Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Torture Policies Came From The Top Down

For another detailing of Bush administration illegality, look no further than the executive summary on the Bush administration's detention and torture policies issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. Although the manner in which these policies and incidents of torture have come to light make it appear that the abuses started at the bottom of the food chain, this report makes it clear that top officials in the Bush administration began investigating the use of techniques commonly regarded as torture for the purposes of interrogating detainees captured in the invasion of Afghanistan, only a few months after the invasion began. They relied primarily on information given to them by the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, an agency of the Department of Defense, whose job it is to train certain members of the military to resist torture in the event of capture. Reverse-engineering the techniques that JPRA prepared military members against, instructors from JPRA begain in September of 2002 training interrogators and behavioral scientists working with captured detainees at Gauntanamo Bay. Despite what could be described at best as "iffy" legal justification for the use of techniques, then-Secratary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld authorized in December of 2002 various techniques for use at Gitmo (while providing little guidance as to how the techniques should be used.) Concerns stated by attorneys with the military of all branches were routinely dismissed, in favor of justifications provided by DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel. And eventually, techniques which were instituted at Gitmo migrated to Iraq and Afghanistan, where the pressure to obtain intelligence in the face of increasingly stubborn insurgencies grew intense. Only in the fact of the domestic and global outrage that followed the revelations of abuse at Abu Ghraib in 2004, did elements of the administration begin to back away from the legal regime that permitted and justified detainee abuse and torture (despite the fact that papers like the Washington Post were uncovering stories of detainee abuse as early as late 2002.) For years now the Bush administration has argued that the abuse was the conduct of rogue military members, but as we are all aware now thanks to one revelation after another over the last four years, those convicted of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib were utilizing techniques that hardly differ from the techniques approved at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

It should be noted that this report is a summary of conclusions arrived at concerning the behavior of officials at the highest level of the Bush administration, as evidenced by specific instances of torture. It is not a detailing of each of the incidents of abuse and torture practiced by American interrogators in the last seven years (such a recounting may not even be possible, as there may be simply too many instances of abuse to catalog them all.) Glenn Greenwald references only the instances where detainees have died in U.S. custody in suspiciuos circumstances, but even these are only the instances that we know about. The story of torture approved and practiced by members of the CIA and the United States military, as approved by officials in the Bush administration, is a long and sordid tale that will likely require years more to completely unravel.

In my post on the NSA's surveillance programs I bow to the pragmatism of avoiding prosecutions of those who broke provisions of FISA. But when it comes to torture, I make no such concession. Each and every person who had a hand in justifying, aiding and abetting the torture of detainees in U.S. custody should face the threat of prosecution, a threat that may spur them to tell us more than we already know so that something approaching a full accounting of the evil conducted by this administration can someday be known.

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