Friday, 15 May 2009

"This thing is just getting deeper and deeper."

I have always felt sorry for that fine jockey, Richard Head, whose parents somehow missed the fact that their son would suffer whenever his christian name was abbreviated. For the Dick amongst Dicks however, we must cross the Pond and meet Mr. Cheney, GWBush's right hand man (or was Bush Cheney's left hand man?).
Obama may not be satisfying his hard line supporters with his approach to TortureGate, no photos, no prosecutions, but one could say that he is playing the long game, allowing Cheney as much rope as he needs to hang himself (and, hopefully, others).
Over to Lotus:

Have you in Old Blighty heard the latest about Dick Cheney, CIA, torture, and the US Congress?
(Cheney pictured with Shrub at Obama's inauguration, impersonating Peter Sellers)  

Well, the more our former Vice President talks (suddenly he can't shut up), the better for those demanding an independent investigation that eventually makes his and others' criminal prosecution unavoidable. Yesterday the pro-Cheney crowd's latest favorite gambit -- trying to implicate congressional Democrats as culpably silent on their knowledge of torture -- blew up in their faces.

First, Colin Powell's State Department chief of staff Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, having got a bellyful of Cheney's claims on TV chat shows (I hope you can watch this clip outside the US), unloaded on him (emphasis mine):
... [A]s the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002--well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion--its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney's office that their detainee "was compliant" (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP's office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa'ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, "revealed" such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just "committed suicide" in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi....)

Before Wilkerson even finished typing, he had the benefit of two strong corroborations:

At, former NBC correspondent Robert Windrem reported that Cheney's office had pressed Iraq Survey Group chief Charles Duelfer to waterboard an Iraqi (a true POW, one of Saddam's senior intelligence officials) to score a false "confession" of Saddam's connections with al Qaida. Duelfer, considering the request "reprehensible," refused.

Duelfer's story gibes with what McClatchey Newspapers' Jonathan Landay heard from another "former senior intelligence official" last month: that
"for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were ... demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there."

It was during this period that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaida detainees repeatedly -- Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times in August 2002 and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times in March 2003 -- according to a newly released Justice Department document.

"There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people to push harder," he continued.

"Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA . . . and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies."

Senior administration officials, however, "blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information," he said.

Now back to yesterday morning. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (in 2002, she was head Democrat on the House intelligence committee) called a press conference to announce that the CIA had lied to (or as she put it, "misled") her in September 2002. The Agency briefing she received then, she said, claimed that waterboarding, though deemed legal by the Bush Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, wasn't being done yet. ( here's a transcript of her prepared statement.) She learned only in February 2003 -- by that time no longer a member of that committee -- from an aide, not directly from CIA, that detainees had indeed been waterboarded. And, she reiterated, the information was so highly classified that she couldn't discuss it with her colleagues, let alone anyone else.

At about the same time Pelosi was speaking, retired Senator Bob Graham (former head of the Senate intell committee) was telling a radio interviewer (and later the Huffington Post) that three of the four briefings on "enhanced interrogation techniques" that CIA claimed to have given him in April and September of 2002 never occurred. What gives this particular weight is Graham's (in)fame for taking (and filing away) meticulous notes on everything that happens to him daily. Indeed, as soon as he pointed out the discrepancies, CIA conceded their dates were wrong.

Yesterday afternoon in a Senate Judiciary sub-committee, Sen. Russ Feingold stated that he's seen the memos Cheney wants declassified: they do NOT show that Cheney's beloved torture techniques either "were necessary" or were "the best way to get information out of detainees." Feingold therefore agrees with Cheney: declassify these things so the public can judge their contents.

Meanwhile, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (like Feingold, a current leading-light of both Senate Judiciary and Intell) went on CNN and MSNBC to say that Lawrence Wilkerson's statement, if true (and "I've heard that to be true"), "takes the application of these techniques out of the protective scope of the Office of Legal Counsel opinions" and "raises the prospect of there being a criminal prosecution that could justifiably emerge from these facts. ... This thing is just getting deeper and deeper."

Finally, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow capped the day by interviewing Charles Duelfer and Robert Windrem. Here's the three-part video:

Background set-up


Windrem then more Duelfer

Sen. Whitehouse calls it a-right: yesterday took Dick Cheney and his merry band of torturers much deeper. All in all, a very productive day for the White Hats.

-- lotus


  1. Another really good read, you two certainly contrast well with your styles and posts.

  2. Thanks, Daphne. Rodney certainly is fun to work with.

    Aha, MSNBC's David Shuster interviewed Bob Graham this morning:

  3. When people ignore all the evidence that something doesn't work and still go ahead and do it anyway, it means they must have another motive.
    These torturers werent tortured to torture, they did it while having a choice not do it. Or, in the case of Cheney and the others, when they could have just said "No, it doesn't get us reliable results".
    They cant be allowed to get away with it because it suits Obama politically not to pursue them.

  4. charlieboy, one school of thought has it that Obama is (as Rodney says) "playing the long game" or doing his patented "rope-a-dope" here: He's sitting back (or rather, going about his business) as the opponent punches to exhaustion at thin air, beating him- or herself to pieces, until all Big O (never breaking a sweat) has to do is waltz in just in time to collect the win. Another metaphor I've heard and rather like is "he's playing chess while they're playing checkers."

    Anyhow, but we've certainly watched this dynamic before (in the primaries, against McCain, in various legislation), and I hope that's what he's up to now too.

    While tending to the other urgencies BushCo left him, he can rely on public and legislative pressure to build and the court system to "force" the issue of a torture investigation, leading to prosecution. Perhaps it takes a year or two for all this to develop fully . . . so that -- wah-LAH -- the economy's improvement (fingers crossed) and heightened revulsion against the war criminals both come to peak ripeness just in time for the 2010 election.

    Could be wishful thinking on my part, but I don't put it past our Barack to have gamed it out something like this. (Not that I don't also believe him when he says he wants and we need to move forward. HE can move forward while this saga makes its own progress.)