The United States tortured al Qaeda detainees captured after the Sept. 11,2001 attacks, President Obama acknowledged Friday, in some of his most expansive comments to date about a controversial set of CIA practices that he banned after taking office.From the White House Transcript:
I have full confidence in John Brennan. I think he has acknowledged and directly apologized to Senator Feinstein that CIA personnel did not properly handle an investigation as to how certain documents that were not authorized to be released to the Senate staff got somehow into the hands of the Senate staff. And it’s clear from the IG report that some very poor judgment was shown in terms of how that was handled. Keep in mind, though, that John Brennan was the person who called for the IG report, and he’s already stood up a task force to make sure that lessons are learned and mistakes are resolved.Let's start with Brennan. What he acknowledged was, in fact, his own dishonesty. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. Let's take a step back.
With respect to the larger point of the RDI report itself, even before I came into office I was very clear that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 we did some things that were wrong. We did a whole lot of things that were right, but we tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values.
I understand why it happened. I think it’s important when we look back to recall how afraid people were after the Twin Towers fell and the Pentagon had been hit and the plane in Pennsylvania had fallen, and people did not know whether more attacks were imminent, and there was enormous pressure on our law enforcement and our national security teams to try to deal with this. And it’s important for us not to feel too sanctimonious in retrospect about the tough job that those folks had. And a lot of those folks were working hard under enormous pressure and are real patriots.
But having said all that, we did some things that were wrong. And that's what that report reflects. And that's the reason why, after I took office, one of the first things I did was to ban some of the extraordinary interrogation techniques that are the subject of that report.
There's an ongoing dispute in DC about the CIA's Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program. The Senate Intelligence Committee's written a report that's now circulating behind the locked doors of Official Washington and a summary of it is (supposedly) on its way to being declassified and released:
The White House in the next few days is expected to declassify the long-awaited summary of a U.S. Senate committee study of a CIA program that used "enhanced interrogations" and secret prisons to extract information from captured militants, several officials familiar with the matter said.So according to those who've seen the report, the CIA tortured and then lied about the effectiveness of that torture. The point here is that while the Senate was investigating the CIA's torturous RDI program, the Senate Intelligence Committee was actually spied on by the CIA.
Over the last two weeks, former directors and deputy directors of the CIA have been invited by the Obama administration to review a still-secret version of the 600-page Senate Intelligence Committee summary at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Officials familiar with its contents say it concludes that the CIA's use of harsh "enhanced interrogation" methods such as waterboarding, or simulated drowning, on a handful of prisoners, and other stress tactics on a larger set of captured militants, did not produce any significant counter-terrorism breakthroughs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.
Human rights activists and CIA critics, including some U.S. politicians, have described the CIA's techniques as torture.
The officials said the report also alleges that CIA officials misstated or exaggerated the results of the program by claiming such methods had helped to foil terrorist plots.
Here's what Brennan said early on to Andrea Mitchell of NBC News:
As far as the allegations of the CIA hacking into Senate computers, nothing could be further from the truth. That's just beyond the scope of reason.And that turns out to be completely and unquestionably false. From CNN:
CIA Director John Brennan apologized to the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday and admitted the agency spied on computers used by its staffers who prepared an investigation of the controversial post 9/11 CIA interrogation and detention program.So that's how the DCIA and the CIA lied to everybody about the RDI program.
Now that we've established that, what's the bigger issue?
Because no matter how the President frames it, torture is still illegal. From the United Nations Convention Against Torture, Article I:
For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.And now something from Article II:
No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.See? No matter how bad 9/11 was, no matter how scared the people were, there's no justification to torture. It's simply against the law - international law.
Let me add a footnote. Torture's illegal according to this more recent law as well. This was introduced by Senator John McCain as an amendment to a larger appropriations bill. (It was later signed into law by George W. Bush):
No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.And so on.
Of course, this was in the age of the previous (and oh-so Republican) administration, the age of the Unitary Executive, when a President could sign a bill into law and then claim that it didn't always have to apply to him. From the Boston Globe in 2006:
When President Bush last week signed the bill outlawing the torture of detainees, he quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as commander in chief.Meaning:
After approving the bill last Friday, Bush issued a ''signing statement" -- an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law -- declaring that he will view the interrogation limits in the context of his broader powers to protect national security. This means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions, the White House and legal specialists said.
''The executive branch shall construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief," Bush wrote, adding that this approach ''will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President . . . of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks."
David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said that the signing statement means that Bush believes he can still authorize harsh interrogation tactics when he sees fit.It's interesting that there wasn't much of a peep then from today's Impeachment crowd. Back then a (Republican) President was claiming the authority to side step International laws barring war crimes and there's more or less silence from the right wing. Now a (Democratic) President issues an Executive Order rearranging some parts of the implementation of a law getting more Americans affordable health care and BAM! suddenly there's a constitutional crisis on the (pro-life) Right.
The sad sad part about all this is that the current (Democratic) President is letting the previous (Republican) President get away with war crimes.
I'm just wondering when Fox News will call for Obama's impeachment for the crime of giving Bush's waterboarding a pass.