Calls for 'Torture Team' Prosecutions Persist as Cheney Brags "I'd Do It Again"
'There is an almost criminal gang in our government's security agencies which is not subject to democratic accountability of any kind.'
Former vice president of the United States Dick Cheney told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday that he'd "do it again in a minute."
And what about President Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush? Said Cheney: "He authorized it. He Approved it."
"It would be comforting to dismiss Cheney as a historical oddity, to picture him sitting in the dimly lit room of a motel, changing the pitch of his voice to pretend he wasn’t alone. But he’s got company, and it’s dangerous." —journalist Amy DavidsonAnd what is the "it"? The torture of other human beings.
However, nearly a week after the partial release of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on CIA torture—despite a full-court media press from Cheney and others defending how the U.S. government employed gross human rights violations in the name of national security—the new calls for prosecutions into these admitted crimes continue.
For its part, the ACLU has put forth a five-point plan for accountability which includes appointment of a special prosecutor.
In a new op-ed over the weekend, Jameel Jaffer, the ACLU's deputy legal director said the case for prosecuting those behind the torture program, though long overdue, has never been better.
"The argument for the appointment of a special prosecutor is straightforward," Jaffer argued. "The CIA adopted interrogation methods that have long been understood to constitute torture. Those methods were used against more than a hundred prisoners, including many – at least 29 – whom the CIA itself now recognizes should never have been detained at all."
"If we don’t hold our officials accountable for having authorized such conduct, we become complicit in it." —Jameel Jaffer, ACLUAs part of its renewed effort to push for prosecutions, the Center for Constitutional Rights has put forth a petition calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to prosecute the high-level government officials responsible for the torture. Appearing alongside social activist Frances Fox Piven on Melissa Harris-Perry's weekend show on MSNBC, CCR's executive director Vince Warren said we should not be having a conversation about whether torture "worked" or not, because torture—just like slavery and genocide—is among the "highest forms of crimes that people can commit against each other."
"This is why we need to be thinking about prosecution," Warren continued. "The only way to prevent torture and things like this from happening, is to prosecute the people who have done this. This isn't a question of values. This is a question of criminality."
From her perspective, Pivens said that torture is "morally reprehensible" but that there are also deeper issues at work when accountability is non-existent. "There is an almost criminal gang in our government's security agencies which is not subject to democratic accountability of any kind," she said. "And what they do has huge effects on the future of the United States and the future of the world. You can't look at these horrific acts and not wonder, at least, whether the experience of this kind of behavior at the hands of American agents doesn't have something to do with the rise of terrorist groups like ISIL."
Following Cheney's appearance on Meet The Press on Sunday, The New Yorker's Amy Davidson pilloried the former vice president, and other likes former CIA chief Michael Hayden, for continuing to parade about as though what they did to people in the name of the American people should be heralded. She wrote:
Basically, in Cheney’s world, nothing Americans do can be called torture, because we are not Al Qaeda and we are not the Japanese in the Second World War (whom we prosecuted for waterboarding) and we are not ISIS. “The way we did it,” as he said of waterboarding, was not torture. In other words, it was not really the Justice Department that “blessed,” or rather transubstantiated, torture; it was our American-ness. Is there an argument that could degrade that American identity more?
It would be comforting to dismiss Cheney as a historical oddity, to picture him sitting in the dimly lit room of a motel, changing the pitch of his voice to pretend he wasn’t alone. But he’s got company, and it’s dangerous. The way that many, including the present and former directors of the C.I.A., have responded to the Senate report has been shameless and sordid. (There have been exceptions, as Jane Mayer notes.) They have spent a lot of time complaining that the Agency hasn’t been sufficiently praised. The word “torture” upsets them.
Despite new admissions by Cheney and a televised press conference delivered by CIA director John Brennan last week, it remains unclear if the new demands for accountability, including criminal probes or charges, will actually result.
As the Associated Press reports Monday:
Department officials said they will not revisit their 2012 decision to close the investigation, citing among other challenges the passage of time and the difficulty of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that crimes were committed, especially in light of government memos that gave interrogators extraordinary latitude.
"Our inquiry was limited to a determination of whether prosecutable offenses were committed. Importantly, our investigation was not intended to answer the broader questions regarding the propriety of the examined conduct," the department said in a statement after the report was released.
That conclusion followed an investigation led by special prosecutor John Durham that began in 2009 as an outgrowth of a probe into the destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogation tactics. The inquiry into interrogation tactics came amid the release of an internal CIA inspector general's report that said CIA interrogators once threatened to kill the children of a Sept. 11 suspect and suggested that another suspected terrorist would be forced to watch his mother being sexually assaulted.
Durham specifically investigated potential crimes in the deaths of two detainees, including one who was shackled to a cold concrete wall in a secret CIA prison, while in custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. In closing the investigation, the department said it had "reviewed a tremendous volume of information" about detainees alleged to have been in U.S. custody but did not find enough evidence to convict anyone.
As the ACLU's Jaffer argues, however, nothing about that investigation precludes a new and more aggressive attempt to achieve accountability for those who ordered, authorized, and carried out the program.
"If we don’t hold our officials accountable for having authorized such conduct, we become complicit in it," he said. "The prisoners were tortured in our names. Now that the torture has been exposed in such detail, our failure to act would signify a kind of tacit approval. Our government routinely imprisons people for far lesser offenses. What justification could possibly be offered for exempting the high officials who authorized the severest crimes?"
He concluded, "For the last decade, officials who authorized torture have been shielded from accountability for their acts. The Senate report makes it clear – indeed, it could not make it any clearer – that impunity for torture must now come to an end."
And as Davidson wrote, "if this past week has proved anything, it’s that the legacy of torture is not quiet repentance but impunity. [President Obama] has told his agents not to torture, and Brennan says he can work with that, while the C.I.A. waits for instructions from the next one."