Thursday, May 22, 2008

Torture, the BushCo way...

From The Progress Report:

Torture Turf Wars

On Tuesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General released a report, three-and-a-half years in the making, that offers "the clearest and most definitive account to date of the key tactics used by the government against suspected terrorists." These methods include "use of strobe lights in conjunction with loud rock music, twisting of thumbs backward, and exposure of detainees to extreme temperatures, threatening dogs, pornography and sexual taunting."

On the same day, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee, German resident Murat Kurnaz, told Congress he was tortured while held by the U.S. military. Kurnaz said he underwent "water treatment," similar to the more notorious practice of waterboarding. "There was a bucket of water. And they stick my head in it and at the same time, punch me into my stomach," he said.

Though the CIA has admitted waterboarding three detainees, it is unclear how many more suffered "water treatment." Yet Washington insiders seem ready to ignore this latest piece of evidence about the Bush torture policy. "Barely half a dozen lawmakers came to listen to the former detainee, and most were unable to remember his name, with one even calling him 'Mr. Karzai.," AFP reported.

Following a pattern of ignoring new accounts of torture, the White House press corps did not ask Press Secretary Dana Perino about the DOJ report or Kurnaz's testimony until the last question of Tuesday's briefing. She replied that she had not seen it yet; no one followed up to ask her about it the next day.


The DOJ report details the "trench warfare" between the FBI and the military over harsh interrogations, which FBI agents objected to, going "so far as to collect allegations of abuse in what they labeled a 'war crimes file.'"

"The report says that the F.B.I. agents took their concerns to higher-ups, but that their concerns often fell on deaf ears: officials at senior levels at the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council were all made aware of the F.B.I. agents’ complaints, but little appears to have been done as a result." "Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don't know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war," wrote Spike Bowman, then head of national security law unit at FBI, in an e-mail to top FBI officials in July 2003.

The DOJ report concludes that "the FBI should be credited for its conduct and professionalism" in interrogations, but it also finds that "the DOD [Department of Defense] made the decisions regarding which interrogation techniques could be used" -- regardless of FBI complaints. Indeed, though the FBI decided not to participate in any abusive interrogations in 2003, "the bureau appears to have done nothing to end the abuse. It certainly never told Congress or the American people."


The report's account of the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, an al Qaeda suspect, provides a window into the fight between the CIA and the FBI and demonstrates the White House's approval of torture. In 2002, the FBI used "relationship-building techniques with Zubaydah and succeeded in getting Zubaydah to admit his identity." Later, he "identified a photograph of Khalid Sheik Muhammad," the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, to his FBI interrogator. Soon, however, the CIA stepped in, arguing it "needed to diminish his capacity to resist."

The CIA's specific methods are redacted from the DOJ report, but the FBI agent "raised objections to the techniques to the CIA and told the CIA it was 'borderline torture'" (a former CIA official testified last December that the CIA had waterboarded Zubaydah). When a more senior-level FBI official raised these objections with Michael Chertoff, then Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, and other DOJ officials, he learned that the CIA had obtained "a legal opinion from DOJ that certain techniques could legally be used, including [redacted]." Chertoff "made it clear that the CIA had requested the legal opinion from Attorney General Ashcroft." Thus the account of Zubaydah's interrogation both proves the effectiveness of the safe and legal rapport-building method of interrogation and, more importantly, indicates that the CIA's "borderline torture" techniques were explicitly condoned by a DOJ legal opinion.


Indeed, the Bush administration seems to have ignored FBI complaints completely. "The report said several senior Justice Department Criminal Division officials raised concerns with the National Security Council in 2003 about the military's treatment of detainees but saw no changes as a result." As was recently revealed, this same council -- which included Vice President Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft -- specifically choreographed abusive interrogations that included slapping, pushing, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding. The DOJ report "reveals that top government officials in the Defense Department, CIA and even as high as the White House turned a blind eye to torture and abuse and failed to act aggressively to end it," said Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. Despite administration efforts to dismiss the report as "nothing new," the Washington Post's Dan Froomkin emphasized the importance of these revelations: "[K]nowing that the nation's top law-enforcement officials put senior White House aides on notice that the interrogation tactics they had approved were potentially illegal adds a key element to the portrait of complicity in what could someday be prosecuted as violations of U.S. torture statutes or even war crimes."


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