No Associated Press content was harmed in the writing of this post
Though it seems highly unlikely that Zubaydah’s information stopped “maybe dozens of attacks,” as [CIA analyst John] Kiriakou said, the plain fact is that it is impossible, until a thorough investigation can be undertaken of the interrogations, to evaluate fully and fairly what intelligence the United States actually received in return for all the severe costs, practical, political, legal, and moral, the country incurred by instituting a policy of torture. There is a sense in which the entire debate over what Zubaydah did or did not provide, and the attacks the information might or might not have prevented—a debate driven largely by leaks by fiercely self-interested parties—itself reflects an unvoiced acceptance, on both sides, of the centrality of the mythical “ticking-bomb scenario” so beloved of those who argue that torture is necessary, and so prized by the writers of television dramas like 24. That is, the argument centers on whether Zubaydah’s interrogation directly “disrupted a number of attacks.”
On causes and effects:
In the wake of the attacks of September 11, 2001, Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and a famously colorful hard-liner, appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee and made the most telling pronouncement of the era: “All I want to say is that there was ‘before’ 9/11 and ‘after’ 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.”…if the gloves must come off, that means that before the attacks the gloves were on. There is something implicitly exculpatory in the image, something that made it particularly appealing to officials of an administration that endured, on its watch, the most lethal terrorist attack in the country’s history. If the attack succeeded, it must have had to do not with the fact that intelligence was not passed on or that warnings were not heeded or that senior officials did not focus on terrorism as a leading threat. It must have been, at least in part, because the gloves were on—because the post-Watergate reforms of the 1970s, in which Congress sought to put limits on the CIA, on its freedom to mount covert actions with “deniability” and to conduct surveillance at home and abroad, had illegitimately circumscribed the President’s power and thereby put the country dangerously at risk.
(Marc Ambinder’s choice of metaphor several days later doesn’t reflect well on him. Either he wasn’t aware of such important news or he tried to create a false equivalence.) The devastating conclusion:
1. Beginning in the spring of 2002 the United States government began to torture prisoners. <snip>
2. The most senior officers of the US government, President George W. Bush first among them, repeatedly and explicitly lied about this[.] <snip>
3. The US Congress, already in possession of a great deal of information about the torture conducted by the administration…passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and in so doing attempted to protect those responsible from criminal penalty under the War Crimes Act. <snip>
4. Democrats, who could have filibustered the bill, declined to do so[.] <snip>
5. The political damage to the United States’ reputation…has been, though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.
In almost any other week Lawrence Wilkerson’s post about Guantánamo Bay would have been a bombshell, but unfortunately was overshadowed by Danner’s effort.
These revelations are all coming very late in the game, to put it mildly. It would have been nice to see this come out when the principals were still in office, but reporters had - and continue to have - a manner of awestruck reverence towards Dick Cheney, George Bush and the like. If you talk tough, bully and never ever back down you can expect them to be completely and forever cowed.
Pakistan shows America how it’s done. Nice one, people. Way to make some noise.
On Friday the ACLU got the CIA to admit it has over 3,000 pages of documents relating to the 92 torture tapes that they destroyed. But the agency won’t release them, surely because of some vital national security interest. It couldn’t be an effort to cover up criminality. And not just criminality:
A. John Radsan, a former CIA assistant general counsel, said there are internal guidelines and structures — including the CIA inspector general’s office and a separate review board that oversees clandestine operations — that are intended to guard against scandal. In reality, he said, it is a self-regulating system with few incentives for reporting bad behavior.
“You want a culture that values innovation and creativity and doesn’t mind violating the laws of other countries, but at the same time, you want a culture of compliance and honesty,” Radsan said. “It is a built-in contradiction.”
Can an agency like the CIA ever be fully reconciled with democratic self rule?
Barack Obama issued his first signing statement. His most loyal defenders have insisted he hasn’t been in office long enough to make any kind of evaluation, but doesn’t having a signing statement so early also send a terrible signal?
Guantanamo Detainees May Be Released in U.S. Bears watching. Note to self: Revisit at end of year.
I haven’t really monitored Noam Scheiber (or TNR generally) so I don’t know exactly, but when he writes “Getting people to hand over money under the threat of legislation that will take it from retroactively is pretty damn coercive. There are third-world juntas that would think twice before doing this” I wonder if he was screaming about third world juntas when we launched a war of aggression, initiated a torture program or created an ever-expanding surveillance state. I don’t seem to recall any such dire language.
Does Scheiber think domestic deployment of armed forces is junta-y?
So long as it’s Be Kind to Bankers Week at Treasury — and we’ve had eight straight such weeks since the president was inaugurated — American banking, and the economy it is supposed to serve, will remain paralyzed. The Geithner plan to restart the banks provides huge taxpayer subsidies to hedge funds, investment banks and private equity companies to buy the banks’ toxic assets without really having to assume the risk. That’s right — the same Wall Street wizards who got us into this mess, using the same securitization techniques that built mountains of debt within a shadow financial system that remains unregulated, are the saviors whom Geithner has anointed to extricate us — with our capital, not theirs — from the mess that they created….In the Senate, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, joined by Illinois’ Dick Durbin, has introduced a bill to cap the interest rates on credit cards. Even as banks are borrowing funds from the Fed interest-free and are counting on taxpayer largess to keep them from going bust, they are still charging usurious rates of interest…Sanders and Durbin have two things that Tim Geithner sorely lacks: a capacity to envision a less predatory, more salutary form of banking and a determination to enact such reforms.
UNPACKING JANE: On page 222 Mayer describes how former Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes was hopelessly compromised, and that was a feature instead of a bug:
After the 2000 election, Haynes had confessed his worry to a former colleague that he had very few connections in the new Bush crowd. Addington and Cheney were his only sponsors. They, of course, were all he needed. Haynes was soon given Addington’s old job as the top lawyer at the Pentagon. But Haynes’ dependence on his patrons left the Pentagon’s legal process under the control of the Office of the Vice President to an unusual degree.