Surprise! Bad apples were at the top of the bunch
by JJE, Thu Dec 11, 2008 at 07:07:33 PM EST
Today the Senate Armed Services Committee, chaired by Sen. Levin (and co-chaired by Sen. McCain), released a report concluding that top administration officials authorized torture (or "aggressive interrogation" if you prefer Orwellian euphemisms).
The executive summary is here. A report in The Hill summarizing the findings is here. Much of the information contained in the report (at least in the executive summary) has already been disclosed during the investigation, but having it all in one place helps make the connections between the bad apples at the top of the Bush administration and the collection of low-level "bad apples" that administration defenders have tried to circumscribe for the purpose of attributing all of the blame.
The report focuses on SERE techniques. SERE techniques were originally devised to prepare United States armed services personnel in the event they were detained by countries that did not respect the Geneva Convention. SERE techniques include waterboarding, forced nudity, and the imposition of stress positions for extended periods of time. In other words, torture.
The report contains many damning conclusions. I've summarized the high-level ones after the jump but I urge everyone to read the report in its entirety (it's only 19 pages in a large font).
The Torture Ball Gets Rolling
Very early on (Feb. 2002), Bush made his infamous determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which prohibits inhumane treatment, did not apply to Al Queda or Taliban detainees.
High-Level Awareness of Torture
Cabinet officials and other senior officials held meetings in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. Additionally, National Security Council principals discussed particulars of the CIA program.
Torture at GTMO
Major General Michael Dunlavey requested authorization in October 2002 to implement interrogation techniques at GTMO that were similar to SERE techniques. After an insufficient, abbreviated, and erroneous legal review, Secretary Rumsfeld authorized most of the techniques in Dunlavey's request. Rumsfeld's authorization was a direct cause of detainee abuse at GTMO.
From GTMO to Abu Ghraib
In Iraq, GTMO Commander Major General Geoffrey Miller suggested the use of more "aggressive" interrogation techniques during a visit there in September and August 2003. In September 2003, General Ricardo Sanchez authorized the use of military dogs and stress positions, despite his knowledge of an ongoing legal review of some of those techniques. That policy was superseded in October due to concerns raised by CENTCOM, but the superseding order contained ambiguities and caused confusion as to what techniques were authorized.
Rumsfeld's December 2002 order conveyed a message that physical pressures and degrading treatment was authorized for detainees in military custody. The abuse of detainees in Abu Ghraib was not simply a result of a few soldiers acting on their own.
Strangely, although the executive summary contains the heading "Conclusions on Iraq and Afghanistan", there are no actual conclusions bearing on Afghanistan. Perhaps they will be in the full report.
Where to go from here? It is important that the Obama administration and the incoming Congress not let this issue die. Top officials, including Rumsfeld, Ashcroft, and Rice, must testify about their role and knowledge in getting the United States military into the business of torture. The Obama administration should consider appointing an independent prosecutor to pursue charges against anyone who has violated U.S. law.
Such efforts will undoubtedly be denounced as a partisan witch-hunt by people who think "24" is a template for fighting terrorism, and there will be those on the Democratic side who will want to move on in the name of post-partisanship. It will be up to those of us who care about the rule of law and destroying the idea that the United States offers little more than empty rhetoric on the subject of human rights to ensure that that does not happen.