Torture & the Art of the Gratuitous Lie: Dissecting Rumsfeld & Thiessen’s Wild Whoppers
As if we already didn’t know the media is full of lies and stupidity, two new examples have surfaced in recent days, with former administration officials and their media mouthpieces vying for who can pronounce the most incredible lies about the torture policies of the U.S. government. What’s even more amazing is that one ostensibly progressive website and its members have taken at least one of these lies as good coin, a lie so blatant that it only takes a moment’s reflection to realize it’s total BS.
First, though, precedence should be given to the op-ed by Donald Rumsfeld in last Thursday’s Washington Post. Titled “How WikiLeaks vindicated Bush’s anti-terrorism strategy,” the former Secretary of Defense — who was the Bush administration official who authorized aggressive torture techniques based on SERE torture resistance training for use in DoD interrogations, a fact the Washington Post forgot to mention in its brief bio on Rumsfeld — manages to dredge up every falsehood and canard spewed out by the government to justify the torture they used, from Al Qaeda’s purported threats to unleash a “nuclear hellstorm” if Bin Laden was captured, to the supposed “dirty” bomb plot (dreamed up from “confessions” made under torture by Binyam Mohamed, who had looked at a joke website on nuclear bombs online, and was originally a charge against Jose Padilla, later dropped because it would have been laughed out of even Bush’s courts).
But the oddest lie, gratuitously thrown in, concerns Rumsfeld’s claims about what the Wikileaks documents allegedly reveal about the purported “suicides” of three Guantanamo prisoners in June 2006. Readers might remember the Scott Horton article in Harper’s Magazine back in January 2010, “The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle.” (Horton’s article produced an upset of sorts at the National Magazine Awards last week, winning the “Reporting” award, beating out Michael Hasting’s Rolling Stone article on Gen. Stanley McChrystal, and Jane Mayer’s New Yorker exposé on the Koch brothers. — Congrats, Scott!)
While Horton’s article laid out compelling evidence of a cover-up over the possible killings of these three detainees, one of whom had already been cleared for release and return to Saudi Arabia only weeks prior to his death, Rumsfeld claims that the recent Wikileaks release of Guantanamo documents (Detainee Assessment Briefs, or DABs) provide evidence backing the government’s contention the three prisoners committed simultaneous suicide.
The documents should also disprove some myths that have dogged Guantanamo and the reputations of those who honorably serve there. The classified record, for example, confirms that three detainees who died in 2006 were suicides — not, as some have irresponsibly alleged, victims of brutal interrogations.
Yet nowhere in the Wikileaks documents, and nowhere in the DABs for Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, or Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani — the three men who died — is there any evidence or claim that their deaths were suicides. Nowhere in these documents is there even a discussion of these suicides, so it is very odd that Rumsfeld, who was sued by the parents of two of the deceased prisoners, should even bring up this story. In Horton’s article, it’s noted that Rumsfeld might have put the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in charge of a secret interrogation black site at Guantanamo, called unofficially Camp No by some Gitmo personnel, where the three men were seen taken by guards on duty that night. Rumsfeld has never spoken out on the “suicides” before. I wonder what he’s trying to preempt.
For a thorough demolition of Rumsfeld’s lies, readers may wish to peruse former Col. Larry Wilkerson’s declaration under oath “that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all knew — and didn’t care — that ‘the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent.’”
Marc Thiessen’s Theater of the Absurd
Even more gratuitous, and a lie easily disprovable on its face, is the recent assertion, as reported by the overly-creduous Josh Gerstein at Politico, that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed “figured out” how to outlast his 183 waterboardings by CIA torturers (bold emphasis added).
“He figured out the limits,” Marc Theissen, a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, said during a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. KSM “actually mocked his interrogators by holding out his arm and counting off the seconds with his hand. He knew exactly how far we could go and when the terrorists know how far you can go it’s very very hard to break them.”
Aside from the ridiculous, if not scandalous assertions about the efficacy of torture — a crime considered “jus cogens,” a crime against humanity, and a war crime outlawed by U.S. treaties — the idea of KSM “holding out his arm to count off the seconds with his hand” would be amazing… if it weren’t that his arms and legs were strapped down to a gurney!
Such a blatant lie should have been caught by Gerstein, or by the naive diarist that posted the story over at Daily Kos, winning a spot on the “recommended” list, even though the diarist and many of the commenters there took Theissen’s mendacious fiction to be fact. It wouldn’t take more than a few minutes on Google to find this description from the 2002 Office of Legal Counsel memo by Jay Bybee and John Yoo (bold emphasis added): “In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual’s feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner.
Additionally, one could go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and read the CIA’s own guidelines from its Office of Medical Services (OMS) (PDF). Except for the manner in which breathing was obstructed in the prisoner (as discussed in the CIA IG report on the torture program – PDF), the CIA’s waterboarding followed the SERE model, in which, OMS noted (bold emphasis added), “the subject is immobilized on his back, and his forehead and eyes covered with a cloth.”
The idea that frustrated CIA torturers were repeatedly waterboarding KSM as he stubbornly held up his arm and hand to count off the seconds of torture is ridiculously absurd, not least because it was physically impossible. What the CIA medical personnel did have to report about the waterboarding showed that some resistance was, in their opinion, possible: “While SERE trainers believe that trainees are unable to maintain psychological resistance to the waterboard, our experience was otherwise. Some subjects [KSM?] unquestionably can withstand a large number of applications, with no immediately discernable [sic] cumulative impact beyond their strong aversion to the experience.”
Now, the CIA is no more believable than their mouthpiece, Marc Theissen, but it’s notable that even for the unnamed detainee or detainees who supposedly could “withstand a large number of applications,” the torture produced a “strong aversion.” What the words “withstand” or “aversion” even mean when issuing from the offices of the CIA, I’m not even sure anymore. But it certainly is far different than the picture of an obstreperous KSM that Thiessen provides in order to show that Al Qaeda had learned how to “resist” even a technique as powerful as the waterboard. That this says nothing about the legality or logic of using such torture is an example of how an implicit and dangerous lie is hidden within the blatant outer husk of an absurd lie, i.e., that U.S. torture was not harmful.
As for waterboarding, the fact that SERE training had largely banned waterboarding as too dangerous for their trainees, and the fact that government lawyers hid that fact in the memos they wrote to approve Bush’s “enhanced interrogation program,” was revealed in a series of exclusive articles I wrote here at Firedoglake last year (see here and here).
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