According to Washington Post article today, CIA director George Tenet pushed for the written confirmations of support, wary of legal entanglements for CIA personnel involved in the abusive interrogation program. He first asked and received the CIA's get-out-of-jail card in June 2003, and then again after the Abu Ghraib story broke in mid-2004.
Administration officials confirmed the existence of the memos, but neither they nor former intelligence officers would describe their contents in detail because they remain classified. The sources all spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not cleared to discuss the events....Whether or not the CIA blackmailed or just plain scared the White House into coughing up written "top cover" secret memos, lawyers from Bush's Office of Legal Counsel had already approved the use of torture on so-called "enemy combatant" detainees. In fact, as has been recently documented, the Bush Administration's interest in the use of torture in interrogations began as early as December 2001, when "senior Department of Defense officials, including from General Counsel William J. 'Jim' Haynes’s office, sought out information from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD agency responsible for overseeing SERE training." (SERE stands for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, and is a program originally developed to train U.S. military personnel to withstand harsh interrogation.) The information sought? How to "exploit" prisoners by reverse-engineering SERE's torture inoculation program to "break" detainees.
"The CIA believed then, and now, that the program was useful and helped save lives," said a former senior intelligence official knowledgeable about the events. "But in the agency's view, it was like this: 'We don't want to continue unless you tell us in writing that it's not only legal but is the policy of the administration.' "
One administration official familiar with the meetings said the CIA made such a convincing case that no one questioned whether the methods were necessary to prevent further terrorist attacks.
"The CIA had the White House boxed in," said the official. "They were saying, 'It's the only way to get the information we needed, and -- by the way -- we think there's another attack coming up.' It left the principals in an extremely difficult position and put the decision-making on a very fast track."
But others who were present said Tenet seemed more interested in protecting his subordinates than in selling the administration on a policy that administration lawyers had already authorized.
The solicitation of SERE by DoD officials out of Secretary Rumsfeld's office is not necessarily separate from the CIA story, as key SERE figures, such as psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, were also contract employees of the CIA, as far back as the Spring 2002 interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Other CIA behavioral scientists have been known to work on research regarding biological markers of stress utilizing subjects from the SERE program.
As the real story behind the use of torture by the United States emerges it will throw a light upon the interpenetration of CIA, Special Forces, and regular military personnel and command. Only by understanding that the latter is a regular, if unmonitored occurrence, going back some decades now, can one begin to piece together the byzantine workings of the black op program that was/is "enhanced interrogation."
It's nice to know that smoking gun memos authorizing interrogation techniques forbidden by U.S. and international law actually exist, as they will be key exhibits in future war crimes trials against officials of the Bush Administration. But the use of torture by the United States is not just a post-9/11 phenomenon. The Kubark document, which was the CIA's counterintelligence interrogation manual from the early 1960s, specifically lists many techniques of psychological torture. The same is true for of the 1983 Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual, utilized by the CIA to train foreign agents. As a matter of side interest, Dick Cheney himself was involved in the cover-up of U.S. torture when the latter document was made public in 1993.
Bush's use of torture, as egregious as it has been, is not the first, and I fear, not the last such use in U.S. history. In fact, since at least the early 1950s, when millions were spent by the government to research psychological torture, torture itself has been a crucial if inhumane and illegal weapon in the U.S. arsenal. The tentacles of its use, from research involving hundreds of scientists and academic institutions to the lies and cover-ups perpetuated by the establishment media, are impossibly long and entangled. The research and implementation of torture has directly caused the evisceration of ethical standards in U.S. institutions across the board.
Some call for a truth commission to get to the bottom of this mess. Others would rather see trials, to put those responsible for crimes against humanity before the bar of justice. As a society, we'd better do something quick, because the trend of history is working against us, and nothing yet has stopped the U.S. state from engaging in the worst kinds of abuse, not resolutions, not judicial decisions, not public protest, not even, up until now, changes of administrations.
Hat-tips on this posting to Candace Gorman and The Talking Dog.