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Barack Obama's presidency

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George W. Bush's presidency since 2007

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George W. Bush's presidency from 2005-06

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From free trade to the Kosovo crisis.

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WPost Takes the Pro-Torture Side

By Melvin A. Goodman
August 30, 2009

Editor’s Note: For the past eight years, the Washington Post's editors have been big backers of neoconservative "forward leaning" tough-guy behavior, whatever the laws say or the world thinks.

Oddly, for a major national newspaper, the Post also has been opposed to releasing incriminating evidence of torture and other crimes of the Bush administration. As a last resort, the Post is now defending and excusing those actions, as ex-CIA analyst Melvin A. Goodman notes in this guest essay:

The lead story in Saturday’s Washington Post, headlined “How a Detainee Became An Asset,” provides a one-sided and distorted account of the torture and abuse of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad (KSM) and demonstrates the need for a blue-ribbon bipartisan commission to create a comprehensive and authoritative narrative of the misgovernment of the Bush administration over the past eight years.

The prosecution of low-level CIA officials and government contractors for resorting to torture and abuse beyond the sordid guidelines of the Justice Department will allow the major players of the Bush administration as well as the lawyers of the Justice Department to escape retribution and judgment.

Since President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney would never be held accountable, the entire nation would be better served by a full understanding of the war crimes that they authorized in our name.

The Post article argues that the techniques of torture and abuse turned KSM into the CIA’s “preeminent source” on al-Qaeda.

Citing an intelligence assessment by the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, which was presumably prepared for Vice President Cheney, the Post article argues that waterboarding was the key to breaking KSM’s spirit and eliciting valuable intelligence on the “inner workings of al-Qaeda and the group’s plans, ideology, and operatives.”

This view contradicts the findings of the authoritative 2004 report on detainees and interrogations of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) as well as the personal views of the Inspector General (IG) himself.

As the Post acknowledges, John Helgerson, the former IG who commissioned the 2004 study, said that the work of the OIG did not permit “definitive conclusions about the effectiveness of particular interrogation methods.”

Helgerson acknowledged that waterboarding and sleep deprivation “elicited a lot of information,” but the OIG didn’t “do a careful, systematic analysis of the use of particular techniques with particular individuals and independently confirm the quality of the information that came out.”

As a result, Helgerson recommended (but thePost article chose to omit) the creation of an independent panel of experts to “systematically evaluate the quality of the intelligence gained as related to the specific techniques used, or not used, in particular cases. This would clarify the value of the information and the utility of various approaches.”

This recommendation was one of ten recommendations in the 2004 IG report; unfortunately, the Justice Deparment (presumably due to the importuning of the CIA) chose to redact all ten IG recommendations from the declassified report.

Contrary Evidence

There is ample testimony to challenge the view that torture and abuse worked. There were FBI agents at the site where KSM was held who testified that torture and abuse didn’t lead to eliciting valuable intelligence.

And a CIA operative has noted that KSM was willing to talk before being tortured, noting that “tea and crumpets” were all that was needed.

The former head of U.S. Army intelligence, Gen. John Kimmons, remarked in 2006 that “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.”

And more recently, several veteran FBI and military interrogators called for an investigation of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques (EIT),” because of their concerns about the legality, morality, and effectiveness of EITs.

It is important to remember that the 2004 IG report emphatically stated that the information elicited by torture and abuse “did not uncover any evidence that [any] plots were imminent.” Other CIA memoranda stated that information gained from detainees led to “arrests [that] disrupted attack plans in progress,” but did not attribute this information to the use of torture and abuse.

The IG study could not even determine if the 83 waterboardings given to Abu Zubaydah were the reason for his increased willingness to talk. The study noted, moreover, that torture was contrary to the Eighth Amendment against “cruel and unusual punishments;” the 1984 UN Torture Convention, which the United States took the lead in drafting and ratifying; and domestic law.

Finally, it is more important to remember that torture and abuse are evil.  Illegal, immoral, counter-productive, but most importantly evil.

George Bush told a press conference in 2005 that “this country does not believe in torture,” but the fact is we conducted torture on those who were guilty and those who were innocent.

And Dick Cheney, who has fanatically been waging his own personal jihad in defense of torture and abuse, told Fox News in an interview that aired Sunday that CIA interrogators were justified in exceeding even the broad authorizations provided by the Justice Department, suggesting that the ends justify the means.

Perhaps the Washington Post could give front-page coverage to the 18-page memorandum that the CIA gave to the DoJ’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2004, which provides extraordinary details of the interrogations in plain, but sordid and sadistic, language.

Two years ago, then CIA Director Michael Hayden released a collection of long-secret documents  compiled in 1974 that detailed domestic spying, assassination plots, and other CIA misdeeds in the 1960s and early 1970s.

In releasing the documents, known as the “family jewels,” Hayden told a group of historians who had been pressing for greater disclosure from the Agency, that the documents provided a “glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency.” He also stated that, when the government withholds information, myth and misinformation “fill the vacuum like a gas.”

In order to prevent the Washington Post and others from adding to the myths and misinformation of torture and abuse, it is time to appoint a blue-ribbon commission to study all aspects of the CIA’s detentions and interrogations policies.

Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and adjunct professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, spent 42 years with the CIA, the National War College, and the U.S. Army. His latest book is Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA. [This story originally appeared at The Public Record.]

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