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The Torture Presidency

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http://harpers.org/archive/2008/12/hbc-90004012
 
The Torture Presidency

By Scott Horton

President George W. Bush has launched “Operation Legacy,” which he placed in the hands of his ultimate advisor, indeed his “brain,” Karl Rove. Remember Rove? He’s the man who refused to testify under oath when summoned by Congress to do so and was recently identified in a Congressional report as the plotter behind the U.S. Attorneys scandal, among other trainwrecks. The Rove effort features a 2-page set of talking points which have been circulated to members of the administration’s team highlighting the supposedly major Bush accomplishments which have begun to fill the American media. They start with the contention that “Bush kept us safe” by preventing any further attack on American soil after 9/11. Really?

Let’s just take a look at some of that “deranged” criticism. Indeed, let’s start with the criticism from the man tapped by Bush’s fellow Republicans to succeed him, John McCain. This week the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a powerful report, released jointly by chair Carl Levin and ranking member John McCain, that received the unanimous support of its 13 Democratic and 12 Republican members. The report concluded that Donald Rumsfeld and other high-level officials of the administration consciously adopted a policy for the torture and abuse of prisoners held in the war on terror. It also found that they attempted to cover up their conduct by waging a P.R. campaign to put the blame on a group of young soldiers they called “rotten apples.” Lawyers figure prominently among the miscreants identified. Evidently the torture policy’s authors then enlisted ethics-challenged lawyers to craft memoranda designed to give torture “the appearance of legality” as part of a scheme to create the torture program despite internal opposition. A declassified summary of the report can be read here; the full report is filled with classified information and therefore has been submitted to the Department of Defense with a request that the materials be declassified for release. (Don’t expect that to happen before January 20, however).

This report sums up all you need to know about George W. Bush’s eight years of leadership. Karl Rove stresses that Bush has been a perfect moral example for young people in the country. The report tells us that when photos and other evidence of abuse first surfaced, the Bush Administration firmly denied any connection between their policies and the abuse, then attempted to scapegoat a group of more than a dozen young recruits (but not, of course, any of their supervising officers, who knew the details of the administration’s involvement and would have made things messy if disciplined). The report puts these actions in an unforgiving light:

The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.

But of course, Bush only turned to torture to keep America safe, right? Wrong. With the unanimous support of its 12 Republican members, the Committee concludes:

The administration’s policies concerning [torture] and the resulting controversies damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.

The report has some more bombshells in it waiting to emerge on declassification. It studies with some care the introduction of specific torture techniques, showing how they were reverse engineered from the SERE program—used to prepare American pilots to resist interrogation techniques used by the Soviets, North Koreans, Chinese and North Vietnamese. By “reverse engineering,” we mean it was adopting the techniques used by the nation’s Communist adversaries in prior generations. We have met the enemy, and he looks remarkably like George W. Bush.

And deep in its classified hold, the report looks into the use of psychotropic drugs which were, with Donald Rumsfeld’s approval, routinely administered to prisoners in order to facilitate their interrogation—in violation of international agreements and American criminal law.

The report, even in its still-classified form, does not tell the whole story of what happened. It does not address the program administered by the CIA. And even with respect to the Department of Defense, the Committee and its investigators were effectively stonewalled by the United States Special Operations Command and its overlords in the Pentagon who failed to provide information about special rules of engagement introduced with the authority of Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone that authorized the torture and mistreatment of prisoners held for intelligence interrogation in operations dating back to the earliest weeks of the “war on terror.”

The Levin-McCain Report, when fully declassified and circulated, will tell Americans a good deal about our history. It will help define what will become known as the “torture presidency” of George W. Bush. But it is also a remarkably incomplete document, testimony to the Bush Administration’s conscious policy of obfuscation, misdirection and deceit—its mockery of Congressional oversight, and its corruption of our Constitution and system of government. It gives us a clear lesson. As John McCain stated: “This must never be repeated. Never.”

 

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Scott Horton is a contributor to Harper's Magazine and writes No Comment for this website, www.harpers.org. A New York attorney known for his work in emerging markets and international law, especially human rights law and the law of armed conflict, (more...)
 

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