Torture Should Be Accounted For

Torture is among the most heinous crimes known to humankind. It should never be excused, it should never go unpunished. It is not about who the tortured are, or what the tortured know. It is not about what they have done, what they believe, or whether they would do the same. It is about who we are, and how human beings should be treated. It is about our humanity, that is all.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Did the White House Learn by Doing?

A speculative article, but in the absence of any investigative reporting by major news outlets, in fact, any reporting at all, someone must ask the questions.

More Timeline

Abu Zubaydah was apprehended in Pakistan on March 27, 2002. John Yoo recalls having started working on the memos, "I think, in March, when Abu Zubaydah was captured. That's what provoked the question." He reports that the draft was finished in August (it was signed by Bybee on August 1, 2002), but "we would show drafts before." "They were taking action?" "They needed to have a sense before it was finalized what the basic outlines are." When asked if he had weeks or months to create the document, he replied "weeks".

We map this first onto remarks by Donald Rumsfeld, keeping in mind that Rumsfeld is in the NSC Principals group: April 2nd, Rumsfeld announces the capture of Abu Zubaydah. On April 3rd, Donald Rumsfeld says, "He will be properly interrogated by proper people who know how to do those things...we intend to get every single thing out of him to try to prevent terrorist acts in the future. And if any responsible government official who had any goal other than trying to stop additional terrorist seems to me that I've got it exactly right. I've got first things first, and anything else comes a clear tenth, eleventh, or twelfth." On April 12, he says, "Abu Zubaydah. He had holes in him and he had some infections and he was not in great shape, and he obviously talked when people asked him questions and he said this, that and the other thing. Has he started to give any intelligence? I would assume so, but anything useful? It's not clear yet. And I don't know that I want to get into daily reports on it. But his health is improving." Ron Suskind would later quote a CIA official as saying "We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him" (The One Percent Solution, p.100).

One other track is moving at this time: Although President Bush had made noises about withdrawing from the International Criminal Court early in his administration, on April 27, one month after Zubaydah is captured, "weeks," in other words, John Bolton, who is working in the State Department on policy related to North Korea, drafts a letter to the Secretary General of the United Nations, announcing that the U.S. will not ratify the treaty (the Rome Statute), and asking that the U.N. record reflect that, in other words, withdraws President Clinton's signature from the statute. It is received by the U.N. and announced on May 6th, Bolton later saying, the "happiest moment at State was personally 'unsigning' the Rome Statute."

And Ron Suskind reports (p. 115),
Choices made, Zubaydah now recovered, it was time, in May of 2002, to test boundaries.

According to CIA sources, he was water-boarded,...He was beaten, though not in a way to worsen his injuries. Hw was repeatedly threatened, and made certain of his impending death. His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening continuous noise and harsh lights. He was, as a man already diminished by serious injuries, more fully at the mercy of interrogators than an ordinary prisoner.
The Principals Meetings - Were they on the phone?

But by whom? The final document subsequently known in the CIA as the "Golden Shield" is two months away. The AP follow up to the ABC News scoop reports, "
The principals eventually authorized physical abuse such as slaps and pushes, sleep deprivation, or waterboarding....'No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about," said a second former senior intelligence official. "People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command.'" Simultaneously, John Kiriakou tells Brian Ross,
Absolutely. Absolutely. I remember-- I remember being told when-- the President signed the-- the authorities that they had been approved-- not just by the National Security Counsel, but by the-- but by the Justice Department as well, I remember people being surprised that the authorities were granted. And I remember-- one of the agency's senior-most leaders saying, "This is-- this is an awesome responsibility, that we have to act within the confines of the law. This isn't gonna be something that's being done willy-nilly, that people are gonna be trained in it. And we have to follow this to the letter."
So when the decision was made to first do the slap of Abu Zubaydah the permission for that came specifically from Washington?
Yes. Absolutely.
There was discussion. It wasn't just a cable came in, "Can I slap him?" and the answer is "Yes," and the cable goes back out saying, "Yes." There was discussion. "Should we slap him? What's to be gained if we slap him? Is there gonna be any fallout to slapping him?" Everybody talks about it. The Deputy Director for Operations says, "Yes, you can slap him." The cable goes out. They slap him. Send in a cable again saying, "We slapped him, and this is what happened." And if that works, great. If that doesn't work, well, maybe we shake him by the lapels the next time. And you go through the whole process again (pp. 41-43 of transcript).
That sounds like an online approval process. Combined with the ABC News information, like supervision of an actual torture session.

A draft of a memo authorizing torture. [Not an opinion mind you, John Yoo characterized it as writing "statute", that is, writing law. Statute normally applies to law passed by legislatures, or to edicts handed down by a monarch. It is written law, as opposed to common law.] A discussion procedure that included demonstrations by experts, attended by decision makers and lawyers. A sanction by the President, knowledge, approval, and in some cases signed orders. A signature withdrawn from a treaty which would allow prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity in a permanent international court of law.


In October, November and March, these authorizations would be propagated to the military, to Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller who took over control of the Guantanamo prisons. If the ABC and AP records are correct, the Principals meetings were still going on, and still involved in detail. Nearly identical forms of unstructured abuse would propagate from Guantanamo, to Abu Ghraib, to Bagram, always after visits from Miller. And Jane Mayer would later report on very advanced techniques used at Black Sites, techniques taken from the SERE program and refined.

The news looks eerily, naggingly, like the Principals, with full knowledge and approval from the President, may have actually directed torture sessions on at least one detainee, up to the level of waterboarding. The questions surrounding the deliberateness of the situations created by Miller are still unanswered, and the question of how and when the perfections were done for the Black Sites hasn't even been asked in media.

When John Conyers convenes his sessions, whether the fact finding session on May 6th, or more serious sessions if they occur, someone should ask how much personal experience and intimate knowledge of torture techniques is resident in the White House. And then they should ask, "Who's your shrink?"

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