Will Obama Buy Torture-Lite?

You've got to hand it to them. Torture aficionados at the White House
and CIA have conned key congressional leaders into insisting not only
that torture-lite would be a swell idea, but advocating also that the
overseers of torture be kept on.

You've got to hand it to them. Torture aficionados at the White House
and CIA have conned key congressional leaders into insisting not only
that torture-lite would be a swell idea, but advocating also that the
overseers of torture be kept on.

From change-you-can-believe-in we seem to be slipping back to
fear-you-can-trade-on. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chair of the House
Intelligence Committee, has publicly warned those in charge of the
administration transition that "continuity is going to be pivotal in
keeping us safe and secure." Thus, he argues, National Intelligence
Director Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden should stay in
their posts.

If that were not enough, Reyes told Congress Daily's Chris Strohm,
that he (Reyes) had advised the Obama team that some parts of what
Strohm referred to as "CIA's controversial alternative interrogation
program" should be allowed to continue. Using some of the same
euphemisms and circumlocutions employed by the ersatz-lawyers hired by
President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Reyes fired
this shot across the bow of Barack Obama's transition ship:

"It gets back to a world that is very dangerous...there are some
options that need to be available...We don't want to be known for
torturing people. At the same time, we don't want to limit our ability
to get information that's vital and critical to our national security.
That's where the new administration is going to have to decide what
those parameters are, what those limitations are."

Background

Someone needs to tell Reyes what those
parameters, what those limitations should be. They are set by the
Geneva accords and the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996. Those are the laws
that President George W. Bush's overly clever lawyers told him he could
safely-well, pretty safely-disregard, because of the "new paradigm"
post 9/11.

Pretty safely? Even those Mafia-type lawyers felt it necessary to
warn their clients that Section 2441 of the U.S. War Crimes Act, passed
by a Republican-led Congress in 1996, could conceivably come back to
haunt the president and others who approved or took part in torture.
This is the best they could do by way of offering reassurance:

"It is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors and
independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted
charges based on Section 2441. Your determination [that Geneva does
not apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban] would create a reasonable basis in
law that Section 2441 does not apply, which would provide a solid
defense to any future prosecution."

If that sounds like the kind of advice one would expect to get from
lawyers for the Mob, that's because it is. The casuistry virtually
drips from a Jan. 25, 2002 memorandum for the president drafted by
then-counsel to the Vice President, David Addington and signed by
then-counsel to the president, Alberto Gonzales. Former Secretary of
State Colin Powell objected for a day or so but then saluted sharply,
as is his wont.

As will be seen below, the lawyers' advice did come back to haunt
the president, putting him in a cold sweat until he got Congress to
grant him retroactive immunity.

To say President Bush was dumb
to take their dubious advice is not the half of it. Really dumb was
his decision to put it in writing. You see, the goons uncovered by CIA
Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were not
about to torture without a signed authorization from the president. So
Bush decided to go ahead on the basis of the Addington/Gonzales opinion
and signed a presidential memorandum on Feb. 7, 2002 incorporating that
advice.

The opinion is written verbatim, twice, into that short executive memorandum.
Over the president's large felt-tip signature appears convoluted text
depicting, despite itself, a circle that refuses to be squared. Bush
orders that detainees be treated "humanely and, to the extent
appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner
consistent with the principles of Geneva."

That was the official start of post-9/11 torture authorized from
the top, although an American, John Walker Lindh, was the first to be
actually tortured after his capture in Afghanistan in late Nov. 2001,
when senior Justice Department officials deliberately chose not to
prevent his mistreatment. In the wake of the smoking-gun presidential
memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, subsequent memos by the administration's
Mob lawyers were mostly ex post facto attempts at CYA.

Shame

What incalculable shame this has brought on the U.S.
Army and the Central Intelligence Agency, in both of which I was
privileged to serve. I am hardly the first to use a Mafia analogy.

Consider
the case of Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who was the first to
investigate the Abu Ghraib prison abuse-the most glaring result of the
president's memo and Rumsfeld's implementing instructions. "Make sure
this happens!" in Rumsfeld's handwriting appeared on a memo over
Rumsfeld's signature that was prominently posted at Abu Ghraib.

Taguba issued a tough report, which was then leaked to the
press-and thus was largely responsible for preventing the scandal from
being swept entirely under the rug. Rather than thank Taguba for
upholding the honor of the U.S. military, the Bush administration
singled him out for ridicule, retribution, and forced retirement.

Taguba told Seymour Hersh of a chilling conversation he had with
Gen. John Abizaid, then head of Central Command, a few weeks after
Taguba's report became public in 2004. Sitting in the back of Abizaid's
Mercedes sedan in Kuwait, Abizaid quietly told Taguba, "You and your
report will be investigated."

"I'd been in the Army 32 years by then," Taguba told Hersh, "and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia."

Getting Squared Away

The
Army, to its credit, was able to push brownnoses like Abizaid off to
the margins and, more important, to keep Mafia-type lawyers out of the
process of updating the Army Field Manual for interrogation. Such was
not the case at CIA, where Mob lawyers continued to prosper-including
the one who offered interrogators the following basic guidance: "If
the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong."

I like to think that our nation's decisions are not totally bereft
of moral considerations, and that a majority of Americans would agree
that torture-like rape or slavery-is intrinsically evil.

But it
is also intrinsically dumb. And an Army general with guts said
precisely that on the very day President Bush was extolling the merits
of "alternative sets of procedures" for interrogation.

Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, a career intelligence officer and expert in
interrogations, minced no words in describing the new Army Field Manual
(FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collection Operations). He stressed
that it is "consistent with the requirements of law, the Detainee
Treatment Act, and the Geneva Conventions, and that it was endorsed by
the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Director
of National Intelligence. The DNI, Kimmons said "coordinated laterally
with the CIA."

Doesn't take a crackerjack intelligence analyst to figure out why the CIA would not "endorse" it.

As
a former Army intelligence officer who had to commit the previous
interrogation field manual virtually to memory, I was particularly
proud that Kimmons had the guts to seize the bull by the horns:

Conceding past "transgressions and mistakes," Kimmons insisted: "No
good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think
history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five
years, hard years, tells us that.

"Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress
through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable
credibility. And additionally, it would do more harm than good when it
inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can't
go there.

"Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have
been-in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them
have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized,
humane interrogation practices in clever ways that you would hope
Americans would use them, to push the envelope within the bookends of
the legal, moral, and ethical-now as further defined by this field
manual. So we don't need abusive practices in there. Nothing good
will come from them."

Kimmons emphasized that the new manual is written in
"straightforward language for use by soldiers, sailors, airmen, and
marines; it is not written for lawyers." He explained that the field
manual explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading
treatment or punishment.

No-Torture Commandments

Among the specific prohibitions mentioned by Kimmons were:

"-Interrogators may not force a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner;

-They cannot use hoods or place sacks over a detainee's head or use duct tape over his eyes;

-They cannot beat or electrically shock or burn them or inflict other forms of physical pain-any form of physical pain;

-They may not use water boarding, hypothermia, or treatment which will lead to heat injury;

-They will not perform mock executions;

-They may not deprive detainees of the necessary food, water, and medical care; and

-They may not use dogs in any aspect of interrogation."

Meanwhile,
just across the Potomac at the White House an hour later that same day
(Sept. 6, 2006), President Bush devoted half of a long speech to
cops-and-robbers examples, none of them confirmed or persuasive,
showing how "tough" interrogation techniques-he called them "an
alternative set of procedures"-had yielded information preventing all
manner of catastrophe.

He made clear that his government had "changed its policies,"
giving intelligence personnel "the tools they need" to fight
terrorists, and that he wanted the "CIA program" to continue. Bush
appealed for and, just before Congress changed hands in Nov. 2006,
succeeded in getting legislation granting retroactive immunity to him
and other practitioners of "alternative" procedures.

It had been sweaty-palms time for the president. Two months
earlier, on June 29, 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court had
ruled that Geneva DOES apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees, and
rejected the artifice of "unitary executive power" used by the Bush
administration to "justify" practices like torture.

One senior Bush official is reported to have gone quite pale when
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy raised the ante, warning that "violations of
Common Article 3 [of Geneva] are considered 'war crimes.'" That threw
a scare into a whole bunch of what one might call "unitary executives,"
prompting the president on Sept. 6 to plead with Congress to give "top
priority" to new legislation holding them harmless for violation of
Geneva. This they got in the "Military Commissions Act" passed by
Congress and signed into law just before the mid-term elections in 2006.

Back to the Future, Mr. Chairman

Chairman Reyes, you may
have been told that when fellow Texan Rep. Charlie Wilson took the
reins of a House oversight panel, he immediately wrote to the
operations people at CIA, saying, "Well, gentlemen, the fox is in the
hen house. Do whatever you like." Your predecessor as House
Intelligence Committee chair, Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan, also gave the
CIA free rein as long as then-Director George Tenet did the White
House's bidding-whatever that bidding happened to be.

Is that how you see your role, Mr. Congressman? Is that why you
have been running interference for the Bush/Cheney administration?
Specifically, why did you stiff-arm those of your colleagues who wanted
to put language into the FY09 Intelligence Authorization Bill ordering
CIA interrogators to adhere to the Army Field Manual for interrogation?

Have a look at the above list of practices expressly forbidden by
the manual. Have the folks in the hen house told you that some are
absolutely necessary? Which ones strike your fancy?

You served
in Vietnam. Did you see "alternative techniques" in use there? Could
you visualize them being used on you-or your grandsons?

Do you think former Air Force General and now CIA Director Michael
Hayden or former Navy Admiral Mike McConnell know more about effective
interrogation techniques than the head of Army intelligence? Do you
really think they are being candid with you?

Getting Snowed

Are you not aware that many of those on the
operations side of CIA ply their trade as con men? Such activities are
supposed to be directed abroad. But all too often they are applied
with consummate, smirking skill to the Hill.

Don't believe the tales they tell you about the "successes" of
torture techniques. They are normally told by folks with zero
experience or folks simply snowing you. Take former Deputy Director
John McLaughlin, for example. I have known John for 40 years; he would
not recognize an interrogation if he tripped over one.

And he and his boss Tenet were so duplicitous that the former head
of State Department intelligence permitted himself the undiplomatic
comment that the two should have been shot for their role in
deliberately falsifying intelligence-especially the bogus reporting
about those non-existent "mobile biological weapons laboratories" in
Iraq.

Not long ago, McLaughlin made the mistake of purveying the myth
about how effective harsh interrogation techniques have been, with the
usual "If you saw the intelligence I have seen..." Trouble was, the
senior intelligence officer he was talking to had seen it all, and
more, and answered, "I have seen all of it John. Either you are
hopelessly naive, incredibly credulous, or you are lying."

How McLaughlin and John Brennan, both eager accomplices of George
Tenet, got picked for the intelligence transition team boggles the
minds of those of us who are familiar with their role in the saddest
and most unconscionable chapters of U.S. intelligence-regarding both
analysis and operations.

But there they are, whispering into the credulous ears of people like Silvestre Reyes.

Chairman Reyes, go talk to Gen. Kimmons.