Thursday, April 2, 2009

Torture Investigations? Leahy Bails, Powell Takes a Dive

Two events in the past two days have captured the inert, Alice-in-Wonderland nature of the U.S.'s struggle to deal with the revelations surrounding this government's use of torture. Today, it was reported that Senator Leahy had decided that lacking any GOP support for his "Truth Commission" on torture, his proposed investigation was dead in the water. But more on that in a moment.

One American television journalist who is not letting the politicians off the hook when it comes to accountability for torture is Rachael Maddow over at MSNBC. She interviewed Colin Powell yesterday regarding his knowledge of Bush Administration approval of torture. (H/T to colleague, Brad O.)

She noted that Powell was, along with Condoleeza Rice, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld and George Tenet, a participant in White House "Principals" meetings that discussed the interrogation methods of prisoners such as Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheik Mohammed. The approved techniques, which included use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding and other abuses, are widely considered to be torture, and were labelled as such in a recently leaked report by the International Committee of the Red Cross. (The Principals story was first reported by ABC News.)

What follows is both the video and portions of the Maddow-Powell transcript, with interspersed commentary. Bold emphases are editorial additions.

As those who watch the interview can see, Maddow is not afraid to go after Powell's role in the torture planning:
RACHEL: On the issue of intelligence—tainted evidence and those things—were you ever present at meetings at which the interrogation of prisoners, like Abu Zubaida, other prisoners in those early days, where the interrogation was directed? Where specific interrogation techniques were approved. It has been reported on a couple of different sources that there were Principals Meetings, which you would have typically been there, where interrogations were almost play-by-play discussed.

POWELL: They were not play-by-play discussed but there were conversations at a senior level as to what could be done with respect to interrogation. I cannot go further because I don't have knowledge of all the meetings that took place or what was discussed at each of those meetings and I think it's going to have to be the written record of those meetings that will determine whether anything improper took place.
During the interview, Powell keeps returning to the themes of his lack of knowledge, and almost a plea to look to "the written record of those meetings," a record that to date no one has seen. I'm presuming that Powell has seen such a record -- which could easily have been sanitized -- and whatever is there is not something he feels legally endangered by.

Maddow continues:

MADDOW: If there was a meeting, though, at which senior officials were saying, were discussing and giving the approval for sleep deprivation, stress positions, water boarding, were those officials committing crimes when they were giving that authorization?

POWELL: You’re asking me a legal question. I mean I don't know that any of these items would be considered criminal. And I will wait for whatever investigations that the government or the Congress intends to pursue with this.
Powell doesn't know now that waterboarding "would be considered criminal"? That's not what he thought, apparently, back in September 2006, when he wrote to Senator McCain opposing the Bush proposals that would later be incorporated into the Military Commissions, which would "“permit use of hypothermia, threats of violence to the detainee and his family, stress positions, ‘long-time standing,’ prolonged sleep deprivation, and possibly waterboarding.”

Powell said then:
Dear Senator McCain,

I just returned to town and learned about the debate taking place in Congress to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I do not support such a step and believe it would be inconsistent with the McCain amendment on torture which I supported last year.
Of course, this was before the ABC revelations and the dawning possibility that Powell could stand where once Lt. Calley stood, on trial for war crimes.

The MSNBC interview continued:
MADDOW: ... Do you feel like you have enough information to know if people were waterboarded? Is that torture?

POWELL: I will let those who are making the legal determination of that make that judgment....

MADDOW: I guess have to ask that -— just a broader question about whether or not you have regrets, not about what the Bush administration did broadly in the years that you were Secretary of State, but the decisions that you participated in about interrogation, about torture, about the other things.

POWELL: We had no meetings on torture. It’s constantly said that the meetings—I had an issue with this -— we had meetings on what torture to administer. What I recall, the meetings I was in —- I was not in all of the meetings and I was not an author of many of the memos that have been written (and some have come out, some have not come out). The only meetings I recall were where we talked about what is it we can do with respect to trying to get information from individuals who were in our custody. And I will just have to wait until the full written record is available and has been examined.

MADDOW: ... There is also the policy implications that you've been so eloquent about, in terms of what the implications are of these policies for the U.S. abroad in a continuing way....

If specific interrogation techniques were being approved by people at the political level in the Cabinet, it doesn't -— the legal niceties of it almost become less important.

POWELL: I don't know where these things were being approved at a political level.

MADDOW: If there was a Principals Meeting at the White House to discuss interrogation techniques?

POWELL: It does not mean it was approved, anything was approved, at a meeting.


POWELL: It depends on did the meeting end up in a conclusion or was it just a briefing that then went to others to make a final decision on and to document. And so it is a legal issue and I think we have to be very careful and I have to be very careful because I don't want to be seen as implicating anybody or accusing anybody because I don't have the complete record on this. And that complete record I think in due course will come out.
While Gen. Powell was lawyering up with Rachael Maddow, Vermont journalist Charlotte Dennett broke the story over at Consortium News that Senator Patrick Leahy told a meeting of constituents that lacking GOP bipartisan support for his proposed investigation into Bush Administration torture that “it’s not going to happen.”

As Lisa Lockwood commented in a diary over Daily Kos:
This whole lack of interest in pursuing investigations, despite growing international pressure and almost daily news of further evidence that war crimes were committed is disquieting and perplexing. Jason Leopold wrote last week that the newly victorious Dem's appear willing to put "bi-partisanship over the pursuit of justice".
Sen. Leahy apparently felt enough heat to post an explanation of his position at his website:
In contrast to reports circulating on the Internet, Leahy said he is continuing to explore the proposal.

“I am not interested in a panel comprised of partisans intent on advancing partisan conclusions,” Leahy said. “I regret that Senate Republicans have approached this matter to date as partisans. That was not my intent or focus. Indeed, it will take bipartisan support in order to move this forward. I continue to talk about this prospect with others in Congress, and with outside groups and experts. I continue to call on Republicans to recognize that this is not about partisan politics. It is about being honest with ourselves as a country. We need to move forward together.”
Furthermore, Senator Leahy took the floor of the Senate to make an appeal for "a Commission of Inquiry", citing "disturbing new facts that underscore the need for such a nonpartisan review." He then cited a number of recent revelations familiar to the readers of progressive blogs, including the ICRC report on CIA torture, the OLC memo revelations, the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah, etc.

He added, as he has whenever he has formally presented his proposal:
One of my concerns in proposing the Commission of Inquiry is that we not scapegoat or punish those of lesser rank. Such a commission’s objective would be to find the truth – to provide accountability for the past. People would be invited to come forward and share their knowledge and experiences, not for purposes of constructing criminal indictments, but to assemble the facts, to know what happened and to make sure mistakes are not repeated.
With all due respect to Senator Leahy, his pleas do not appease anyone, not the GOP, nor those who want to see accountability for war crimes. His statement, moreover, appears to actually confirm Dennett's report.

Why does Sen. Leahy repeat right-wing assertions that an investigation without GOP support would be "intent on advancing partisan conclusions"... unless being against torture is now a "partisan" issue?

Secondly, note that Leahy has not said he's going forward with the investigation. He's going to continue to talk, perhaps, to Republicans, but without "bipartisan support" no investigation will move forward.

Conclusion? There will be either no investigation, or whatever investigation there is will only be on GOP terms, i.e., any investigation would now be held hostage, as regards its agenda, to the GOP presence.

It also seems possible the proposed Leahy hearings were only a show to begin with, and that with key Democrats also implicated in knowledge of torture, a real investigation of any sort was off the table.

Things are coming to a head on the torture issue. No matter how hard the politicians try, the crimes and the cry for accountability for them will not go away. This is especially true as the Obama administration has taken only partial steps towards dismantling the torture apparatus assembled by the Bush team.

Some may be shocked or feel letdown by Powell and Leahy's performance thus far. But these establishment figures are so compromised by their adherence to the government that they fear what might happen if the full truth were to emerge. And whether that happens or not depends on you, dear reader. Only a large reaction of social revulsion and the demand for prosecutions will bring justice and real change in policy.

The only question that remains is: are we, as a society, up to the task?


pmorlan said...

It's like everything else, we have to FORCE them to do the right thing. I think we need to beat them at their own game. Both Democratic and Republican politicians are obviously united in their effort to keep the American people in the dark about this. I say we do an end run around the politicians and start talking directly with rank and file Republicans, Democrats and Independents to get them to contact Washington.

We can put together organizing materials on the internet that people in each state can download and print out. We can then celebrate Spring by taking to the streets - going door to door to talk with our fellow citizens about what's being done and asking them for their help. Chances are that most of them won't even have their names on file with their representative because most of them probably aren't politically active. Can you imagine the look on the faces of our Congressional rulers when they see a flood of mail/phone calls from people who've never contacted them before. We need to scare the hell out of them so that they think we peasants are close to a revolt and it needs to be a HUGE scare.

Valtin said...

pmorlan, I'm all for your suggestion. But how are we to go about that? We need organizational heft to do the necessary amount of work getting people out, giving them a united sense of purpose and community, the need to feel safe... the latter is important, because don't forget, one purpose of torture is to terrorize or suppress dissent in the home country, as it propagates a sense of fear in the populace of the government that torturers, as well in the countries or among the peoples where such torture is practiced.

I can't tell you how many I've talked to who are afraid to openly come out against the government, even with Obama as president. When you think of the news around govt evesdropping, for instance, it's hard not to see where they are coming from.

Best to go into your churches and union halls, your community organizations, and ask them why they aren't doing more? To hope for a spontaneous outpouring of protest is nice, but probably will lead to a sense of demoralization in the long-run if it doesn't happen.

The massive demonstrations during the Vietnam War period were not spontaneous, but organized by then-large leftist organizations, church groups, unions, student organizations, etc.

Why the hell is there not one student protest over this, for instance?

Search for Info/News on Torture

Google Custom Search
Add to Google ">View blog reactions

This site can contain copyrighted material, the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. I am making such material available in my effort to advance understanding of political, human rights, economic, democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. I believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.