Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Only Way to Stop the Bush/Cheney Torture Program

The Only Way to Stop the Bush/Cheney Torture Program Is to Cut it out at its Rotten Core
Dale Tavris

It should be apparent by now that there is only one thing that will have much of an effect on Bush administration torture policies and actions. Confirmation fights over Attorney General or any other office are the equivalent of trying to restore a tree to life by cutting off its branches when the whole tree is rotten to the core. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are the rotten core of the most corrupt presidential administration in U.S. history. The only action that has any reasonable chance of terminating the Bush/Cheney torture policies is the impeachment and removal from office of the rotten core itself.

To make that point one need only consider how Bush administration torture policies have played out over time – how refractory they have been to any Congressional efforts to maintain oversight over them or reign them in. Under pressure from Congress the Bush administration has sometimes made temporary or superficial concessions in name only, while continuing on with its preferred barbaric policies in secret:

A timeline of Bush administration torture policies

The initial post-September 11th period
A recent New York Times article by Scott Shane, David Johnston and James Risen describes the initial post-9-11 rush by the Bush administration to initiate its illegal torture policies:

The debate over how terrorist suspects should be held and questioned began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration adopted secret detention and coercive interrogation, both practices the United States had previously denounced when used by other countries. It adopted the new measures without public debate or Congressional vote, choosing to rely instead on the confidential legal advice of a handful of appointees.

February 7, 2002 – Presidential directive justifying torture
Bush administration torture policies were first given formal expression on February 7, 2002, with a presidential directive that described policies that clearly violated U.S. and international law and the U.S. Constitution. Some of the main points included in the directive were:
 The U.S. must treat prisoners humanely only “to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity.”
 The CIA and other non-military personnel are exempt even from the above limitation concerning military necessity.
 Limitations on torture do not apply at all to non- U.S. citizens outside the U.S.

Shane, Johnston, and Risen describe the extent to which these policies were unprecedented in U.S. history, and yet of little or no value in combating terrorism:

The Bush administration had entered uncharted legal territory beginning in 2002, holding prisoners outside the scrutiny of the International Red Cross and subjecting them to harrowing pressure tactics. They included slaps to the head; hours held naked in a frigid cell; days and nights without sleep while battered by thundering rock music; long periods manacled in stress positions; or the ultimate, waterboarding.

Never in history had the United States authorized such tactics. While President Bush and C.I.A. officials would later insist that the harsh measures produced crucial intelligence, many veteran interrogators, psychologists and other experts say that less coercive methods are equally or more effective.

August 1, 2002 – John Yoo (Office of Legal Counsel) torture memo of August 1, 2002
On August 1, 2002, John Yoo from the Office of Legal Counsel distributed a memo that served as legal justification for the worst torture abuses of the Bush administration. Known as “the torture memo”, it was later leaked and found to include the following major points:
 Limitations on torture don’t apply to the “War on Terror”.
 Limitations on torture don’t apply to the president’s role as Commander-in-Chief.
 It is not torture if it was not the “precise objective” of the action, even if it was certain or reasonably likely to result.
 To constitute torture, pain must be akin to that accompanying “serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”.

June-December 2004 – reversal of the John Yoo torture policy
However, after John Yoo left the Office of Legal Council in 2003, the new Office chief Jack Goldsmith began reviewing his work and didn’t like what he saw. Shane, Johnston and Risen describe what happened:

Then, in June 2004, Mr. Goldsmith formally withdrew the August 2002 Yoo memorandum on interrogation, which he found overreaching and poorly reasoned. Mr. Goldsmith, who left the Justice Department soon afterward, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee…

When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

February 2005 – re-institution of harsh and illegal torture policies by Attorney General Gonzales
But it didn’t take long for the new attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, to get things back on track in accordance with the wishes of the Bush administration:

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures…

Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard….

Congress and the Supreme Court have intervened repeatedly in the last two years to impose limits on interrogations, and the administration has responded as a policy matter by dropping the most extreme techniques. But the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.

November 2005 – Torturer-in-chief explains his policies
In November 2005, as a consequence of international outrage over new revelations of secret CIA prisons, Bush was asked by a reporter whether the CIA was exempt from laws banning torture and whether or not the International Red Cross should have access to those prisons to ensure compliance with international law. Bush’s non-responsive answer was a masterpiece of Orwellian double talk:

Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people. We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. We are gathering information on where the terrorists may be hiding. We are trying to disrupt their plots and plans.

Anything we do to that effort – to that end in this effort – any activity we conduct is within the law – We do not torture.

In other words, anything that George Bush declares to be legal is legal. BUT, even though torture is legal, we don’t do it.

July 2006 – Presidential executive order secretly authorizing “enhanced interrogation”
In addition to George Bush’s refusals to provide straight answers to questions about his torture policies, another reason why it’s so hard to pin down what the Bush administration is up to is that so many of its orders are secret. Shane, Johnston and Risen describe the clarification of Bush torture polices with a secret presidential executive order of July 2006:

In July, after a month long debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas.

December 2006 presidential signing statement declaring George Bush’s right to order torture
Following a battle between Bush and Congress, including even many Republicans, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which, despite several outrageous positions, at least made torture illegal.

But no matter. Bush simply issued a signing statement, which nullified the anti-torture provision of the Military Commissions Act, declaring that:

he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.

''The executive branch shall construe (the law) in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief," Bush wrote, adding that this approach ''will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President . . . of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."

July 2007 executive order
Most recently, another executive order in July 2007 again made clear that the Bush torture policies remain intact. Jane Mayer explains:

Bush’s order pointedly did not disavow the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would likely be found illegal if used by officials inside the United States. The executive order means that the agency can once again hold foreign terror suspects indefinitely, and without charges, in black sites, without notifying their families or local authorities, or offering access to legal counsel.

Widespread evidence of torture in practice by the Bush administration

It is also important to look at how the stated general policies of the Bush administration have translated into policies on the ground and into actual practice. I have described those practices in much detail in a previous post. Here is a brief summary of what several different sources have had to say on this subject, proving that torture of its prisoners by the U.S. government is widespread and systematic under the leadership of George Bush and Dick Cheney:

Torture at Abu Ghraib was definitely NOT the work of “a few bad apples”
In testimony before the International Commission of Inquiry on Crimes against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, Janis Karpinski, former Brigadier General and Commander of Abu Ghraib Prison, made it known that the torture scandal at Abu Ghraib was anything but the work of “a few bad apples”. To the contrary, Karpinski said that:

General (Ricardo) Sanchez (commander of coalition ground forces in Iraq) himself signed the eight-page memorandum authorizing literally a laundry list of harsher techniques in interrogations to include specific use of dogs and muzzled dogs with his specific permission.”

She also testified that:

Major General Geoffrey was dispatched to Iraq by the Bush administration to “work with the military intelligence personnel to teach them new and improved interrogation techniques.” Miller told Karpinski that “It is my opinion that you are treating the prisoners too well. At Guantanamo Bay, the prisoners know that we are in charge and they know that from the very beginning. You have to treat the prisoners like dogs. And if they think or feel any differently you have effectively lost control of the interrogation.” Miller also told Karpinski that military police guarding the prisons were following orders in a memorandum signed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, approving “harsher interrogation techniques”.

Other testimony of torture of U.S. prisoners
Captain James Yee was a former U.S. Army Chaplain at Guantanamo Bay for several months. He wrote a detailed account of his observations in his book, “For God and Country”, which I summarize in a DU post. Here is Yee’s account of a common practice encouraged by the camp Commander, Major General Jeoffrey Miller:

General Miller had a saying…. “The fight is on!” This was a subtle way of saying that rules regarding the treatment of detainees were relaxed… Guards retaliated in whatever way was most convenient at the moment…. The troopers called it IRFing…. Carried out by a group of six to eight guards called the Initial Response Force…. put on riot protection gear…. Then they rushed the block, one behind the other, where the offending detainee was…. It sounded like a stampede…. drenched the prisoner with pepper spray and then opened the cell door. The others charged in and rushed the detainee…. tied the detainee’s wrists behind his back and then his ankles…. then dragged the detainee from his cell and down the corridor…. to solitary confinement.

Here is Senator Durbin’s account of eye witness testimony from an FBI agent:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for eighteen to twenty-four hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold… On another occasion, the air conditioner had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion…. with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

Here is a summary from a report by Amnesty International:

Four years since the first transfers to Guantánamo, approximately 500 men of around 35 nationalities remain held at the detention facility unlawfully. Reports from the detainees and their lawyers suggest that many have been subjected to torture or other forms of ill-treatment in Guantánamo or in other US detention centres… There have been numerous suicide attempts and fears for the physical and psychological welfare of the detainees increase as each day of indefinite detention passes.

Here is a summary statement on Bush administration torture practices from investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, from his book, Chain of Command:

Public interest groups such as Human Rights Watch and the ACLU continue to churn out report after report… demonstrating that systematic military abuse of American prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanamo, Cuba, is widespread and tolerated…..

Thus, we are confronted with a gap between what we read and hear about what is really going on from prisoners and human rights groups and what the official inquiries tell us… We have a President who… assures us that there is no American policy condoning or abetting torture when, as we can see with our eyes, the opposite is true…

And, I also note in my other post 21 different torture practices documented by the Center for Constitutional Rights, from their book, “Articles of Impeachment against George W. Bush”.

How widespread is the Bush prison system?

Estimates of how many prisoners have disappeared into the Bush administration’s Gulag system cannot be precise because of the secrecy. Estimates have varied from 8,500 to 35,000. An AP story estimated around 14,000:

In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.

Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former Chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had put the blame on Dick Cheney for much of the administration’s “torture guidance”, claims that the number of “disappeared” approximates 35,000.


Rush Limbaugh and other right wing idiots have belittled evidence of torture by claiming, even when the photographic evidence at Abu Ghraib was publicized, that U.S. treatment of its prisoners is no different than fraternity “hazing” of pledges.

However, a 2005 analysis of 44 autopsies reported by the ACLU, of men who died in our detention facilities, exposes those claims for the lies that they are. That study found 21 of the 44 deaths evaluated by autopsy to be homicides:

The American Civil Liberties Union today made public an analysis of new and previously released autopsy and death reports of detainees held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom died while being interrogated. The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.

Keep in mind that that study involved only a small fraction of the total number of detainees dying in the largely secret U.S. prison system since September 11, 2001. We will probably never know for sure the full extent of these barbaric homicides.

Bush administration claims that its prisoners are “the worst of the worst”

While repeatedly proclaiming that “we don’t torture”, the Bush administration has also repeatedly attempted to make the American people feel good about its “we don’t torture” program by claiming that our prisoners in George Bush’s “War on Terror” are “the worst of the worst”. But the facts tell a very different story from that:

Major General Antonio Taguba, charged with investigating the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, said that “A lack of proper screening meant that many innocent Iraqis were being detained (in some cases indefinitely) and that 60% of civilian prisoners at Abu Ghraib were deemed not to be a threat to society. And the International Red Cross said that between 70 percent and 90 percent of the persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.

Furthermore, the Bush administration has no right to claim that its prisoners are “the worst of the worst” even if there isn’t a vast amount of evidence – or any evidence – to the contrary. The vast majority of its prisoners have neither been tried nor even charged with a crime. They are spirited away to remote corners of the earth, and the good majority of them have no contact with the outside world, including either families or legal counsel. They have no opportunity to tell their story. How does the Bush administration, which leads a country that espouses “innocent until proven guilty”, dare to make pronouncements on the guilt or innocence of its thousands of prisoners?


Thus it is clear that the Bush administration torture policies originate from the very top and are virtually impervious to attempts by anyone else, inside or outside the Bush administration, to change them. Those torture policies violate international law, U.S. domestic law, and the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

If the United States of America is to reclaim its place among the civilized nations of the world, half measures aimed at cutting off the peripheral branches of an administration that is rotten to the core will not do. Rather, the root of the problem must be attacked by impeaching and removing from office those who have propagated these barbaric policies for the past six years – George Bush and Dick Cheney. Their torture policies are just one of several impeachable offenses for which a multitude of evidence exists to convict them of “high crimes and misdemeanors”. There are several others to choose from.