Obama Plays Hamlet; Shredders Hum

Well, well. The New York Times has finally put a story together on the
key role played by two faux psychologists in helping the Bush
administration devise ways to torture people. We should, I suppose, be
thankful for small favors.

Well, well. The New York Times has finally put a story together on the
key role played by two faux psychologists in helping the Bush
administration devise ways to torture people. We should, I suppose, be
thankful for small favors.

Apparently, a NY Times expose requires a 21-month gestation
period. The substance of the Wednesday's lead story on torture had
already appeared in an article in the July 2007 issue of Vanity Fair. https://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2007/07/torture200707

Katherine Eban, a Brooklyn-based journalist who writes about public
health, authored that article and titled it "Rorschach and Awe." It
was the result of a careful effort to understand the role of
psychologists in the torture of detainees in Guantanamo.

She identified the two psychologists as James Elmer Mitchell and
Bruce Jessen, who she reported were inexperienced in interrogations and
"had no proof of their tactics' effectiveness" but nevertheless sold
the Bush administration on a plan to subject detainees to "psychic
demolition"-essentially severing them from their personalities and
scaring them "almost to death."

"The aim of torture is to destroy
a person as a human being, to destroy their identity and soul. It is
more evil than murder... " -- Inge Genefke - (1938-) Danish Doctor
& Human Rights Activist

Wednesday's Times, reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti plow much of
the same ground. Please don't misunderstand. They deserve
considerable praise for finally pushing their article past the Times'
timorous censors, but let's not pretend the startling revelations are

The Times ought to allow the likes of Shane and Mazzetti to publish
these stories when they are fresh. Alternatively, the once-known-as
"newspaper of record" might at least report the findings of the likes
of Eban, rather than ignoring them for nearly two years.

It's pretty much all out there now, isn't it? Not only the Times' better-late-than-never expose, but also:

  • The (leaked) text of the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on the torture of "high-value" detainees;
  • The too-slick-by-half "legal opinions" under Department of Justice letterhead;
  • The
    findings of the 18-month investigation by the Senate Armed Services
    Committee highlighting that it was President George W. Bush's dismissal
    of Geneva (in his executive order of February 7, 2002) that "opened the
    door" to abuse of detainees.

The North/Gonzales Memorial Shredder

One issue of some
urgency has been overlooked in the media, but probably not by those
complicit in torture by the CIA and other parts of the government.
That issue is the need to protect evidence from being shredded. There
has been no sign that either Director of National Intelligence Dennis
Blair or CIA Director Leon Panetta has proscribed the destruction of
documents/tapes/etc. relating to torture, while decisions on if and how
to proceed are being worked out.

Many will remember how Oliver North (when the crimes of Iran-Contra
were being uncovered) and Alberto Gonzales (when White House
involvement in the Valerie Plame affair was becoming clearer) made such
good use of the days of hiatus between the announced decision to
investigate and the belated order to safeguard all evidence from

One would think that Attorney General Eric Holder, or President
Barack Obama himself, would have long since issued such an order.
Indeed, the absence of such an order would suggest they would just as
soon avoid as many of the painful truths about torture as they can.
The issue would seem particularly urgent in the wake of Obama's
gratuitous get-out-of-jail free card issued to CIA personnel complicit
in torture. They might well draw the (erroneous) conclusion that they
have been, in effect, pardoned by the president and thus are within the
law in destroying relevant evidence-to the degree that being within the
law matters any more.

Better Shred Than Dead

And what about the president's decision not to prosecute those in CIA who engaged in torture? What is going on here?

U.S. Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Secretary of State Colin
Powell's chief of staff, told Frontline on December 13, 2005 that "up
to 100 detainees had died while in detention. Of that 100, some 27
have been declared officially homicides." Those running Bush
administration interrogations are no doubt aware by now that the War
Crimes Act (18 U.S. Code 2441) passed by a Republican-controlled
Congress in 1996 provides that the death penalty can be given to those
responsible for the deaths of detainees.

And yet, the President Obama struck not an angry, but rather a
defensive tone on the recent release of the four torture documents
issued by the Mafia-style lawyers of the Justice Department. This
seems rather odd coming from a professor of constitutional law. The
president and his advisers have appeared almost apologetic in
explaining/justifying the release.

In the face of Rush Limbaugh/Dick Cheney-type charges that the
revelations endanger national security, the White House explains that
most of the information was already in the public domain (in the
recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross,
for example). Hey, Mr. constitutional law professor and now president,
how about the fact that the Freedom of Information Act requires your
administration to release such information. How about acknowledging
that you are just doing your sworn duty to enforce the law-or is that
notion quaint, obsolete, or somehow passe these days?

Misplaced Loyalty or Fear?

It is highly unusual for the
president to feel it necessary to visit CIA headquarters in Langley,
Virginia. Vivid in my memory is the visit by President George W. Bush
on September 26, 2001, just two weeks after intelligence/defense/policy
failures permitted the attacks of September 11.

For some time it remained something of a puzzle why the president
felt it prudent to appear at CIA with his arm around then-CIA Director
George Tenet, endorsing his leadership without reservation and bragging
about having the best intelligence service in the world. In
retrospect, it was a Faustian bargain.

Former CIA Director and Medal of Freedom winner, George Tenet, can
be forgiven for being somewhat apprehensive these days-especially in
the wake of the article by Shane and Mazzetti. But let's leave aside
for now the obviously heinous misdeeds-like running George W. Bush's
global Gestapo complete with secret prisons and torture chambers, a
criminal enterprise that Tenet shoe-horned into the operations
directorate of the CIA.

Let's pick a case of simpler, more familiar white-collar
crime-Scooter Libby-style perjury and obstruction of justice. Those
who remember Watergate and other crimes will be aware that the cover-up
constitutes an additional-and often more provable-crime, especially
when it involves perjury and obstruction of justice.

Until now, Bush has managed to escape blame for his outrageous
inactivity before 9/11 because his subordinates-first and foremost,
Tenet-have covered up for him. Faustian bargain? Call it mutual
blackmail, if you prefer the vernacular.

Tenet gave the president enough warning to warrant, to compel some
sort of action on his part. But Tenet's lackadaisical management of the
CIA and intelligence community was at least as important a factor in
the success of the attacks of 9/11.

Tenet should have been fired after 9/11. But President Bush needed
Tenet, or at least Tenet's silence, as much as Tenet needed Bush, or at
least Bush's forgiveness.

What developed might be described as a
case of mutual blackmail disguised as bonhomie. Bush was keenly aware
that Tenet had the wherewithal to let the world know how many warnings
he had given the president and that this could reduce Bush to a
criminally negligent, blundering fool.

George W. Bush would have had to kiss goodbye the role of
cheerleader/war president-and so much else. Thus, Tenet had become
critical to Bush's political survival. And Tenet? All he needed was
not to be blamed - not to be fired.

The bargain: I, George Bush, will keep you on and even praise your
performance; you, George Tenet, will keep your mouth shut about all the
warnings you gave me during the spring and summer of 2001. Tenet, it is
clear, agreed.

On Sept. 26, 2001, the president motored out to CIA headquarters,
puts his arm around Tenet and told the cameras, "We've got the best
intelligence we can possibly have thanks to the men and women of the

Tenet Goes Bush One Better

In his sworn testimony of April
14, 2004, before the 9/11 Commission, Tenet outdid himself trying to
honor his bargain with Bush. The commissioners were interested in what
the president had been told during the critical month of August 2001.

Answering a question from Commissioner Timothy Roemer, Tenet
referred to the president's long vacation (July 29-Aug. 30, 2001) in
Crawford and insisted that he did not see the president at all in

"You never talked with him?" Roemer asked.

"No," Tenet replied, explaining that for much of August he, too, was "on leave."

evening, a CIA spokesman called reporters to say that Tenet had
misspoken, and that he had briefed Bush on Aug. 17 and 31, 2001. The
spokesman played down the Aug. 17 briefing as uneventful and indicated
that the second briefing took place after Bush had returned to

Funny how Tenet could have forgotten his first visit to Crawford.
In his memoir, "At the Center of the Storm," Tenet waxed eloquent about
the "president graciously driving me around the spread in his pickup
and me trying to make small talk about the flora and the fauna."

But the visit was not limited to small talk. In his book Tenet
writes: "A few weeks after the August 6 PDB was delivered, I followed
it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events."

The Aug. 6, 2001 President's Daily Brief contained the article "Bin
Laden Determined to Strike in the US." According to Ron Suskind's The
One-Percent Doctrine, the president reacted by telling the CIA briefer,
"All right, you've covered your ass now."

Clearly, Tenet needed to follow up on that. Was Tenet again in
Crawford just one week later? According to a White House press release,
President Bush on Aug. 25 told visitors to Crawford, "George Tenet and
I" drove up the canyon "yesterday."

If, as Tenet says in his memoir, it was the Aug. 6, 2001, PDB that
prompted his visit on Aug. 17, what might have brought him back on Aug.
24? That was the day after Tenet had been briefed on Zacarias
Moussaoui training to fly a 747 and other suspicion-arousing

The evidence is very strong that Tenet told Bush chapter and
verse. The extraordinary lengths to which Tenet has gone to disguise
that has the former CIA director skating very close to perjury - if not
over the line.

Real Terrorists: Moussaoui and Reid

A note on Moussaoui:
despite strong encouragement from FBI special agent/attorney Coleen
Rowley at the time, the government never interviewed Moussaoui for
information on a possible "second wave" of 9/11-type attacks.

Moussaoui knew Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber who almost downed an
airliner on its way from London to the U.S., and might have provided
forewarning, if he were asked in the three months between 9/11 and
Reid's attempt in December 2001. Given what amounted to a
don't-ask-don't-tell policy, there is no telling, so to speak, what
intelligence might have been elicited from Moussaoui.

It gets worse: it appears Reid was not effectively interviewed
either. The nonchalant handling of Moussaoui and Reid greatly
diminishes the credibility of arguments that torture was felt to be
necessary because of the overweening fear of follow-up attacks. The
administration claims it had to pull out all the stops-while in reality
it failed to take rudimentary steps to acquire information from known
terrorists already in U.S. custody.

Obama's Faustian Bargain?

In a recent article on torture, https://www.consortiumnews.com/2009/041409a.html, I
asked what might be holding the Obama administration back from
appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate all this, so that
as a nation we could hold to account any proven guilty and put this
shameful chapter of American history behind us once and for all.

A reader replied in an email offering this answer to what is
holding the administration back: "John D. Rockefeller, IV, and the
Democrats who knew [about the torture] and did nothing." The sender
signed the email: "Kathleen M. Rockefeller Uncowardly Cousin."

The disclosures in the Shane/Mazzetti article, and plenty of other
evidence suggest that this may not be far off the mark. The fact that
so many Democratic leaders had complicit knowledge of the torture is no
doubt one of the powerful forces working on our president.

Maybe, just maybe, the president insisted on releasing the torture
memos with a view toward determining whether Americans really care,
whether we would be appropriately outraged-so outraged that we would
put inexorable pressure on him to hold everyone, repeat everyone,

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