Torture's Bad Seeds

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, June 17, 2008; 12:03 PM

The Bush Administration has long maintained that the overtly cruel and abusive treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere was the conduct of a few "bad apples."

But a Senate investigation is tracking the rot to its source. And its findings add to the mounting evidence that the sometimes systematic torture of detainees at American hands was the result of decisions made at the highest levels of government -- and particularly within the office of the vice president.

Warren P. Strobel writes for McClatchy Newspapers: "A senior Pentagon official in July 2002 sought the advice of military psychologists to help design aggressive detainee interrogation techniques that would later be linked with prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, a Senate investigation has found.

"The revelation, part of a probe by the Senate Armed Services Committee that is to be unveiled during hearings Tuesday, provides dramatic new evidence that the use of the aggressive techniques was planned at the top levels of the Bush administration and were not the work of out-of-control, lower-ranking troops."

Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, released new documentary evidence on the origins of the techniques at a hearing this morning.

In his opening statement, Levin asked: "[H]ow did it come about that American military personnel stripped detainees naked, put them in stress positions, used dogs to scare them, put leashes around their necks to humiliate them, hooded them, deprived them of sleep, and blasted music at them. Were these actions the result of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own? It would be a lot easier to accept if it were. But that's not the case. The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. In the process, they damaged our ability to collect intelligence that could save lives."

The investigation appears to refute a key aspect of the administration's story.

Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post that the investigation "has concluded that top Pentagon officials began assembling lists of harsh interrogation techniques in the summer of 2002 for use on detainees at Guantanamo Bay and that those officials later cited memos from field commanders to suggest that the proposals originated far down the chain of command, according to congressional sources briefed on the findings.

"The sources said that memos and other evidence obtained during the inquiry show that officials in the office of then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld started to research the use of waterboarding, stress positions, sensory deprivation and other practices in July 2002, months before memos from commanders at the detention facility in Cuba requested permission to use those measures on suspected terrorists.

"The reported evidence . . . also shows that military lawyers raised strong concerns about the legality of the practices as early as November 2002, a month before Rumsfeld approved them. The findings contradict previous accounts by top Bush administration appointees, setting the stage for new clashes between the White House and Congress over the origins of interrogation methods that many lawmakers regard as torture and possibly illegal. . .

"The new evidence challenges previous statements by William J. 'Jim' Haynes II, who served as Defense Department general counsel under Rumsfeld and is among the witnesses scheduled to testify at today's hearing. . . .

"Haynes and other senior administration officials also visited Guantanamo Bay in September 2002 to 'talk about techniques,' said one congressional official. Also on the trip was David S. Addington, chief of staff to Vice President Cheney."

The Senate investigation seems to dovetail with the narrative human rights lawyer Phillippe Sands laid out in his book and May Vanity Fair article.

Sands writes: "The Bush administration has always taken refuge behind a 'trickle up' explanation: that is, the decision was generated by military commanders and interrogators on the ground. This explanation is false. The origins lie in actions taken at the very highest levels of the administration--by some of the most senior personal advisers to the president, the vice president, and the secretary of defense."

Addington's Man

Haynes is turning out to be a key figure in all this. But it probably would be a mistake to see him as much more than a pliant tool in the service of Addington, Cheney's cutthroat enforcer. As

As Jane Mayer wrote in The New Yorker in February 2006: "In 1989, when Cheney was named Secretary of Defense by George H. W. Bush, he hired Addington as a special assistant, and eventually appointed him to be his general counsel. Addington, in turn, hired Haynes as his special assistant and soon promoted him to general counsel of the Army.

"After George W. Bush took office, Addington came to the White House with Cheney, and Haynes took his boss's old job at the Pentagon. Addington has played a central part in virtually all of the Administration's legal strategies, including interrogation and detainee policies. The office of the Vice-President has no statutory role in the military chain of command. But Addington's tenacity, willingness to work long hours, and unalloyed support from Cheney made him, in the words of another former Bush White House appointee, 'the best infighter in the Administration.' One former government lawyer described him as 'the Octopus'-his hands seemed to reach into every legal issue.

"Haynes rarely discussed his alliance with Cheney's office, but his colleagues, as one of them told me, noticed that 'stuff moved back and forth fast' between the two power centers. Haynes was not considered to be a particularly ideological thinker, but he was seen as 'pliant,' as one former Pentagon colleague put it, when it came to serving the agenda of Cheney and Addington."

Here's more from Mayer in her July 2006 New Yorker profile of Addington: "Addington created a system to insure that virtually all important documents relating to national-security matters were seen by the Vice-President's office. The former high-ranking Administration lawyer said that Addington regularly attended White House legal meetings with the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency. He received copies of all National Security Council documents, including internal memos from the staff. And, as a former top official in the Defense Department, he exerted influence over the legal office at the Pentagon, helping his protégé William J. Haynes secure the position of general counsel. A former national-security lawyer, speaking of the Pentagon's legal office, said, 'It's obvious that Addington runs the whole operation.'"

Mora Speaks

In his prepared statement for today's hearing, former Navy general counsel Alberto J. Mora, who fought a private battle within the Pentagon to maintain longstanding interrogation rules, writes that "our Nation's policy decision to use so-called 'harsh' interrogation techniques during the War on Terror was a mistake of massive proportions. . . . This interrogation policy -- which may aptly be labeled a 'policy of cruelty' -- violated our founding values, our constitutional system and the fabric of our laws, our over-arching foreign policy interests, and our national security."

Mora reminds us: "The United States was founded on the principle that every person -- not just each citizen -- possesses certain inalienable rights that no government, including our own, may violate."

And he says the cost has been paid in American lives: "[T]here are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq -- as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat -- are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo."

The McClatchy Detainee Series

In the third part of a major McClatchy Newspapers series on detainees, Tom Lasseter writes: "A McClatchy investigation found that instead of confining terrorists, Guantanamo often produced more of them by rounding up common criminals, conscripts, low-level foot soldiers and men with no allegiance to radical Islam -- thus inspiring a deep hatred of the United States in them -- and then housing them in cells next to radical Islamists. . . .

"Guantanamo became a school for jihad, complete with a council of elders who issued fatwas, binding religious instructions, to the other detainees."

E-Mail Watch

Del Quentin Wilber writes in The Washington Post: "The White House does not have to make public internal documents examining the potential disappearance of e-mails sent during some of the Bush administration's biggest controversies, a U.S. district judge ruled yesterday.

"In a 39-page opinion, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said that the White House's Office of Administration is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), even though its top officials had complied with the public records law for more than two decades.

"The Office of Administration, which performs a variety of services for the Executive Office of the President, announced it would no longer comply with the FOIA last August, three months after an independent watchdog group filed a lawsuit seeking to discover what happened to the e-mails, which may have vanished from White House computer archives."

This lawsuit, filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), was over a narrow legal question.

CREW's executive director Melanie Sloan said in a statement: "The Bush administration is using the legal system to prevent the American people from discovering the truth about the millions of missing White House e-mails. The fact is, until CREW asked for documents pertaining to this problem, the Office of Administration routinely processed FOIA requests. Only because the administration has so much to hide here, has the White House taken the unprecedented position that OA is not subject to the FOIA."

But as Pete Yost writes for the Associated Press, "the White House's legal problems over its e-mail system are not over. CREW and another private group, the National Security Archive, have sued the Executive Office of the President over the possibly lost e-mail, claiming that the EOP has failed to comply with legal obligations by failing to take steps to ensure preservation of electronic records.

"In that case, a judge is considering whether to instruct the EOP on steps it must to take to safeguard electronic messages. The White Houes is seeking to have that suit thrown out."

Bush and Brown

Dan Eggen writes in The Washington Post: "British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced plans Monday for new European sanctions against Iranian banking, oil and natural gas interests, signaling a growing willingness by Western allies to join President Bush in punishing Tehran for its nuclear enrichment program. . . .

"The endorsement of sanctions was a notable victory for Bush, who is entering his final months in office and, like Brown, is struggling against low approval ratings and sharp political opposition at home. Bush made Iran's uranium enrichment program a key focus of his week-long trip to Europe, which ended Monday here in Britain. . . .

"Stephen J. Hadley, Bush's national security adviser, told reporters on Air Force One that the sanctions show close agreement among the United States and its European allies on Iran. 'I think there was a lot of questions some of you had about whether we were knit up with the Europeans on Iran policy before we left,' Hadley said. 'I think it's pretty clear that the answer is yes.' . . .

"But Julianne Smith of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington cast the announcement as merely a continuation of the sanctions policy pursued over the last three years. 'Many European leaders are now waiting to see what the next U.S. president will do vis-a-vis Iran,' Smith said. ' . . . This will continue to be a sticking point in our relationship with Europe as both sides of the Atlantic differ on how best to balance carrots and sticks.'"

Steven Lee Myers writes in the New York Times: "Mr. Brown, appearing with President Bush after discussions here, also pledged to send additional troops to Afghanistan, and indicated that he would not bend to political pressure at home to withdraw British forces in southern Iraq more quickly."

Jennifer Loven writes for the Associated Press: "The deeply unpopular prime minister seemed to calculate he had more to gain politically by being hawkish than he risked losing by appearing at the side of the also unpopular Bush. . . .

"Bush was clearly grateful at Brown's announcements. Despite talk early in Brown's tenure about a stiffness between them, the two men traded much warm praise. Bush paid Brown one of his highest compliments. 'He's tough on terror, and I appreciate it -- and so should the people of Great Britain and the world,' he said."

Iraq Watch

Yochi J. Dreazan writes in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required): "Iraq's foreign minister said he was optimistic that Iraq and the U.S. would be able to finalize a long-term security agreement by a July 31 deadline, crediting what he described as new 'flexibility' by the Bush administration.

"Hoshyar Zebari said the U.S. had made concessions such as dropping a demand for immunity for American security contractors and agreeing to create a U.S.-Iraqi operations center that gives Iraqi officials more input into future American military moves there.

"But Mr. Zebari, in an interview, made clear that Washington and Baghdad remain divided over some components of the security deal, which is designed to establish a legal framework for American military operations in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires at year's end.

"The foreign minister said the biggest points of contention were how many bases the U.S. would be allowed to maintain in Iraq long term, and whether the U.S. military would retain the power to arrest Iraqi civilians and keep them in U.S. detention facilities. . . .

"A senior U.S. official in Washington familiar with the negotiations said he agreed with Mr. Zebari's assessment and said it was unclear if a deal would be struck in time. 'It's a bit of a crapshoot at this point,' the official said. 'We're in the same ballpark, but we're not yet on the same field.'"

Keep in mind, however, that Zebari is one of the most pro-U.S. officials in the deeply fractured Iraqi central government, having gone so far as to pen a Washington Post op-ed in May begging American to keep its troops in his country.

Bush, at a joint press conference with French President Nicholas Sarkozy on Saturday, waved off a question about the apparent impasse: "[I]f I were a betting man," he said, "we'll reach an agreement with the Iraqis. You know, of course we're there at their invitation; this is a sovereign nation. And therefore, we're working hard with the elected government of Iraq about, you know, U.S. presence and coalition presence, in a way that the elected government is comfortable."

DeWayne Wickham writes in a USA Today op-ed: "What the United States wants from countries it occupies, it usually gets. . . .

"When asked during a news conference whether he was concerned about how the negotiations were going, Bush said: 'I think we'll end up with a strategic agreement with Iraq. . . . We're there at the invitation of the sovereign government of Iraq.'

"Forget about that shameless distortion of the truth for a moment and read between the lines. What Bush was really saying is that with the U.S. Army occupying Iraq, he expects to get what he wants."

Recalling the results of U.S. occupations of Cuba and Panama, Wickham concludes: "Instead of caving in to the demand for a long-term U.S. military presence in their country, Iraqi leaders would be wise to tell the Bush administration: Yanquis, go home."

Karl E. Meyer writes in a New York Times op-ed: "With only perfunctory debate, the Bush administration is pressuring a divided Iraqi government to approve a security agreement that could haunt Washington's relations with Baghdad for years to come. The 'strategic alliance' that President Bush is proposing eerily resembles, in spirit and in letter, a failed 1930 treaty between Britain and Iraq that prompted a nationalist eruption in Baghdad, a pro-Nazi military coup and a pogrom that foreshadowed the elimination of Baghdad's ancient Jewish community."

Bush Lobs Bricks

Dan Eggen blogs for The Washington Post: "During a visit Monday to an 'integrated' Catholic and Protestant school in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Bush stopped in at a basketball program that aims to bring kids of different backgrounds together through sports.

"So Bush tried his hand at a few shots on the lowered net, according to a pool report from the restricted-access event.

"The president air balled the first, bounced one jump shot each off the rim and backboard, and finally tried a long jumper that bounced out.

"Bush appeared to want to continue, according to the report, but the coach moved on to a new drill with the class."

Here's the video.

Bush's Strawman Revealed

Bush often credits "some" or "some people" with a particularly absurd argument that he can then refute. Yesterday, however, his strawman argument took an unusual turn.

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush took a shot Monday at all those people saying his weeklong trip to Europe would be his last as president.

"Uh, that would include you, sir.

"At a news conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Bush issued this curious quote: 'This has been a good trip. By the way, some are speculating this is my last trip. Let them speculate. Who knows?'

"Yes, it is true that many news stories about Bush's journey referred to it as his farewell tour of Europe as president, as his term ends in January.

"But that wasn't just speculation based on his shrinking time in office.

"It was based on Bush's own words at the start of the trip in Slovenia, just six days earlier.

"'It's interesting,' Bush said then. 'My first visit as U.S. president to Europe included a -- my first stop in Slovenia. My last visit as U.S. president to Europe includes first stop in Slovenia. It's a fitting circle.'"

Poll Watch

Dan Balz and Jon Cohen write in The Washington Post: "Bush's approval rating hit another low in Post-ABC polling and now is 29 percent, with 68 percent saying they disapprove of the job he is doing -- 54 percent strongly. Among the dwindling number who approve of the way Bush is handling his job, 80 percent back McCain. Among the much higher number who disapprove, 26 percent support McCain.

"In general, 57 percent said McCain would continue to lead the country as Bush has and 38 percent said he would chart a new course."

Here's more from the new poll-- which mirrors an April Gallup Poll.

Bush's 68 percent disapproval rating is "the highest in any presidential approval poll dating to Gallup's first in 1938 (surpassing Harry Truman's 67 percent disapproval and Richard Nixon's 66). Fifty-four percent 'strongly' disapprove, a new high, dwarfing the 10 percent who strongly approve. Among other groups, Bush is at record lows in his own party and among conservatives.

"Separately, and for the same reasons, a remarkable 84 percent say the country is seriously off on the wrong track, a record high in polls since the early 1970s. The previous high was 83 percent in June 1992, the summer before Bush's father lost re-election amid broad economic discontent. It was 82 percent last month."

Gerald Seib writes in the Wall Street Journal with the solution to a riddle: "How can a record percentage of Americans say they disapprove of the job the Democratic-controlled Congress is doing -- yet at the same time say, also by a record margin, they want this year's election to produce another Democratic-controlled Congress? . . .

"The answer, in fact, reveals a great deal about the depth of Republicans' problems and the impact President Bush is having on an election in which, technically speaking, he isn't a participant. . . .

"Call it the Bush overhang, and it is a big factor for Republicans from presidential contender John McCain down to state legislative candidates this year. The new poll findings suggest that a fair share of voters are blaming President Bush not just for things he has or hasn't done, but for things Congress has or hasn't done, even while led by the opposing party."

Third Term Watch

Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times assesses the Democratic argument that electing Senator John McCain would usher in the third term for George W. Bush: "[O]n big-ticket issues -- the economy, support for continuing the Iraq war, health care -- his stances are indeed similar to Mr. Bush's brand of conservatism. Mr. McCain's positions are nearly identical to the president's on abortion and the types of judges he says he would appoint to the courts.

"On the environment, American diplomacy and nuclear proliferation, Mr. McCain has strikingly different views from Mr. Bush."

Scandal Watch

Could this be the next big White House scandal?

James Risen writes in the New York Times: "The Army official who managed the Pentagon's largest contract in Iraq says he was ousted from his job when he refused to approve paying more than $1 billion in questionable charges to KBR, the Houston-based company that has provided food, housing and other services to American troops.

"The official, Charles M. Smith, was the senior civilian overseeing the multibillion-dollar contract with KBR during the first two years of the war. . . .

"Ever since KBR emerged as the dominant contractor in Iraq, critics have questioned whether the company has benefited from its political connections to the Bush administration. Until last year, KBR was known as Kellogg, Brown and Root and was a subsidiary of Halliburton, the Texas oil services giant, where Vice President Dick Cheney previously served as chief executive."

Live Online

I'll be Live Online tomorrow at 1 p.m. ET. Come join the conversation.

Cartoon Watch

Peter Brookes on Bush's legacy. And cartoonist Martin Rowson writes in the Guardian about how he'll miss Bush when he's gone.

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