As with the evidence that Bush, Cheney, and gang intentionally lied us into a war, or the evidence of illegal and unconstitutional spying, each time a major new piece of evidence of torture emerges, it is impossible not to hope that this is the one that will compel the Justice Department or Congress or the courts or the American people to act decisively. Certainly I hope that, right now, the day after Mark Danner reported on a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross.
But let’s not kid ourselves. Everyone has known that the United States was torturing for years. Congress has known it so well that it has both attempted to legislate immunity for the torturers (through the McCain Amendment to the Detainee Treatment Act and through the Military Commissions Act) and put on a show of attempting to “ban” torture, despite its having already been illegal under U.S. law and treaties to which the United States is a party. We’ve witnessed high profile lobbying competitions over whether or not Congress should “ban” torture again. We’ve seen President Bush declare his right to torture in signing statements. And we’ve seen Congress respond to those with renewed proposals to yet again “ban” torture. President Obama was elected promising to stop the torturing, and has announced that he is doing so, as well as that he will someday close one of the many places we illegally detain people without charge. But torture in that place (Guantanamo) has reportedly worsened, and Obama is not letting independent groups in to observe.
There are publicly available videotapes of Bush (April 11, 2008; Jan. 11, 2009) and Cheney (Dec. 15, 2008) confessing to authorizing torture. There are reports and photographs and videotapes from Abu Ghraib, some of which certain members of Congress have seen but the public has not. There are reports from dozens and dozens of victims, and from torturers and jailers. There are dozens of dead bodies, victims of torture, identified, and the torture techniques used to kill them identified. (This is separate from Cheney’s assassination squad recently reported on by Seymour Hersh, which may not have used torture as its murder technique.) There are full-blown public scandals in nearby and allied nations like Canada, Britain, and Germany, over our torture of their citizens. Italy is trying members of our secret government in absentia for kidnapping a man in their country and having him tortured. Victims from around the world are suing former members of our government and corporations involved in the crimes, and Eric Holder’s Justice Department is opposing those efforts, seeking to keep information secret and prevent accountability for crimes. Obama’s administration is threatening the British government in order to do the same.
“Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo,” by Murat Kurnaz resulted in this one victim of torture speaking to a largely empty U.S. Congressional committee hearing via satellite. After he’d told part of his story, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher told him that the United States was at war and needed to protect itself even at the price of making some errors.
Publicly available are numerous memos, orders, and directives through which President Bush authorized torture and obtained “legal” views that illegality was now legal. Here are two collections: One, Two. Many more such documents are already known and identified, but not yet released by Bush or Obama. We have reports from torturers and participants on the US side. We have reports that draw on the testimony of both participants and victims. We have books that draw on the testimony of participants and the findings of secret government reports, books like Jane Mayer’s “The Dark Side”, Philippe Sands’ “The Torture Team”, Jack Goldsmith’s “The Terror Presidency”, Steven Wax’s “Kafka Comes To America”, and Andy Worthington’s “The Guantanamo Files”. We have reports that organize and summarize the information in these books. We have a report from the Senate Armed Services Committee detailing the authorization of torture by Bush and his subordinates, and rumors that a stronger report has been kept secret. We have reports that a Department of Justice report that is being kept secret contains Emails in which the White House asked the Department of Justice for its illegal “legal” opinions. (Activists are demanding a special prosecutor investigation, while just releasing that report would hammer home the fact that no investigation is needed prior to indictments.) We know that the CIA destroyed 92 “interrogation” tapes, and we have a good idea from Danner’s report on the Red Cross report what’s on most of the tapes.
Danner reports in the New York Times and the New York Review of Books on the accounts given to the Red Cross by 14 victims of US torture in secret foreign sites who were later transferred to Guantanamo. Each use of torture was approved from Washington by such people as Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and John Ashcroft, who were briefed almost daily by George Tenet. Danner draws some obvious conclusions, none of which are new: : read on