Reidblog [The Reid Report blog]

Think at your own risk.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Dick Cheney's torture for war program
The most damning paragraphs from former Colin Powell deputy Lawrence Wilkerson's exclusive post on TWN:

My investigations have revealed to me--vividly and clearly--that once the Abu Ghraib photographs were made public in the Spring of 2004, the CIA, its contractors, and everyone else involved in administering "the Cheney methods of interrogation", simply shut down. Nada. Nothing. No torture or harsh techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator. Period. People were too frightened by what might happen to them if they continued.

What I am saying is that no torture or harsh interrogation techniques were employed by any U.S. interrogator for the entire second term of Cheney-Bush, 2005-2009. So, if we are to believe the protestations of Dick Cheney, that Obama's having shut down the "Cheney interrogation methods" will endanger the nation, what are we to say to Dick Cheney for having endangered the nation for the last four years of his vice presidency?

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002--well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion--its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just "committed suicide" in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi....)

The plot continues to thicken...

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posted by JReid @ 10:11 PM  
Friday, May 01, 2009
The GOP makes it official: they ARE the party of torture
Top GOP leaders put out a new ad embracing the Bush torture era, Gitmo, and all the other ways their former, failed president, disgraced this country. Watch:



What's shocking is that elected Republicans have now gone on the record as favoring torture, something that up until now, only their radio talking heads, bloggers and neocon "think tankers" have done out loud. Now we can officially call the Republican Party the Party of Torture. Meanwhile, a Republican lawyer makes the latest pro-torture case: waterboarding isn't torture because ... wait for it ... the detainee knows in advance that the interrogators aren't going to kill him (are you listening, Sean Hannity???) Seriously... Writes Daphne Eviatar in the Washington Monthly:

... in a recent conversation I had with Republican lawyer David Rivkin, a former Reagan and first Bush administration official and an outspoken supporter of the second Bush administration’s legal justifications for its interrogation tactics, Rivkin explained the sort of reasoning that former OLC lawyers Bybee, John Yoo and Steven Bradbury were employing.

Rivkin said the authorized “techniques” really didn’t rise to the level of torture or “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” as outlawed by the Convention Against Torture and the U.S. law implementing it, because none of the methods inflicted “severe physical or mental pain or suffering,” as the statute defines torture. One of the statute’s definitions of severe mental suffering, however, is the threat of imminent death. (As Spencer wrote here, Bybee himself wrote that waterboarding involves the threat of imminent death, although he still somehow concluded that it wasn’t torture.)

Well, Rivkin argued, waterboarding and those other techniques couldn’t have been torture, because despite the apparent threat, the detainees knew they weren’t going to get killed.

And how did they know that?

“Assuming even an average level of intelligence, you would have to be an idiot to think that they’re going to kill you,” Rivkin said. “So the fact that you’d be killed deliberately is not a plausible scenario.”

In other words, it's okay to torture someone, as long as they're smart enough to figure out that you're not actually going to kill them. ... huh??? Rivkin's evidence supporting his theory comes from a place you've actually got to read to believe: Soviet gulags. Seriously:

“I’ve read lots of memoirs of people languishing in gulags … One thing that emerges very clearly is actually how, despite their horribly grim circumstances, the prisoners actually welcomed interrogations. As a way to break the oppressive monotony of the cell or working conditions. So they always welcome even the most sadistic and unpleasant interrogators. And to the extent that you’re worried about being shot eventually, during interrogations you’re not worried about that. We’re all fairly rational beings, isn’t that a rational point?”

Wow. This guy hasn't been disbarred yet, huh...?


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posted by JReid @ 11:22 AM  
Friday, April 17, 2009
Waterboarding is torture (again) and really always was
From the New York Times summaries of one of the newly released torture memos:
Waterboarding

Aug. 2002, May 2005

“This effort plus the cloth produces the perception of ‘suffocation and incipient panic,’ i.e., the perception of drowning. The individual does not breathe any water into his lungs. During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of 12 to 24 inches. ... The sensation of drowning is immediately relieved by the removal of the cloth. The procedure may then be repeated.”
And from a WaPo article dated October 5, 2006:

On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post published a front-page photograph of a U.S. soldier supervising the questioning of a captured North Vietnamese soldier who is being held down as water was poured on his face while his nose and mouth were covered by a cloth. The picture, taken four days earlier near Da Nang, had a caption that said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk."

The article said the practice was "fairly common" in part because "those who practice it say it combines the advantages of being unpleasant enough to make people talk while still not causing permanent injury."

The picture reportedly led to an Army investigation.

Twenty-one years earlier, in 1947, the United States charged a Japanese officer, Yukio Asano, with war crimes for carrying out another form of waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. The subject was strapped on a stretcher that was tilted so that his feet were in the air and head near the floor, and small amounts of water were poured over his face, leaving him gasping for air until he agreed to talk.

"Asano was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor," Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) told his colleagues last Thursday during the debate on military commissions legislation. "We punished people with 15 years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II," he said.

We also hanged them, according to John McCain. And next, the unbelievable justification for waterboarding U.S. detainees:

“Although the subject may experience the fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. ... Although the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death, prolonged mental harm must nonetheless result to violate the statutory prohibition infliction of severe mental pain or suffering. ... Indeed, you have advised us that the relief is almost immediate when the cloth is removed from the nose and mouth. In the absence of prolonged mental harm, no severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted, and the use of these procedures would not constitute torture within the meaning of the statute.”
And then there's the admission, by the DOJ officials who wrote the torture memos, of what they were authorizing, as caught by the HuffPo's Sam Stein and Stuart Whatley:

The May 10, 2005, memorandum from the attorney general's office to the CIA defines torture as -- among other things -- activity where a subject suffers prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from "the threat of imminent death." From there, waterboarding was justified as a technique that, while possibly qualifying as a "threat of imminent death," had "safeguards" in place "that make actual harm quite unlikely." The qualifier seemed to clear the Bush White House of illegality.

But in a footnote at the bottom of page 43 of that same memo, the authors dropped the formalities. "For purposes of our analysis," the footnote reads, "we will assume that the physiological sensation of drowning associated with the use of the waterboard may constitute a 'threat of imminent death' within the meaning of sections 2340-2340A."

For purposes of analysys??? Those on the right justify all of this because in their mind, it doesn't rise to the level of what, say, Saddam Hussein was up to. But what's truly scary, if you read the various winger commentaries floating around the blog world, they are entirely comfortable with the barbarism described in the memos, and some even seem to feel that our techniques should be more like Saddam's, not less. And their biggest beef is that Americans are too pansified to embrace the violent treatment of prisoners under Bush's "leadership."


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posted by JReid @ 11:09 AM  
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Caller 1, El Rushbo 0
ThinkP has great audio of a caller owning Rush Limbaugh. The caller is a World War II veteran and a Republican, and he doesn't think much of the chickenhawk host's fondness for torture. Check it out.

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posted by JReid @ 1:05 AM  
Monday, March 02, 2009
Bush-era torture tapes, memos released

It's official. After September 11, 2001, George W. Bush was crowned Julius Caesar by his Justice Department. Proof? The current J.D. released two memos issued by the Bush Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and seven previously undisclosed opinions, all of which had been sought by civil libertarians including the ACLU. The subject? What John Yoo and company believed that the president could do, not on some foreign "battlefield" of the "war on terror," but here in America. From NBC:
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department on Monday released a long-secret legal document from 2001 in which the Bush administration claimed the military could search and seize terror suspects in the United States without warrants.

The legal memo was written about a month after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. It says constitutional protections against unlawful search and seizure would not apply to terror suspects in the U.S., as long as the president or another high official authorized the action.

The memos can be found and read online here. The titles alone are frightening:

A sample of the truly frightening contents, from a June 27, 2002 memo signed by Deputy Assistant Attorney General Yoo:

Section 4001 of Title 18 states:

(a) No citizen shall be improsoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congres.

However, according to the Bush Office of Legal Counsel,

"...the President's authority to detain enemy combatants, including U.S. citizens, is based on his constitutional authority as Commander in Chief. We conclude that Section 4001(a) does not, and constitutionally could not, interfere with that authority."

Get it? And per AfterDowningStreet:

Another memo showed that, within two weeks of Sept. 11, the administration was contemplating ways to use wiretaps without getting warrants.

The author of the search and seizure memo, John Yoo, did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In that memo, Yoo wrote that the president could treat terrorist suspects in the United States like an invading foreign army. For instance, he said, the military would not have to get a warrant to storm a building to prevent terrorists from detonating a bomb.

Yoo also suggested that the government could put new restrictions on the press and speech, without spelling out what those might be.

"First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully," Yoo wrote, adding later: "The current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically."

On their way out the door, Alberto Gonzales' follow-ons in the Justice Department issued memos of their own, trying to disavow the earlier memos (two of the disavowals are included in today's release) saying they should not be relied on, and that they were a "product of an extraordinary -- indeed, we hope, a unique -- period in the history of the Nation: the immediate aftermath of the attacks of 9/11."

But some of the memos were written later -- much later. The memo on detaining U.S. citizens without trial or warrants was written in June of 2002. Interestingly enough, the later memos came during a time when the Bush administration was contemplating going to war against Iraq. And Michael Issikoff just reminded us on "the Rachel Maddow show" that Steve Bradbury, the OLC chief who spearheaded the disavowal memos, was himself under investigation for the issuance of the clearly un-American, unconstitutional legal opinions.

In other torture news, the CIA finally announced the actual number of interrogation tapes (read torture tapes) were destroyed by the agency to prevent investigations into torture at Gitmo. The answer? 92. Natch.

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posted by JReid @ 9:01 PM  
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Don't tell the wingers! ... '24' isn't real...


Keifer Sutherland responds to charges that the violent interrogations on the hit show '24' -- which most right wingers believe is a documentary -- are influencing real military people to do real torture. He tells the Guardian:

"What Jack Bauer does is all in the context of a television show," Sutherland begins, very slowly and deliberately, in the grainy register of a heavy smoker. He looks unexpectedly slight, and a little tired, but his engagement is direct and considered. "I always have to remind people of this. We're making a television programme. We're utilising certain devices for drama. And it's good drama. And I love this drama! As an actor I have had an absolute blast doing it. You sit in a room and put a gun to a guy's knee and say, 'Tell me!' Oh, you feel so amazing after that!

"But I know it's not real. The other actor certainly knows it's not real. And up until a year ago, everybody else knew it wasn't real."

Or did they...?

In 2007 it was reported that a delegation from West Point had visited the set of 24 to tell producers that their portrayal of torture was seriously affecting military training. Cadets love 24, a general explained, "and they say, 'If torture is wrong, what about 24?'" A former US army interrogator told them he'd seen soldiers in Iraq "watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they've just seen". Their claims were corroborated by a book last year by Philippe Sands about interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay, in which military officials cited 24 as an inspiration for early "brainstorming meetings". Bauer, one officer admitted, "gave people a lot of ideas".

Sutherland is a Democrat and says he longs for the day when Bauer's interrogation techniques "go back to being a figment of someone's imagination, as opposed to mirroring things that are in fact happening across the world". Authenticity, however, has always been central to 24's appeal. Just a week before President Obama announced that he was going to close Guantánamo Bay, the latest series opened with the counter-terrorism unit disbanded, and Bauer facing indictment for torture. "The world is changing," Sutherland smiles, "and season seven deals with that. It deals with Jack Bauer in a world that's changing where he is obsolete."

But the charge is that life has been imitating art, mirroring what it saw on 24. When I put it to Sutherland, the smile quickly thins, and he begins to look annoyed.

"First off, I'm just going to tell you outright, the problem is not 24. To try and correlate from what's happening on a television show to what the military is doing in the real world, I think that's ridiculous." Does he mean he doesn't believe the reports of 24's influence? "Well I haven't read all those reports. But if that's actually happening, then the problem that you have in the US military is massive. If your ethics in the military, in your training, is going to be counterminded by a one-hour weekly television show we've got a really big problem." His growl grows heavy with contempt. "If you can't tell the difference between reality and what's happening on a made-up TV show, and you're correlating that back to how to do your job in the real world, that's a big, big problem."

Yes, a problem ... indeed... so let's get to the good stuff: is Jack Bauer a Republican? Oh wait, hold on ... let me make sure Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck aren't listening in on the George W. Bush listening devices embedded in my Mac screen ... okay ... we're good. Go on:

24's creator, Joel Surnow, who has described himself as a "rightwing nut job", has certainly given the impression of being not unhappy if 24 impacts on public opinion, saying: "America wants the war on terror fought by Jack Bauer. He's a patriot." The Fox executive who bought the show has said candidly, "There's definitely a political attitude on the show, which is that extreme measures are sometimes necessary for the greater good. Joel's politics suffuse the whole show." The essential message of 24 is not just that torture can be morally justifiable, but, more importantly, that it works. And in the absence of other more accurate sources of information in American popular culture, it's hardly surprising if the viewing public believes it.

Sutherland repeatedly invokes the phrase "in the context of a television programme", and stresses, "this is a drama", but there are moments when exactly who is confusing TV and reality is unclear. "Jack Bauer," he asserts, "is to me an apolitical character." Really? "Well, can you tell me if Jack Bauer is a Democrat or a Republican?" I would say he's clearly a Republican. "Absolutely not!" Sutherland flashes back triumphantly. "Not a chance." Why not? "Because I'm not a Republican, and I created the character." If Bauer is supposed to be pure make-believe, then surely Sutherland's personal politics are beside the point? I get the impression that the only really consistent thread in the logic of his defence of 24 might be an intellectual motto of "Whatever it takes".

Indeed... What is that saying about denial and a river in Egypt? The truth of the matter is that right wingers DO believe that '24' is a realistic depiction of the so-called "war on terror," or at least, a depiction of the way it should be. The love of torture, the really un-American embrace of it, has become a key component of the "conservative" ideology. Keifer can say whatever he wants, but the evidence is there, including the fact that the right's chattering classes fuel such beliefs among the dim Palinites who listen to them. Whatever it takes.

Read the whole Guardian article here.



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posted by JReid @ 6:06 PM  
Friday, January 16, 2009
Yes Virginia, waterboarding IS torture
Eric Holder offers a breath of fresh, non-war crime-filled air during his confirmation hearing:



Meanwhile, the Palinites have given up on reality altogether, clinging to a fictional American hero, Jack Bauer, for comfort in a scary, scary world, especially as their Hollywood crafted mentor takes on a pretend Congress on torture... Perhaps in 2009, someone can tell these poor rubes that "24" is just a television show. On second thought, maybe we shouldn't. The let down might make them crazy...er.

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posted by JReid @ 1:50 AM  
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Now that Dick Cheney has admitted to war crimes...
Can we prosecute the bastard at long last? I mean, he admitted to approving torture on television, without even being ... waterboarded... Meanwhile, is terrorism training from the Bush administration a good thing, or a bad thing, for the incoming Obama team to have? I'm going with "bad." Meanwile, the Atlantic's Russ Douthat ponders the ramifications of America becoming a nation of torture, even as Barack Obama promises to turn that around. BTW if you caught "Hardball" today, you saw a perfect example of the GOP's ability to condone the unthinkable, in the person of the normally reasonable Michael Smerconish. Watch:

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posted by JReid @ 12:59 AM  
Friday, December 12, 2008
The torture report
A little light holiday reading for in-coming Attorney General Eric Holder:
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other members of the Bush administration "conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees," claims a Senate Armed Services Committee report issued Thursday.

According to the committee, prisoners were tortured in the Iraqi prison Abu Ghraib, the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and other US military installations. Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John McCain (R-AZ) were responsible for the content of the Senate's findings.

The report determined that placing the blame on "a few bad apples," as Bush administration officials attempted to do in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, is inappropriate.

The policies were adopted after government assessments determined waterboarding and other torture techniques were "100 percent effective" at breaking the wills of US officers who underwent the military's Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape program.

What's more:
General Richard Myers, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is also singled out for approving inhumane interrogation techniques, which the former general counsel of the navy, Alberto Mora, said had led to attacks on US troops in Iraq.

"There are serving US flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of US combat deaths in Iraq — as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat — are, respectively, the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," Mr Mora said.

The report, which took 18 months to compile, was issued jointly by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the Democratic chairman of the panel, and Senator John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican.

It said the techniques used were "based, in part, on Chinese communist techniques used during the Korean War to elicit false confessions" from captured US prisoners.

Instructors from the Pentagon agency that trains soldiers in resisting such treatment were sent to Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq to assist in adapting the methods, it said. The report said senior Defence Department officials approached that agency about techniques as early as December 2001. The head of the agency responded that his officials "stand ready to assist" Pentagon efforts at prisoner "exploitation".

See, we do get too much stuff from China. So when do the trials start?

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posted by JReid @ 9:27 PM  
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Boumediene beats Bush
A federal judge orders Lakhdar Boumediene and four of five other Algerians released from the American gulag after seven long years:

The decision came in the case of six Algerians who were detained in Bosnia after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and have been held at the military prison in Cuba for nearly seven years. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, a Bush appointee, ruled that five of the men must be released "forthwith" and ordered the government to engage in diplomatic efforts to find them new homes.

In an unusual move, Leon also urged the government not to appeal his ruling, saying "seven years of waiting for our legal system to give them an answer" was long enough.

In the case of the sixth Algerian, Belkacem Bensayah, Leon found that the government had met its evidentiary burden and could continue to hold him. Bensayah's lawyers said he would appeal.

The landmark ruling is the first by a federal judge who has weighed the government's evidence in lawsuits brought by scores of detainees who are challenging their detentions. In June, the Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by the Algerians, that Guantanamo Bay detainees have the right to challenge their detentions in federal court under the legal doctrine of habeas corpus.

To review, Boumediene and his cohorts were picked up in Sarajevo on the tip of a single, anonymous person, and accused of plotting to blow up the U.S. enemy, and planning to go to Afghanistan to fight the Americans. Boumediene's case ultimately went to the Supreme Court, causing various right wing heads to 'splode:

Scalia got the ball rolling in his shrieky dissent yesterday, adopting almost word for word, the Fox News/right wing talk show formulation that "Americans will die" if our eternal detainees are allowed to challenge their endless detention in court.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board weighs in with its hysterical reaction today, directing their ire at Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Ronald Reagan appointee wrote the decision in the case of Boumediene v. Bush:
Justice Kennedy's opinion is remarkable in its sweeping disregard for the decisions of both political branches. In a pair of 2006 laws – the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act – Congress and the President had worked out painstaking and good-faith rules for handling enemy combatants during wartime. These rules came in response to previous Supreme Court decisions demanding such procedural care, and they are the most extensive ever granted to prisoners of war.

Yet as Justice Antonin Scalia notes in dissent, "Turns out" the same Justices "were just kidding." Mr. Kennedy now deems those efforts inadequate, based on only the most cursory analysis. As Chief Justice John Roberts makes clear in his dissent, the majority seems to dislike these procedures merely because a judge did not sanctify them. In their place, Justice Kennedy decrees that district court judges should derive their own ad hoc standards for judging habeas petitions. Make it up as you go!

Or not... More on Boumediene himself:


Lakhdar Boumediene, now 41, travelled to Bosnia with five other Algerian men during the civil war in the 1990s, and may have fought with Bosnian forces against the Serbs.

The six stayed in Bosnia, married Bosnian women, were granted citizenship and took jobs working with orphans for various Muslim charities.

In October 2001, the US embassy in Sarajevo asked the Bosnian government to arrest them because of a suspicion they had been involved in a plot to bomb the embassy.

The six men were duly arrested. But after a three-month investigation, in which the Bosnian police searched their apartments, their computers and their documents, there was - according to a report by the New-York-based Center for Constitutional Rights - still no evidence to justify the arrests.

Bosnia's Supreme Court ordered their release, and the Bosnian Human Rights Chamber ruled they had the right to remain in the country and were not to be deported.

However, on the night of 17 January 2002, after they were freed from Bosnian custody, they were seized and rendered to Guantanamo.

Since arriving in Guantanamo, the men have faced repeated allegations of links to al-Qaeda - but the embassy plot has never been mentioned.
Now, all that's left is for the Bush administration to defy the federal judge and continue to hold them anyway, until President Obama is sworn in and the U.S. finally does the right thing. Either way, these men's ordeal is almost over. Let's hope it's not too late, and that they have not become so embittered that they really do become combatants against the United States.

Previous:

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posted by JReid @ 3:16 PM  
Monday, July 14, 2008
When the crime is worse than the cover-up
Once again, Frank Rich lets the Bushies have it:

WE know what a criminal White House looks like from “The Final Days,” Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s classic account of Richard Nixon’s unraveling. The cauldron of lies, paranoia and illegal surveillance boiled over, until it was finally every man for himself as desperate courtiers scrambled to save their reputations and, in a few patriotic instances, their country.

“The Final Days” was published in 1976, two years after Nixon abdicated in disgrace. With the Bush presidency, no journalist (or turncoat White House memoirist) is waiting for the corpse to be carted away. The latest and perhaps most chilling example arrives this week from Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, long a relentless journalist on the war-on-terror torture beat. Her book “The Dark Side” connects the dots of her own past reporting and that of her top-tier colleagues (including James Risen and Scott Shane of The New York Times) to portray a White House that, like its prototype, savaged its enemies within almost as ferociously as it did the Constitution.

Some of “The Dark Side” seems right out of “The Final Days,” minus Nixon’s operatic boozing and weeping. We learn, for instance, that in 2004 two conservative Republican Justice Department officials had become “so paranoid” that “they actually thought they might be in physical danger.” The fear of being wiretapped by their own peers drove them to speak in code.

The men were John Ashcroft’s deputy attorney general, James Comey, and an assistant attorney general, Jack Goldsmith. Their sin was to challenge the White House’s don, Dick Cheney, and his consigliere, his chief of staff David Addington, when they circumvented the Geneva Conventions to make torture the covert law of the land. Mr. Comey and Mr. Goldsmith failed to stop the “torture memos” and are long gone from the White House. But Vice President Cheney and Mr. Addington remain enabled by a president, attorney general (Michael Mukasey) and C.I.A. director (Michael Hayden) who won’t shut the door firmly on torture even now.

Nixon parallels take us only so far, however. “The Dark Side” is scarier than “The Final Days” because these final days aren’t over yet and because the stakes are much higher. Watergate was all about a paranoid president’s narcissistic determination to cling to power at any cost. In Ms. Mayer’s portrayal of the Bush White House, the president is a secondary, even passive, figure, and the motives invoked by Mr. Cheney to restore Nixon-style executive powers are theoretically selfless. Possessed by the ticking-bomb scenarios of television’s “24,” all they want to do is protect America from further terrorist strikes.

Meanwhile, members of the administration appear not to be completely oblivious to the perils they find themselves in. Former U.N. ambassadorial temp John Bolton got a nice scare in Europe this spring, when a citizen attempted to arrest him for war crimes. Baron von Rumsfeld has had to be fleet footed in France after narrowly escaping a war crimes indictment (Bush has even sought to immunize his defense team from indictment in the International Criminal Court. No consciousness of guilt there... and failing to get blanket immunity, has forced bilateral agreements on about 100 countries to ensure that U.S. officials won't be handed over.) And no less an insider than retired Gen. Antonio Taguba, who probed the infamous abuses at abu-Ghraib, has definitively stated that key members of the Bush administration committed war crimes by ordering and devising the torture of detainees

The remarks by Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, who's now retired, came in a new report that found that U.S. personnel tortured and abused detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, using beatings, electrical shocks, sexual humiliation and other cruel practices.

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes," Taguba wrote. "The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

(The Red Cross, the lead organization in such matters, concurs.) And ccording to Rich:

Top Bush hands are starting to get sweaty about where they left their fingerprints. Scapegoating the rotten apples at the bottom of the military’s barrel may not be a slam-dunk escape route from accountability anymore.

No wonder the former Rumsfeld capo, Douglas Feith, is trying to discredit a damaging interview he gave to the British lawyer Philippe Sands for another recent and essential book on what happened, “Torture Team.” After Mr. Sands previewed his findings in the May issue of Vanity Fair, Mr. Feith protested he had been misquoted — apparently forgetting that Mr. Sands had taped the interview. Mr. Feith and Mr. Sands are scheduled to square off in a House hearing this Tuesday.

So hot is the speculation that war-crimes trials will eventually follow in foreign or international courts that Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former chief of staff, has publicly advised Mr. Feith, Mr. Addington and Alberto Gonzales, among others, to “never travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel.” But while we wait for the wheels of justice to grind slowly, there are immediate fears to tend. Ms. Mayer’s book helps cement the case that America’s use of torture has betrayed not just American values but our national security, right to the present day.

Worse, the Mayer book makes it clear that for all the descent into Communist Chinese military tactics, the Cheney-led torture mania hasn't helped U.S. national security. Instead, the lies that torture has elicited have been principle causes leading us into the Iraq quagmire:

In her telling, a major incentive for Mr. Cheney’s descent into the dark side was to cover up for the Bush White House’s failure to heed the Qaeda threat in 2001. Jack Cloonan, a special agent for the F.B.I.’s Osama bin Laden unit until 2002, told Ms. Mayer that Sept. 11 was “all preventable.” By March 2000, according to the C.I.A.’s inspector general, “50 or 60 individuals” in the agency knew that two Al Qaeda suspects — soon to be hijackers — were in America. But there was no urgency at the top. Thomas Pickard, the acting F.B.I. director that summer, told Ms. Mayer that when he expressed his fears about the Qaeda threat to Mr. Ashcroft, the attorney general snapped, “I don’t want to hear about that anymore!”

After 9/11, our government emphasized “interrogation over due process,” Ms. Mayer writes, “to pre-empt future attacks before they materialized.” But in reality torture may well be enabling future attacks. This is not just because Abu Ghraib snapshots have been used as recruitment tools by jihadists. No less destructive are the false confessions inevitably elicited from tortured detainees. The avalanche of misinformation since 9/11 has compromised prosecutions, allowed other culprits to escape and sent the American military on wild-goose chases. The coerced “confession” to the murder of the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to take one horrific example, may have been invented to protect the real murderer.

The biggest torture-fueled wild-goose chase, of course, is the war in Iraq. Exhibit A, revisited in “The Dark Side,” is Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an accused Qaeda commander whose torture was outsourced by the C.I.A. to Egypt. His fabricated tales of Saddam’s biological and chemical W.M.D. — and of nonexistent links between Iraq and Al Qaeda — were cited by President Bush in his fateful Oct. 7, 2002, Cincinnati speech ginning up the war and by Mr. Powell in his subsequent United Nations presentation on Iraqi weaponry. Two F.B.I. officials told Ms. Mayer that Mr. al-Libi later explained his lies by saying: “They were killing me. I had to tell them something.”

That “something” was crucial in sending us into the quagmire that, five years later, has empowered Iran and compromised our ability to counter the very terrorists that torture was supposed to thwart. As The Times reported two weeks ago, Iraq has monopolized our military and intelligence resources to the point where we don’t have enough predator drones or expert C.I.A. field agents to survey the tribal areas where terrorists are amassing in Pakistan. Meanwhile, the threat to America from Al Qaeda is “comparable to what it faced on Sept. 11, 2001,” said Seth Jones, a RAND Corporation terrorism expert and Pentagon consultant. The difference between now and then is simply that the base of operations has moved, “roughly the difference from New York to Philadelphia.”

Meanwhile, in Rich's telling, we're back where we were in the summer before 9/11. Hell, even Chandra Levy is making a comeback, courtesy of a 12-part "investigative" series by the Washington Post... (BTW that summer, Chandra consumed about 90 percent of my time as editor of an NBC News website. Here we go again...)

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posted by JReid @ 12:15 PM  
Monday, June 16, 2008
Right wing hysterics overlook the obvious
Newt Gingrich, the gang at Fox News and the neoconservative wack-jobs who brought us the Iraq war are still going bat-crap crazy over the Supreme Courts "welcome back, habeas corpus" ruling. They're spewing irrationalities every where you turn, and even suggesting that Bush simply ignore the ruling. Yeah. That's not unconstitutional... Even poor old John McCain is doing his part, railing against the Court as only a man who must cast a bewitching spell over the hard right of his own party in order to secure their cooperation in November can. Of course, there's always more to the story, which CBS News' Andrew Cohen spells out nicely:
Following the last Supreme Court ruling on this topic, which also struck down stubborn Administration detainee policies, the Senator (a Vietnam torture victim himself) invested no small amount of his own treasured (and well-earned) historical capital to try to broker a deal on the detainees.

And, in late 2006, he did.

It’s called the Military Commissions Act. It was a terrible idea from the very beginning, and it was one of two federal statutes undercut by the Justices last Thursday. It’s no wonder the nominee is taking the defeat personally.

After first insisting that federal law clearly and unambiguously outlaw “torture,” McCain suddenly caved to White House pressure on the MCA, allowing the Administration to insert into the law a clause that effectively allows (and, indeed, legally buttresses the efforts of) the executive branch to implement torture as a means of interrogation.

Without McCain’s pander, there would have been no bad law for the Court to strike down last week. Without McCain’s grandiloquent appeal to Democrats and moderates during that lame-duck session, there quite possibly might have been a better law that just might have passed its constitutional test this term.

McCain’s sell-out on the torture language is not the reason the Justices declared the MCA unconstitutional. It is not the reason why the detainees now have more access to federal courts than they did before. But it is emblematic of the larger and much more destructive, seven-year-long sell-out of the legislative branch in the legal fight against terrorism.

And that emblem, thanks to the Supreme Court, now has John McCain’s face on it just in time for the run-up to the general election.
Nice work, John.

I suppose it wouldn't move this crowd to find out that some of the people being detained indefinitely by the U.S. aren't actually terrorists...
GARDEZ, Afghanistan — The militants crept up behind Mohammed Akhtiar as he squatted at the spigot to wash his hands before evening prayers at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

They shouted "Allahu Akbar" — God is great — as one of them hefted a metal mop squeezer into the air, slammed it into Akhtiar's head and sent thick streams of blood running down his face.

Akhtiar was among the more than 770 terrorism suspects imprisoned at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. They are the men the Bush administration described as "the worst of the worst."

But Akhtiar was no terrorist. American troops had dragged him out of his Afghanistan home in 2003 and held him in Guantanamo for three years in the belief that he was an insurgent involved in rocket attacks on U.S. forces. The Islamic radicals in Guantanamo's Camp Four who hissed "infidel" and spat at Akhtiar, however, knew something his captors didn't: The U.S. government had the wrong guy.

"He was not an enemy of the government, he was a friend of the government," a senior Afghan intelligence officer told McClatchy. Akhtiar was imprisoned at Guantanamo on the basis of false information that local anti-government insurgents fed to U.S. troops, he said.

An eight-month McClatchy investigation in 11 countries on three continents has found that Akhtiar was one of dozens of men — and, according to several officials, perhaps hundreds — whom the U.S. has wrongfully imprisoned in Afghanistan, Cuba and elsewhere on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence, old personal scores or bounty payments.

McClatchy interviewed 66 released detainees, more than a dozen local officials — primarily in Afghanistan — and U.S. officials with intimate knowledge of the detention program. The investigation also reviewed thousands of pages of U.S. military tribunal documents and other records.

This unprecedented compilation shows that most of the 66 were low-level Taliban grunts, innocent Afghan villagers or ordinary criminals. At least seven had been working for the U.S.-backed Afghan government and had no ties to militants, according to Afghan local officials. In effect, many of the detainees posed no danger to the United States or its allies.

The investigation also found that despite the uncertainty about whom they were holding, U.S. soldiers beat and abused many prisoners.

Prisoner mistreatment became a regular feature in cellblocks and interrogation rooms at Bagram and Kandahar air bases, the two main way stations in Afghanistan en route to Guantanamo.

While he was held at Afghanistan's Bagram Air Base, Akhtiar said, "When I had a dispute with the interrogator, when I asked, 'What is my crime?' the soldiers who took me back to my cell would throw me down the stairs."

The McClatchy reporting also documented how U.S. detention policies fueled support for extremist Islamist groups. For some detainees who went home far more militant than when they arrived, Guantanamo became a school for jihad, or Islamic holy war.
Hm. ... and as for these frightening "terrorists" who are now going to take out an American city (from behind those cage bars in Cuba):

The McClatchy investigation found that top Bush administration officials knew within months of opening the Guantanamo detention center that many of the prisoners there weren't "the worst of the worst." From the moment that Guantanamo opened in early 2002, former Secretary of the Army Thomas White said, it was obvious that at least a third of the population didn't belong there.

Of the 66 detainees whom McClatchy interviewed, the evidence indicates that 34 of them, about 52 percent, had connections with militant groups or activities. At least 23 of those 34, however, were Taliban foot soldiers, conscripts, low-level volunteers or adventure-seekers who knew nothing about global terrorism.

Only seven of the 66 were in positions to have had any ties to al Qaida's leadership, and it isn't clear that any of them knew any terrorists of consequence.

If the former detainees whom McClatchy interviewed are any indication — and several former high-ranking U.S. administration and defense officials said in interviews that they are — most of the prisoners at Guantanamo weren't terrorist masterminds but men who were of no intelligence value in the war on terrorism.

Feeling safe yet? The truly sad thing about this whole sorry business is that few wingers are likely to care whether the people we're holding at Gitmo, including the children, are terrorists or not. For many on the right, it's enough that they are Muslims, and their president (so long as he is a Republican) should, in the estimation of many of the craziest right wingers (and their talk radio listening robots) be able to grab any Muslim, anywhere, anytime, and hold them forever, "as long as the war on terror goes on." And by the way, it will always "go on."

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posted by JReid @ 4:48 PM  
Friday, June 13, 2008
Habeas hysteria
"The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times." -- Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority in Boumediene v. Bush

The authoritarian right has joined Crazy Tony Scalia in going absolutely ape-crap crazy over the Supreme Court's ruling yesterday granting the right of habeas corpus, which had been stripped from the constitution by our current presidential administration and his lackeys in the 109th Congress, to detainees held on the de facto U.S. soil called Guantanamo Bay. Scotusblog publishes one rollicking dissent today from a guy from a right-wing ... er ... "free market"... outfit called the Washington Legal Foundation.

Scalia got the ball rolling in his shrieky dissent yesterday, adopting almost word for word, the Fox News/right wing talk show formulation that "Americans will die" if our eternal detainees are allowed to challenge their endless detention in court.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board weighs in with its hysterical reaction today, directing their ire at Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Ronald Reagan appointee wrote the decision in the case of Boumediene v. Bush:
Justice Kennedy's opinion is remarkable in its sweeping disregard for the decisions of both political branches. In a pair of 2006 laws – the Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act – Congress and the President had worked out painstaking and good-faith rules for handling enemy combatants during wartime. These rules came in response to previous Supreme Court decisions demanding such procedural care, and they are the most extensive ever granted to prisoners of war.

Yet as Justice Antonin Scalia notes in dissent, "Turns out" the same Justices "were just kidding." Mr. Kennedy now deems those efforts inadequate, based on only the most cursory analysis. As Chief Justice John Roberts makes clear in his dissent, the majority seems to dislike these procedures merely because a judge did not sanctify them. In their place, Justice Kennedy decrees that district court judges should derive their own ad hoc standards for judging habeas petitions. Make it up as you go!

Justice Kennedy declines even to consider what those standards should be, or how they would protect national security over classified information or the sources and methods that led to the detentions. Eventually, as the lower courts work their will amid endless litigation, perhaps President Kennedy will vouchsafe more details in some future case. In the meantime, the likelihood grows that our soldiers will prematurely release combatants who will kill more Americans.
I'm quivering just thinking about it.

To arrive at their predictions of doom, the Journal board cites the cases of German soldiers tried (and executed) by military commissions shortly after World War II, and, wait for it, the detention of 400,000 Japanese Americans who were interred in their own country, by their own country, during that conflict. Correct me if I'm wrong, but citing one of this country's most shameful moments as justification for deleting habeas from the Constitution -- a right that goes back to the freaking Magna Carta, and giving one man -- the president -- the power to detain at will, anyone, anywhere, for as long as he sees fit (and to torture them, at that,) doesn't strike me as very persuasive.

The Boumediene case itself is troubling, involving Lakhdar Boumediene, a man detained by U.S. troops in Bosnia way back in 2002. He has been held in Gitmo ever since -- not charged with a crime, just held in extralegal limbo at the president's discretion. His case was filed along with those of 11 other men, also in limbo in America's gulag by the sea. In December, the BBC reported of Boumediene:
Lakhdar Boumediene, now 41, travelled to Bosnia with five other Algerian men during the civil war in the 1990s, and may have fought with Bosnian forces against the Serbs.

The six stayed in Bosnia, married Bosnian women, were granted citizenship and took jobs working with orphans for various Muslim charities.

In October 2001, the US embassy in Sarajevo asked the Bosnian government to arrest them because of a suspicion they had been involved in a plot to bomb the embassy.

The six men were duly arrested. But after a three-month investigation, in which the Bosnian police searched their apartments, their computers and their documents, there was - according to a report by the New-York-based Center for Constitutional Rights - still no evidence to justify the arrests.

Bosnia's Supreme Court ordered their release, and the Bosnian Human Rights Chamber ruled they had the right to remain in the country and were not to be deported.

However, on the night of 17 January 2002, after they were freed from Bosnian custody, they were seized and rendered to Guantanamo.

Since arriving in Guantanamo, the men have faced repeated allegations of links to al-Qaeda - but the embassy plot has never been mentioned.

It was alleged in a tribunal hearing that an unidentified source had said Mr Boumediene "was known to be one of the closest associates of an al-Qaeda member in Europe".

The men have persistently denied the allegations.

Their lawyers say the source of the bomb-plot allegations was the embittered former brother-in-law of one of the men, who ran a smear campaign against him.

The UN special rapporteur on torture, Manfred Novak, has said: "It's implausible to say that they are enemy combatants.

"They were fighters during the Bosnian war, but that ended in 1995.

"They may be radical Islamists, but they have definitely not committed any crime."

Families of the Algerians seized in Bosnia protest in Sarajevo
Families of the Algerians seized in Bosnia have protested in Sarajevo
According to the Washington Post, they were formally exonerated by Bosnian prosecutors in 2004.

The Journal's hysteria board fails to mention any of this, including the exoneration, and the absolute lack of evidence that Mr. Boumediene is an al-Qaida terrorist. And yet:
In March 2005, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice responded to a request for their release from the Bosnian prime minister by saying it was not possible because "they still possess important intelligence data".

All six men have said they have been treated brutally in Guantanamo, subjected to "enhanced interrogation techniques" involving prolonged isolation, forced nudity and sleep deprivation.
To what purpose? Are we now to believe that anyone who is Muslim, who has participated in any armed conflict, even the Bosnian conflict in which we fought essentially ON HIS SIDE, is an al-Qaida terrorist or associate? And on that basis, we can detain that person indefinitely, without charges, and torture him?

This, apparently, is the America that the right -- more pointedly, the authoritarian right -- desires. It's an America that is remarkably similar to the Iraq of Saddam Hussein, or the old Soviet Union.

The Journal goes on to warn that the SUPCO ruling could lead to the release of people like Mr. Boumediene, who will then turn around and kill Americans. Well let's see ... rendered thousands of miles from home and locked in a cage ... tortured ... interrogated repeatedly about things he says he knows nothing about ... tortured ... held incommunicado without so much as a hearing to explain WHY he's being held ... tortured ... yep. He probably IS likely to want to kill Americans now.

Does the ruling make life complicated for the Bushies? You bet it does:

The court rejected Bush administration arguments that Guantánamo's location put it outside U.S. constitutional protections.

"The United States, by virtue of its complete jurisdiction and control over the base, maintains de facto sovereignty over this territory," Kennedy noted.

Kennedy and the four other justices further concluded that the detainees deserved full habeas corpus access to federal courts, despite congressional efforts to curtail it.

In a sense, the court told the administration that its time had run out. For more than four years, government lawyers have struggled to satisfy the court that some sort of process was in place in Guantánamo to separate those detainees who may pose a threat to the United States from those who were innocently caught up in the dragnet cast after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Thursday marked the third time the justices have rejected those efforts as being insufficient. And this time, there won't be a chance for another shot. It was clear from the tenor of the decision that the justices' patience had been exhausted. "Some of these petitioners have been in custody for six years with no definitive judicial determination as to the legality of their detention," Kennedy wrote.

The bulk of the detainees remaining at Guantánamo — about 260 — will have their cases heard individually by U.S. District Court judges in Washington in what's known as a habeas corpus proceeding. In these cases, the government will have the burden of showing why a prisoner should continue to be held without charges. "We think it's unlikely in most of the cases the government will be able to do that," Ratner said.

Compounding the problem will be that any evidence obtained through torture or coercion at Guantánamo is likely to be inadmissible in federal court. The inmate will also have the opportunity to offer exculpatory evidence.

The judge can then order his continued detention without a charge being filed against him; that the government charge the detainee or release him; or that he be released and transferred to another country.

The judge will also have the authority to block a transfer of a prisoner by the Pentagon on the grounds that he may be re-incarcerated or tortured if shipped to his home country, and perhaps order him transferred to a different country.

One of the next big questions — or embarrassments — could focus on what happens to detainees who win their freedom at habeas corpus hearings but have no place to go.

"The brutally frank answer is that we're stuck," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said recently. "And we're stuck in several ways: Either their home government won't accept them or we are concerned that the home government will let them loose once we return them home."

And yet, the United States, at least the America that existed before 9/11 gave the neocons a green light to build a fascist paradise for themselves and their corporate friends where we used to have a constitutional government, doesn't render, indefinitely hold, and torture people. What the Journal, right wing talk hosts and bloggers, and the rest of the right wing nut-jobs, who are driven by fear, and plied by greed, want, is so profoundly un-American, that these people should not, to coin a phrase, be heard in polite company. The ruling doesn't mean that anyone will be released immediately, but if any are, whatever happens next is squarely the fault of the Bush administration, and the Congress that let them run wild for so long.

Kudos to Anthony Kennedy and the other four members of the sane wing of the Court -- which should from now on be known as the American wing.

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posted by JReid @ 2:38 PM  
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Probably???
The head of our CIA is kinda, sorta, pretty sure waterboarding -- which has been illegal in the U.S. since ... oh, about WORLD WAR II ... is still basically illegal now ... probably ...

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posted by JReid @ 4:54 PM  
Thursday, December 13, 2007
The party of torture
Water boarding illustrated in a painting at Tuol Sleng Prison 
in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by Jonah Blank. Source: New Patriot, 2006

When the Spanish Inquisition used it, it was torture.

When the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia used it, it was torture.

When the Japanese used it during World War II, it was torture, and WE prosecuted their officers for it. 

So when and how did waterboarding stop being torture?

Why, when George Bush started using it, of course.

America has gone through the looking glass it seems. Our friends on the right are so immersed in authoritarianism, and so hungry for the leadership of an absolute power -- a single, imperial presence that can tell them what to do, and what to think, and that is prepared to use all necessary force to protect them from the dangers that only their leader can fully understand, they are willing to suspend American history, American law, and even basic reason, in order to decide that no, waterboarding is NOT torture ... so long as we're the ones doing the waterboarding.

...or maybe not...

Two days ago, the legal advisor at Gitmo actually refused to even admit -- to a Republican questioner, JAG officer and Senator Lindsey Graham, that the waterboarding of an AMERICAN soldier by the IRANIAN MILITARY would be torture. Stunning, but true. They've taken their madness to its logical conclusion. ThinkP has the video

Today, that same legal advisor, Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, further testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that evidence obtained through waterboarding torture could actually be admissible in Bush's kangaroo military tribunals, saying that “If the evidence is reliable and probative and the judge concluded it is in the interest of justice to use that evidence,” it would be admitted. 

So now, the right has admitted that not only do they support torture, but they would also condone the torture of Americans, and the introduction of evidence in foreign kangaroo courts, against American prisoners that was obtained by torture. Who ARE these people???
As a matter of fact, some Republicans, like Missouri Senator Kit Bond -- the ranking member on the Senate Intel Committee, no less -- thinks that such torture is really no worse than doing the backstroke. I swear to you, that's what he said... It would be funny if it weren't so damned tragic -- and so damned illegal!

So I have a few questions for my Republican friends. We now know that you would condone the waterboarding of Americans by the Iranian military. And we know that you would deem such torture of Americans to be akin to a nice dip in the Euphrates. 

... If someone were to shove your head down into a toilet bowl so that the water was flowing into your nose, mouth and ears, and they held your head down until you thought you were drowning to death, and didn't let you up until you literally began to feel the lights go out, would you consider that torture? Because that's the same as waterboarding...

... And if you were to learn that that is exactly what had been done to an American POW in, say, Iraq, how would that grab you? What would you want done about it? 

... And if Saddam Hussein, who was under constant threat of assassination and overthrow, deemed torture necessary in order to put down a very real insurrection by the Shiites or Kurds, then on what basis did people like YOU label him a torturer and a criminal? The torture of his own people was one of the charges leveled at Saddam by YOU, in order to justify overthrowing him. It was among the crimes that ultimately sent him to the gallows. If George W. Bush and his people truly believe torture to be justified in the defense of the United States, and Saddam truly believed torture to be justified in defense of Iraq's sovereign government, then what is the difference between the two? That Bush is nicer, although he too orders torture? That's he's American? 
Or is it that you really don't have a logical place to go with your defense of torture. You're actually only justifying it because you are a partisan, and the torturers are on your team...?

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posted by JReid @ 12:26 AM  
ReidBlog: The Obama Interview
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"I am for enhanced interrogation. I don't believe waterboarding is torture... I'll do it. I'll do it for charity." -- Sean Hannity
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