Thursday, April 10, 2008

Tortured Logic

ABC News reports that “enhanced interrogation” (i.e. torture) was approved at the highest levels in the Bush administration.

Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects — whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these “enhanced interrogation techniques” were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed — down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

So despite all the protests from the president that “we do not torture,” which has the same level of credibility as “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” we now know that we did and probably still do. And if we’re not doing it here, we’re staffing it out to countries who have no qualms about doing it for us. (Joann Mariner in has an article about the CIA’s complicity in torturing a suspect in Jordan.)

To be fair, there were some people in the Bush administration who were bothered by all this detailed discussion about torture. One was then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Then-Attorney General Ashcroft was troubled by the discussions. He agreed with the general policy decision to allow aggressive tactics and had repeatedly advised that they were legal. But he argued that senior White House advisers should not be involved in the grim details of interrogations, sources said.

According to a top official, Ashcroft asked aloud after one meeting: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.”

So it wasn’t that they were talking about torture or that it might be illegal or immoral that bothered Mr. Ashcroft; it was that they were doing it in the White House and what would happen to them if they were caught?

Of course the chickenhawks and neocons and stuffed-sock-puppets of the right wing will cheer and go commando on this news, saying that anything we can do to stop terrorism is acceptable in the Global War on Terror and Stuff. But time and again the people who really know how this works have said that “enhanced interrogation” techniques don’t work and all it does is make us just as rotten as they are.

It also pegs the irony meter that the same administration that not only condones torture but plans it out in detail in the Situation Room is the same one that won’t give federal funding to embryonic stem-cell research because they consider it immoral to manipulate a microscopic piece of tissue. Tortured logic indeed.