Duped About Torture

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, April 21, 2008; 1:04 PM

Career military men know better than anyone that torture violates American principles, puts American soldiers at risk and just plain doesn't work. But when the White House adopted torture as an interrogation tactic, senior military officials didn't resist.

One reason, of course, is that many who might have objected to Vice President Cheney's torture cabal were bypassed or moved out of the way. Others just followed orders.

But a new report suggests that at least one man who couldn't be entirely bypassed -- and who should have known better -- fell victim to another tactic: He was duped.

Richard Norton-Taylor writes in the Guardian: "America's most senior general was 'hoodwinked' by top Bush administration officials determined to push through aggressive interrogation techniques of terror suspects held at Guantánamo Bay, leading to the US military abandoning its age-old ban on the cruel and inhumane treatment of prisoners, the Guardian reveals today.

"General Richard Myers, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff from 2001 to 2005, wrongly believed that inmates at Guantánamo and other prisons were protected by the Geneva conventions and from abuse tantamount to torture. . . .

"In his new book, Torture Team, Philippe Sands QC, professor of law at University College London, reveals that:

"* Senior Bush administration figures pushed through previously outlawed measures with the aid of inexperienced military officials at Guantánamo.

" * Myers believes he was a victim of 'intrigue' by top lawyers at the department of justice, the office of vice-president Dick Cheney, and at Donald Rumsfeld's defence department.

" *The Guantánamo lawyers charged with devising interrogation techniques were inspired by the exploits of Jack Bauer in the American TV series 24.

"* Myers wrongly believed interrogation techniques had been taken from the army's field manual."

Here's an excerpt from the Philippe Sands book, on the Guardian Web site, full of details about how the torture decisions were made, how they were carried out in Guantanamo, and how the tactics migrated to Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. Sands also has an article about torture in the May 2008 issue of Vanity Fair.

Was Myers at Fault?

Phillip Carter, in his washingtonpost.com blog, calls attention to Sands's deduction that Myers may have been eminently dupe-able: "He hadn't pushed for these new techniques, but he didn't resist them, either. He didn't inquire too deeply."

Writes Carter: "Sands's reporting raises interesting questions about whether Myers faithfully performed the duties of a general officer in his position. . . .

"[A]s a moral and practical matter, Myers clearly had a duty to do more here. It was his job, as America's top general, to give voice to the millions of servicemembers who would be asked to carry out these policies and live with the consequences. It was also his role to speak about the organizational consequences that would flow from the loosening of American adherence to international law, and the need to maintain our global leadership in this area. Most importantly, it was Myers's job to inquire about what was going on, so he could fulfill his duty as 'principal military adviser' to the president. According to Sands's account, Myers clearly failed to do his duty."

The Prospect of Prosecution

The Sands excerpt concludes: "In June 2006, the Supreme Court overturned President Bush's decision on Geneva, ruling it to be unlawful. The court confirmed that Common Article 3 applied to all Guantánamo detainees. It was as simple as that. Whether they were Taliban or al-Qaida, every one of the detainees had rights under Common Article 3 -- and that included Mohammed al-Qahtani.

"The majority opinion, reaffirming the 'minimal protection' offered by Common Article 3, was written by Justice John Paul Stevens. One of the Justices went even further: Common Article 3 was part of the law of war and of a treaty that the US had ratified. 'By Act of Congress,' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote pointedly, 'violations of Common Article 3 are considered 'war crimes', punishable as federal offences, when committed by or against United States nationals and military personnel.'

"Justice Kennedy's remark put the issue of war crimes on the American political agenda. Individuals who had contributed to a violation of Common Article 3 would know that they were at risk of criminal investigation and prosecution. Even more ominously, it underscored the risk of being investigated outside the US.

"Parties to the international Torture Convention are required to investigate any person who is alleged to have committed torture. If appropriate, they must then prosecute - or extradite the person to a place where he will be prosecuted. The Torture Convention is also more explicit than Geneva in that it criminalises any act that constitutes complicity or participation in torture. Complicity or participation could certainly be extended not only to the politicians and but also the lawyers involved in the condoning of the 18 techniques. After all, the scheme applied to al-Qahtani was devised by lawyers, reviewed by lawyers, overseen by lawyers."

Norton-Taylor writes in the Guardian: "The lawyers, all political appointees, who pushed through the interrogation techniques were Alberto Gonzales, [Cheney legal counsel] David Addington and [Pentagon general counsel] William Haynes. Also involved were Doug Feith, Rumsfeld's under-secretary for policy, and [Justice Department officials] Jay Bybee and John Yoo. . . .

"Larry Wilkerson, a former army officer and chief of staff to Colin Powell, US secretary of state at the time, told the Guardian: 'Haynes, Feith, Yoo, Bybee, Gonzales and -- at the apex-- Addington, should never travel outside the US, except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel. They broke the law; they violated their professional ethical code. In future, some government may build the case necessary to prosecute them in a foreign court, or in an international court.'"

Yoo's Tenure

Yoo is now a tenured professor at the University of California-Berkeley law school. The dean of the school recently wrote to defend Yoo's continued presence -- barring his conviction for a criminal act or persuasive evidence of clear professional misconduct.

But Scott Horton writes in a Los Angeles Times op-ed that Yoo is not off the hook: "It increasingly appears that the Bush interrogation program was already being used before Yoo was asked to write an opinion. He may therefore have provided after-the-fact legal cover. That would help explain why Yoo strained to take so many implausible positions in the memos.

"It also appears that government lawyers had told Bush administration officials that some of the techniques already in use were illegal, even criminal. In fact, a senior Pentagon lawyer described to me exchanges he had with Yoo in which he stressed that those using the techniques could face prosecution. Yoo notes in his Pentagon memo that he communicated with the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and got assurances that prosecutions would not be brought. The question becomes, was Yoo giving his best effort at legal analysis, or was he attempting to protect the authors of the program from criminal investigation and prosecution? . . .

"According to Human Rights First, more than 100 people have died in U.S. detention in the war on terrorism. It documented 11 cases where the deaths resulted from coercive interrogation techniques, and others where there was at least some connection. Yoo insists that there is no relationship between the deaths and his advice, because he didn't set policy or carry it out, he merely offered a legal opinion. But had he refused to give the opinion that was sought, the program might have been suspended and some of those detainees might be alive.

"Much of the legal work surrounding the torture memos was done in the shadows. It's possible that when all the facts about their preparation and use come out, Yoo will be exonerated. But the criminal law and ethical issues surrounding his work on the memos are very serious."

The Need for Answers

The New York Times editorial board writes: "Ever since Americans learned that American soldiers and intelligence agents were torturing prisoners, there has been a disturbing question: How high up did the decision go to ignore United States law, international treaties, the Geneva Conventions and basic morality?

"The answer, we have learned recently, is that -- with President Bush's clear knowledge and support -- some of the very highest officials in the land not only approved the abuse of prisoners, but participated in the detailed planning of harsh interrogations and helped to create a legal structure to shield from justice those who followed the orders. . . .

"The amount of time and energy devoted to this furtive exercise at the very highest levels of the government reminded us how little Americans know, in fact, about the ways Mr. Bush and his team undermined, subverted and broke the law in the name of saving the American way of life. . . .

"Mr. Bush has sidestepped or quashed every attempt to uncover the breadth and depth of his sordid actions. . . .

"At this point it seems that getting answers will have to wait, at least, for a new Congress and a new president. Ideally, there would be both truth and accountability. At the very minimum the public needs the full truth.

"Some will call this a backward-looking distraction, but only by fully understanding what Mr. Bush has done over eight years to distort the rule of law and violate civil liberties and human rights can Americans ever hope to repair the damage and ensure it does not happen again."

The White House's Secret Weapon

David Barstow writes in the New York Times that the Pentagon used "military analysts" who appeared tens of thousands of times on radio and TV "in a campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration's wartime performance. . . .

"The effort, which began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day, has sought to exploit ideological and military allegiances, and also a powerful financial dynamic: Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air. . . .

"Records and interviews show how the Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse -- an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.

"Analysts have been wooed in hundreds of private briefings with senior military leaders, including officials with significant influence over contracting and budget matters, records show. They have been taken on tours of Iraq and given access to classified intelligence. They have been briefed by officials from the White House, State Department and Justice Department, including Mr. Cheney, Alberto R. Gonzales and Stephen J. Hadley.

"In turn, members of this group have echoed administration talking points, sometimes even when they suspected the information was false or inflated. Some analysts acknowledge they suppressed doubts because they feared jeopardizing their access. . . .

"From the start, interviews show, the White House took a keen interest in which analysts had been identified by the Pentagon, requesting lists of potential recruits, and suggesting names."

Subverting Traditional Journalism

As Barstow writes, the records he uncovered "reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated."

They "recalled other administration tactics that subverted traditional journalism. Federal agencies, for example, have paid columnists to write favorably about the administration. They have distributed to local TV stations hundreds of fake news segments with fawning accounts of administration accomplishments. The Pentagon itself has made covert payments to Iraqi newspapers to publish coalition propaganda.

"Rather than complain about the 'media filter,' each of these techniques simply converted the filter into an amplifier."

Glenn Greenwald blogs for Salon that the media went along willingly: "In 2002 and 2003, when Americans were relentlessly subjected to their commentary, news organizations were hardly unaware that these retired generals were mindlessly reciting the administration line on the war and related matters. To the contrary, that's precisely why our news organizations -- which themselves were devoted to selling the war both before and after the invasion by relentlessly featuring pro-war sources and all but excluding anti-war ones -- turned to them in the first place. To its credit, the article acknowledges that 'at least nine' of the Pentagon's trained military analysts wrote Op-Eds for the NYT itself, but many of those same sources were also repeatedly quoted -- and still are routinely quoted -- in all sorts of NYT news articles on Iraq and other 'War on Terrorism' issues, something the article fails to note."

The Administration That Cried Wolf

Carrie Johnson and Walter Pincus write in The Washington Post: "When seven ragtag men in a Miami religious sect were indicted in 2006 for their role in a bizarre plot to blow up the FBI Miami office and Chicago's Sears Tower, then-Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said the case represented 'a new brand of terrorism' among homegrown gangs that 'may prove to be as dangerous as groups like al-Qaeda.'

"Justice Department officials used similar rhetoric in a 2003 case against a Tampa-area man and his associates who allegedly supported a reign of terror by a violent Palestinian group. The officials did so again in a 2004 case involving a Dallas charity known as the Holy Land Foundation, which they said provided 'blood money' to finance overseas suicide bombings.

"But juries in all three cases saw things differently than the government's national security team. . . .

"The department's domestic terrorism record to date -- no new attacks, but few blockbuster convictions and some high-profile hung juries or acquittals -- has provoked criticism of its early strategy for going after homegrown terrorist cells and the people who fund plots well before deadly events occur.

"Jurors appear to be particularly troubled by a controversial element in the Miami case, part of several other early prosecutions, in which FBI informants encouraged others to perform acts they otherwise may not have done."

Johnson and Pincus leave it to the readers to draw the obvious conclusion: That there's a pattern of wildly exaggerated if not actively trumped-up claims, made for blatantly political purposes, that don't hold up under scrutiny.

Iraq Watch

Karen DeYoung and Ernesto Londoño write in The Washington Post: "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made an unannounced visit here Sunday to promote what she called the 'coalescing center' of Iraqi politics around the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

"The visit followed a night of intense fighting in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad after radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday threatened to wage a full-scale war against the U.S.-backed Iraqi government.

"The fighting continued during Rice's visit. A ceremony at which she unveiled a plaque commemorating civilian deaths in the Green Zone was briefly delayed by a 'duck and cover' alert, one of several during her six-hour visit to the fortified compound housing the U.S. Embassy and much of the Iraqi government."

Anne Gearan writes for the Associated Press: "Rice mocked anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as a coward on Sunday, hours after the radical leader threatened to declare war unless U.S. and Iraqi forces end a military crackdown on his followers. . . .

"'I know he's sitting in Iran,' Rice said dismissively, when asked about al-Sadr's latest threat to lift a self-imposed cease-fire with government and U.S. forces. 'I guess it's all-out war for anybody but him,' Rice said. 'I guess that's the message; his followers can go to their deaths and he's in Iran.'"

Spencer Ackerman blogs for ThinkProgress.org: "So Sadr is a coward for making threats from Iran -- and Condoleezza Rice is a stateswoman for blustering Sadr into making a move that carries the potential of killing American soldiers. Why is this woman respected again?"

Dems Fighting Back?

Jonathan Weisman writes in The Washington Post: "After years of seeing the House pushed around by President Bush, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has learned to say no.

"The California Democrat's refusal last month to schedule a vote on a warrantless surveillance bill that the president favors, followed by her decision this month to scuttle a fast-track vote on a U.S.-Colombia trade agreement have shifted some power to the eastern end of Pennsylvania Avenue. . . .

"Republicans continue to say that Democratic opposition to the surveillance bill has jeopardized national security and strengthened al-Qaeda, and that failure to pass the U.S.-Colombia agreement has bolstered Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and Raúl Castro in Cuba. But national security arguments that in the past have buckled Democratic opposition have had little impact this time.

"'I think that the president has finally realized that the leverage has changed,' Pelosi said. 'That is the question: Who has the leverage? I think the president realizes now that we do.'"

But Weisman writes that a big test is coming up in the next two weeks, as Congress debates funding for the war in Iraq.

"Democratic leaders have repeatedly said that, in the end, U.S. troops in the field will be funded. But expectations are high that finally Congress will be able to extract a significant policy concession for that money."

Visitor Logs

Matt Apuzzo writes for the Associated Press: "The Bush administration is challenging a court ruling that White House visitor logs are public documents, saying releasing the records would infringe on the separation of powers.

"White House documents are normally exempt from public records laws, but a federal judge ruled in December that Secret Service visitor logs must be released. The court sided with a liberal watchdog group that sought records showing visits by prominent religious conservatives to the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney's residence.

"The Bush administration appealed and lawyers were scheduled to argue the case Monday before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit."

The Three Amigos

Ben Feller writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush, joining the conservative leaders of Canada and Mexico for one final time, is eager to expand a trading relationship that has been lucrative for the United States and both of its neighbors. But he is up against rising anti-trade sentiment.

"Bush joins Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Monday in New Orleans for his fourth and final North American Leaders' Summit. Despite its lofty name, the two-day meeting is more about technical cooperation than dramatic dealmaking."

Mark Drajem and Jens Erik Gould write for Bloomberg: "Each leader faces opposition related to Nafta, the world's largest free-trade agreement. As a result, analysts are predicting few tangible results from this fourth gathering of the three leaders dealing with a joint effort on security and commerce.

"'They will have some jambalaya, eat some gumbo and send the right signals, but don't expect much,' said Michael Hart, a political science professor at Carleton University in Ottawa."

Koreas Watch

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak urged patience yesterday in nuclear talks with North Korea, arguing that recent concessions proposed by the United States could lead to tangible progress in stalled negotiations with Pyongyang.

"Bush and Lee, appearing at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, sought to tamp down criticism from many of Bush's fellow Republicans, who say the United States is yielding too much ground in six-nation negotiations with the North Korean government."

Karl Rove Watch

Matthew Mosk writes in The Washington Post: "With Sen. John McCain facing the prospect of being dramatically outspent in the race for the White House, a collection of major Republican donors and party leaders that includes former Bush strategist Karl Rove is scrambling to catch up with the efforts of liberal groups aiming to influence the outcome in November. . . .

"Outside advocacy groups, most notably the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, which dogged Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), played a pivotal role in the 2004 presidential contest. While individuals face strict limits on how much they can give directly to candidates for federal office and party organizations, many of the outside groups can accept unlimited donations and face a much lower bar for the disclosure of their activities."

HUD Watch

Michael Abramowitz and Carol Leonnig write in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday named Steven C. Preston as his new secretary of Housing and Urban Development, installing a well-regarded corporate and government administrator -- yet one with little experience in housing issues -- as his point person in dealing with the consequences of the subprime mortgage meltdown. . . .

"The selection of Preston drew a mixed response. Those who have worked with him on small-business issues appeared impressed. . . .

"But consumer advocates and some other housing experts appeared surprised by the selection. Howard Glaser, a consultant and former HUD official in the Clinton administration, predicted Preston would be a 'caretaker' until the next administration arrives.

"'Installing someone at HUD who continues to have no expertise in housing is a major flaw,' he said. 'We've gone through this entire crisis without any significant leadership from HUD, and it doesn't look like it's going to change.'"

Fat Bush

Gail Collins writes in her New York Times opinion column: "Suppose that two years after taking office, George W. Bush discovered that because of the stress of his job, he had gained 40 pounds and was tipping the scales at 220.

"The real-world Bush would immediately barricade himself in the White House gym, refusing all human contact or nourishment until the issue was resolved. But imagine that he regarded getting fat as seriously as he regards melting glaciers, rising oceans and drought and starvation around the planet. In that case, he would set a serious, management-type goal -- of, say, an 18 percent reduction in the rate at which he was gaining weight, to be reached within the next decade.

"Cut to the Rose Garden in 2008 where partial victory is declared. 'Over the past seven years, my administration has taken a rational, balanced approach to these serious challenges,' the 332-pound chief executive announces. He delivers this good news sitting down.

"2012: Bush hits his final goal and 400 pounds at approximately the same time."

Then: "Imagine it's 2025, and you've got a 486-pound ex-president being wheeled in to accept the congratulations of the world on his excellent physical fitness program."

Raddatz Watch

Michael Abramowitz writes in The Washington Post: "ABC's Martha Raddatz is one of the more enterprising reporters on the White House beat, and quick thinking recently got her some unusual face time with the president. She was finishing up a 20-minute, on-camera interview with Bush at his ranch in Crawford this month when she asked the president if she could have a few minutes alone with him.

"Sure, Bush replied, you can have more. So the two of them went into his office, Bush put up his feet on the desk, and they had a discussion about Iraq and foreign policy.

"The private conversation lasted about 25 minutes, an extraordinary length of time for a president who always has aides present, even for off-the-record conversations with journalists.

"'It was very spontaneous,' said Raddatz. 'He was very relaxed and candid.'

"Of course, she isn't providing any specifics on what they talked about."

Dinner Watch

Amy Argetsinger and Roxanne Roberts write in The Washington Post: "God help us: Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, Donatella Versace, Rupert Everett, Marcia Cross and Colin Firth are hitting D.C. this weekend for Saturday's White House Correspondents' Association dinner. The annual press prom has devolved from an insidery-wonkish night with reporters and sources to stargazing with A-, B- and C-listers with no connection to Washington or politics. . . .

"'It's bizarre,' said one media pro tasked with wrangling VIPs, who says it's become a 'weird competition' for publications trying to stand out. Snagging celebrities 'makes you seem relevant.'

"Blame the late Michael Kelly, who opened Pandora's box in 1987 by inviting Fawn Hall, the Iran-Contra scandal's dish du jour. 'That's the first time people realized that you could draw a lot of attention to your news organization with the 'get' and make world headlines,' says network news veteran Tammy Haddad.' It was a new way for the most competitive journalists in town to compete with each other.' Kelly's next guest, Donna Rice, made sense; ditto for the cast of 'West Wing' and Paula Jones. Even Marla Maples and Ozzy Osbourne were, arguably, newsmakers of the moment. But Anderson? Versace?"

Deal or No Deal?

Reuters reports: "Did President George W. Bush bring luck to a soldier who was a contestant on the television game show 'Deal or no Deal?' Stay tuned.

"Bush taped a 'surprise good luck video' in the White House Library on March 17 for Army Captain Joe Kobes who served in Iraq and was a contestant on the NBC show 'Deal or No Deal,' the White House said on Friday.

"The program with Bush will air on Monday, April 21."

White House spokesman Tony Fratto announced the news at Friday's briefing: "The show's producers contacted the White House after learning from Captain Kobes that the President is one of his heroes."

Cartoon Watch

Tom Toles on Bush's gift to McCain; Stuart Carlson on Bush and global warming; Pat Oliphant on a the pope's blessing; Joel Pett on Bush's charts; Pat Bagley on Bush's great escape; and Clay Bennett on Bush's position regarding Iraq.

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