Cheney Admits Authorizing Torture

By Kevin Gosztola    
 
In an ABC News interview, Cheney made these remarks:
"I supported it," he said regarding the practice known as "water-boarding," a form of simulated drowning. After World War II, Japanese soldiers were tried and convicted of war crimes in US courts for water-boarding, a practice which the outgoing Bush administration attempted to enshrine in policy.
 
"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn't do," Cheney said. "And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it."
 
He added: "It's been a remarkably successful effort, and I think the results speak for themselves."
 

 

ABC asked him if in hindsight he thought the tactics went too far. "I don't," he said.
Americans should view these remarks in the same way that one might have viewed Cheney’s “So?” remark this year: On the fifth anniversary of President George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, President Bush said he has no doubts about waging the unpopular war despite the "high cost in lives and treasure."
 
Vice President Dick Cheney had a different message. Informed during a Good Morning America interview broadcast Wednesday that two-thirds of Americans now think the war was not worth fighting, Cheney said: "So?"
 
"So you don't care what the American people think?" ABC's Martha Raddatz asked.
He added: "I think we cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations of the public opinion polls. There has in fact been fundamental change and transformation and improvement for the better. That's a huge accomplishment."
 
For people like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Yoo, Addington, etc., their modus operandi must be something like this: If you’re going to do something illegal, don’t get caught, but if you are going to get caught, make sure you won’t suffer any consequences.
 
Cheney can admit to any war crime right now. He can admit to torture or waging illegal war. He and his friends could trot out in front of some member of the press and reveal one more element of his Project for the New American Century plan every day until Obama is inaugurated and expect nothing to happen.
 
Last week, a report was released on the “treatment of detainees in U.S. custody.” Sen. Carl Levin and Sen. John McCain put together an “Executive Summary and Conclusions” on their investigations, which involved Senate Armed Services Committee inquiries on June 17th and Sept. 25th of this year.
 
The report (known as the Rumsfeld Report) said “the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples””, as Rumsfeld famously claimed after photos of torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib were leaked. Furthermore, “the fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to us aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”
 
The Rumsfeld Report goes on to explain how on February 7, 2002, Bush signed a memo asserting that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the “war on terror.” Prior to that, in December 2001, the Depart of Defense General Counsel’s office solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), which according to the report is “an agency whose expertise [is] in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.”
 
JPRA oversees the military’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training which involves exposure to “physical and psychological pressures (SERE techniques) designed to simulate conditions to which [soldiers] might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that do not abide by the Geneva Conventions.
For those unfamiliar with SERE training, this may be one of the most revealing excerpts from the report:
 
JPRA is the DoD agency that oversees military Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. During the resistance phase of SERE training, U.S. military personnel are exposed to physical and psychological pressures (SERE techniques) designed to simulate conditions to which they might be subject if taken prisoner by enemies that did not abide by the Geneva Conventions. As one JPRA instructor explained, SERE training is “based on illegal exploitation (under the rules listed in the 1949 Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War) of prisoners over the last 50 years.” The techniques used in SERE school, based, in part, on Chinese Communist techniques used during the Korean war to elicit false confessions, include stripping students of their clothing, placing them in stress positions, putting hoods over their heads, disrupting their sleep, treating them like animals, subjecting them to loud music and flashing lights, and exposing them to extreme temperatures. It can also include face and body slaps and until recently, for some who attended the Navy’s SERE school, it included waterboarding
The report further explains that two legal opinions were released in August 2002 which redefined torture (this is well known to many at this point).
 
As the report details, one opinion, the Bybee memo [authorized by then-Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee] concluded, “[F]or an act to constitute torture as defined in [the federal torture statute], it must inflict pain that is difficult to endure. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture under [the federal torture statute], it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.” And, “Violent acts aren’t necessarily torture; if you do torture, you probably have a defense; and even if you don’t have a defense, the torture law doesn’t apply if you act under the color of presidential authority.”
 
The full report and further information can be found here.
Sen. John McCain remarked, “The Committee’s report details the inexcusable link between abusive interrogation techniques used by our enemies who ignored the Geneva Conventions and interrogation policy for detainees in U.S. custody. These policies are wrong and must never be repeated.”
 
Since the report’s release, the cry for prosecution of members of the Bush Administration for war crimes or crimes against humanity has been nil.
Why after a Google News search is it impossible to find President-elect Barack Obama’s reaction to the Rumsfeld Report which Sen. Levin, a former colleague of his in the Senate, and Sen. John McCain, his former opponent and also a former colleague of his in the Senate, signed off on?
 
Might the lack of response to this report be for reasons related to the fact that Obama is not a transformative or challenging personality? Might it be because he would rather Americans move forward and not engage in actions that might create “partisan” battles which might stall reforms America desperately needs?
Does it really matter what Obama’s excuse may be though? Crimes were committed and accountability and justice is required.
 
Obama told Salon.com in April this year, “that as president he would indeed ask his new Attorney General and his deputies to "immediately review the information that's already there" and determine if an inquiry is warranted.” While he was worried about engaging in a “partisan witch hunt” “he said that equation changes if there was willful criminality, because "nobody is above the law."
 
Obama and his transition team know accountability and justice should be pursued. They have been inquiring and asking for documents which the Bush Administration is refusing to let them have access to for no good reason at all.
 
But, Obama has refused to issue a strong call for prosecutions of members of the Bush Administration. And, he, sadly, has often taken a weaker stance on torture than John McCain.
 
"I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture, and I'm going to make sure that we don't torture," Obama said on CBS' "60 Minutes weeks after winning the election." "Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world."
Contrast this with this statement from Obama that was released to the States News Service in October 2007: “The secret authorization of brutal interrogations is an outrageous betrayal of our core values, and a grave danger to our security. We must do whatever it takes to track down and capture or kill terrorists, but torture is not a part of the answer - it is a fundamental part of the problem with this administration's approach. Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them. Torture is how you get bad information, not good intelligence. Torture is how you set back America's standing in the world, not how you strengthen it. It's time to tell the world that America rejects torture without exception or equivocation. It's time to stop telling the American people one thing in public while doing something else in the shadows. No more secret authorization of methods like simulated drowning. When I am president America will once again be the country that stands up to these deplorable tactics. When I am president we won't work in secret to avoid honoring our laws and Constitution, we will be straight with the American people and true to our values.”
 
The assertiveness and integrity found in this statement is noticeably lacking in the statements Obama is making now that he is going to be the next president of the United States.
 
While he ultimately decided not to appoint John Brennan, he has been considering Michael McConnell and Michael Hayden for Director of National Intelligence and CIA Director.
 
The excuse for considerations of those who strongly supported Bush policies has been continuity. This excuse is a result of Obama thinking that a smooth transition is more important than ending the institutionalization of lawlessness in American government.
Like most of Obama’s decisions, he seems to be making a compromise here. The worst of the Bush administration will not be serving in Obama's administration, but some will because, to Obama, this is the only way to avoid partisan bickering.
 
Obama’s transition has been marked by government officials constantly suggesting Obama will not be able to make changes the people want Obama to make.
For example, Rep. Silvestre Reyes [D-TX] said last week, “There are those that believe that this particular issue [torture] has to be dealt with very carefully because there are beliefs that there are some options that need to be available…We don't want to be known for torturing people. At the same time we don't want to limit our ability to get information that's vital and critical to our national security. That’s where the new administration is going to have to decide what those parameters are, what those limitations are."
 
The Public Record click here that Reyes is “just one of a handful of top Democrats in both Houses who in recent weeks have changed their positions in regard to the brutal techniques used by the CIA during interrogations, such as waterboarding, which has been widely regarded as torture.”
 
Just over a year ago, Glenn Greenwald wrote, “The Washington Post reports today that the Bush administration, beginning in 2002, repeatedly briefed leading Congressional Democrats on the Senate and House Intelligence Committees -- including, at various times, Jay Rockefeller, Nancy Pelosi, and Jane Harman -- regarding the CIA's "enhanced interrogation methods," including details about waterboarding and other torture measures. With one exception (Harman, who vaguely claims to have sent a letter to the CIA), these lawmakers not only failed to object to these policies, but affirmatively supported them.”
 
Greenwald went on to make the assertion that, “Torture didn't become an American policy despite the best efforts of a righteous Democratic leadership to stop that. Torture became an American policy precisely because a meek and often outright supportive Democratic leadership continuously allowed it.”
 
Cheney can admit to torture because Democrats have not admitted to being silent and complicit on the issue of torture.
 
Democrats have killed efforts to impeach Bush or Cheney for torture.
Despite the efforts of grassroots Americans and Dennis Kucinich and others, everything else but restoring the rule of law has been on the table for Pelosi and her Democratic underlings.
 
When did certain high-ranking Democrats learn about war crimes and when did they learn about it and why didn't they tirelessly pursue justice and accountability for members of the Bush Administration? Why the hesitation?
Americans should ask these questions.
 
They should ask, how many Democrats knew about plans to use "enhanced interrogation methods" (a sanitized term or euphemism for torture) in the "war on terror" in 2002? in 2003? in 2004? in 2005?
 
The Bush Administration does not have an obligation to say or do anything because Democrats are not saying or doing anything.
Obama’s plan to move forward and focus on not letting the crimes happen again may be acceptable for some, but the reality is that this plan is foolhardy at best and wills people into a state of amnesia and naiveté.
 
By refusing to take a stand on the crimes government has committed over the past decade (and prior to that), Obama actually makes it more possible for those crimes to happen again because without legally repudiating the policies, they may still seem legitimate to some. Those who find the policies of torture (or the policies of war which violate international law) to be legitimate will repeat the nightmares perpetrated by the Bush Administration without any hesitation.
 
The reality is that if we do not want to be in this situation again four or eight years from now---this situation where officials prance around in front of the press going, "Yes, I did it, and no, I don't care."---than we better commit ourselves to a campaign that calls for the prosecution of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Yoo, Addington, and anybody else who was involved in authorizing torture and other war crimes or crimes against humanity.
 
Kevin Gosztola goes to Columbia College in Chicago where he is studying film. He hopes to become a documentary filmmaker. He is currently working as a production assistant on a documentary called "Seriously Green" which traces the development of the Green Party throughout the 2008 election. He has a passion for journalism and writes articles or press releases in his spare time.