A Legacy of Torture

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, March 10, 2008; 1:36 PM

The headline of the top story in Sunday's New York Times story was promising: "Bush's Veto of Bill on C.I.A. Tactics Affirms His Legacy."

But in the lead paragraph, Steven Lee Myers pulled his punches: "President Bush on Saturday further cemented his legacy of fighting for strong executive powers, using his veto to shut down a Congressional effort to limit the Central Intelligence Agency's latitude to subject terrorism suspects to harsh interrogation techniques."

I'll be a little more blunt: The legacy that Bush affirmed with Saturday's veto was one of torture.

By refusing to impose on the CIA the same anti-torture prohibitions mandated by the Army Field Manual-- prohibitions against such tactics as waterboarding, prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures, forced nudity, sexual humiliation, mock executions, the use of attack dogs, the application of electric shocks and the withholding of food, water and medical care -- Bush cast his lot with the world's torturers and against the global human rights movement that was until recently the centerpiece of American foreign policy.

And by making the claim that the country would have been attacked again after 9/11 were it not for the CIA's interrogation program -- a claim allowed to go unrefuted in most media coverage -- Bush has further damaged his credibility among those who are paying attention.

Bush's Torture Canards

Bush announced the veto in his Saturday radio address. "The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror -- the CIA program to detain and question key terrorist leaders and operatives," he said.

His supporting evidence? In an almost word-for-word repeat from his October 23 speech on the same issue, Bush said: "This program has produced critical intelligence that has helped us prevent a number of attacks. The program helped us stop a plot to strike a U.S. Marine camp in Djibouti, a planned attack on the U.S. consulate in Karachi, a plot to hijack a passenger plane and fly it into Library Tower in Los Angeles, and a plot to crash passenger planes into Heathrow Airport or buildings in downtown London. And it has helped us understand al Qaida's structure and financing and communications and logistics. Were it not for this program, our intelligence community believes that al Qaida and its allies would have succeeded in launching another attack against the American homeland."

Here's the unusually blistering response from Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, via TPM Muckraker: "As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have heard nothing to suggest that information obtained from enhanced interrogation techniques has prevented an imminent terrorist attack. And I have heard nothing that makes me think the information obtained from these techniques could not have been obtained through traditional interrogation methods used by military and law enforcement interrogators. On the other hand, I do know that coercive interrogations can lead detainees to provide false information in order to make the interrogation stop."

As for Bush's four allegedly thwarted plots, let's start with the only domestic one, the Library Tower plot. As I wrote in Friday's column, it's been widely debunked. There's no reason to believe it was much more than a fantasy. And as I reported in October on NiemanWatchdog.org (where I am deputy editor), the three alleged international plots are also quite possibly figments of tortured detainees' imaginations as well.

Why much of the media repeatedly quotes Bush's unsubstantiated assertions without offering readers any context is beyond me.

No More

The Washington Monthly is out with a special issue: "No More." The editors explain why they commissioned 37 short essays on the same theme: "In the wake of September 11, the United States became a nation that practiced torture. Astonishingly -- despite the repudiation of torture by experts and the revelations of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib -- we remain one...

"The unifying message of the articles that follow is, simply, Stop."

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