene Robinson: How would I even know that?

LC: That’s exactly the situation these folks were in. That’s the choice you’ve got to make.

I put the word “if” in bold face because it seems quite obvious to me that when your entire argument is predicated on an “if” situation, you’ve lost the debate.

The reality is, we weren’t in that situation, not one terror plot was uncovered by torture, but we got plenty of false information:

Libi was captured fleeing Afghanistan in late 2001, and he vanished into the secret detention system run by the Bush administration. He became the unnamed source, according to Senate investigators, behind Bush administration claims in 2002 and 2003 that Iraq had provided training in chemical and biological weapons to al-Qaeda operatives. The claim was most famously delivered by then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell in his address to the United Nations in February 2003.

Powell later called the speech a “blot” on his record, saying he was not given all available intelligence and analysis within the government. The Defense Intelligence Agency and some analysts at the CIA had questioned the veracity of Libi’s testimony, which was obtained after the prisoner was transferred to Egyptian custody for questioning by the CIA, according to Senate investigators.

In their book “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War,” Michael Isikoff and David Corn said Libi made up the story about Iraqi training after he was beaten and subjected to a “mock burial” by his Egyptian interrogators, who put him in a cramped box for 17 hours. Libi recanted the story after being returned to CIA custody in 2004.

(Hat tip to Attaturk for that link, BTW.) This is the whole problem with torture as an interrogation technique: besides being immoral, it’s simply ineffective because the information obtained is always unreliable.

But I’m not sure efficacy was the point. I am starting to fear that obtaining a certain kind of information, accuracy be damned, might have been the point all along. But Bush-Cheney got their pet war, KBR and Blackwater got their lucrative government contracts, and Liz and Dick Cheney can continue to flog 9/11-related fear mongering, because without fear, the Republicans have got nothing.

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Filed under MSNBC, torture

>Did Bill Frist Heart Torture?

>Amid all of this discussion about the Bush Administration’s approval of torture and holding Administration officials who justified its use accountable, it bears remembering that Tennessee’s own former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist played an important role in ensuring the use of torture became SOP.

He did so by quashing a Senate bill sponsored by John McCain, Lindsay Graham and John Warner which would have limited the use of torture and upheld the Geneva Conventions. And he did so at the behest of the Bush White House.

From the memory hole:

But Frist struck a more jarring tone, telling reporters that the trio’s bill is unacceptable despite its majority support.

For a bill to pass, Frist said, “it’s got to preserve our intelligence programs,” including the CIA’s aggressive interrogation techniques, and it must “protect classified information from terrorists.” He said that “the president’s bill achieves those two goals” but that “the Warner-McCain-Graham bill falls short.”

The disagreement centers on the Geneva Conventions, which say wartime detainees must be “treated humanely.” Bush backs language saying the United States complies so long as CIA interrogators abide by a 2005 law barring “cruel, inhuman, or degrading” treatment of captives. Warner and his allies say they are concerned that Bush’s approach would invite nations to interpret the Geneva Conventions in lax ways that could lead to abusive treatment of captured U.S. troops.

The Warner contingent also opposes Bush’s bid to allow detainees to be convicted on secret evidence they are not allowed to see.

So Bill Frist would not allow limits to the Administration’s use of torture. He wanted us to waterboard someone 183 times in one month, and he wanted this over the objection of the one U.S. Senator who has actually been tortured as a prisoner of war and knows torture doesn’t work.

And he’s a doctor?

(And I’m with Jon Stewart on this one: at one point does the law of diminishing returns come into play? After the 50th waterboarding, don’t you think a suspect will have figured out that he’s not actually drowning? And wouldn’t the interrogators have figured out they’re not actually getting any useful information? If torture worked, would it have been necessary to waterboard someone 183 times in one month?)

I suspect the Administration didn’t care if torture works or not. According to a Senate Armed Services Committee report, Gitmo interrogators used torture to produce a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11, though none existed. They were just going to keep torturing people until someone gave them the information the Bush Administration needed to justify their illegal war. And Tennessee’s own Bill Frist had his own small role to play in making sure this happened.

I repeat: he’s a doctor???! Do no harm, Dr. Frist. Do no harm.

Bill Frist has undergone a major bluewashing in recent months. As part of his Great Political Makeover™, the kinder, gentler Bill Frist is suddenly concerned about progressive issues like global poverty and education. But that doesn’t mean we’ll forget the Bill Frist who was Senate majority leader, the one who sailed in to rescue Terri Schiavo and killed an anti-torture bill and, oh yeah, pushed Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, too.

Does Bill Frist seriously think we’re going to forget his dirty past?

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Filed under Bill Frist, torture