Tuesday, May 12, 2009 By Leave a Comment
Pelosi and Torture
By John Nichols – www.thenation.com
That House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been a disappointing leader for House Democrats, few serious observers of the congressional condition will deny. But now, she appears to be something more troubling: a serious hindrance to the fight against the use of the crudest and most objectionable torture techniques.
Democrats and Republicans with a conscience have gotten a good deal of traction in recent months in their battle to identify the use by U.S. interrogators of waterboarding – a technique that simulates drowning in order to cause extreme mental distress to prisoners — as what it is: torture. Arizona Senator John McCain, a GOP presidential contender, has been particularly powerful in his denunciations of this barbarous endeavor. And Senate Intelligence Committee chair Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, and key members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have effectively pressed the issue on a number of fronts.
Now, however, comes the news that Pelosi knew as early as 2002 that the U.S. was using waterboarding and other torture techniques and, far from objecting, appears to have cheered the tactics on.
The Washington Post reports that Pelosi, who was then a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, was were informed by CIA officials at a secret briefing in September 2002, that waterboarding and other forms of torture were being used on suspected al-Queda operatives. That’s bad. Even worse is the revelation that Pelosi was apparently supportive of the initiative.
According to the news reports, Pelosi has no complaint about waterboarding during a closed-door session she attended with Florida Congressman Porter Goss, a Republican who would go on to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts and Florida Democratic Senator Bob Graham.
“The reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement,” recalls Goss.
How encouraging? It is reported that two of the legislators demanded to know if waterboarding and other methods that were being employed “were tough enough” forms of torture to produced the desired levels of mental anguish to force information from suspects who, under the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution, cannot be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment.
Was Pelosi one of the “tough-enough” cheerleaders for waterboarding? That is not clear, as the speaker has refused to comment directly regarding her knowledge of torture techniques and encouragement of their use. Another member of the House who is closely allied wit Pelosi did tell the Post, however, that the California Democrat attended the session, recalled that waterboarding was discussed, and “did not object” at the time to that particular torture technique.
If this is the case, Pelosi has provided aid and comfort to the Bush administration’s efforts to deviate not just from the standards set by international agreements regarding war crimes but from the provision of the Bill of Rights that establishes basic requirements with regard to the treatment of prisoners who in the custody of the United States.
Those deviations are precisely the sort of impeachable offenses that Pelosi has said are “off the table.” Her association with the administration on the matter of torture necessarily calls into question the speaker’s credibility on questions of how and when to hold the administration to account. It also begs a more mundane political question: At a point when Republicans like John McCain are earning points with their forthright stances against waterboarding, isn’t the credibility and the potential effectiveness of the House Democratic Caucus as an honest player in the debate profoundly harmed by the involvement of its leader in behind-the-scenes meetings that by all accounts encouraged the use of that technique?
Saturday, April 25, 2009 By Leave a Comment
The Central Intelligence Agency must turn over records regarding detainee interrogation tapes the agency destroyed in an alleged effort to protect the identity of its officers.
A federal judge rejected the CIA’s attempt to withhold records relating to the agency’s destruction of 92 videotapes that depicted interrogation of CIA prisoners in a ruling Friday afternoon. The tapes were said to have shown some detainees’ torture.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing for the documents’ release under the Freedom of Information Act, and aims to have the agency held in contempt of court for refusing to provide them.
The ACLU has been remarkably successful at obtaining previously secret government documents. President Barack Obama was recently forced to release Bush administration memos which outlined torture techniques to be employed on detainees.
ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh lauded the court’s decision.
“We welcome the court’s recognition that the ACLU’s contempt motion against the CIA must be promptly resolved,” Singh said in a release. “Recent disclosures about the CIA’s torture methods further confirm that there is no basis for the agency to continue to withhold records relating to the content of the destroyed videotapes or documents that shed light upon who authorized their destruction and why.
“The public has a right to this information and the CIA must be held accountable for its flagrant disregard for the rule of law,” Singh added.
In a release, the civil liberties group noted “the CIA had previously said it would only turn over documents from August 2002 that relate to the content of the videotapes. But U.S. District Court Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the Southern District of New York today ordered the CIA to produce records from April through December 2002 that relate to the content of the tapes, as well as documents from April 2002 through June 2003 that related to the destruction of the tapes and information about the persons and reasons behind their destruction.”
“Judge Hellerstein also ordered the government to reconsider the extent of redactions it intends to make to the documents in light of last week’s release, also as part of the ACLU’s FOIA litigation, of four secret memos used by the Bush administration to justify torture,” the release adds. “In addition, the court ordered the government to explain whether contempt proceedings would interfere with a federal criminal investigation into the destruction of the tapes led by prosecutor John Durham.”
Monday, April 20, 2009 By Leave a Comment
JANE HAMSHER Gets it done; as usual…
Because someone has to
Rahm on This Week:
STEPHANOPOLOUS: The President has ruled out prosecutions of CIA officials who believed they were following the law. Does he believe the officials who devised the policies should be immune from prosecution?
RAHM: Yeah, what he believes is, look, as you saw in that statement he wrote. And I think, just take a step back. That he came up with this, and he worked on this for four weeks. Wrote that statement Wednesday night, after he made his decision, and dictated what he wanted to see and then Thursday morning I saw him in the office, he was still editing it. He believes that people in good faith were operating with the guidance they were provided. They shouldn’t be prosecuted.
STEPHANOPOLOUS: But what bout those who devised the policies?
RAHM: But those who devised the policies –he believes that they were — should not be prosecuted either. And it’s not the place that we go — as he said in that letter, and I really recommend that people look at that full statement. Not the letter, the statement. In that second paragraph: This is not a time for retribution. It’s a time for reflection. It is not a time to use our energy and our time in looking back, and in a sense of anger and retribution. We have a lot to do to protect America. What people need to know, this practice and technique, we don’t useany more. He banned it.
Is that truly what the administration thinks? That people who want to see those who illegally led the country down the road of torture held to account are simply “looking back” in “anger” and “retribution”? Fifty percent of the country favor such investigations, including 69% of Democrats and a majority of independents. Is Rahm saying that President Obama believes they’re nothing more than an angry, vindictive mob, and that nobody could possibly have a rational basis for believing that our laws should be enforced?
Manfred Nowak, the United Nations top torture investigator, says that treaties entered into by the United States require criminal investigations:
The United States, like all other states that are part of the U.N. convention against torture, is committed to conducting criminal investigations of torture and to bringing all persons against whom there is sound evidence to court.
How does Rahm rationalize the President’s stated goal to “restore our moral standing” in the world with thumbing our noses at the international agreements we’ve entered into? Is there an “except when we don’t feel like it” clause?
The United States has 5% of the world’s population, but nearly 25% of its prisoners. There is something terribly inconsistent about a Senior Administration official like Rahm Emanuel insisting that an elite few should not be subject to our laws, and that people who take issue with this have no higher motive than counterproductive rage.
Sign the petition telling Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate torture here.
Sunday, April 19, 2009 By Leave a Comment