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Late Night: Elephants on Parade

I am really beside myself this evening. . . . Why are we still debating this? Why are we still having a “dialogue” over whether the methods used on at least three detainees was anything other than torture? Why are we still arguing about whether torture worked? Why are we more obsessed with “what Nancy knew and when did she know it” when we know without a doubt that Pelosi (briefed in or not) did not order the torture of supposedly high value detainees; torture was ordered by the very highest officials of the Bush-Cheney Administration.

David Rivkin, a man who cut his teeth in the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations, a man who has said that restoring Habeas rights to detainees was a decision as bad as Dred Scott or Plessy v. Ferguson—a man whose name I can’t really even write without spitting—has been making a career out of defending the transgressions of the Bush-Cheney Administration since its earliest days. It has become his life’s work. I am tempted to say that if Cheney and his henchmen hadn’t built a torture regime, David Rivkin would have invented it.

Well, that David Rivkin was on Friday’s edition of The Ed Show (blessedly Ed-free today), again giving the war crimes of the last eight years the Sis-Boom-Bah! And he does it with a smirk and a chuckle. Give it a listen above for sure, but here is basically what he is saying this time: The US “enhanced interrogation techniques” program is not torture because it was reverse engineered from SERE training, and since 40,000 US citizens have gone through SERE training, and we would never torture US citizens, the EITs are not torture.

Yeah—it’s that crazy.

Lawrence O’Donnell does manage to blurt out that SERE was designed to train service personnel to resist torture, but it could use a little longer explication: SERE was a response to the torture that was endured by US prisoners at the hands of their North Korean and PRC captors. The US military took what was done to POWs to elicit false confessions, and had some in the service of this country volunteer to endure a controlled version of this in order to develop the skills to survive that torture.

As reported here (and many other places), a handful of people, none of them trained interrogators, then took the SERE handbook, and basically rebranded it as an “enhanced interrogation” program. And that program was embraced by Bush, Cheney, Condi Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Rizzo, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Jay Bybee. . . I could go on and on.

And what they all embraced—and what Rifkin is now embracing—is torture. But don’t take my word for it—take Rivkin’s:

Let me clarify, torture in my view is always unacceptable, and in fact I frankly think characterizing American interrogation policy, or debates about interrogation policy, as torture is misleading. … Torture is defined somewhat imprecisely in international law, but basically, in my view, waterboarding is torture.

[emphasis in source]

(That was December—what happened in the last six months?)

OK, but don’t take my word or Rivkin’s word. . . let’s take the word of the New York Times.

The Times has scrupulously (or is that scruple-less-ly) avoided referring to the Bush-Cheney detainee abuse as “torture” in its coverage of this subject on its news pages, but as Andrew Sullivan has pointedly observed:

In an obit today, the editors manage to use the word "torture". It’s in an obit. The obit runs:

Col. Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American fighter pilot who was routinely tortured in a Chinese prison during and after the Korean War, becoming — along with three other American airmen held at the same prison — a symbol and victim of cold war tension, died in Las Vegas on April 30. He was 83 and lived in Las Vegas. The cause was complications of back surgery, his son Kurt said.

From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer — then an Air Force captain — was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.

After a short mock trial in Beijing on May 24, 1955, Captain Fischer and the other pilots — Lt. Col. Edwin L. Heller, First Lt. Lyle W. Cameron and First Lt. Roland W. Parks — were found guilty of violating Chinese territory by flying across the border while on missions over North Korea. Under duress, Captain Fischer had falsely confessed to participating in germ warfare.

You will notice how the NYT defines torture when it comes to foreign governments – isolation, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation. Much milder than anything the US did to one of its own citizens, Jose Padilla. But the parallel is almost perfect: these are, after all, the exact Chinese Communist techniques that were reverse engineered from the SERE program. So you have a perfect demonstration of the NYT’s double-standard. If Chinese do it to Americans, it’s torture; if Americans do it to an American, it’s "harsh interrogation." . . .

And if Dick Cheney orders it done to a US detainee, then David Rivkin has decided it’s just damn good policy.

Stupid. Cowardly. Hypocritical. Venal. A parade of perfect adjectives for this elephant on parade.

Any pointedly putrid pachyderms on your radar?

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Gregg Levine

Gregg Levine