Friday, March 27, 2009

SASC Full Declassified Report Due Out, Levin to Call for DOJ Referral

Jason Leopold reported today that the Senate Armed Services Committee is very close to releasing -- "possibly as early as next week" —- its 200 page, 2000 footnote
... voluminous report on the treatment of detainees held in U.S. custody and the interrogations methods they were subjected to, according to Defense Department and intelligence sources, who described the report as the most detailed account to date of how the Bush administration and Defense Department implemented interrogation methods widely regarded as torture.
Levin and the SASC's investigation is a gold mine of information about how the Bush administration implemented its torture program. Both the documents produced by the investigation, and the declassified 19-page summary released by Sen. Levin last year contained important new information, such the details surrounding John Yoo's drafting of the torture memos.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who was National Security Adviser when interrogation methods were discussed, said that beginning as early as the summer of 2002 Yoo provided legal advice at “several” meetings that she attended and that the Department of Justice’s advice on the interrogation program “was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales.”

According to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report, Yoo met with Gonzales and David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, to discuss the subjects he intended to address in the August 2002 torture memos.
According to Mr. Leopold:
Levin’s investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete. The declassified version of his report will include a full account of the roles military psychologists played in helping the Bush administration implement a policy where harsh interrogations was used against detainees.

The release of the full declassified version of the Armed Service's Committee report will also put additional pressure on the Obama administration to immediately launch a full-scale investigation into the Bush administration’s interrogation program....

The declassified report will include a full accounting of how the military’s Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program, which was meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, was reverse engineered and used against detainees during interrogations. SERE training techniques include stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation and, until recently, the Navy SERE school used the waterboard.

Already, the committee has revealed that discussion surrounding the use of SERE techniques on detainees began in the spring of 2002, before the issuance of a legal opinion authorizing the use of harsh interrogation methods.
Of course, as I wrote last June, we'll see that the timeline around the initiation of SERE's involvement will go back at least as far as December 2001.
But the one document produced from the December 2001 contact -- a fax cover sheet from the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), sent from "Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner" to "Mr. Richard Shiffrin," who worked for Haynes's in Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office -- introduces a theme of aggressive courting by JPRA/SERE personnel to take on the interrogations/exploitation task:
Mr. Shiffrin --
Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.
One limitation imposed upon the SASC report was that it did not investigate the CIA, who refused to cooperate with the committee. But some tidbits from the investigation appear to be emerging. As Jason Leopold reports it:
Rice told Levin in written responses to his committee’s queries last September that the CIA’s interrogation program was reviewed by National Security Council principals and that Rumsfeld participated in that review.

Rice said that when the CIA sought approval of the interrogation program she asked Tenet to brief the principals and asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to “personally advise NSC Principals whether the program was lawful.”

John Bellinger, Rice’s Legal Advisor, told Levin that he asked CIA lawyers to seek legal advice not only from the OLC, but also from the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, headed at the time by Michael Chertoff.

Chertoff reportedly advised the CIA General Counsel Scott Muller and his deputy, John Rizzo, that the August 1, 2002, legal opinion protected CIA interrogators from prosecution if they used waterboarding or other harsh tactics.
Hopefully, we may know about the OLC "advice" when the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) at the Department of Justice produces the results of its four year investigation of the OLC memos written largely by John Yoo and David Addington.

What will these bombshells produce? What if the missing and supposedly seriously shocking Abu Ghraib photos are released, as now appears possible, per ACLU press release last week (ignored by the press, and blogosphere in general -- though not this intrepid blogger, who has been pushing almost daily for prosecution of the Bush torture criminals).
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the government's request to have the full appeals court rehear a decision from last September ordering the release of the photos as part of an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking information on the abuse of prisoners held in U.S. custody overseas.
Will these and other revelations be enough to unfreeze the large scale societal intertia on ending torture and prosecuting U.S. government and military-intelligence officials who plotted and conducted such crimes against humanity? Leopold reports that Levin has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special individual, such as "a retired federal judge", to review the report and make a recommendation to Holder about what to do next. No one too high up wants to say the "P"-word out loud.

I have been quite pessimistic of late about the ability of this scandal to move beyond the purview of a handful of civil liberties groups, progressive bloggers and activist websites. While there is the promise of some movement towards social and political change or reform -- the release of some of the OLC memos, which revealed a near totalitarian plan to make the Executive Branch of the U.S. government free of other governmental checks, and the strengthening of FOIA access to the public of government documents -- the primary actions of both the Executive and Legislative branches has been to circle the wagons to protect the government elite now out of office, and preach the gospel of "moving on", with a nod towards token recognition of the problems (through a "Truth Commission" sans prosecutorial weight) and sage wagging of the head about the lessons of the past.

Even the most liberal witness at Sen. Leahy's hearings earlier this month regarding the feasibility of such a "Truth Commission" was clear that the results wouldn't provide anything as politically explosive as the Pike Committee did during the heyday of the investigatory 1970s.

Governmental rhetoric about openness and truth about torture rings more than a little hollow, given the administration's position on backing the old Bush/Cheney line on making judicial revelations about torture anathema by invoking bogus "state secrets" and national security suppression of evidence, even of the right to go to trial itself. All this comes as the new Obama administration has yet to answer for the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, proposing a South Korea-sized U.S. contingent for Iraq to serve an indefinite period, and making the torture-riddled Army Field Manual of today the law of the land when it comes to interrogations.

I don't see how the drive for prosecutions can withstand the inaction of much of civil society on this issue, and that includes the silence or inactivity of the churches, the unions, the bulk of academia and the declassed (or scruffy) intelligentsia and student population. But politics often takes strange turns, and there is no complete accounting for large-scale social-psychological phenomena.

If the torture revelations come at the right way, at the right time, and with the correct visceral punch, the population may yet rise up and demand justice be done, even if it means an unprecedented indictment of a series of the former highest officials in the land. If this happened, it would be as if a lighting bolt had descended upon the body politic, and social struggle would heat up to an indefinite but large degree.

We must state our appreciation for the work of Sen. Carl Levin and the Senate Armed Services Committee for the fine job they have done, even knowing, as they must, that a full airing of the issues would be like throwing a keg of dynamite on the tinder of a society reeling from eight years of near-dictatorial rule. But the work is not done yet, and I will reserve full congratulations until the report itself is out and I've had a chance to review it. I look forward to writing my review, and reading the analyses of the many other fine commentators on the net who are sure to pounce on this juicy nugget and squeeze it for all it is worth... at least I hope that's what happens.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One day I'm very pessimistic that anything will happen and then the very next day I'm optimistic. It's been a see-saw ride these last 8 years and I'm sure there will be more ups and downs to come. Today, however, I'm optimistic that criminal prosecutions will come.

I think the slow release of incriminating documents, each worse than the preceding ones, is beginning to make a difference.

It's just little things that give me hope - Applebaum at the Post advocating for prosecutions, WaPo running the torture story Sunday on page A-1 instead of burying it, former Bush officials beginning to desert the sinking Bush ship (Padmanabhan) Cheney & Yoo out there desperately trying to defend their actions. I think we all have to keep working hard on this but I'm encouraged by the cracks in the wall of silence that have begun.


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