Mark Danner talks to Hugh Eaken at the New York Review blog about the CIA torture program.
Danner notes that the Senate’s report on the program contains a lot that was already known, but tells it “in appalling detail that we hadn’t seen before.”
The relentlessness, day in day out, of these techniques; the totality of their effect when taken together—walling, close-confinement, water-dousing, waterboarding, the newly revealed “rectal rehydration,” and various other disgusting and depraved things—is recounted in numbing, revolting detail. The effect can only be conveyed by a full reading, through page after awful page of this five-hundred-page document, which is after all less than 10 percent of the report itself.
What is new, he says, is how amateurish the program was.
It was really amateur hour, beginning with the techniques themselves, which were devised and run by a couple of retired Air Force psychologists who were hired by the CIA and put in charge though they had never conducted an interrogation before. They had no expertise in terrorism or counterterrorism, had never interrogated al-Qaeda members or anyone else for that matter. When it came to actually working with detained terrorists and suspected terrorists they were essentially without any relevant experience. Eventually, the CIA paid them more than $80 million.
So…that’s bizarre. Why would they do that? The people in charge, I mean – the administration, the CIA, whoever it was who was running the show. It’s not as if there’s no such thing as expertise in interrogation, because there very much is – so why didn’t they seek it out? Why be slapdash about something so crucial? They wanted results, surely, so why not do their best to find people who know how to get results?
The second great revelation is the degree to which the CIA claimed great results, and did so mendaciously. Sometimes the attacks they said they had prevented were not serious in the first place. Sometimes the information that actually might have led to averting attacks came not from the enhanced interrogation techniques but from other traditional forms of interrogation or other information entirely. But what the report methodically demonstrates is that the claims about having obtained essential, life-saving intelligence thanks to these techniques that had been repeated for years and years and years are simply not true. And the case is devastating.
And the thing is – they were making those claims before they even started interrogating. The claims weren’t even Save Our Asses after the torture, they were Cover Our Asses in advance.
Those claims have been made by many people and it is another revelation of the report that we see CIA people, notably the lawyers, raising these claims before the program even existed. The lawyers seemed to be thinking, “This is the only way we’re going to get away with this.” There is a quote in the report that people would look more kindly on torture—that is the word used—if it was used to stop imminent attacks. This was the so-called “necessity defense,” which, as the CIA lawyers put it, could be invoked to protect from prosecution “US officials who tortured to obtain information that saved many lives.” This idea was there right from the inception of the program.
So that’s pretty damning. It’s kind of Milosevician, in fact.
But apparently they never really properly discussed all this.
You expect that government officials who make the momentous decision to introduce an officially sanctioned torture program in the United States would have a series of serious meetings in which they would analyze the history of interrogation as it has been used by different government agencies, they would consult with allies who have a history of using these and other techniques, about what works and what doesn’t. They would make a general study of what is necessary and what is not. They would consult with legal experts. They would do a number of things.
In this case, as far as we can tell, most of these things were not done. We find a bare minimum of policy discussion. We know the CIA did very little if any research about what would work and wouldn’t. We see no decision tree springing from the felt actual need to do torture in specific cases, beginning with prisoners in hand who are unwilling to talk. Talk of torture itself—the wisps of the discussion, the ghostly mentions of the word—start very early after September 11, when “high value” detainees are generally not available, let alone refusing to talk.
So that’s all pretty disturbing. It sounds rather as if they were telling each other “well obviously we’re going to have to torture these people” right away, and that sounds as if the ideas about torture sprang straight from rage and vindictiveness rather than any kind of pragmatic need.
But unfortunately there’s no report on the decision-making process in the executive branch.
We have an essential report from the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice about how torture was approved. We have a big and immensely valuable Armed Services Committee report from 2008 about the military’s use of torture. And now we have this report, or rather this executive summary of a report, about the CIA. There are a dozen or so reports about different aspects of Abu Ghraib. But we still have no report on how decisions were made in the executive branch, which is obviously critical.
The White House, including the offices of the president and the vice-president, and the National Security Council—these three vital areas of decision-making—still have not been examined. And there’s a reason for that. The Republicans refused to sign on to the Senate investigation unless these areas were put beyond the committee’s ken.
Democratic government is supposed to be accountable. That’s supposed to be one of its great advantages.
I’m just saying.