April 27, 2009

Americans say probe harsh questioning, but it was OK

That's the finding of a new Gallup poll.

Fifty-one percent of Americans favor an investigation into the use of harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects during the Bush administration. Forty-two percent oppose an investigation.

But that's balanced out by the finding that 55 percent believe in retrospect that the harsh interrogation techniques were justified, while only 36 percent say they were not.

Gallup noted that the 51 percent is a fairly low percentage, given that levels of support for other probes of government malfeasance have been in the 60s and 70s. Republicans, of course, oppose an investigation, Democrats favor one and independents are evenly divided.

One other finding: if there's an investigation, the vast majority believe the last group to conduct it should be Congress.

Read the poll results

April 21, 2009

Obama opens door to prosecutions

Just hours after saying he would never prosecute CIA officers for harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists, President Barack Obama opened the door Tuesday to prosecuting the Bush administration officials who OK’d the techniques.

Obama said it’s up to Attorney General Eric Holder – who works for him – to decide whether Bush administration lawyers should be charged with war crimes or any other offense for writing the memo’s approving of such techniques as water boarding.

"I do worry that this gets so politicized that it hampers our ability to function effectively," he said when asked about a possible independent investigation.

“If and when there needs to be a further accounting of what took place during this period,” he added about a possible Congressional inquiry, “it could be done in a bipartisan fashion outside of the typical process that would break down along party lines."

He stressed that “I’m not suggesting that it should be done." But he added that if there were an investigation, it would be "very important” for the American people to see it as an effort to find the truth and not political benefit for one party.

Obama spoke as the liberal group moveon.org launched a campaign to gather signatures on petitions urging Holder to appoint a special prosecutor.

“On Thursday, President Obama released memos that describe, in horrific detail, the torture techniques authorized by the Bush administration. The memos make clear that top Bush officials didn't just condone torture, they encouraged it,” the group said in an email to supporters.

“So far there's been no accountability for the architects of Bush's torture program — the top officials who justified keeping detainees awake for 11 days straight, water boarding them repeatedly, and forcing prisoners into coffin-like boxes with insects.

“We need real consequences for those responsible — it's the only way to keep this from happening again. Attorney General Holder can open an investigation into the torture program — but he most likely won't unless people everywhere speak up and demand it.”

On Monday, former Vice President Dick Cheney argued that the interrogations were productive and necessary to stop terrorist attacks. He urged the Obama administration to declassify and release additional memos that he said document the helpful information drawn out in the interrogations.

April 20, 2009

Cheney: Release more documents on interrogations

Former Vice President Dick Cheney says he’s asked the CIA to declassify more documents about the interrogation of suspected terrorists beyond those released by the Obama administration - documents he says will show the Bush administration did get results with its techniques.

"One of the things that I find a little bit disturbing about this recent disclosure is they put out the legal memos, the memos that the CIA got from the Office of Legal Counsel, but they didn't put out the memos that showed the success of the effort," Cheney says in an interview with Fox News to be aired Monday evening.

"I haven't talked about it, but I know specifically of reports that I read, that I saw, that lay out what we learned through the interrogation process and what the consequences were for the country," Cheney says in the interview, taped at his home in McLean, Virginia not far from CIA headquarters.

“I've now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was."

The interview will air on the Hannity program at 9 pm EDT.

April 13, 2009

Daily Beast: Spain will announce torture probe Tuesday

This in from the Daily beast blog: Spanish prosecutors will announced Tuesday that they'll push ahead with an investigation into six Bush administration officials for allegedly aiding and abetting the torture of detainees captured as part of the war on terror. The Bush Six are former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Federal Appeals Court Judge and former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, University of California law professor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, former Defense Department general counsel and current Chevron lawyer William J. Haynes II, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington and former Under-Secretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith. Read the item here.

For another view of this, here's Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece on Phillippe Sands, the British barrister who gets credit for being among the first to suggest the Bush officials would face international criminal charges.

As for torture allegations, here's the Red Cross report on how U.S. interrogators treated the high-value detainees in secret CIA prisons. CIA director Leon Panetta last week ordered those prisons closed.

March 23, 2009

Two more votes for a torture commission

Add to those pressing for a full investigation of Bush-era detention policies former U.N. Ambassador Thomas Pickering and former FBI director Bill Sessions. In an op-ed piece in this morning's Washington Post, the former officials, both of whom served under George W. Bush's father, urge President Obama to appoint a presidential commission to ferret out the details of who authorized what in the sad Bush policy of detainee abuse.

Investigations by Congress and other bodies have shown that, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, government officials have encouraged and acquiesced in prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel, and detainees have been transferred to countries that are known to torture. In many cases, the perpetrators of abuse and torture were given the support and encouragement (tacit or explicit) of their superiors, possibly as high up the chain of command as the president himself.

The two praise Obama for ordering Guantanamo closed. "But it is only a first step. . . . We must understand how we got where we are today to ensure that we correct our past mistakes and change our policies going forward."

There is no doubt torture took place. Pentagon official Susan Crawford bluntly acknowledged as much in an interview with Bob Woodward earlier this year.

The Red Cross made the allegation in its confidential report to the Bush administration on the treatment of 14 so-called high value detainees while they were held at clandestine CIA prisons, as Mark Danner reported in The New York Review of Books. This piece is illuminating in that it reveals some of the "sophisticated" interrogation techniques the Bush administration felt had to be kept secret to prevent al Qaida operatives from preparing for them. The chief one: wrapping a towel or clamping a collar around a detainee's neck, then using the extra leverage that would give to slam the detainee's head into the wall. Exactly how does one prepare to resist that?

Michael Hayden, when he was CIA director, downplayed the extent of such abuse by saying only three detaineess were subjected to waterboarding, which until the Danner story came out was the only specific interrogation technique widely discussed. But no one has addressed how many underwent the "collar beating" treatment. And no one has answered whether the use of that technique had the approval of someone in Washington.

Maybe someone ought to.

January 29, 2009

Guantanamo trial delay hits a snag -- judge won't agree

A military judge in Guantanamo has rejected a request from the Obama administration for a 120-day delay in the arraignment of a detainee there who's been charged in the USS Cole bombing. Such delays have already been granted in other cases, while the Obama administration figures out what to do about the detainees.

The judge said he doesn't understand how an arraignment will hurt Obama's ability to switch signals on the prosecution if he wants and that in any case the military commissions are creations of Congress. The arraignment is set for Feb. 9.

The detainee involved, Abd al-Rahim al Nashiri, is charged with being the mastermind of the 2000 attack on the Cole, which killed 17 U.S. sailors. But he has another claim to fame: He's one of the three Guantanamo detainees that the CIA has acknowledged were waterboarded while in secret custody. (The others are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged 9/11 mastermind, and Abu Zubaydah, another alleged top-level al Qaida figure).

Nashiri's waterboarding will almost certainly be an issue in any future trial, military or otherwise. During his status review hearing at Guantanamo March 14, 2007, six months after the CIA turned him over to the military, he said he was tortured into confessing his involvemnt in the Cole attack and seven other terrorist incidents. According to the Pentagon transcript of that proceeding "The detainee states that he was tortured into confession and once he made a confession his captors were happy and they stopped torturing him."

Nashiri's cousin was one of the suicide bombers in the 1998 Kenya U.S. embassy bombing.

January 22, 2009

Geneva Conventions aren't the only laws that apply

One interesting passage in President Obama's order limiting interrogation techniques lays out the laws that interrogators are subject to, in addition to the Army Field Manual. Here's the passage:

Sec. 6. Construction with Other Laws.

Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441; the Federal assault statute, 18 U.S.C. 113; the Federal maiming statute, 18 U.S.C. 114; the Federal "stalking" statute, 18 U.S.C. 2261A; articles 93, 124, 128, and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, 10 U.S.C. 893, 924, 928, and 934; section 1003 of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, 42 U.S.C. 2000dd; section 6(c) of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, Public Law 109 366; the Geneva Conventions; and the Convention Against Torture. . .

Hayden: follow Obama directive, but former policies worked

CIA director Michael Hayden issued the following statement after Obama signed an executive order barring the CIA from maintaining its secret prison system, engaging in harsh interrogation practices or sending prisoners to third countries where they might be tortured. Hayden's statement calls for the CIA to follow the president's instructions "without exception, carve-out or loophole." But he doesn't reject the policies that Obama just banned: "The rendition, detention and interrogation program has been an important one," he said.

Message from the Director: New Interrogation Policy

President Obama issued an Executive Order today setting out new instructions for the detention, rendition and interrogation of captured terrorists. The legal and policy landscape under which the Agency has conducted itself in the global war on terror has changed in the past and we have consistently and scrupulously adjusted our efforts to reflect these changes. This Executive Order is no different. We will review the order carefully and issue appropriate guidance to ensure that we continue to act in consonance with the law and with policy direction. When our government changes its law or policy, we will follow that direction without exception, carve-out, or loophole.

Our Agency has many counter-terror tools in its arsenal. The rendition, detention and interrogation program has been an important one. As intelligence professionals, you, the men and women of CIA, will make the best possible use of the space the Republic has given us to act boldly and bravely in its defense. I have every confidence in your enduring ability to do so, honoring, as always, the laws and values of the democracy we faithfully serve.

Mike Hayden


"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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