(11 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)
For the first time, a senior Bush administration official has admitted to discussing the use of torture by the CIA.
In a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged that in 2002 and 2003, she and other high-ranking White House officials discussed the use of torture, including waterboarding, and other coercive methods.
Rice’s and her legal council’s statements were released by Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), the committee’s chairman. No specific dates were given.
At the time of the White House torture planing meetings, Rice was George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor. According to the Los Angeles Times, Rice admits Bush officials held White House talks on CIA interrogations, she and other White House officials “discussed simulated torture techniques that elite U.S. soldiers were subjected to as part of a survival training program”.
Rice stated she and the others were assured that the techniques used in the U.S. military’s program known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were not significantly harmful to the subject. The New York Times story quotes Rice’s written statement as saying:
“I recall being told that U.S. military personnel were subjected in training to certain physical and psychological interrogation techniques and that these techniques had been deemed not to cause significant physical or psychological harm.”
Rice did not identify the U.S. military personnel who made this claim. According to Levin in the LA Times story, these claims “contradicted statements from SERE experts who have pointed out that soldiers, unlike prisoners, can order the treatment stopped.”
The Washington Post also reports on Rice’s torture discussion statement, adding that several officials were concerned that the CIA’s methods of interogation “might be illegal or violate anti-torture treaties”. John B. Bellinger III, Rice’s senior legal advisor at the State Department and at the National Security Council (NSC), wrote to the committee:
“I expressed concern that the proposed CIA interrogation techniques comply with applicable U.S. law, including our international obligation.”
According to her statement, Rice specifically asked Ashcroft to personally review the torture program and “advise N.S.C. principals whether the program was lawful.” The NY Times story explains:
The new documents do not specify dates for the White House meetings. Current and former officials have said that the C.I.A. began using harsh interrogation methods on Mr. Zubaydah in Thailand weeks before the Justice Department formally authorized the interrogation program in a secret memo dated Aug. 1, 2002.
The officials said Justice Department lawyers gave oral guidance to the C.I.A. before the secret memo was completed. But at one point during the summer of 2002, current and former intelligence officials have said, C.I.A. lawyers ordered that the use of the harsh techniques by C.I.A. personnel be suspended until they were formally authorized by the Justice Department.
The FBI objected to the CIA’s methods of Zubaydah and withdrew from the interrogation.
While Rice did not indicate in her statement which senior Bush administration officials partook in the torture planning meetings, “the written accounts specifically name former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as participants in the discussions”. According to WaPo, the committee did not “specifically ask” if Bush or Dick Cheney participated in the discussions in the questionnaire they gave to Rice and Bellinger. However, “Cheney often attended meetings of the National Security Council’s principals committee”, according Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman.
The Senate committee’s findings note that the SERE techniques where used on people in the custody of the CIA and those held in Defense Department detention camps. “Levin has linked the decision to use SERE methods to the abuse that occurred at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.” In the LA Times story, Levin explains:
“We’ve long believed they took place,” Levin said…, referring to the high-level meetings that Rice described. Her responses, however, provide what he described as “new, concrete evidence that they took place in the White House.”
And in the WaPo story, Levin adds:
“These discussions took place at the highest levels of the White House,” Levin said… The documents belie administration claims that abuse of detainees was “the work of a few bad apples,” he said…
“The validity of the confessions they didn’t care about; they just wanted the confessions so they could put them on TV,” Levin said.
I think Levin is right. The Bush administration was and is not concerned about stopping terrorists plots. They are not concerned about gaining useful information from interrogation that might be used to keep Americans and our country’s interests protected. No, what the Bush administration is creating the fiction of a “war on terror” – a made for television reality show to keep the American people on edge and fearful.
And while, as Levin notes, the fact Bush administration officials planned the use of torture on captives was known, Rice’s confession is the first acknowledgment of these meetings by a senior official. I think Levin and the members of his committee must now specifically ask ‘what did the president and vice president know and when did they know it?’
Regardless if the use of torture is not technically illegal by some legal loophole discovered by Cheney or his evil lawyers, I still think the use of torture is abhorrent and, quite simply unAmerican. Not only has the United States become financially bankrupt under Bush, but he has morally bankrupted the nation as well.
Cross-posted at Daily Kos.