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The Two Most Essential, Abhorrent, Intolerable Lies Of George W. Bush's Memoir. Part 5 of 7. Article by Dan Froomkin for Huffington Post.
By Admin (from 21/01/2011 @ 10:00:16, in en - Global Observatory, read 1492 times)

... CONTINUES.

The result back then was that instead of watchdog journalism, what we got was credulous, stenographic recitation of the administration's deeply flawed arguments for war. Or, as formerWashington Post executive editor Len Downie told Howard Kurtz in 2004: In retrospect, "we were so focused on trying to figure out what the administration was doing that we were not giving the same play to people who said it wouldn't be a good idea to go to war and were questioning the administration's rationale."

Today's journalists would like to think they have learned some lessons from their poor pre-war conduct. But letting Bush get away now with saying the exact opposite of what they knew to be true even at the time -- and what has since been amply confirmed by the historical record -- would be yet another major victory of stenography over accountability.

The Embrace Of Torture

That torture is even a subject of debate today is a testament to the devastating effect the Bush administration has had on our concept of morality.

And in his book and on his book tour, far from hanging his head in shame, Bush is more explicit and enthusiastic than ever before endorsing one of torture's iconic forms. "Damn right," he quotes himself as saying in response to a CIA request to waterboard Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. "Had we captured more al Qaeda operatives with significant intelligence value, I would have used the program for them as well."

Bush's two-part argument is simple; That waterboarding was legal (i.e., that it was not really torture); and that it worked.

But neither assertion is remotely true.

Waterboarding -- essentially controlled drowning -- involves immobilizing someone and pouring water over their mouth and nose in a way that makes them choke. It causes great physical and mental suffering, but leaves no marks.

It's not new; villains and despots have been using it extract confessions for something like 700 years. The CIA just perfected it.

It is self-evidently, almost definitionally, torture. The U.S. government had always considered it torture. In 1947, the U.S. charged a Japanese officer who waterboarded an American with war crimes. It is flatly a violation of international torture conventions.

And as far as I know, no American government official had ever even suggested it wasn't torture until a small handful of lawyers in Bush's supine Justice Department, working under orders from the vice president, claimed otherwise.

These lawyers drafted a series of memos so lacking in legal merit -- and so cruel and inhuman -- that they were retracted and repudiated even by a later wave of Bush appointees.

The original "torture memo" from August 1, 2002, for instance, argued that to "rise to the level of torture" an act had to cause pain "equivalent to intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." Anything short of that, according to the memo, was OK.

Lauer asked Bush in their interview why he thought waterboarding was legal.

"Because the lawyer said it was legal," Bush replied. "He said it did not fall within the Anti-Torture Act. I'm not a lawyer, but you gotta trust the judgment of people around you and I do."

When Lauer raised the possibility that Bush's lawyers had simply told him what they knew he wanted to hear, Bush vaguely denied it and suggested that his book might shed more light on the topic. But it doesn't, at least not much. In it, Bush writes:

Department of Justice and CIA lawyers conducted a careful legal review. They concluded that the enhanced interrogation program complied with the Constitution an all applicable laws, including those that ban torture.

I took a look at the list of techniques. There were two that I felt went too far, even if they were legal. I directed the CIA not to use them. Another technique was waterboarding, a process of simulated drowning. No doubt the procedure was tough, but medical experts assured the CIA that it did not lasting harm.

I knew that an interrogation program this sensitive and controversial would one day become public. When it did, we would open ourselves up to criticism that America had compromised our moral values. I would have preferred that we get the information another way. But the choice between security and values was real. Had I not authorized waterboarding on senior al Qaeda leaders, I would have had to accept a greater risk that the country would be attacked. In the wake of 9/11, that was a risk I was unwilling to take. My most solemn responsibility as president was to protect the country. I approved the use of the interrogation techniques.

 

But the choice between security and values was not real. And this is exactly the reason we have laws: To prevent people from doing what they may for some reason think at the moment is a good idea, but which society has determined is wrong. No man is above the law. And "the lawyer said it was legal" is not a sufficient excuse.

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As for the claim that torture worked, Bush writes in the book:

Of the thousands of terrorists we captured in the years after 9/11, about a hundred were placed into the CIA program. About a third of those were questioned using enhanced techniques. Three were waterboarded. The information the detainees revealed constituted more than half of what the CIA knew about al-Qaeda. Their interrogations helped break up plots to attack American military and diplomatic facilities abroad, Heathrow Airport and Canary Wharf in London, and multiple targets in the United States.

But the only thing we know for sure is that detainees who were tortured made elaborate confessions. That, after all, is what torture is good for. We don't know how much valuable information they really provided. We don't know how much of that information came before they were tortured, rather than after. We certainly don't know how much information they would have shared under proven, standard interrogation techniques.

And under close inspection by investigative journalists, every one of Bush's specific assertions about torture having saved lives has been thoroughly debunked.

The first detainee waterboarded directly on Bush's orders was Abu Zubaydah, in August 2002.

During his presidency, Bush repeatedly used Zubaydah as his Exhibit A for torture. In the book, Bush describes him as a "senior recruiter and operator" and "trusted associate of Osama bin Laden."

After CIA interrogators strapped Zubaydah to the waterboard and suffocated him 83 times in a month, he broke down. Bush writes:

Zubaydah revealed large amounts of information on al Qaeda's structure and operations. He also provided leads that helped reveal the location of Ramzi bin al Shibh, the logistical planner of the 9/11 attacks. The Pakistani police picked him upon the first anniversary of 9/11.

In the book, Bush did not, as he had on several occasions during his presidency, give Zubaydah credit for identifying bin al Shibh as a terror suspect in the first place. That particular claim was undercut by the fact that, some four months before Zubaydah was captured, an FBI indictment detailed bin al Shibh's alleged involvement in the 9/11 plot.

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