The Dividing Line of Torture
I don’t know how to write about torture being committed by the US government. It’s an incredibly difficult subject to dissect, in large part because it gets to the heart of why most liberal bloggers do what they do. I don’t know many in the liberal blogosphere whose advertising revenues generated in the free market (as opposed to the wingnut welfare system) even pay for the maintenance of their sites, and those very few whose sites cover their costs could inarguably be making much more money doing something else. But there is something so deeply wrong and at such dissonance between the country we grew up to believe in and what this government is now engaged in that its unspoken presence informs every post, every word, even the decision to get up every morning and turn on the computer. To sit back and do nothing while this happens is unthinkable for anyone who genuinely believes in this country and the principles upon which it was founded.
And there is nothing that reveals the utter moral bankruptcy, the complete dehumanizing vacuousness of the right more than when it steps forward to defend torture and those who petulantly assert their right to engage in it as somehow "patriotic," and call for the elimination of all those who oppose it.
There certainly appears to be no limits on what Bush followers will endorse in the name of fighting The Enemies, domestic ones included, sometimes most prominently. And what is so significant about this is that the institutions which previously existed as a safeguard against arbitrary punishment and abuse of power — things like due process guarantees, Congressional oversight, an adversarial media, whistleblowers — have all been steadily eroded. The administration has seized the power to arrest people without charges, hold them in secret prisons, use torture to interrogate them, etc. That is all out in the open and prompts defenses of these practices from its followers. That makes the attempt to equate political opposition with criminality and even treason — one of the most common tactics of the administration and its followers — all the more dangerous.
I want to go back to the original Dana Priest articles just to remind everyone what we’re talking about here. From the November 2, 2005 article entitled CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons:
The CIA and the White House, citing national security concerns and the value of the program, have dissuaded Congress from demanding that the agency answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which captives are held. Virtually nothing is known about who is kept in the facilities, what interrogation methods are employed with them, or how decisions are made about whether they should be detained or for how long.
No congressional oversight allowed. We are supposed to trust the "boy king" to use the powers he seizes for himself appropriately and judiciously. Another one of those "trust me" moments.
Let’s read a little further from the article:
"I remember asking: What are we going to do with these people?" said a senior CIA officer. "I kept saying, where’s the help? We’ve got to bring in some help. We can’t be jailers — our job is to find Osama."
Then came grisly reports, in the winter of 2001, that prisoners kept by allied Afghan generals in cargo containers had died of asphyxiation. The CIA asked Congress for, and was quickly granted, tens of millions of dollars to establish a larger, long-term system in Afghanistan, parts of which would be used for CIA prisoners.
The largest CIA prison in Afghanistan was code-named the Salt Pit. It was also the CIA’s substation and was first housed in an old brick factory outside Kabul. In November 2002, an inexperienced CIA case officer allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets. He froze to death, according to four U.S. government officials. The CIA officer has not been charged in the death.
The Salt Pit was protected by surveillance cameras and tough Afghan guards, but the road leading to it was not safe to travel and the jail was eventually moved inside Bagram Air Base. It has since been relocated off the base.
By mid-2002, the CIA had worked out secret black-site deals with two countries, including Thailand and one Eastern European nation, current and former officials said. An estimated $100 million was tucked inside the classified annex of the first supplemental Afghanistan appropriation.
Then the CIA captured its first big detainee, in March 28, 2002. Pakistani forces took Abu Zubaida, al Qaeda’s operations chief, into custody and the CIA whisked him to the new black site in Thailand, which included underground interrogation cells, said several former and current intelligence officials. Six months later, Sept. 11 planner Ramzi Binalshibh was also captured in Pakistan and flown to Thailand.
But after published reports revealed the existence of the site in June 2003, Thai officials insisted the CIA shut it down, and the two terrorists were moved elsewhere, according to former government officials involved in the matter. Work between the two countries on counterterrorism has been lukewarm ever since.
In late 2002 or early 2003, the CIA brokered deals with other countries to establish black-site prisons. One of these sites — which sources said they believed to be the CIA’s biggest facility now — became particularly important when the agency realized it would have a growing number of prisoners and a shrinking number of prisons.
Thailand was closed, and sometime in 2004 the CIA decided it had to give up its small site at Guantanamo Bay. The CIA had planned to convert that into a state-of-the-art facility, operated independently of the military. The CIA pulled out when U.S. courts began to exercise greater control over the military detainees, and agency officials feared judges would soon extend the same type of supervision over their detainees.
In hindsight, say some former and current intelligence officials, the CIA’s problems were exacerbated by another decision made within the Counterterrorist Center at Langley.
The CIA program’s original scope was to hide and interrogate the two dozen or so al Qaeda leaders believed to be directly responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, or who posed an imminent threat, or had knowledge of the larger al Qaeda network. But as the volume of leads pouring into the CTC from abroad increased, and the capacity of its paramilitary group to seize suspects grew, the CIA began apprehending more people whose intelligence value and links to terrorism were less certain, according to four current and former officials.
The original standard for consigning suspects to the invisible universe was lowered or ignored, they said. "They’ve got many, many more who don’t reach any threshold," one intelligence official said.
Several former and current intelligence officials, as well as several other U.S. government officials with knowledge of the program, express frustration that the White House and the leaders of the intelligence community have not made it a priority to decide whether the secret internment program should continue in its current form, or be replaced by some other approach.
Meanwhile, the debate over the wisdom of the program continues among CIA officers, some of whom also argue that the secrecy surrounding the program is not sustainable.
"It’s just a horrible burden," said the intelligence official.
The same passage that makes us shudder with abhorrance will give shivers of delight to the eliminationists of the right. I have no idea the channels that Mary McCarthy went through (or didn’t) as she tried to get her information out, or even which parts of the Priest series were sourced to her, but neither does anyone calling for her head.
But I do believe one thing: it was extremely important that the information in Dana Priest’s articles enter the public discourse. And I would like to see a bit more acknowledment of that fact by the likes of Jane Harmon who likes to run just to the right of Atilla the Hun.
Said Harman :
"I don’t know this woman, and I do not condone leaks of classified information," said Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, referring to the firing of Mary McCarthy.
How exactly were we supposed to find out? Was Harman planning on telling us?
As Digby says:
This is why the Democrats need to be very tough and make it clear that they are serious about holding this administration accountable for what they’ve done. If they are not out front, visibly willing to get these generals’ and these whistleblowers’ backs, they are sending a signal that these folks are on their own while the harpies are circling. Democrats need to step up here.
If the series in the American Prospect is credible (and I believe it is) the biggest challenge facing Democrats right now is that they are perceived as standing for nothing. If they are not willing to step into the breech and stand against torture until someone tells them it’s polling well, it’s a terrifyingly apt critique.