Condi/Nixon: if the president authorizes it, it's not torture
Condi Rice was confronted by a Stanford student about U.S. policies on torture and indefinite detention, and got a little sassy with him while pulling a Nixon, saying that essentially, if the president authorizes it (torture) it's not illegal. (I rented "Frost, Nixon" for this weekend, and am now guessing it's going to seem very familiar...) Keith Olbermann breaks it down, and talks to John Dean, who says Rice may have just admitted to her part in a criminal conspiracy to commit war crimes. Watch the entire exchange, as recorded by the poster, who lives in the dorm where it took place. Condi's big admission comes at about 5:26.
Well, the Sunday shows were a wash. David Gregory had a rather dull interview with Jordan's King Abdullah, whose new book sounds like a keeper. The only interesting moment: Abdullah's obvious affection for his late father as he watched a clip of the late King Hussein. Meanwhile, in the panel afterwords, we learned from two Pulitzer Prize-winning historians that well, great presidents violate American values in wartime. It's just the way it is.
On "This Week," Stephanopoulos interviewed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmenidejad, and managed to asked him the same question about a dozen different times: would he accept Israel if the Palestinians go for a two-state solution? Will he accept them in a box? With a fox? On a train? In the rain? Will he, will he? Make it plain...! The extent to which the American media (not to mention American politics) is obsessed with Israel's point of view is striking. And the extent to which the Muslim and Arab world are resistant to the pressure to bow to Israel is equally striking; witness Abdullah's repetition over and over again to a resistant David Gregory that a Palestinian state is crucial to peace, and Ahmadinejad's repetition over and over again to a resistant Stephanopoulos that the Palestinian people have rights that should be respected by the international communty. Natch.
CNN managed to get through an entire Sunday without really questioning the absurd notion that somehow, torture is a necessary evil (but only when WE do it,) and without once bringing up the now-exposed Iraq-torture connection. In fact, none of the networks brought it up. Instead, each of the Sunday shows focused on the entirely irrelevant question of whether torture got us any good intel. For the hosts of America's Most Important News Programs, torture is just another policy choice in the grand war on terror, and the debate is over politics, not legality. It's a non-debate debate that is, in a word, shameful, as is the complete rub-out of the most important news to emerge last week: that the Bush administration began torture Abu Zubaydah AFTER he gave up whatever relevant information he had, and did so at the same time the Bush administration was looking for some link -- any link -- between al-qaida and Saddam Hussein. It's a point that has been entirely erased from television since it broke last week, and as of Sunday, has been repeated by only three media personalities: Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, and on Sunday, Frank Rich, who points out the following revelations from the Levin report:
The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantánamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful.” As higher-ups got more “frustrated” at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, “there was more and more pressure to resort to measures” that might produce that intelligence.
In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administration’s ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybee’s memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) “Downing Street memo,” in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.” A month after Bybee’s memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on “Meet the Press,” hyping both Saddam’s W.M.D.s and the “number of contacts over the years” between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.
But there were no links between 9/11 and Iraq, and the White House knew it. Torture may have been the last hope for coercing such bogus “intelligence” from detainees who would be tempted to say anything to stop the waterboarding.
With this kind of bombshell laid at their feet, what explains the media's refusal to cover this story? Perhaps the newsies are simply ignorant of the relevant law (presented for them here in black and white...) on torture, and so they can't make the connection in their minds to Iraq ... or perhaps they, the Washington press corps in particular, were and continue to be wholly complicit in -- even cheerleaders for -- the whole "war on terror," Iraq war adventure thing, and thus can't bring themselves to question their own beliefs. Or worse, perhaps an editorial policy has been set at the top, at each of these networks, not to talk about the big, fat elephant in the room: the probability that the Bush administration tortured "high value detainees" Pol Pot style, in order to create false "evidence" that would allow them to sell the American people on going to war in Iraq.
In related news, Andrew Sullivan declares FBI interrogator Ali Soufan a national hero. Hear hear.
And the Washington Post publishes a lengthy he-a-culpa, essentially an excused absence letter to the school of public opinion from Judge Bybee's friends, saying he's a wonderful, thoughtful man after all, who rather regrets a certain memo legalizing torture. How sweet. Now, if the Post could just get up an article abouthow John Yoo loves to pet puppies... beautiful, fluffy puppies...
Has CNN adopted an editorial policy of ignoring altogether, the finding reported last week by McClatchy, that the serial torture of "high value detainees" Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and Abu Zubaydah was done not to prevent another terrorist attack, but rather to try and extract false confessions that would tie Saddam Hussain to 9/11?
John King this morning (Sunday) had on Diane Feinstein, Lindsey Graham and the treacherous Mr. Lieberman to discuss, among other things, the release of the torture memos. Lieberman and Graham were allowed, unimpeded by King, to repeat the meme that "enhanced interrogation techniques" (torture) was used, in Graham's words, "not to commit a crime against individual people, but to save us all from another attack."
He interjected no such thing. In fact, I don't recall hearing the McClatchy story repeated on CNN in any daypart since the news broke last week. Has anyone else noticed what seems like an editorial decision to stick to the official (Bush-Cheney) narrative about torture being necessary to prevent another attack? Perhaps CNN simply doesn't believe McClatchy's sources, or maybe they don't want to open up this line of inquiry against the prior administration for reasons unknown.
(Not that NBC has been exactly aggressive, other than Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow's shows about making this point, either, but CNN seems to be particularly determined to hew to the Cheney line.)
Stipulating that the various, clackety strains of "conservatives," including the folks over at the Wall Street Journal op-ed desk (who published a piece by Bush's CIA director and second round A.G., decrying the Obama administration's release of the torture memos, and of course, the chickenhawk neocons) are very much in for torture. Non-conservatives, including the Washington Post editorial board, are against it, calling it what it is: a disgrace. But on the question of whether torture is even worth the shame, I came across this post, from the NYT's The Lede blog, back in January:
In the days after Saddam Hussein’s capture, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was tossing wisecracks on subjects serious and trivial. The cab that the former Iraqi leader hid inside? “He didn’t have the meter running.” Who’s going to be responsible for interrogation? “It was a three-minute decision, and the first two were for coffee.”
But Mr. Hussein’s fate would be much different than Abu Zubaydeh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, two members of Al Qaeda who endured harsh interrogation techniques while in C.I.A. custody.
Mr. Rumsfeld and other senior officials quickly pledged that he would be treated as a prisoner of war, although it took a month to make it official. And the three-minute decision was reassessed within weeks as the Federal Bureau of Investigation took the interrogation reins for the reason described in a January 2004 article:
The F.B.I. involvement reflects C.I.A. reluctance to allow covert officers to take part in interrogations that could force them to appear as court witnesses. In contrast, F.B.I. agents are trained to interview suspects in preparation for prosecutions.
What was the rivalry about? FBI agents were apparently shocked, and not happy, to discover that CIA agents were using torure, approved we now know, by the Justice Department and presumably the president and vice president/president's boss, on terrorism suspect Abu Zubayda, the low level jihadist we got all that false information from by illegal waterboarding. The then-FBI director, Robert Meuller, wound up pulling his agents, who were more skilled at interrogation, having been the ones to query Saddam Hussein himself, for example, out of the theater entirely, rather than allow them to continue to witness war crimes.
A rift nonetheless swiftly developed between FBI agents, who were largely pleased with the progress of the questioning, and CIA officers, who felt Abu Zubaida was holding out on them and providing disinformation. Tensions came to a head after FBI agents witnessed the use of some harsh tactics on Abu Zubaida, including keeping him naked in his cell, subjecting him to extreme cold and bombarding him with loud rock music.
“They said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ ” said [Retired FBI agent Daniel Coleman], recalling accounts from FBI employees who were there. ” ‘This guy’s a Muslim. That’s not going to win his confidence. Are you trying to get information out of him or just belittle him?’ “
F.B.I. Director Robert S. Mueller III pulled his personnel over the disagreement, and former officials in the agency continue to make the case that Mr. Zubaydeh gave up his most important information before, not after, the harsh techniques commenced.
As David Johnston of The New York Times reported earlier this month, both agencies say the rivalry is over. Still, some officials said privately that the F.B.I. was looking for a payback moment in its investigation into the C.I.A. tape destruction.
Clearly, we've been operating with some sadists in our midst, at the CIA, in the Justice Department, in the neocon think tanks, and in the Bush White House. So why not prosecute them? Probably because the current president has decided that, as a political matter, it can't be done without a circus-like spectacle (and it might not be done in Spain, either...)
But it seems to me that there are people who should be prosecuted, starting with the men who wrote, authorized and approved the memos.
Related: Experts debate whether prosecutions should commence. Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights sums it up succintly:
Torture is torture and all the legal window dressing in the world cannot hide its essence: the infliction of pain and suffering on human beings. If legal advice can protect torturers, no official anywhere can ever be prosecuted. Legal advice then becomes a get out-of-jail free card and will be employed by every petty dictatorship to protect its abusers.
As President Obama heads to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago, his administration finally releases the last (we hope) of the torture memos. (Curious that the wingers have no problem with things like torture, secret detentions, sneak and peak searches, forcing librarians to divulge customer reading habits, infiltration of Quaker peace groups etc., but they're all a-teabaggin' over a 4 percent increase in rich people's taxes... but I digress...)
Meanwhile, here in Florida, Cuban-Americans are needled by the fact that several Latin American presidents, including Lula of Brazil, Hugo of Venezuela and Evo of Bolivia, among others, will likely push for an end to Cuba's exclusion from the Organization of American States, which forms the attendance base of the summit. Writes the Miami Herald's Myriam Marquez:
Cuba's not invited to the big party in Trinidad and Tobago, but it will crash it anyway.
It'll be the pesky ghost at the table, pushing, shoving and booing -- all in an effort to derail President Barack Obama's first foray Friday into Latin America's often messy love-hate relationship with the United States.
With the help of Hugo, Lula, Evo, Daniel, Michelle, Cristina and many other Latin American presidents who learned how to play leftie politics -- and win -- virtually at Fidel Castro's knee, the ghost is demanding a clean slate and collective amnesia.
Forget 50 years of an atrocious human-rights record. Never mind that there are no property rights, labor unions or free speech.
Forget multiparty elections, the ghost thunders, it's tiny Cuba vs. the bad Imperialist Goliath.
Obama would rather forget, too, but he's not ready to deliver more freebies like the end of the U.S. embargo or the tourist ban -- yet. But as first steps, he has opened the door wide for Cuban-American travel and unlimited remittances to Cuba.
He figures that's enough to get the ghost off his back at the summit, where Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has vowed to press for the island's membership in the Organization of American States.
OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza told Herald reporter Frances Robles at the summit Thursday that he agrees. Obama counters that Cuba needs to first show it belongs back in the organization that kicked it out in 1962.
Fidel Castro rails against any such inclusion in the OAS, calling it a tool of U.S. will. One reason he won't give: Cuba doesn't begin to meet the principle of the OAS charter -- democracy.
Ironically enough, the "Inter-American Democracy Charter"was adopted by the OAS on September 11, 2001 during a special session in Peru, hours after the 9/11 attacks in New York. The charter lays out the essentials of regional cooperation, democracy, the need to fight poverty and improve education and the environment, and of course human rights -- which brings us back to Cuba, which has got some issues on that front. And yet, as Marquez points out, over the last eight years the U.S. hasn't exactly been a champion of human rights, either (see "torture memos" above...) So Obama goes into the summit borne on the winds of change, but still refusing, as of yesterday, to hold the previous administration accountable for the human rights abuses that, if we were, say, applying for membership to the OAS today, would likely make us as ineligible as Fidel's Cuba.
Related: Raul says he's willing to talk to the U.S., including about human rights.
Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is willing to talk to Washington about everything, including human rights, political prisoners and press freedom.
His comments came hours after US President Barack Obama said Cuba needed to make the next move if there was to be further improvement in relations.
Mr Castro was speaking in Venezuela ahead of a Summit of the Americas.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he will veto any final declaration as Cuba is excluded from the meeting.
The summit, due to start in Trinidad, includes 34 Latin American and Caribbean countries.
The US has said the gathering is reserved for democratic nations.
Which brings us back to our checkered recent past:
Speaking to Latin American leaders in Venezuela, President Castro said he had sent word to the US government "in private and in public" that he is open to negotiations as long as it is "on equal terms".
Alas, amigos, we're pretty much already on equal terms. More on the potential thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations here.
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."
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.
... of a Senate ethics investigation. Could prosecution be next? We did, after all, prosecute those who issued legal opinions leading to the abuses committed by the Axis powers during World War II. And whither Alberto Gonzales and Don Rumsfeld? Something tells me that no matter what the Obama administration wants, legal cases will find their way to Washington involving these men, if not their ultimate bosses (Dick and Dubya.)