Bush Had No Choice on Torture Ban


George Bush’s retreat on torture—as shown by his agreeing yesterday not to veto a measure backed by Senator John McCain that would ban U.S. interrogators from engaging in it—comes less because he checked his conscience, than because he had no other choice.

For one, as the Washington Post reports this morning, Bush desperately needs to get on with the defense spending bills, to which the measure was attached, in order to fund the continuing war in Iraq.

And then, as Nat Hentoff reported this week, there was the little matter of so much evidence piling up that the U.S. was in fact engaging in torture, no matter what the president said.

CIA War Crimes
CIA has documented every use of its exclusive ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’

by Nat Hentoff
December 9th, 2005 6:20 PM

Nothing in the [Geneva] Conventions [on the treatment of prisoners of war] precludes directed interrogations. They do, however, prohibit torture and humiliation of detainees, whether or not they are deemed P.O.W.’s. These are standards that are never obsolete—they cut to the heart of how moral people must treat other human beings. John McCain , in Torture: A Human Rights Perspective, edited by Kenneth Roth and Minky Worden (The New Press)

In a November 21 USA Today interview with Porter Goss, the head of the CIA “declined to describe interrogation methods exclusive to the CIA.” He thereby confirmed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s statement during his confirmation hearings that the CIA has “special powers.” Where did the CIA get permission to overrule the rule of law? The word came from a classified directive by President George W. Bush soon after 9-11, and was confirmed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. (Emphases added.)

Therefore, whatever is increasingly revealed about how the CIA uses its grant of cruel and unusual exclusivity in dealing with prisoners makes George W. Bush directly accountable for any crimes committed.

This president is not going to be impeached, except by history. However, historians will find reams of evidence against him and other members of his administration in such books as The Torture Papers, edited by Karen Greenberg and Joshua Dratel (Cambridge University Press), and Torture and Truth, by Mark Danner (a New York Review of Books

Also contributing to the immutable record are such journalists as Dana Priest of The Washington Post and Brian Ross of ABC News. Revealing why the ratings of network television newscasts continue to drop is the disgraceful decision by the producers of ABC’s World News Tonight to give only three and a half minutes to the Brian Ross investigation of some of the interrogation techniques Porter Goss will not describe.

But Ross and Richard Esposito detailed them at length on on November 18. (I believe the late Peter Jennings would have given much more than three and a half minutes to this breakthrough story on World News Tonight.)

Last week, I quoted what Brian Ross had found from present and former CIA officers and supervisors about extracting confessions from “water boarding.” Ross also cited a description of that “exclusive” CIA technique by John Sifton of Human Rights Watch: “The person[s] believe they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law.”

Indeed, what we are learning about the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” are also violations of our own War Crimes Act (Section 2441 of the federal criminal code). This statute also provides that:

“Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life, or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.”

Our War Crimes Act criminalizes as a “war crime” a “grave breach” of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which this country ratified.

As page 1160 of The Torture Papers explains: “With respect to interrogation in armed conflict, Common Article 3 requires humane treatment generally, and specifically forbids ‘cruel treatment and torture’ or ‘outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.’ ”

From CIA sources, Brian Ross has cited six of the “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Among them is “Long Time Standing”: “This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt on the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.”

Another technique is “The Cold Cell”: “The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.”

Now, here is a smoking gun from the Ross report:

“According to CIA sources, Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear . . . al Libbi had been subjected to each of the progressively harsher techniques in turn and finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration claims that Iraq trained Al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Sources tell ABC that it was later established that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.” (Emphasis added.)

Since these war crimes, including torture as defined in international and American law, are being done in our name, the following Brian Ross discovery should lead to a congressional investigation with subpoena powers all the way to the top of the chain of command:

“According to the sources, when an interrogator wishes to use a particular technique on a prisoner, the policy at the CIA is that each step of the interrogation process must be signed off at the highest level—by the deputy director of operations for the CIA. A cable must be sent and a reply received each time a progres- sively harsher technique is used . . . there are few known instances when an approval has not been granted. Still, even the toughest critics of the techniques say they are relatively well monitored and limited in use.”

How “limited in use”? And what about those of the techniques that are war crimes under the definitions in law that I have cited? The CIA has all the information about their use. Meanwhile, around the world, and not only among our enemies, this country is increasingly seen as a habitual, egregious violator of human rights. Let’s finally put the CIA under the rule of law.

We can only begin to redeem ourselves in the war on terrorism by holding publicly accountable those who have authorized, as well as committed, these “enhanced interrogation techniques.” But the Democratic Party leadership appears to be afraid to make this a centerpiece of its opposition to the Bush administration.