Posts Tagged ‘waterboarding’

George Bush’s former aide defends waterboarding of terrorism suspects

March 13, 2010

Karl Rove is proud that the US used water torture to break the will of prisoners and foil terror plots

Adam Gabbatt, The Gurdian/UK, March 12, 2010

George Bush and Karl Rove embrace at the White House after Rove announced his resignation from the Bush administration in 2007. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

A senior adviser to former US president George Bush has said he is proud that the country used waterboarding to elicit information from terrorism suspects.

Karl Rove, Bush’s chief political strategist for much of his presidency, defended the interrogation approach authorised during Bush’s tenure, saying he was “proud we used techniques that broke the will of these terrorists”.

Last year President Barack Obama banned waterboarding, stating: “I believe that waterboarding was torture and, whatever legal rationales were used, it was a mistake.”

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Cheney Exposes Torture Conspiracy

February 18, 2010

By Robert Parry,, February 14, 2010

If the United States had a functioning criminal justice system for the powerful – not just for run-of-the-mill offenders – former Vice President Dick Cheney would have convicted himself and some of his Bush administration colleagues with his comments on ABC’s “This Week.”

On Sunday, Cheney pronounced himself “a big supporter of waterboarding,” a near-drowning technique that has been regarded as torture back to the Spanish Inquisition and that has long been treated by U.S. authorities as a serious war crime, such as when Japanese commanders were prosecuted for using it on American prisoners during World War II.

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Ex-CIA official John Helgerson says agents lost control after torture go-ahead

August 26, 2009

Times Online/UK, August 26, 2009

Tim Reid in Washington

The author of a scathing report on CIA interrogations during the Bush era has claimed that certain operatives lost control once they had been authorised to use “enhanced” interrogation techniques such as waterboarding.

John Helgerson, the former inspector-general of the CIA, also told The Times that the Obama Administration had cut key passages of his report out of the released version, a decision he found “puzzling”.

Mr Helgerson told The Times that the CIA had given assurances to the Justice Department that although the techniques would be used more than once, repetition would “not be substantial”.

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Black Site in Lithuania? CIA Accused of Third Torture Prison in Europe

August 21, 2009

By Britta Sandberg |  Spiegel Online International, Aug 21, 2009

Former US President George W. Bush with his Lithuanian counterpart, Prime Minister Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius in 2002: "They were happy to have our ear."


Former US President George W. Bush with his Lithuanian counterpart, Prime Minister Valdas Adamkus in Vilnius in 2002: “They were happy to have our ear.”

As Americans continue to debate the torture era of the Bush administration, a new report has emerged about the alleged existence of a third secret prison used by the CIA in Europe. According to ABC News, the CIA operated a “black site” prison in Lithuania until the end of 2005.

Following reports on “black site” prisons in Poland, ABC News is now reporting that a third jail existed in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. According to the report, as many as eight prisoners were held there for at least one year.

The United States is believed to have used the third black site prison in Europe to hold high-value al-Qaida suspects after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and to question them using “special interrogation techniques.” These included the simulated drowning of prisoners through the practice known as waterboarding. With the development, the debate in America over government interrogation techniques and torture appears to be taking on a greater European dimension.

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CIA Fights Full Release of Detainee Report

June 18, 2009

White House Urged to Maintain Secrecy

by R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick | The Washington Post, June 17, 2009

The CIA is pushing the Obama administration to maintain the secrecy of significant portions of a comprehensive internal account of the agency’s interrogation program, according to two intelligence officials.

The officials say the CIA is urging the suppression of passages describing in graphic detail how the agency handled its detainees, arguing that the material could damage ongoing counterterrorism operations by laying bare sensitive intelligence procedures and methods.

The May 2004 report, prepared by the CIA’s inspector general, is the most definitive official account to date of the agency’s interrogation system. A heavily redacted version, consisting of a dozen or so paragraphs separated by heavy black boxes and lists of missing pages, was released in May 2008 in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union.

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Did the CIA lie about torture?

May 17, 2009

It doesn’t matter if Nancy Pelosi knew about waterboarding. The real issue is Dick Cheney’s role in the torture scandal

Michael Tomasky | The Guradian, UK, May 15,  2009

How important is it – in terms of future national security, in terms of our obligation to history – to establish exactly when and exactly why the United States tortured, and whether that tactic yielded the positive results Dick Cheney says it did?

I think we’d all agree that’s pretty important.

How important is it – on those same two bases – to find out whether Nancy Pelosi, not at that time third in succession to the presidency but one of 435 members of the lower legislative body, knew of waterboarding in 2002 or 2003?

Not very. And that about sums up the Pelosi flap as far as I’m concerned.

For three weeks now, the Rush Limbaugh set has been banging on about whether Pelosi was telling the truth when she said a while back that she hadn’t known of waterboarding from early CIA briefings. It had been previously reported that she knew. Those previous reports came from leaks most likely from within the CIA.

The rightwing allegations crescendoed in the past week. The CIA leaked word that Pelosi had been informed. Pelosi ducked the question for several day, then obviously decided yesterday that the kitchen was getting hot enough that she’d better open a window and give her version.

To the extent that Pelosi felt she had to respond to all this (although I’m still not sure why – I’d guess that as of yesterday morning, perhaps 4% of Americans had even heard of this fight) the right won a small tactical victory here. They’re going to spend days crowing, mainly because they haven’t had anything to crow about in months.

But really. This is a complete diversion. Which is the whole reason the rightwing has pressed the Pelosi question in the first place. Every minute of cable television time spent talking about what Pelosi knew and when she knew it is a minute not devoted to talking about what Cheney ordered and when and why he ordered it. The operatives and bloggers on the right pressing the Pelosi angle understand this very well.

As for Pelosi’s comments, she says the CIA lied to Congress. Gasp! No! They’d never do such a thing. Friends, lying to Congress is a fixed part of what the CIA does. And sometimes it’s arguably necessary. But often – well, if this is news to you, go read up on the Church and Pike committees from the 1970s.

And note that the CIA did not entirely deny Pelosi’s allegation when it responded yesterday. The agency spokesperson’s language was very interesting – the CIA had a chart showing that Pelosi was fully briefed in September 2002, and that chart was “true to the language in the agency’s records“. Great! So what?

Let me stop here and say that there are hundreds of good nonpolitical professionals in the CIA who are trying to do their important and difficult jobs. The agency has been abused by today’s Republican party over and over again. Remember that during the run-up to the Iraq war, Cheney pressed the agency to find intelligence to fit the case the administration wanted to make against Iraq – linking it to al-Qaida, fabricating a story about nuclear weapons – and even set up their own intelligence unit to give them the intel they wanted.

And most of all, Bush and Cheney really harmed the agency by putting Porter Goss in charge of it. Goss was a Florida GOP congressman. He was, in 2002, Pelosi’s counterpart on the House intelligence committee and as such was briefed with her. He brought political people into the agency who wrecked the place. Some major operations were taken out of the CIA’s hands and placed in other intelligence agencies. His number-three man was convicted of bribery in a massive scandal that involved a high-ranking member of Congress and a Pentagon contractor.

This was Cheney’s man at Langley. It’s pretty hard right now not to think that some of this rightwing pushback is emanating from somewhere in the Goss universe.

But in the end, everything points back to Cheney. What certain members of Congress were told or not told, how things were phrased, who was in and out of the loop – we have ample evidence from previously published accounts that Cheney micro-managed everything that was of concern to him.

To cut to the chase, a full-on investigation could quite possibly demonstrate, then, that the vice-president of the United States directed staff to lie to Congress. The people on the right keeping the Pelosi angle alive know this, too.

They’d never admit it publicly, but deep down, they must be worried, in the same way that liberals kinda knew deep down a decade ago that that dog Clinton probably did do something inappropriate with “that woman”.

Small wonder they want to talk about Pelosi. Pay no attention to the men behind this particular curtain, and keep your eyes on the prize.

American Torture: No Knowledge of History, No Sense of Tragedy

May 11, 2009

By William J. Astore | History News Network, May 11, 2009

Mr. Astore, a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF), teaches History at the Pennsylvania College of Technology. A regular, his articles have appeared in The Nation, Asia Times,, Le Monde diplomatique, and elsewhere.

Recently in the New York Times, Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti showed that the Bush Administration, the CIA, and the Senate and House Intelligence Committees failed to ask for any historical context before approving so-called “harsh interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, in 2002.  No one apparently knew, or wanted to know, that the U.S. had defined waterboarding as torture and prosecuted it as a war crime after World War II.  Did our leaders think the events of 9-11 constituted an entirely new reality, one in which historical precedent was rendered nugatory?

Perhaps so, but their failure to ask historically-based questions also highlights the narrowness of their intellectual training.  Like the accused Nazi judges before the bar in the movie Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), they asked themselves only what the law is (or what it became under John Ashcroft and John Yoo), not whether it is just.  If a legal brief authorized brutal methods such as waterboarding, who were they to question, let alone challenge, the (freshly minted) legal opinion?

Clearly, the leaders making and implementing decisions on torture constituted a single, self-referencing, self-identified Washington elite almost entirely divorced from thinking historically, let alone tragically.  And because they could think neither historically nor tragically, they found false comfort in picturing themselves as stalwart defenders of the nation, not recognizing the mesmerizing power of vengeance and hate.

Our elected officials who find history books too onerous would do well to invest three hours of their time to watch Judgment at Nuremberg.  They might learn that a compromised judiciary will uphold any action — discriminatory race laws, involuntary sterilization, even mass murder — all in the name of defending the people from supposedly apocalyptic threats.

Indeed, defending the country from apocalyptic threats is a popular line for those wishing to uphold the Bush Administration’s policy on torture.  After the tragedy of 9/11, and subsequent panic in the wake of Anthrax attacks, our leaders were compelled to “take the gloves off” in our defense, even compelled to exact vengeance as a way of deterring future attacks — or so these torture apologists claim.

In their haste to make America safe, Bush and Company effectively declared vengeance was theirs and not the Lord’s.  But the human lust for vengeance is blinding, even more so when it’s perceived as righteous.  Here our wrathful lawyers/politicians might consider the lessons of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera, Rigoletto.  The hunchbacked court jester, Rigoletto, delights in other people’s misfortune, and for this he is cursed by a cuckolded husband.  Soon, his own daughter, Gilda, the joy of his life, is kidnapped and despoiled, the first bitter fruits of the curse.  Despite Gilda’s pleas to forgive the transgressor, Rigoletto, blinded by his own murderous desire for vengeance, sets in motion a chain of events that ends with the sacrificial death of his beloved Gilda and the annihilation of any vestige of goodness in his tortured soul.

In Rigoletto, the desire for total vengeance produces total tragedy.  In Judgment at Nuremberg, man’s ability to justify the worst crimes in the name of “safeguarding the people” is memorably exposed and justly condemned.

What we need today in Washington are fewer leaders who base their decisions on vengeance empowered by legal briefs and more who are willing to embrace the toughest lessons to be gleaned from history and tragedy.  What we need today as well is our own version of Judgment at Nuremberg — our own special prosecutorial court — one that is unafraid to elevate justice, truth, and the value of a single human being above all other concerns — especially political ones.

Torture Images From Set Of Standard Operating Procedure Retell Story Of Abu Ghraib

May 8, 2009

Huffington Post Contributors |  Nubar Alexanian and Katharine Thomas   | The  Huffington Post, May 7, 2009

Photographs by Nubar Alexanian

Text by Katharine Thomas

One of President Obama’s first executive decisions in office was to prohibit the use of interrogation techniques previously sanctioned by the Justice Department under the Bush administration.


Memos released on April 16, 2009 describe in detail “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on terrorism suspects. While many American’s have heard the controversy surrounding the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison, few have clear depictions of what these techniques look like.

These photographs were created on the set of Standard Operating Procedure, a film by Errol Morris that tells the story of what happened at Abu Ghraib.

These images are accurate reenactments of events that took place in the prison. They are intended to make visible the idea of torture and to provoke the observer to imagine what it is like to be tortured.


In a memo to John Rizzo, Assistant Attorney General, Jay S. Bybee, wrote “…The waterboard, which inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever, does not, in our view inflict “severe pain or suffering…The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering.”


Some individuals who did not believe that waterboarding constituted torture changed their opinions after experiencing the procedure for themselves. Writer and political observer Christopher Hitchens was challenged to undergo waterboarding. After the experience Hitchen’s is quoted as saying, “if waterboarding does not constitute torture, there is no such thing as torture.”


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Waterboarding typically refers to a procedure in which a cloth is placed over an individual’s nose and mouth and water is poured over the face for a period less than a minute. The technique simulates the experience of drowning. The gurney that the individual is strapped to may be put at an incline with the head below the lungs to prevent the water from going into the lungs and actually drowning the individual.


In addition to coercive techniques such as waterboarding, the Office of Legal Council prescribed the use of conditioning techniques. These were a set of ongoing conditions intended to show detainees that they had “no control over basic human needs.” This included forced nudity, dietary manipulation, and sleep deprivation.


Un-muzzled dogs were used to intimidate detainees. In one case, a detainee suffered from multiple bite wounds.


Dog handlers reportedly had a contest to see who could make the most prisoners urinate out of fear of the dogs.


One of the infamous images documented by soldiers at Abu Ghraib shows a hooded man standing on a box. The detainee’s hands were attached to wires. He was told that he if he stepped off the box he would be electrocuted.


Cement bags were often used as hoods to cover detainee’s faces, one of many techniques used to make them feel out of control.


Detainees were routinely shackled in uncomfortable positions and left for hours. Stress positions and sleep deprivations were used to soften the detainees for interrogation.


This image shows military personnel playing “grab ass” in the interrogation room with a hooded detainee. Sexual abuse and the licentious behavior of military personnel are documented in photographs taken by the soldiers themselves.


This photograph was taken from a monitor attached to a film camera positioned underneath a fifty-gallon drum with a glass bottom. It shows the face of an individual whose head is being held under water.


In describing water torture techniques used in the Philippine-American war, Lieutenant Grover Flint said, “his sufferings must be that of a man who is drowning, but cannot drown.”

CIA Says Pelosi Was Briefed on Use of ‘Enhanced Interrogations’

May 8, 2009

By Paul Kane | The Washington Post, May 7, 2008

Intelligence officials released documents this evening saying that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was briefed in September 2002 about the use of harsh interrogation tactics against al-Qaeda prisoners, seemingly contradicting her repeated statements over the past 18 months that she was never told that these techniques were actually being used.

In a 10-page memo outlining an almost seven-year history of classified briefings, intelligence officials said that Pelosi and then-Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla.) were the first two members of Congress ever briefed on the interrogation tactics. Then the ranking member and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, respectively, Pelosi and Goss were briefed Sept. 4, 2002, one week before the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The memo, issued by the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency to Capitol Hill, notes the Pelosi-Goss briefing covered “EITs including the use of EITs on Abu Zubaydah.” EIT is an acronym for enhanced interrogation technique. Zubaydah was one of the earliest valuable al-Qaeda members captured and the first to have the controversial tactic known as water boarding used against him.

The issue of what Pelosi knew and when she knew it has become a matter of heated debate on Capitol Hill. Republicans have accused her of knowing for many years precisely the techniques CIA agents were using in interrogations, and only protesting the tactics when they became public and liberal antiwar activists protested.

In a carefully worded statement, Pelosi’s office said today that she had never been briefed about the use of waterboarding, only that it had been approved by Bush administration lawyers as a legal technique to use in interrogations.

“As this document shows, the Speaker was briefed only once, in September 2002. The briefers described these techniques, said they were legal, but said that waterboarding had not yet been used,” said Brendan Daly, Pelosi’s spokesman.

Pelosi’s statement did not address whether she was informed that other harsh techniques were already in use during the Zubaydah interrogations.

In December 2007 the Washington Post reported that leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees had been briefed in the fall of 2002 about waterboarding — which simulates drowning — and other techniques, and that no congressional leaders protested its use. At the time Pelosi said she was not told that waterboarding was being used, a position she stood by repeatedly last month when the Bush-era Justice Department legal documents justifying the interrogation tactics were released by Attorney General Eric Holder.

The new memo shows that intelligence officials were willing to share the information about waterboarding with only a sharply closed group of people. Three years after the initial Pelosi-Goss briefing, Bush officials still limited interrogation technique briefings to just the chairman and ranking member of the House and Senate intelligence committees, the so-called Gang of Four in the intelligence world.

In October 2005, CIA officials began briefing other congressional leaders with oversight of the intelligence community, including top appropriators who provided the agency its annual funding. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam and an opponent of torture techniques, was also read into the program at that time even though he did not hold a special committee position overseeing the intelligence community.

A bipartisan collection of lawmakers have criticized the practice of limiting information to just the “Gang of Four”, who were expressly forbidden from talking about the information from other colleagues, including fellow members of the intelligence committees. Pelosi and others are considering reforms that would assure a more open process for all committee members.

Stanford Anti-War Alumni, Students Call for Condi War Crimes Probe

May 7, 2009

Marjorie Cohn |, May 6, 2009

During the Vietnam War, Stanford students succeeded in banning secret military research from campus. Last weekend, 150 activist alumni and present Stanford students targeted Condoleezza Rice for authorizing torture and misleading Americans into the illegal Iraq War.

Veterans of the Stanford anti-Vietnam War movement had gathered for a 40th anniversary reunion during the weekend. The gathering featured panels on foreign policy, the economy, political and social movements, science and technology, media, energy and the environment, and strategies for aging activists.

On Sunday, surrounded by alumni and students, Lenny Siegel and I nailed a petition to the University President’s office door. The petition, circulated by Stanford Say No to War, reads:

“We the undersigned students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other concerned members of the Stanford community, believe that high officials of the U.S. Government, including our former Provost, current Political Science Professor, and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, Condoleezza Rice, should be held accountable for any serious violations of the Law (included ratified treaties, statutes, and/or the U.S. Constitution) through investigation and, if the facts warrant, prosecution, by appropriate legal authorities.”

I stated, “By nailing this petition to the door of the President’s office, we are telling Stanford that the university should not have war criminals on its faculty. There is prima facie evidence that Rice approved torture and misled the country into the Iraq War. Stanford has an obligation to investigate those charges.”

After the petition nailing, I cited the law and evidence of Condoleezza Rice’s responsibility for war crimes – including torture – and for selling the illegal Iraq War:

As National Security Advisor, Rice authorized waterboarding in July 2002, according to a newly released report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Less than two months later, she hyped the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her ominous warning was part of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the Iraq war, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s assurances that Saddam Hussein did not possess nuclear weapons.

A week before the nailing of the petition, Rice made some Nixonian admissions in response to questions from Stanford students during a campus dinner designed to burnish Rice’s image on campus.

In October 1968, Stanford anti-war activists had nailed a document to the door of the trustees’ office which demanded that Stanford “halt all military and economic projects concerned with Southeast Asia.”

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd).  Her articles are archived at

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