Monday, April 20, 2009


The release by the Obama administration last week of Bush administration memos related to so-called "harsh interrogation techniques" has got the blogosphere in a frenzy. It is amusing, if also depressing, to watch the Right tying itself in knots alternately claiming that the memos are a vindication of the Bush administration's interrogation policies, while insisting that their release damages national security. This peculiar argument rests on the idea that if potential terrorists are aware of the fact that we treat our detainees with kid gloves, they will be emboldened in their actions. The irony, of course, is that this mirrors what are assumed to be Saddam Hussein's motives for not forcefully disclosing the fact that Iraq possessed no chemical weapons: if regional enemies knew this to be the case, his own power and prestige would suffer. The argument is absurd on many levels, not the least of which is that it is pretty clear, from the number of detainees who died in U.S. custody that our interrogrators did not even adhere to the limitations outlined in the memos that have been thus far released. It is very doubtful that potential enemies will be emboldened by anything released thus far.

On the other hand, the benefits of this information release are palpable. A truth commission would probably do more to restore American prestige in the global community, but this release is certainly a good start and a welcome sign of transparency in the face of eight decidedly Orwellian years of double-speak and non-denial denials of the nation's torture policies.

Now, as part of this information release, we have news that one high-value prisoner was waterboarded some 180 times in one month, while another was waterboarded just under half that many times. These are figures that shock the conscience. A single instance of waterboarding is enough to convict an interrogator of torture, but how does one begin to comprehend waterboarding a man an average of six times a day for one whole month? Andrew Sullivan has a very good post on the implications of this new information, especially as it pertains to the propaganda and disinformation campaign that the Bush administration launched surrounding these techniques. Sullivan quotes the following paragraph from a National Review article on the subject by contributor Deroy Murdoch:

U.S. and Pakistani authorities captured KSM on March 1, 2003 in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. KSM stayed mum for months, often answering questions with Koranic chants. Interrogators eventually waterboarded him — for just 90 seconds. KSM “didn’t resist,” one CIA veteran said in the August 13 issue of The New Yorker. “He sang right away. He cracked real quick.” Another CIA official told ABC News: “KSM lasted the longest under water-boarding, about a minute and a half, but once he broke, it never had to be used again.”
Clearly the Administration had CIA officials leaking disinformation to the news media, and the news media, of course, reported these lies with little investigation as to their factual basis. There is no way to reconcile "it never had to be used again" with the knowledge we now have that this prisoner was actually waterboarded over one hundred an eighty times.

And it's not like the previous administration's defenders have changed their tune or changed their methods. Consider this compilation of Fox News reaction to the release of these memos:

Pay particular attention to announcer Steve Doocie around minute 00:35 saying: "The stories are that those bad guys spilled some beans that saved some lives." That is supposed to be journalism? Relying, not even unnamed or anonymous sources, but on "stories," or, in other words, rumors? It's nothing short of pathetic; a naked propaganda offensive thinly disguised as journalism.

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