That Tickles! How James Bybee, John Yoo, Dick Cheney And Many Others Will Get Away With Torture

by | May 27, 2009 | POLITICS

The Moral Laboratory

I opened my kitchen cabinet, and begrudged my lack of plastic wrap. Aluminum foil is good for sandwiches, but last night, I needed to be capable of creating a one-way seal on my mouth in order to fill my head and neck as full of water as possible. At least, that’s the by-the-book way to carry out a waterboarding. All sorts of people have been doing this to themselves lately, sometimes in protest, sometimes as a moral laboratory.

Fox News Channel Commentator Sean Hannity offered to be waterboarded for charity, but when MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann offered to give $1,000 to a charity benefitting wounded soldiers for every second that Mr. Hannity would endure the treatment, the conservative anchor held his tongue.

Leaning backwards over my tub with my back on the toilet seat, I held the jug aloft, and let the water fall down into my sinuses. The way that you blow out when you go upside-down underwater doesn’t begin to compete with the kinetic energy of the falling water. The moment the water had gotten into my sinuses, I felt an extraordinary panic that I had not expected. Apparently, most CIA agents last like 14 seconds at this. In any case, I lasted a second longer than Sean Hannity was willing to try. Whining or beating my chest is fun until I realize that this was done for far longer, many times, and without foreseeable end to at least three people to whom Dick Cheney will admit.

This year is the 200th Anniversary of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, a man who, seven score and 15 years ago, would reenter public life in a speech in Peoria, Illinois arguing against the institution of slavery. The arguments he made October 26th of that year would define his career, and became memorable in their own right because they would define so much of what Lincoln would come to stand for before his election to the presidency brought the union to full-scale war, accessorized with a spy apparatus and intelligence community complete with its own cryptological capabilities. In Peoria, one excerpt from a Lincoln argument against slavery seems to cut to the chase in the discussion about torture, mainly in that the latter “deprives our republican example of its just influence in the world; enables the enemies of free institutions with plausibility to taunt us as hypocrites; cause the real friends of freedom to doubt our sincerity; and especially because it forces so many good men among ourselves into an open war with the very fundamental principles of civil liberty, criticizing the Declaration of Independence, and insisting that there is no right principle of action but self-interest.” These are arguments that many in recent weeks, including the last two major party candidates for the presidency, have utilized in the vain process of trying to fully denigrate the rote violations of human rights that particularly plagued the Bush administration. It was a branch of the government that Dick Cheney, George Bush and their appointees in the Department of Justice successfully used and abused. Despite having broken American treaty obligations, which the U.S. Constitution says are just as much a part of our legal framework as our domestically-passed laws, they will receive no legal punishment. This article explains why this is the case.

In recent days, Barack Obama has moved to stall the release of photographs of detainee abuse as if, even under the best of circumstances, the images could be kept under wraps forever, or as if anyone recruiting for a suicide bombing really needed photographic evidence. Clearly, the gentlemen who had every intention of putting explosives inside a New York synagogue this week didn’t need it. Has our president learned nothing from watching Hitchcock? Leaving gore to the imagination only exaggerates the actual visceral impact of the brutalities themselves. His calls from the campaign for transparent and open government still echo in the ears of many observers from the epic crowds where many came to hear him speak and he earned the title of rock star. What Barack Obama really needs to start worrying about is that, if he keeps this sort of thing up, people will start taking him as seriously as Ted Nugent.

The Nuremberg trials demonstrated that, in fact, attorneys could be held to justice for enabling torture; Columbia Law School Professor Scott Horton has written, “lawyers who dispense bad advice about law of armed conflict, and whose advice predictably leads to the death or mistreatment of prisoners, are war criminals, chargeable with potentially capital offenses.” One of the more exotic thinkers to make a den during the Bush administration at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel was John Yoo, a tenured Berkeley law professor who is now under investigation by the same Spanish judge who went after Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

In a 2005 Debate with University of Notre Dame Professor Doug Cassel, Yoo was asked, “If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?”

Mr. Yoo replied, “No treaty.”

Cassel rebutted, “Also, no law by Congress. That is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo.”

In what I will humbly submit is the most insane line to ever come out of a Bush administration employee, John Yoo replied, “I think it depends on why the president thinks he needs to do that.” In a world where tyrants believe they can stomp children’s testicles because their attorney has a law degree from Yale, joining a suicide bombing might not be the last thing on a person’s mind.

Lending even further opacity to potential public critique of the behavior in undisclosed photos were Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Senator Joe Lieberman (Independent Democrat – CT). The two went on television to drum up support for legislation that would make it a crime to release the photographs of prisoner abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan. Behind all of the silly, semantic arguments about the prisoners being “unlawful enemy combatants” and “detainees” as opposed to prisoners is a very real savagery that well-trained and paid attorneys, politicians, soldiers and bureaucrats have placed a stake in covering up. Senator Lieberman appears to be pushing the idea that there is some sort of statute of limitation on torture. He is one of many who, over the past few weeks, have used the phrases “moving forward” and “going forward” in their different morphological manifestations. These are especially common buzz phrases from State and Defense Department briefings, the White House spokesperson and pretty much anyone in P.R. on administration payroll.

The attitude reminds me of the father of the groom in Monty Python and the Holy Grail after Sir Lancelot finishes an impulsive, murderous rampage through a wedding party. Happy to believe that his frail son has just died, the father, played by Michael Palin, pleads with the outraged crowd, “Hold it! Hold it! Please hold it! This is Sir Lancelot from the court of Camelot, a very brave and influential knight and my special guest here today.” Just replace the names, “Court of Camelot” with “tenured post at Berkeley,” “knight” with “lawyer,” and there you go.

When the crowd naturally insists that he be held to account for the rampage, the father throws up his hands. Rolling his eyes, he says, “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed who.” Just as are the people of the United States, the Python wedding party, although drenched with the blood of their dead relatives, is sated by this terse dismissal of Lancelot’s crimes. Mr. Lieberman acts as though 9/11 provides some sort of grace period; a second degree, “heat of the moment” dynamic to the brutal policies that occurred immediately following 9/11. He cynically co-opts the language of the progressive, “moving forward” in attempt to absolve the public of any sense of negligent culpability. The facts remain, though, that Americans violated their treaty obligations. This has been known for a very long time.

Rice At Stanford

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited Stanford, and quickly began reacting didactically to pointed questionings by former students who tried their darndest to stick it to the former head of the National Security Agency. There, Ms. Rice spent time denying torture with frivolous semantics, apologizing for absolute tyranny, and demonstrating her ignorance of 20th century history.

And in terms of enhanced interrogation, and rendition, and all the issues around the detainees. Abu Ghraib is, and everyone said, Abu Ghraib was not policy. Abu Ghraib was wrong and nobody would argue with –

Except that information that’s come out since then speaks against that.

No, no, no – the information that’s come out since then continues to say that Abu Ghraib was wrong. Abu Ghraib was.

Ms. Rice’s account contradicts that of Army Colonel Janis Karpinski (ret.) who ran Abu Ghraib until the release of photographs of prison guards – at the direction of, she says, Army Intelligence officers – treating prisoners in a way that, to put it mildly, violated the Geneva Conventions. Indeed, Col. Karpinski told Dateline in 2006, “The Secretary of Defense authorized [the pyramid stacking, the dog-leashing] in conversations with General Miller. His Under-Secretary for Intelligence not only authorized those actions but was staying on top of the progress of those actions and those activities.”

In reference to Rice’s claim that everyone said, “Abu Ghraib is not policy,” Col. Karpinski said in a phone interview with me, “Absolutely not. This is – she is promoting this Cheney line of reasoning.”

“What Dr. Rice and Mr. Cheney are suggesting is that these soldiers that were at Abu Ghraib and seen in many of the photographs – that these soldiers designed and implemented the very same techniques that were discussed in the memorandums that are dated a year or a year and a half before there was even an Abu Ghraib prison under the U.S. control . . . It’s impossible! Either that, or it’s an extremely extraordinary circumstance.”

Col. Karpinski would not go so far as to say that the administration approved of everything that happened at Abu Ghraib to the degree of the rapes and smothering with excrement, but she did volunteer that if waterboarding “was not wrong, as Dick Cheney’s saying now repeatedly – if it’s not wrong and it’s not torture, then why don’t the police departments across the country use it? Why is it mentioned specifically in the Geneva Conventions as a violation? Why do many lawyers, except the ones that were writing the memos and who are now trying desperately to defend themselves, why do all of these people, these professional people, people that do hostage negotiations that use interrogations, why do they not use the technique? Because it is torture and because it is against the law.”

“And Dick Cheney’s best platform is that the soldiers at Abu Ghraib were just misbehaving. Well, where do you think they got the ideas? They got the ideas from people who did have access to your memorandums, and told those soldiers what they saw, what was being used down at Guantanamo Bay, what was being used over at Bagram. That I am sure of.”

The actions depicted in photographs, of course, are now infamous and on display at guards forcing prisoners to masturbate, raping them and covering them with excrement. At Stanford, Ms. Rice would become even more illucid.

And I know a lot of people are second-guessing now, but let me tell you what the second-guessing that would really have hurt me – if the second-guessing had been about 3,000 more Americans dying because we didn’t do everything we could to protect them.

Upon making that statement, it was clearly escaping Ms. Rice that at least 4,000 more Americans were dead because the invasion that her administration had approved. It seems starkly obvious here that this pathological hatriot considers the value of the lives of Manhattanite office workers to be greater than that of military members. She reminds me of another influential Bush administration affiliate, Henry Kissinger, who, according to former secretary of State Alexander Haig, referred to military members as “dumb, stupid animals to be used.” If a captured U.S. solider were waterboarded in a by-the-book CIA fashion, would she take time and care to explain to him that he wasn’t supposedly “tortured” per se?

In regards to the reasons why President Obama is preventing the disclosure of more photos of detainee abuses, Col. Karpinski said in our interview, “I don’t think that [protecting people in the field] comes into the equation at all.”

“Really?” I asked her.

“I really don’t because you – that’s the last concern on their list. If Dick Cheney had any concerns, first off, these discussions [to seek legal justification for waterboarding, other “enhanced techniques”] never would have been held five years ago or six years ago or whenever it was, whenever it was. They were never held, because they would have been interested in adhering the Geneva Conventions knowing full well that soldiers and, mind you, civilians who are serving over there would be subjected to the same level of anything that we were authorizing.”

At one point, when one of the students pointed out to Rice that the United States declined to use torture when fighting the Nazis in World World II, she made the absurd and condescending claim “With all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.” For all of you would-be terrorists out there, apparently you missed an opportunity to plant mines in New York Harbor like the Nazis did in 1942 and get off torture-free. I became aware of this attack of which Ms. Rice was ignorant at the ripe old age of 16 or so when I saw a cheesy war movie. Easily the greatest moment of the Stanford interview, though, carried out by bold whippersnappers unafraid of losing access, was when Ms. Rice did her impression of Richard Nixon, a man who tortured no one except himself and was forced to resign the office of the presidency.

Is waterboarding torture?

I just said the United States was told – we were told nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so, by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Conventions Against Torture.

I am no scholar of Western Civ., but maybe I need to run back down to the National Archives, and make sure there’s actually a signature on the Magna Carta. Why have a president when we could have a king? Why have a king when we could have a god? Please, President Washington, why won’t you stay a third term?

When speaking on MSNBC, Joseph Lieberman talked up the degree of domestic spending a bit more than when he would go on Fox News Channel later in the day, and recommended better things that Congress could be doing with its time instead of trying to dig into the past.

On May 14, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelsosi (D-CA), held a briefing in which she too was pointedly questioned about the waterboardings, this time by the press corps. Just days earlier, the CIA had released memoranda explaining that they had briefed the speaker on September 4, 2002 about the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah. Pelosi said that the CIA had told her about what techniques they had available to use, but claims that the agency had not yet said that they had used the technique. She expressed that the CIA’s credibility gap a few days ago was made more understandable due to the agency’s having misled the country into war a few years before. When pressed, she said that the CIA misleads Congress “all the time,” and, in order to lend this weighty claim credibility, she cited the CIA’s having provided cherry-picked intelligence linking al Qaeda to Saddam Hussein’s regime in the months before the opening of combat operations in Iraq in 2003. It sounded a great deal like the Kerry-Bush debates wherein the Democrat repeatedly blamed the administration for being incompetent, but not an iota more than was required to mislead him into authorizing their carrying out of a war. But what’s truly fascinating here is that the accusation of lying about something so serious is being heaved at the servants to elected officials, as opposed to the elected officials themselves.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Senate Appropriations Chair David Obey (D-WI) seem to find Pelosi very credible. Friends have suggested that Pelosi is a victim of her own selective memory, that she is unconsciously lying. It is easy to suspect that Pelosi wants to have her cake and eat it, too: to appeal to the bleeding hearts of the San Francisco crowd by washing her hands of having been accountable for torture, yet not have to deal with the pesky burden of actually calling for justice against those who cried out for torture.

Whoever is lying or mistaken here, the consequences will be the same. If Pelosi is, she has obviously squandered any remaining political capital that would have been necessary to bring to justice the lawyers and politicians who ordered violations of domestic law, as well as U.S. treaty obligations.

Whether it has been the Geneva Conventions, the War Crimes Act of 2006, the Convention Against Torture or even just the Uniform Code of Military Justice that was swept aside by the rationalizations for detainee abuse, President Obama’s confirmation of waterboarding evidence, released long ago in The New York Review of Books, has sparked much controversy given the campaign promises to prosecute anyone for illegal activity that might have taken place. Apologists for the previous administration, including Rice, haved attempted defenses of themselves by clumsily half-implying some type of statute of limitations now that a new president has been elected. Even though international terroristic incidents have increased since 9/11, Rice attempted to distance herself from the moral authority of the confrontational Stanford students by saying that they could not possibly understand the sort of pressure that she was under to keep the country safe after 9/11.

Naturally, since national emergencies are hardly an innovative historical excuse for dehumanization, the U.N. Convention Against Torture, ratified by the United States, included language mean to rhetorically disarm war criminals like Rice. It reads quite plainly, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Within minutes of Pelosi’s claims, the CIA shot back that they were standing by their account. Representative Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), ranking member of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, would go on Fox News Channel to explain that Pelosi wanted to “have it both ways.” Rep. Hoekstra appeared to speculate that Pelosi was simply in denial because she was taking heat from her farther left base. For more on when the Speaker knew what she knew, I spoke with Representative Hoekstra on the phone from his home in Holland, Michigan.

TB: You asked in April the CIA about briefings to members of Congress, and they responded with a table showing the identities of the briefers was [sic] not available for seven out of the 28 meetings. In other words, you know, the meetings have “Type = Briefing.” And that’s only 25 percent. And I was wondering if you were – if you had followed up with the CIA as to why these were not available to Congress?

PH: Excuse me. What what? Explain what? What are you explaining to me?

TB: Oh, well, one of my sources was telling me that you – when you asked the CIA about briefings to members of Congress, they responded with a table. And only a quarter of them could identify the identities of the briefers. Does –

PH: Oh, yeah. I looked – what I had asked for is – I asked for the table identifying what members of Congress had gotten briefed in the schedule that they had.

TB: Right.

PH: Okay. And then we got the table. Okay?

TB: All right.

PH: Okay. And I haven’t – I really didn’t pay much attention to who briefed, who the briefers were –

TB: Okay.

PH: – whether that part was filled in or not.

TB: Okay, well, it just seems like a part of the story that I always thought, when I was listening to all of this, was that, well, why didn’t – you know, obviously, [CIA Director] Panetta responded, and I thought that made sense. But the briefers themselves weren’t asked, “What did you say?” point blank.

So, you know, if their identities are confidential, then, well, you know, so it goes, but I was just curious about that. I have another question for you.

PH: Well, I think the – I’m not sure that the – I mean, in some cases, the briefers may be classified. I would think that, in a lot of the cases, the briefers were probably the head of the CIA [George Tenet] or the vice president.

TB: Okay. Well, I did not know that. [Laughs.] Thank you.

PH: Yeah. I mean, I would think that if – you know, again, I asked for and what the CIA delivered, I – I – I don’t think that there would be any problem at all for the CIA, if we wanted the information, for them to identify, you know, as this thing moves down. Depending on exactly what direction it goes, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if we, you know, that we would – that the identity of the briefers will be known. And it may have, in certain cases, you know, depending on exactly what jobs they’re in today, there may be a reason to classify it. But I think that would be very – that would be a very small number of any.

And the second thing that I think – the other thing that I’ve asked for is I’ve asked for the notes and the emails that were going around before the briefings took place so that we would have a better idea of exactly what was going through the minds of the briefers and the personnel at the CIA as to what they thought the intent of the briefing was going to be. Okay?

TB: Right. Right. I mean, it seems like from what I’ve – the documentation that they provided, at the end of the day, they still fall back on, “Well, this is just to the best of our recollection.” I mean, they’re not necessarily saying they’re disingenuous, but they’re saying, “Well, this is the best data we have on hand.”

I noted that you said – you characterized, I think if my memory serves, the speaker’s accusation as “outrageous.” But a spokesman of yours said that, you know, during the – after we learned about the destruction of the interrogation tapes, that, quote, you “were never briefed or advised that these tapes existed and that they were going to be destroyed.” So, I mean, I’m somewhat surprised. I was wondering, if you were willing to say that, I mean, why is it so outrageous that Pelosi makes the accusation she does now about them not being completely clear about Abu Zubaydah and his interrogation?

PH: Because what – you know, I’ve said it a couple of times about the CIA because I’ve got specific evidence. All right? And the real difference here is what the speaker has said, she’s not only saying that she was not briefed on Abu Zubaydah. Okay?

TB: Okay.

PH: She has said that she – that the CIA systemically lied to Congress over an extended period of time on this. And I see no evidence of that at all.

TB: Well, there’s a lot of data, but I think – I mean, correct me if I’m wrong here, Representative, but I believe what she said was that six months had passed because eventually she says she did in fact know about waterboarding, but that really this discussion is really about not knowing from September [2002] to, I think, not really that long. But she just – she and [former CIA Director] Porter Goss was – the way that he has characterized this, you know, he said he was “slack-jawed” and he obviously shared some of your outrage with her comments.

But I think that the rub may be – and we’ll see as the chips unfold, and I don’t know – but that they had told her that waterboarding was a technique under consideration and that she didn’t understand that it was actually that it had already been used. That seems to be what I’m putting together. I don’t know. What do you think about that?

PH: I wasn’t in the briefing in 2002. Okay?

TB: Okay.

PH: I watched her press conference, and she implied that Congress was lied to over an extended period of time. And I think you make the point perfectly. She’s clearly admitted that she knew about waterboarding. At a minimum, she knew about waterboarding at the briefing in September. She now – and she also herself has said that by February of 2003, she was aware that waterboarding had been used.

TB: Right. Right. Right.

PH: Okay? And, you know, so I have no – she, as far as I’m – you know, she’s presented no evidence that, over a period of time, you know, no evidence at all that lends any credibility to the case that she was lied to over an extended period of time.

TB: Okay.

PH: You know, I mean, you know, as far as I can tell, the only issue that’s in question is whether she was – is whether she was briefed on waterboarding in 2002 meeting or not.

TB: Right. Right. It’s a shame that the documents themselves – I mean, while they did retort back to her, that the first document wasn’t more specific on, you know, what an Enhanced Interrogation Technique is because I think that that semantic argument – I mean, obviously, as you know, no one can – in the media or, you know, in law, or, you know, in Congress, to say the least, can agree on what “torture” is, you know. So it’s a shame that that term wasn’t used, and they couldn’t have been more specific in the first hand because I think it would have avoided at least a lot of this back-and-forth.

Well, in any case –

PH: Yeah, I mean, I think – I mean, EITs, the term evolved that the EITs that were used later on in the program were different from the ones that were used early on in the program.

You know, I think that there’s a real possibility that – you know, I don’t even know what the, you know, I don’t even know what the importance is anymore what she was told and what she wasn’t told in September versus what she knew and she didn’t know in February.

TB: I’m going to guess that these briefers were not the vice president because I think if it was the vice president, she would have mentioned that. I think it would have been politically expedient, and it would have forced him to say something, you know? I would think. I don’t know. Or maybe she has more discipline.

Well, hey, unless there’s anything else you’d like to add to what I’ve asked to you, I’ve really got to thank you for your help. This really – the first question really cleared up some things for me.

PH: What was your first question?

TB: Oh, my first question was about the types – about the identities of the briefers because that wasn’t clear.

PH: Yeah.

TB: That was really getting to my skull. And so I’m glad it’s you I called.

PH: I don’t think I – I don’t think we’ve asked for that. But I’m sure that – I would be very surprised if that information didn’t exist, and I would be – I would expect that as we go through the – you know, as we continue down the road, that we may have the briefers – we may have the briefers come in, and testify either to the Intelligence Committee or just some other group about –

TB: Well –

PH: – what they remember and what – and the materials that they have to show what actually did happen at the briefings.

TB: One thing that really – I mean, just as a basic level of reform, I mean, considering, you know, just what is crushed morale at the CIA on some level, I mean, or at least damaged, I mean, for future reference, I mean that I think it was Senator [Arlen] Specter (D-PA) who suggested that the making of transcripts, even for, you know, classified briefings, I just think they’re of enormous utility. And, you know, I think that would have just prevented a lot of this back-and-forth from even coming up.

PH: Yeah. No, I mean, I’ve – I didn’t suggest exactly that, but, in one of the last briefings where we had [inaudible], I suggested to then Director McConnell, saying, “If I were you, I would take detailed notes of exactly what’s said in this briefing because it is clear that there are members here who get briefed and whose memories – who don’t necessarily have the greatest memories.

And so, you know, they were. And I think it’s really a shame that, you know, we would get to a point where the administration and Congress have a discussion about a national security issue; that you’ve got to have a stenographer there to detail the discussion, that, you know, that we still – but, you know, that may be where we’re at.

TB: I mean, even if Pelosi – I mean, I’m sorry – the speaker knew, you know, in fact, if she knew it to be – the reason that I believe it to be that she just has forgotten is that – you know, she’s not the head of the CIA – if she even said – wanted to take the position with her farther left crowd that “Well, it was torture, and I supported it, and it was wrong;” I mean, if she went all the way out there, I believe that it really probably wouldn’t even compromise her – at least her seat, you know?

PH: No, it wouldn’t at all. I mean, I’ve – for the life of me, I mean, I’ve – whatever. Okay.

The Bad News

On April 13, I was sitting in a student resident hall at American University. Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater: The Rise Of The World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and Matthew Alexander, a man who supervised thousands of interrogations in Iraq, are sitting in front of me. After they each spoke for twenty minutes, I rise to ask a question: “I noticed in the press there was a lot of debate about waterboarding. Of course, John McCain wrote a very conspicuous article. I believe it was for Time or some such publication [It was for Newsweek.] arguing that it really doesn’t work. There were people, activists, in front of the Capitol in jumpsuits simulating it in order to drive home to the public effects of waterboarding.

“But it wasn’t really – you really didn’t have to dig too far to find that there were things far more in violation of the Geneva Conventions going on within the military establishment or the private military contractors, as it were. So if there were such worse things going on at black sites and since there were obviously some practices that were openly kept a secret, why was waterboarding the object of such extensive debate when the public really knew or could very easily find out that there were worse things going on?”

Matthew Alexander said, “It’s a hard question to answer because I don’t think we know everything that’s gone on. I mean, they haven’t publically revealed everything that’s happened at the black sites.

“I think part of it is because we know that waterboarding was authorized, and also because we’ve been told by former CIA officials that waterboarding saved American lives in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, although they haven’t told us exactly how. And they also haven’t addressed the issue that al Qaeda used the fact that we waterboarded prisoners, again, to recruit hundreds of fighters who eventually went to Iraq, and killed U.S. soldiers.

“So that’s why I think waterboarding has been the focal point. I think we’re using it really as just one of many types of techniques that are illegal. There’s actually techniques right now, in the new U.S. Army Manual – and, you know, human rights organizations have pushed for the U.S. Army Manual to become the standard – that still violate Geneva Conventions if applied inappropriately. For example, there’s an approach technique called ‘pride-and-ego down.’ ‘Pride-and-ego down’ is when you try to reduce somebody’s amount of pride in themselves just like it says, and lower their ego. I think another word for that is ‘humiliation,’ which is specifically prohibited by Geneva Conventions.”

“As I wrote in a New York Times article last month, there’s two approaches in the U.S. Army Manual that are counterproductive to convincing somebody to cooperate. And they’re ‘pride and ego down’ and ‘fear up harsh.’ ‘Fear up harsh,’ where you try to build up somebody’s fear, which is a legal approach in the manual – I mean, how can you build up somebody’s fear without threatening them? Yet threats are specifically prohibited. I’m not sure. I think that that requires a closer examination.

“I do know that ‘fear up harsh’ is counterproductive to convincing somebody to cooperate. But waterboarding has been, I think, the focal point because it’s one of the techniques that we know was used, and that we’ve been told kept America safe.”

At the risk of making this article seem trivial, it is – as I’ve hinted before – difficult to underscore enough what a severe distraction the waterboarding argument truly is given what the administration admitted about its utilizing black sites. These were secret prisons whose detainee treatment activities, it’s not exactly irrational to conclude from examining motive, were worse than waterboarding. This is why I fear that Keith Olbermann is doing an immense disservice by having an argument with Cheney on Cheney’s own terms.

National security dogma notwithstanding, no one will ever keep a secret from you because they are in fact doing you a favor, or, especially, if they have nothing to hide. This very public controversy about why legal officials, soldiers, agents and politicians are allowed to walk the streets in a “free society” for pushing waterboarding is, in all likelihood, setting our country farther from its blind spots. Shamed and disreputable, although certainly not destitute, they walk amongst us now, waiting for the Senate Intelligence Committee to finish its year-long investigation of interrogation methods, waiting for light to shine into the dark side.

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

more in politics

Editorial Roundtable on the Richmond & Virginia Elections 

As we find ourselves in the middle point of summer, the upcoming months will bring pivotal decisions for our community as we elect our next mayor, city council and school board members followed by the gubernatorial election next year. Over the past few months, we have...

Dispatch From Cuba 2015

I wanted to give a bit of context for this piece. I was introduced to Bill one afternoon at the local watering hole by a mutual friend. Bill, a talented and experienced writer, shared some of his work with me, and I was interested to read more. When I asked if he had...

RVA 5×5 | Bonding With (Or Against) The People?

There has been a lot of activity across the region recently about bond ratings and localities issuing bonds. It is a timely comparison of priorities of local leaders, a glimpse of a possible future, and what happens if you have people in charge who worry more about...