Posts Tagged ‘John Yoo’

John Yoo’s Scandalous Affair With George W. Bush!

Monday, January 11th, 2010

Is it okay to laugh at a clever remark by a man who instituted torture in America with his infamous and incompetent “torture memos”? Well, when the line is this – I’d have to say sure. John Yoo as interviewed by Deborah Solomon for the New York Times, as she tries to press him for how close he was to George W. Bush – and he demurs, explaining that he was low-ranking rather than really answering the question:

Q: So you’re saying you were just one notch above an intern, you and Monica Lewinsky?
A: She was much closer to the president than I ever was.

Stay tuned for Jon Stewart’s interview of Yoo tonight. Given how Stewart has taken on the architects of the Iraq war when they appeared on the show, there seems little doubt he will go after Yoo regarding his extraordinary legal justifications for the expansion of the powers of the executive branch, and most specifically, for the torture memos. Yoo, for his part, seems as if he will try to dodge the questions with cute one-liners as he did in this interview – which he does rather well I would say.

[Image by sixes and sevens licensed under Creative Commons.]

Framing the Torture Debate

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

This isn’t a definitive timeline of the debate over torture in America. These are merely some highlights.

On September 11, 2001 we were attacked by militant islamists as they took advantage of the openness of our society and our technology and committed one of the most foul atrocities in history.

By September 12, 2001, everything had changed for those in power – and for many of us – “The sense of danger in the White House was urgent, palpable.” An associate of Condi Rice explained:

We really thought we were going to be attacked – possibly chemical, biological, even nuclear, the potential that they could blow up entire American cities…And then CIA came and said, ‘You know, this is the only way to question these people. Our experts say this is the only program that will work.’ And Justice said that the [Geneva Conventions] didn’t apply…and that the agency program did comply with the torture statute.

Others in the White House described a feeling of panic imbuing all their actions.

On September 16, 2001Dick Cheney appeared on Meet the Press:

I think the important thing here, Tim, is for people to understand that, you know, things have changed since last Tuesday…We…have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.

On August 1, 2002, what becomes known as the Bybee torture memo, written apparently by his deputy John Yoo, re-defines torture as physical pain:

equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.

It is not known if all of the techniques justified using this legal shield have been made public – but a partial list includes:

  • Suffocation by water (waterboarding, or traditionally, the water torture);
  • Prolonged stress standing position, naked, held with the arms extended and chained above the head…
  • Beatings by use of a collar held around the detainees’ neck and used to forcefully bang the head and body against the wall…
  • Beating and kicking, including slapping, punching, kicking to the body and face…
  • Confinement in a box to severely restrict movement…
  • Prolonged nudity…this enforced nudity lasted for periods ranging from several weeks to several months…
  • Sleep deprivation…through use of forced stress positions (standing or sitting), cold water and use of repetitive loud noises or music…
  • Exposure to cold temperature…especially via cold cells and interrogation rooms, and…use of cold water poured over the body or…held around the body by means of a plastic sheet to create an immersion bath with just the head out of water.
  • Prolonged shackling of hands and/or feet…
  • Threats of ill-treatment, to the detainee and/or his family…
  • Forced shaving of the head and beard…
  • Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food from 3 days to 1 month after arrest…

Sometime in 2002John Ashcroft exclaims during a meeting of the cabinet-level officials going over the details of how detainees are being interrogated:

History will not judge this kindly.

Donald Rumsfeld writes on 2002 memo describing interrogation techniques:

I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to four hours?

Rumsfeld presumably stood at a desk, using it for support and moved around – a very different experience than “forced standing,” a former Communist torture technique which can result in physical effects which Red Cross reports described in detainees:

After 18 to 24 hours of continuous standing, there is an accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the legs. This dependent edema is produced by the extravasation of fluid from the blood vessels. The ankles and feet of the prisoner swell to twice their normal circumference. The edema may rise up the legs as high as the middle of the thighs. The skin becomes tense and intensely painful. Large blisters develop, which break and exude watery serum….

Beginning in 2004, photographs from the Abu Ghraib scandal surface:

Christopher Hitchens – after publicaly calling waterboarding and the other interrogation methods used merely “extreme interrogation” and not “outright torture” – accepts a challenge to undergo it himself. He comes away a changed man:

Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as sere (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave men and women were introduced to the sorts of barbarism that they might expect to meet at the hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the Geneva Conventions. But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict…

[I]f waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

Deroy Murdok writes in the National Review:

Waterboarding is something of which every American should be proud.

 

Former CIA operative Barry Eisler:

[T]orture is also an excellent way to get the subject to confess to anything at all, which is why it was a wonderful tool for the Spanish Inquisition and for the secret police of assorted totalitarian regimes. But if the goal is to produce accurate, actionable intelligence, torture is madness… To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, torture is worse than immoral: it’s tactically stupid. It produces false confessions, which can be used to confirm mistaken suspicions and even outright policy fantasies; it instills an insatiable thirst for vengeance in most people who are subjected to it, and so creates new, dedicated enemies; it permanently brutalizes its practitioners; and it cuts us off from intelligence from the local populace because so many people will refuse to inform on someone if they fear he’ll be tortured.

On October 15, 2004, Justice John Stevens wrote:

For if this nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny.

On June 14, 2005, Senator Dick Durbin gave a controversial speech in which he read from an FBI report of detainee interrogations:

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime – Pol Pot or others – that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners

Malcolm Nance, a former SERE interrogator explained that Senator Dick Durbin was right:

Now, at long last, six years of denials can now be swept aside, and we can say definitively: America engaged in torture and legalized it through paperwork.

Despite all the gyrations – the ducking, dodging and hiding from the facts – there is no way to say that these people were not authorizing torture. Worse yet, they seem to have not cared a wit that these techniques came from the actual manuals of communist, fascist and totalitarian torturers.

On September 28, 2005, Captain Ian Fishback wrote a letter to Senator John McCain:

…the most important question that this generation will answer [is] Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession.I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is “America.

On November 4, 2005, Senator John McCain explained his opposition to torture:

I have said it before but it bears repeating: The enemy we fight has no respect for human life or human rights. They don’t deserve our sympathy. But this isn’t about who they are. This is about who we are. These are the values that distinguish us from our enemies, and we can never, never allow our enemies to take those values away.

On January 19, 2009Dick Cheney explained to the Weekly Standard

I think on the left wing of the Democratic party, there are some people who believe that we really tortured…

On January 14, 2009, Bob Woodward interviewed the top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial in the Washington Post:

“We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,” said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.

On January 22, 2009, a day after taking office, Barack Obama said:

I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture.

In April 2009, Mark Danner in the New York Review of Books:

[T]he political logic is insidious and, in the aftermath of a future attack, might well prove compelling…

The only way to defuse the political volatility of torture and to remove it from the center of the “politics of fear” is to replace its lingering mystique, owed mostly to secrecy, with authoritative and convincing information about how it was really used and what it really achieved.

On April 20, 2009, Dick Cheney told Sean Hannity:

I’ve now formally asked the CIA to take steps to declassify those memos so we can lay them out there and the American people have a chance to see what we obtained and what we learned and how good the intelligence was, as well as to see this debate over the legal opinions.

In spring 2008, Eric Holder explained:

We owe the American people a reckoning.

On March 18, 2008 Dawn Johnsen, who has been appointed to head Obama’s Office of Legal Counsel which was responsible for the legal opinions cited above wrote in in Slate:

We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation’s past transgressions and reject Bush’s corruption of our American ideals. Our constitutional democracy cannot survive with a government shrouded in secrecy, nor can our nation’s honor be restored without full disclosure.

On April 19, 2009, Peggy Noonan on This Week With George Stephanopoulos:

Some things in life need to be mysterious … Sometimes you need to just keep walking.

(All emphases within quotations are my own.)

This is where we stand today – thanks to the courage of heroes within the Bush administration and the military who stood for American values in a time of crisis and against preemptive surrender of our way of life and thanks to the courage of journalists from Mark Danner to Andrew Sullivan to Glenn Greenwald to Dana Priest to Jane Mayer who exposed these secret actions.

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The Significance of Jack Bauer

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Dahlia Lithwick in Newsweek:

The most influential legal thinker in the development of modern American interrogation policy is not a behavioral psychologist, international lawyer or counterinsurgency expert…the prime mover of American interrogation doctrine is none other than the star of Fox television’s “24,” Jack Bauer.

Though Lithwick’s statement may sound like an exaggeration, the most common defense of America’s torture policy has been to invoke the character of Jack Bauer on 24. John Yoo, Diane Beaver, Michael Chertoff, Tom Tancredo, and most famously Antonin Scalia have all invoked the TV show 24 in describing and defending national security law under George W. Bush. U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, saw the show’s influence as so pernicious that he he flew to visit the show’s producers to ask them to stop representing torture in such a positive light as it was undermining national security:

[Brigadier General] Finnegan told the producers that “24,” by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country’s image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

It sounds as if the gullible students in Finnegan’s class have taken their lead from Justice Scalia who, in defending the extraordinary measures of the Bush administration, asked: 

Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles…He saved hundreds of thousands of lives…Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?

Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, whose legal memoranda aided the justification torture, claimed that Jack Bauer “gave people lots of ideas” about how to interrogate prisoners.

One thing that most of these defenders of torture do not mention – and that many opponents of torture fail to bring up – is that torture doesn’t seem to work. This is in many respects a secondary question – as the morality of torture and the “by any means necessary” approach of Jack Bauer as well as the Bush administration is debated. But Matthew Alexander, a pseodonym for a military interrogator who led the team that found Abu al-Zarqawi in Iraq, has been a vocal defender of the view that torture is an inefficient and counterproductive interrogation tool. The FBI has long maintained that their methods are proven and get reliable information from subjects – as opposed to the new torture techniques that do not. Neither the Nazis nor the Communists interrogated their high-value detainees – not because of their respect for human rights, but because they saw what was most effective. The greatest Nazi interrogator was a Hanns-Joachim Schraff who never even raised his voice, let alone tortured his subjects. He was one of the few top Nazis not tried for war crimes. Matthew Alexander – the man who got the intelligence that led to Zarqawi’s death – was one of the few adherents to Schraff’s view of interrogation in Iraq. His interrogation tools, rather than fear, violence, torture, religious persecution, and intimidation were “respect, rapport, hope, cunning, and deception.” 

Ann Applebaum points to the obvious question:

Given the overwhelmingly negative evidence, the really interesting question is not whether torture works but why so many people in our society want to believe that it works.

It may be unfair to blame 24 for this belief in the efficacy of torture. There is something deeper at work here than the propaganda of a television show. But 24 puts forth a persuasive cultural argument in which the extreme circumstances that occur every hour on the show justify extreme actions (such as threatening to harm an infant, mock executions of children; regular torture) are then used to justify American policies.

Attorney-Client Privilege

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

In commenting on the Torture Memo scandal (that has incidentally gotten far less attention than Bittergate), Stephen Gillers of The Nation brings up an important point:

The lawyers told the President what he wanted to hear, but the nation was their client, and its sole interest was in thorough and independent legal analysis. Neither the President’s political agenda nor the authors’ views of what the law should say can be allowed to slant the OLC’s work. So maybe the best and brightest lawyers got it so wrong because they forgot whom they served. Maybe they acted politically, not professionally. If so, we are dealing with a perversion of law and legal duty, a betrayal of the client and professional norms, not mere incompetence, which would be bad enough.  Whatever the reason, [H. Marshall Jarrett, counsel for the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility] should find that this work is not “consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of Justice attorneys.” Jarrett must hold the lawyers accountable if he means to restore OLC’s reputation and vindicate the rule of law.

It’s an important point to make – and one which undermines those who argue that John Yoo and other lawyers who justified explicitly illegal actions were just providing legal advice to their client.  Not only was their advice bad, but they were bowing to the pressure of a third party that wasn’t their client.

At the same time, if the nation itself is their client, rather than the president, they are required to be more independent than the Bush administration’s view of the executive branch allows for.  Unlike in a monarchy, neither the president as an individual nor the presidency as an office is considered to solely represent or speak for the nation.  At least that was what the founders thought.

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Yoo are too Clever by a Half

Friday, April 11th, 2008

Dahlia Lithwick, one of my favorite writers, proves that she sees the dangerous precedent set by John Yoo and the current administration:1

The Bush administration has proven time and again that the Rule of Law is only as definitive as its most inventive lawyers.

I’ve been watching a lot of Westerns recently – El Dorado, 3:10 to Yuma (the new version), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Man From Laramie, Winchester ’73. The older of these movies that defined masculinity during the Golden Age of Gender Roles in the 1950s – “the strong, silent type” as Tony Soprano memorably described it, echoing many before him. What these movies are about – at their core and often explicitly – is how the Rule of Law came to the West. It was not always brought through the most ideal means. Often the honorable brigands and hired guns helped the sheriff establish civilization. But it came – and it was fought for – and men and women died so that the Rule of Law might be brought to their small towns, and many died for the lack of it.

Now today, right wing radio talk show hosts from Dennis Miller to Steve Malzberg talk about the Rule of Law as if it were a sissification, as if it were a feminine value, as if it made a civilization weak. They – and those in power – who dodged and pulled strings to avoid military service (another mark against their purported standard of masculinity) malign those who have stood up for the rule of law2 – from John Kerry to Max Cleeland – as cowards and traitors and “girly men”.

As I’ve argued before – it is astounding that those who advocate the preemptive surrender of American values in the face of terrorism have been able to portray those who stand for the Rule of Law as effete snobs who want to surrender to terrorists. Yet based on the standard of masculinity that many of these “conservatives” regularly invoke – the 1950s man, the cowboy – they are failures. The cowboys in these old Westerns – these brigands and thieves and hired guns and sheriffs – fought to bring the Rule of Law to the Wild West. The movies are often bittersweet, as the world in which these men thrived – a lawless and vicious yet exciting and new wasteland – is “civilized” and they are made obsolete. But these men – and they are all men in these Westerns – still fight for justice, which is held to be brought about only by the Rule of Law.

What John Yoo and the Bush administration suggest, without saying outright, is that the Rule of Law – the concept that all individuals are equal before the law – is obsolete and dangerous. They believe that the Rule of Law does not need to be upheld when government officials are trying to deal with terrorism. Therefore, telecommunication companies that broke the law should be immunized; CIA officers who have tortured individuals should not be held accountable; neither the president nor his lawyers nor his advisors nor the Secretary of the Defense should be forced to follow the law or to face consequences if they do not. The overwhelming, overriding impulse must be to take any measure necessary to prevent terrorism – even if there is only a 1% chance of an attack, it must be treated as if it were certain, and it must be prevented by any means necessary. 3 This is a prescription for tyranny. 4 But perhaps worse from the perspective of those “conservatives” who like to dress up their president as a cowboy or Air Force pilot, it is cowardly.

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  1. This particular post has actually appeared on the site several times before in the past week due to errors on my part. This is the definitive version. []
  2. And often did serve. []
  3. Though this sounds like an exaggeration, it is precisely what Vice President Dick Cheney articulated and it is what that Ron Suskind demonstrated has informed administration policy since September 11. []
  4. Let me be clear – I do not believe we are there. But I think this clearly is the danger we face. The difference between a liberal democracy and a tyranny is the Rule of Law. []