The TEA Party’s spiritual ancestor

Somewhere between the White Line organizations [i.e., Kluxers w/out hoods] and the Democratic Party on the scale of respectability were “taxpayers’ leagues,” which were also springing up all over Mississippi. Theoretically, the taxpayers’ leagues–like similar groups organized elsewhere in the South, even during President Johnson’s administration–were merely concerned with what their members found to be excessive taxation levied by Republican authorities, but their membership was all white, and they seemed to operate in coordination with the White Liners. Also, although the taxpayers’ leagues always insisted that their goal was simply to put a stop to stealing by Republican officeholders, they opposed the main purpose to which the increased government spending favored by Republicans was directed: public education for the Negro population, which was meant to give the children of freed slaves the means to escape plantation peonage.

–Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, at 82-83. The parties have flipped sides, and the range of social spending has expanded, but otherwise it sounds very familiar.

Robert Creeley, “I Know a Man”

As I sd to my
friend, because I am
always talking, – John, I

sd, which was not his
name, the darkness sur-
rounds us, what

can we do against
it, or else, shall we &
why not, buy a goddamn big car,

drive, he sd, for
christ’s sake, look
out where yr going.

… “For a spell during the 1960s, Robert Creeley’s ‘I Know a Man’ may have been the most often quoted, even the most widely known, short poem by a living American.” –London Review of Books

I get the news I need from the torture report: some curios

Some curiosities from our ongoing reading of the Senate “torture report.”

  • Despite claims that only 3 prisoners were waterboarded, al-Hawsawi described being made to lie down and having water poured on his face, which a CIA interrogator said “to the recipient, could be indistinguishable from the water board.” Rpt at 106. The report implies that this is why the “Salt Pit” site in Afghanistan had a waterboard table that no one at CIA could seem to explain the presence of. Abu Hazim may also have been “doused” in this way. Rpt. at 107.
  • It is a recurring theme that the torturers and interrogators on the ground would decide that their victim was telling the truth and not withholding anything, but CIA Headquarters would insist that he was holding back or lying and that he be tortured further. Given her track record, it seems difficult not to suppose that “Frances” was one of those insisting. Anyway, another reminder that many of the war criminals were in Washington, not just in the black sites. The HQ officers consistently overestimated what any given detainee would know. See e.g. Rpt. at 121 n.722.
  • CIA “repeatedly directed” the host country of one of the black sites “to deny the ICRC access to the CIA detainees,” even while State was insisting that the US did no such thing. Rpt. at 120. This got egregious enough that even Wolfowitz at DOD refused to agree that US security would be harmed by such disclosures.
  • John McLaughlin now: “I think every charge in here [the Senate report] is off-base. The fact that this information we obtained was not valuable – that’s off-base. The fact that the committee says we misled the Congress and the White House and the Department of Justice – that’s off-base.” John McLaughlin in 2004 to Senate: “we are not authorized to do anything like what you have seen in those photographs [from Abu Ghraib].” Rpt. at 134. Lying liar who lies. (McLaughlin also claimed in 2003 that Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was captured as “a result of modus operandi information obtained from [Abu] Zubaydah,” despite the fact that “Reid was arrested prior to the capture of Abu Zubaydah.” Rpt. at 189 & n.1117.)
  • When a brief for the President was drafted to state that Ja’far al-Iraqi yielded “almost no information that could be used to locate former colleagues or disrupt attack plots,” an interrogator urged deleting this language–not because it was inaccurate, but because “I would imagine the President would say, ‘You asked me to risk my presidency on your interrogations, and now you give me this that implied the interrogations are not working. Why do we bother?‘” Rpt. at 149 n.903. The language was deleted.
  • The need to defend the torture program, which CIA insisted was saving hundreds and thousands of lives, was conveyed by CTC’s deputy director in 2005, not in terms of that goal, but in terms of what the agency evidently found much more disturbing: Philip Mudd insisted that the agency tell the media about its successes, because if it didn’t, “Congress cuts our authorities, messes up our budget.” Rpt. at 195.
  • The agency found itself needing examples of how awesome torture was in foiling plots & nabbing villains, and turned to — who else? — Frances, who compiled a list of “almost entirely inaccurate” claims which “would serve as a template on which future justifications” for the torture program would be based. Rpt. at 192.

The notion that CIA didn’t know from the get-go that what they were doing was torture, is difficult to sustain given that their focus was always on purported affirmative defenses, not on any discrepancy between their acts and the language of the Torture Act, etc. This began in late November 2001, before the torture program had even begun, when the agency mulled whether it could argue that “torture was necessary to prevent imminent, significant, physical harm to persons, where there is no other available means to prevent the harm.” Rpt. at 19. Nota bene: concedes torture committed, but looks to a good excuse for it. The document stressed “saving thousands of lives” as the ultimate excuse, and this “saves lives” language became a mantra every time the agency defended its program, internally or externally, despite the fact that nearly every time this was a lie (or at best, an untested assumption).

In this light, the Bybee-Yoo memos of 2002 gave CIA much more than it had asked for, actually opining that the EITs were not even torture. But the agency’s healthy skepticism about this holding is evidenced by the fact that they told John Yoo to keep the necessity defense in the memo, even though it was deemed superfluous by DOJ lawyers. Rpt. at 181. CIA was not going to rest with the mere assurance that its methods weren’t torture. It knew better.

Another example is the freak-out induced in June 2003 when Bush released a pablum statement “for the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture” wherein he said the US was all about “leading this fight by example” to eliminate torture and “prosecuting all acts of torture.” Rpt. at 183. Rizzo picked up the phone to call John Bellinger at NSA to “express our surprise and concern,” and he told “senior CIA leaders” that further written assurances from the White House would be a good idea. Rpt. at 183-84. If you freak out at the idea of prosecuting torturers, that may be one sign you’re committing torture.

The meaning of existence

Lila, a homeless vagrant all her life, thinks about what a preacher told her:

It was about the meaning of existence, he said. All right. She knew a little bit about existence. That was pretty well the only thing she knew about, and she had learned the word for it from him. It was like the United States of America–they had to call it something.

–Marilynne Robinson, Lila, at 74

… The Last Judgment: “Souls just out of their graves having to answer for lives most of them never understood in the first place. Such hard lives.” Id. at 101.

Scalia doubles down on constitutionality of torture

He’s said it before, but Scalia, over visiting Europe for some implausible reason, gave an interview in which he reiterated his view that torture, so long as it’s not a punishment for a crime, is perfectly constitutional. Because ticking bombs!

Dans une interview vendredi pour Le Journal du matin de la RTS, le doyen de fonction de la Cour suprême américaine, le juge conservateur Antonin Scalia, estime que la pratique de la torture n’est pas contraire à la Constitution américaine, qui ne dit rien sur le sujet. [In an interview Friday for the RTS Morning Journal, the seniormost member of the American Supreme Court, the conservative judge Antonin Scalia, opined that the practice of torture is not contrary to the American Constitution, which says nothing on the subject.]

“Nous avons des lois contre la torture, mais la Constitution elle-même ne dit rien sur la torture. Elle interdit les punitions inhabituelles et cruelles. Si vous condamnez un criminel à être puni par la torture, là, ça serait anticonstitutionnel.” [“We have laws against torture, but the Constitution itself says nothing about torture. It forbids cruel and unusual punishments. If you condemn a criminal to be punished by torture, that would be unconstitutional.”]

Et les pratiques musclées dans un interrogatoire pour obtenir des informations? [And the brutal practices of an interrogator for obtaining information?]

“Nous n’avons jamais jugé que ça serait contraire à la Constitution. Je ne vois pas quel article de la Constitution ça pourrait violer”, remarque Antonin Scalia. [“We never have judged that it would be contrary to the Constitution. I don’t see what article of the Constitution it would violate,” remarks Antonin Scalia.]

“Je trouve très facile pour les gens de dire ‘oooh, la torture est terrible’, poursuit le magistrat. “Imaginez la situation où une personne connaît l’emplacement d’une bombe nucléaire qui a été cachée à Los Angeles et va tuer des millions de personnes. Vous trouvez que c’est une question facile? Vous trouvez que c’est clair? Que vous n’avez pas le droit de prendre des mesures extrêmes pour obtenir cette information de cette personne?” [“I find it very easy for people to say ‘oooh, torture is terrible,'” continued the magistrate. “Imagine the situation where someone knows the location of a nuclear bomb hidden in Los Angeles that’s going to kill millions of people. You find that to be an easy question? You find that clear? That you don’t have the right to take extreme measures to obtain that information from that person?”]

So, great. 24 continues to be an influence on American constitutional law, despite the stupidity of the scenario.

Scalia was not, unfortunately, asked about Brown v. Mississippi, which rejected convictions based on confessions obtained via torture:

The due process clause requires ‘that state action, whether through one agency or another, shall be consistent with the fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all our civil and political institutions.’ Hebert v. Louisiana, 272 U.S. 312, 316, 47 S. Ct. 103, 104, 48 A.L.R. 1102. It would be difficult to conceive of methods more revolting to the sense of justice than those taken to procure the confessions of these petitioners, and the use of the confessions thus obtained as the basis for conviction and sentence was a clear denial of due process.

So the Due Process Clause requires one to have a “sense of justice.” No wonder Scalia overlooked it.

… Joe in comments wonders about the Europe trip. I confess I stupidly assumed interview meant he was over there, but that makes no sense. See Bashman.

Who told Ron Suskind that Zubaydah delivered (false) threat information?

The Senate report is extremely clear that the CIA believed Zubaydah gave up no “current threat information” during August 2002 when he was subjected to torture & abuse.

Compare this to what we thought we knew from Ron Suskind’s The One Percent Doctrine about the torture of Zubaydah:

According to CIA sources, he was water-boarded….He was beaten….He was repeatedly threatened….His medication was withheld. He was bombarded with deafening, continuous noise and harsh lights.

….Under this duress, Zubaydah told them that shopping malls were targeted by al Qaeda….Zubaydah said banks — yes, banks — were a priority….And also supermarkets — al Qaeda was planning to blow up crowded supermarkets, several at one time. People would stop shopping. The nation’s economy would be crippled. And the water system — a target, too. Nuclear plants, naturally. And apartment buildings.

Thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each flavor of target. Of course, if you multiplied by ten, there still wouldn’t be enough public servants in America to surround and secure the supermarkets. Or the banks. But they tried.

None of this appears in the Senate report, and I haven’t seen any pushback suggesting that Suskind’s “CIA sources” were correct. In Suskind’s book, the idea is that torture produced false information. What Mitchell & Jessen concluded was that their torture confirmed he wasn’t holding anything back (though Alec Station analysts, convinced he was lying, ordered the torture to continue much longer than even Mitchell and Jessen wanted it to).

The account in Suskind of Zubaydah’s being “befriended” by a CIA interrogator & giving up Padilla appears bogus as well; the Senate report has him giving this information to the FBI, during the period when he’d been transferred to a black site but before being subjected to “aggressive interrogation.”

I look forward to Suskind’s writing about the report, or someone’s asking him about it.

… Note also that the post from which I’ve poached the above quote also quotes John Kiriakou, who’s been an object of sympathy since being convicted and jailed for leaking info about Gitmo, as saying Zubaydah yielded great threat info under torture. Perhaps our sympathy should have its limits.

Why did the CIA torture? Was it to win the bureaucracy game?

Noah Millman and others have asked, why did we torture? Was it vengefulness? The desire to appear “serious” in our fight?

So far as the CIA is concerned, the answer may be even more petty.

I’m finally getting into the Senate report, and reading between the lines, it exemplifies the banality of evil. CIA was concerned from the get-go about being THE agency to conduct interrogations (despite its lack of legitimate experience therein).

The Senate report is clear in its early pages that interagency rivalry was an early concern re: access to prisoners. For instance, CIA didn’t want them anywhere like GTMO where they could be yanked away by DOD or FBI.

I suspect that the leap into torture, which was not a response to prisoner resistance but rather was contemplated before CIA had any prisoners, was a deliberate effort to hit upon a method of questioning that no other agency would dare conduct. (As the Senate ASC report makes clear, CIA overrated the Army in this respect.) Difficult else to explain the CIA’s deliberate omission to consult with anyone about traditional interrogation methods (which might have involved other agencies like FBI).

Senate report at 32 n.138: CIA said Mitchell & Jessen “had the closest proximate experience CIA sought at the beginning of the program, specifically in the area of non-standard means of interrogation. Experts on traditional interrogation methods did not meet this requirement. Non-standard interrogation methods were not an area of expertise of CIA officers or of the US Government generally.” That’s from the June 2013 CIA response which Andrew admires.

But as the report goes on to observe, CIA didn’t seek out the shrinks after deciding to torture; “rather, [they] played a role in convincing the CIA to adopt such a policy.” And given the already well-known story of how their first prisoner, Zubaydah, was yanked from FBI questioning (which, using their standard rapport-based methods, had already yielded up a link to KSM and other relevant data), it seems hard to believe that agency politics weren’t a huge factor.

CIA tried to justify its sole custody of Zubaydah on the need to impose a “learned helplessness” regime on him (white room, 24-hour lights, sleep deprivation, etc.) so as to obtain data on “current threats.” This in June 2002 for a guy nabbed in March 2002. And once the FBI had been chased off, they then left Zubaydah to sit in isolation for 47 days, from June 18 through August 4, without being asked a single question. Sen. report at 30-31. Is that what you do with a guy who you believe has “current threat information”? FBI had complained in April 2002 that CIA reluctance to allow questioning of Zubaydah meant “that valuable time was passing where we could attempt to solicit threat information” (at 28).

(Zubaydah never provided any such threat information, which CIA eventually decided he simply did not have (at 31).)

None of this makes any sense unless one concludes that CIA’s main goal with Zubaydah was to be the sole agency in charge of interrogating and confining him and future high-value prisoners.

(Post based in part on some commenting I did at Crooked Timber.)