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Excusing Torture, Again

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Headlined to H2 1/7/13

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After Holder began an investigation of torture and other war crimes, the Post ran a lead story entitled "How a Detainee Became an Asset: Sept.11 Plotter Cooperated After Waterboarding," The article supposedly showed that waterboarding and other forms of torture worked, transforming alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed from a "truculent enemy" into what the CIA considered its "preeminent source" on al-Qaeda.

The article declared, "this reversal occurred after Mohammed was subjected to simulated drowning and prolonged sleep deprivation, among other harsh interrogation techniques."

The story's sentiment dovetailed nicely with the biases of the newspaper's top brass, forever justifying the hardnosed "realism" of the Bush administration as it approved brutal and perverse methods for stripping the "bad guys" of their clothes, their dignity, their sense of self -- all to protect America.

Three weeks later, seven CIA directors -- including three who were themselves implicated in planning and conducting torture and assassination -- asked President Obama to put the kibosh on Holder's investigation. CIA Director Leon Panetta, by all reports, gave them full support.

In a Sept. 18, 2009, letter to the President, the seven asked him to "reverse Attorney General Holder's August 24 decision to re-open the criminal investigation of CIA interrogations that took place following the attacks of September 11." Eventually, they got their way as Holder decided against proceeding with indictments. After all, everything had been properly authorized.

In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, Tenet notes that what the CIA needed were "the right authorities," i.e., legal permission, and a policy determination to do the bidding of President George W. Bush:

"Sure, it was a risky proposition when you looked at it from a policy maker's point of view. We were asking for and we would be given as many authorities as CIA had ever had. Things could blow up. People, me among them, could end up spending some of the worst days of our lives justifying before congressional overseers our new freedom to act." (p. 178)

Tenet noted that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black later told Congress, "The gloves came off" on Sept. 17, 2001, when President Bush "approved our recommendations and provided us broad authorities to engage al-Qa'ida." (p. 208)

Presumably, it was not lost on Tenet that no lawmaker dared ask exactly what Cofer Black meant when he said, "the gloves came off." Had they thought to ask Richard Clarke, former director of the counter-terrorist operation at the White House, he could have told them what he wrote in his book, Against All Enemies.

Clarke describes a meeting in which he took part with President Bush in the White House bunker just minutes after his TV address to the nation on the evening of 9/11. When the subject of international law was raised, Clarke writes that the President responded vehemently: "I don't care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass." (p. 24)

Tenet and his masters assumed, correctly, that given the mood of the times and the lack of spine among lawmakers, congressional "overseers" would relax into their post-9/11 role as congressional overlookers.

The Glorious Inquisition

On May 13, 2009, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, gave an implicit hat-tip to all manner of infamous tortures past:

"The Vice President [Dick Cheney] is suggesting that there was good information obtained, and I'd like the committee to get that information. Let's have both sides of the story here. I mean, one of the reasons these techniques have survived for about 500 years is apparently they work."

Five hundred years takes us proudly back to the Spanish Inquisition when the cardinals at least had no problem calling a spade a spade. Their term for waterboarding was tortura del agua. No euphemism like "enhanced interrogation technique" or EIT for short.

As Graham has also explained:

"Who wants to be the congressman or senator holding the hearing as to whether the President should be aggressively going after terrorists? Nobody. And that's why Congress has been AWOL in this whole area."

The same has been largely true of news executives at the key bastions of the mainstream news media. Months into Obama's first term, the Washington Post kept warning the young President not to mess with the tough-guys of the CIA who were just trying to keep us all safe.

To this day, the Post continues carrying water for the folks who conducted the waterboarding.

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Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, and is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). His (more...)
 
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