Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Fish Rots From the Head

That's the conclusion to be drawn from the Senate Armed Services Committee Report.

Conclusion 1: On February 7,2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 ofthe Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President's determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.
Interestingly, much of the report contains nothing we didn't already know. The use SERE technigues, originally used for military training and developed from methods used by Communist China in the 1950's, is documented in this report; as are concerns by various levels of the military about using techniques meant to train soldiers in resistance to interrogation, and derived from our enemies, as techniques for gaining information. All of these concerns are quashed directly from the White House. The Office of Legal Counsel, an office in the White House, becomes the source for all legal opinions governing "enhanced interrogation techniques" at both Gitmo and Abu Ghraib. But not just interrogation technigues; it becomes the authority for handling prisoners, period.

As this report makes clear, Abu Ghraib was not the fault of Lynndie England and Janis Karpinski. It came from the White House, and from the Secretary of Defense. Lower orders of lawyers and military officers were swept aside, objections were overruled, dissenting voices were stifled, concerns were ignored. Abuse and torture were directed, authorized, justified, from the highest levels of our government:

Conclusion 2: Members of the President's Cabinet and other senior officials participated in meetings inside the White House in 2002 and 2003 where specific interrogation techniques were discussed. National Security Council Principals reviewed the CIA's interrogation program during that period.
Note the careful circumspection there. There is no connection between Conclusion 1 and Conclusion 2, no drawing of a line from President Bush to his Cabinet, although the remaining 17 conclusions are clear in their implications, and summed up in the 19th:

Conclusion 19: The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's December 2,2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were
appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.
Two years ago Wolf Blitzer was quite concerned that Seymour Hersh not implicate the President in this lawless and immoral operation without clear evidence. The Senate Commitee is almost as cautious, but the conclusion is obvious. Everyone in the White House, from the President down, knew what was going on in Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, and probably the CIA "black prisons" ignored in this report. To this day, even in this report, we seem determined not to implicate them if at all possible. Can the Augean stables of our democratic ideals be cleansed? Will the money changers be whipped out of the Temple of the Republic?

We'll see....

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