The Torture Memos
(Updates below and continuing as more reactions come in…)
I do not believe that any American president has ever orchestrated, constructed or so closely monitored the torture of other human beings the way George W. Bush did. It is clear that it is pre-meditated; and it is clear that the parsing of torture techniques that you read in the report is a simply disgusting and repellent piece of dishonesty and bad faith. When you place it alongside the Red Cross’ debriefing of the torture victims, the fit is almost perfect.
The legal memorandum for the CIA, prepared by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, reviewed 10 enhanced techniques for interrogating Zubaydah, and determined that none of them constituted torture under U.S. criminal law. The techniques were: attention grasp, walling (hitting a detainee against a flexible wall), facial hold, facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects placed in a confinement box, and waterboarding.
The Obama administration has made today a good news-bad news day for civil libertarians. On the one hand, the administration has decided to release four controversial memos prepared by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush administration…
…However, in the same statement, Obama says one thing that will not warm the hearts of torture opponents: CIA agents and officials responsible for waterboarding will not be prosecuted.
I wonder, what is the statute of limitations on war crimes? Torture? Defaming the American Constitution? How Obama can grant immunity on this is simply beyond me.
In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution. The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world. Their accomplishments are unsung and their names unknown, but because of their sacrifices, every single American is safer. We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs.
The more one reads of this, the harder it is to credit Obama’s statement today that “this is a time for reflection, not retribution.” At least when it comes to the orders of our highest government leaders and the DOJ lawyers who authorized them, these are pure war crimes, justified in the most disgustingly clinical language and with clear intent of wrongdoing. FDL has a petition urging Eric Holder to immediately appoint a Special Prosecutor to determine if criminal proceedings should commence.
Obama did the right thing by releasing these memos, providing all the information and impetus the citizenry should need to demand investigations and prosecutions. But it is up to citizens to demand that the rule of law be applied.
Here’s what Attorney General Holder said today in his statement: “Holder also stressed that intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.”
…So — doesn’t that mean that if there were IC officials who did NOT act reasonably, did NOT act in good faith, and IGNORED the OLC’s advice — that if evidence were to come out that some folks did this — that they could be subject to prosecution?
On this one, the right side won.
A quick skim suggests that very little of significance was redacted. I am quite pleased with the Obama administration’s actions here. While some are upset that the guys who were “just following orders” will get off, I’m pleased to see some evidence come to light regarding the people who actually gave orders. Now, wouldn’t it be absolutely delightful if we could use this evidence to punish those who gave the orders? One can hope…
It seems like mostly good news to me – perhaps my initial worry over the immunity was overblown….
Did the decision by the Spanish to relent on their war crimes prosecution have anything to do with the decision by the White House to release the OLC torture memos in full – with merely proper names redacted?
If so, that makes almost no sense to me at all. If anything, releasing these memos should give the Spanish courts a stronger case. The only way I can see that making any sense is if American courts had some plan to take up the cases instead, and I am going to once again play the cynic and suggest that such is not to be…at least not any time soon.
The OLC memos released today make for chilling reading. They also make it clear that we’re talking about interrogation methods that were whipped up by a group of people who were incredibly eager to torture some of their fellow human beings. They reflect the mindset of a group that regards the legal prohibition on torture as really sad, and thus something they need to find a way to get around. They achieved this by first concocting this weird definition of torture and then deviously coming up with all kinds of ways of torturing people that don’t fit the definition.
But all that this business about trapping someone in a confined box with insects shows is that the definition is wrong. The bug box, the slap, the stress positions, the waterboarding, etc. have all the hallmarks of torture. If they were done to your dad, you would call it torture. But some folks who are both creative and demented managed to come up with a bunch of ways of torturing people that didn’t fit the weird definition of torture they dreamed up.
Finally, it should be emphasized — yet again — that it was not our Congress, nor our media, nor our courts that compelled disclosure of these memos. Instead, it was the ACLU’s tenacious efforts over several years which single-handedly pryed these memos from the clutched hands of the government. Along with a couple of other civil liberties organizations, the ACLU (with which I consult) has expended extraordinary efforts to ensure at least minimal amounts of openness and transparency in this country, something that was necessary given the profound failures of these other institutions to do so.
Not really an update. Still deafening silence from the Right. Only Charles Johnson who writes on the CIA immunity:
This breaking news is going to drive the left completely crazy. (A short drive.)
I guess everyone is so busy Tea Partying like it was 1981 that real news – real revelations about American war crimes – are just falling by the wayside. When they do finally emerge from their cave, what apology for the Bush administration do you suppose they’ll offer?
As I’ve said many times here before, the most culpable parties in this whole disgusting affair are the lawyers. Their job was to stand up for the rule of law, to tell the Dick Cheneys of the world that what they wanted to do was clearly illegal. They didn’t do that. Indeed, they went to elaborate lengths to give their legal blessing to conduct they had to have known was illegal.
I know many of you disagree with me on this, but I think Obama did the right thing by promising not to prosecute CIA officers who acted in accordance with the OLC’s prior advice. Given the kind of things these folks are asked to do and the important missions entrusted to them, they have to be able to rely on the legal advice they’re given by the government. If we start prosecuting people for conduct they were specifically advised was legal by the OLC, it will severely hamper our ability to conduct future intelligence work. No one will trust the advice they are given, they’ll worry that the rug will be pulled out from under them at some point down the road. That’s an untenable situation.
The people who should be punished are the people who gave the advice. The lawyers. The Jay Bybees, John Yoos, and David Addingtons of the world. Obama did the right thing by releasing these memos today. It is now up to us to make sure they generate the degree of outrage that they should.
Oh, and I found a Redstate reaction from Jeff Emmanuel:
Co-opting the word “torture” to include methods far less offensive than the majority of interrogation techniques I underwent in military SERE training isn’t a victory for moralists and humanitarians in any form; rather, it’s an Orwellian perversion of a word that once had meaning by those who have spent the last eight years on constant lookout for some greviance to hold against a president whose mere existence they resented.
The sad fact is, by co-opting the word “torture” and using it to describe activities going on at Gitmo, Bagram, and elsewhere, these faux-humanitarians have left us with no word to use to describe those activities which used to be classified as torture, like beheading captives on video, hanging people from meat hooks, drilling out eyeballs, using electric current to cause severe pain and physical damage, and cutting off limbs.
Damn co-opters! First you co-opt the word “marriage” and now the word “torture!” By the way, is “beheading captives on video” really considered torture? I thought that was murder…
It’s interesting that Jeff thinks the only forms of torture that ought to be called that are the sort that essentially just almost instantly kill the victims. Been watching too many Saw movies there Jeff?
Senior administration officials have made it clear to me: neither President Obama’s statement nor Attorney General Holder’s words were meant to foreclose the possibility of prosecuting CIA officers who did NOT act in good faith, or who did not act according to the guidelines spelled out by the OLC.
The point is that the depths of this story are still unexplored, and only a congressional investigation, with appropriate subpoena power, can get at the truth. That’s what the American Civil Liberties Union is calling for; that’s what Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) is calling for. It’s not a question of a witch hunt, nor is it a backdoor way into prosecutions. It’s about closing this ugly chapter in American history. Leaving questions unresolved ensures that can never happen. If it’s the case that CIA officials are culpable for the torture, they should be held appropriately accountable; the same goes for Bush administration officials. The only blanket statement that’s appropriate in the wake of these memos is that torture is unacceptable, illegal and un-American.
Plumb the depths.
Update VI (by Mark)- Plumbing the Partisan Right
Not only should there be no prosecution of those who were doing the difficult and dirty job of trying to extract intelligence from terrorists, but the administration should have refused to release the documents on grounds of national security. What’s the point of classifying documents in the first place if they are just going to be made public a few years later? The idiotic efforts to expose secret CIA operations, combined with shortsighted attempts to impose crippling legal restrictions will invariably damage intelligence-gathering. Actually, they probably already have.
And, you knew this was coming [Ed. Commenter Roque Nuevo beat me to this]; Commentarian Extraordinaire Abe Greenwald sets the spin cycle on high:
In actuality, it is important that the memos were released, but for reasons that don’t particularly interest Obama. They completely vindicate CIA interrogators and expose the hysteria of anti-Bush fanatics. Try not to weep for your country’s lost ideals as you read this:
The memos show that Justice Department lawyers authorized the Central Intelligence Agency to use such techniques as sleep deprivation, facial slaps and placing one high-ranking al-Qaeda suspect in a cramped box with what he was told was a stinging insect.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what supposedly made America the moral equivalent of al Qaeda. Do you suppose that if Barack Obama could get a guarantee that American captives of terrorists would from now on be subjected to no more than the above, he would waste a second in okaying it?
(Sound of Mark slamming head against wall).
Update VII (Kain again):
Spencer Ackerman is calling for a congressional investigation into who at the CIA (or in the top tier of the Bush administration) was pushing for torture to be taken up. That’s fine, and I hope we see it happen. But we now have more than enough evidence to suggest that Bybee and Yoo purposefully obscured this country’s laws in order to allow it to do something illegal and truly disgusting. Enough with the pussyfooting over “partisan backlash.” Those who still refuse to acknowledge the clear criminality on display here will never acknowledge it. It’s time for moral leadership that rejects these meaningless equivocations and begins the work that needs to be done.
I agree. Nothing short of investigation and prosecution is enough at this point. This is a turning point in American history – and we can choose the path of justice or the path of moral defeat. There aren’t really any other options.
Now, setting aside the reasonableness of Max’s modest proposal, let’s check out a link provided by commenter typo….
What is he talking about? What dark, painful chapter? The man hates this country. I am a proud American. This country was attacked – the most terrible attack in American history on our soil. Dark? Painful? Sounds like he is describing his first 100 days.
What’s he apologizing for? Defending ourselves? I am going to throw up.
In yet another America hating, revolting move, Obama released the memos that gives our enemies inside intel into how we conduct interrogations.
This would be funny if it wasn’t so…uhm…sad? Is sad the word I’m looking for? Or is it just sadly predictable and sort of boringly pathetic…? Do people really believe that Obama “hates this country”? I doubt it. But I suppose when your entire ideology is founded on lies it becomes devastatingly hard to stop lying….