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You've got to hand it to them. Torture aficionados at the White House and CIA have conned key congressional leaders into insisting not only that torture-lite would be a swell idea, but advocating also that the overseers of torture be kept on.
From change-you-can-believe-in we seem to be slipping back to fear-you-can-trade-on. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has publicly warned those in charge of the administration transition that "continuity is going to be pivotal in keeping us safe and secure." Thus, he argues, National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden should stay in their posts.
If that were not enough, Reyes told Congress Daily's Chris Strohm, that he (Reyes) had advised the Obama team that some parts of what Strohm referred to as "CIA's controversial alternative interrogation program" should be allowed to continue. Using some of the same euphemisms and circumlocutions employed by the ersatz-lawyers hired by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Reyes fired this shot across the bow of Barack Obama's transition ship:
"It gets back to a world that is very dangerous…there are some options that need to be available…We don't want to be known for torturing people. At the same time, we don't want to limit our ability to get information that's vital and critical to our national security. That's where the new administration is going to have to decide what those parameters are, what those limitations are."
Someone needs to tell Reyes what those parameters, what those limitations should be. They are set by the Geneva accords and the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996. Those are the laws that President George W. Bush's overly clever lawyers told him he could safely—well, pretty safely—disregard, because of the "new paradigm" post 9/11.
Pretty safely? Even those Mafia-type lawyers felt it necessary to warn their clients that Section 2441 of the U.S. War Crimes Act, passed by a Republican-led Congress in 1996, could conceivably come back to haunt the president and others who approved or took part in torture. This is the best they could do by way of offering reassurance:
"It is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges based on Section 2441. Your determination [that Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban] would create a reasonable basis in law that Section 2441 does not apply, which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."
If that sounds like the kind of advice one would expect to get from lawyers for the Mob, that's because it is. The casuistry virtually drips from a Jan. 25, 2002 memorandum for the president drafted by then-counsel to the Vice President, David Addington and signed by then-counsel to the president, Alberto Gonzales. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell objected for a day or so but then saluted sharply, as is his wont.
As will be seen below, the lawyers' advice did come back to haunt the president, putting him in a cold sweat until he got Congress to grant him retroactive immunity.
To say President Bush was dumb to take their dubious advice is not the half of it. Really dumb was his decision to put it in writing. You see, the goons uncovered by CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were not about to torture without a signed authorization from the president. So Bush decided to go ahead on the basis of the Addington/Gonzales opinion and signed a presidential memorandum on Feb. 7, 2002 incorporating that advice.
The opinion is written verbatim, twice, into that short executive memorandum. Over the president's large felt-tip signature appears convoluted text depicting, despite itself, a circle that refuses to be squared. Bush orders that detainees be treated "humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva."
That was the official start of post-9/11 torture authorized from the top, although an American, John Walker Lindh, was the first to be actually tortured after his capture in Afghanistan in late Nov. 2001, when senior Justice Department officials deliberately chose not to prevent his mistreatment. In the wake of the smoking-gun presidential memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, subsequent memos by the administration's Mob lawyers were mostly ex post facto attempts at CYA.
What incalculable shame this has brought on the U.S. Army and the Central Intelligence Agency, in both of which I was privileged to serve. I am hardly the first to use a Mafia analogy.
Consider the case of Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who was the first to investigate the Abu Ghraib prison abuse—the most glaring result of the president's memo and Rumsfeld's implementing instructions. "Make sure this happens!" in Rumsfeld's handwriting appeared on a memo over Rumsfeld's signature that was prominently posted at Abu Ghraib.