I’m actually glad that [Zero Dark Thirty] won essentially half of an award, for sound editing, as that’s somehow more cruel than if it just won nothing.
John Brennan has repeatedly supported illiegal torture policies, and is a strong advocate of increased drone attacks without providing an explanation of the legal basis for their use. It is an outrage that Brennan is the president’s choice to head the CIA. Glenn Greenwald has the details in this article.
Here is an excerpt:
Prior to President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, a controversy erupted over reports that he intended to appoint John Brennan as CIA director. That controversy, in which I participated, centered around the fact that Brennan, as a Bush-era CIA official, had expressly endorsed Bush’s programs of torture (other than waterboarding) and rendition and also was a vocal advocate of immunizing lawbreaking telecoms for their role in the illegal Bush NSA eavesdropping program. As a result, Brennan withdrew his name from consideration, issuing a bitter letter blaming “strong criticism in some quarters prompted by [his] previous service with the” CIA.
This “victory” of forcing Brennan’s withdrawal proved somewhat Pyrrhic, as Obama then appointed him as his top counter-terrorism adviser, where he exerted at least as much influence as he would have had as CIA Director, if not more. In that position, Brennan last year got caught outright lying when he claimed Obama’s drone program caused no civilian deaths in Pakistan over the prior year. He also spouted complete though highly influential falsehoods to the world in the immediate aftermath of the Osama bin Laden killing, including claiming that bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with Navy SEALS and had “used his wife as a human shield”. Brennan has also been in charge of many of Obama’s most controversial and radical policies, including “signature strikes” in Yemen – targeting people without even knowing who they are – and generally seizing the power to determine who will be marked for execution without any due process, oversight or transparency.
As it typically does in the US National Security State, all of that deceit and radicalism is resulting not in recrimination or loss of credibility for Brennan, but in reward and promotion.
- CIA Nominee Brennan Has Obama’s ‘Complete Trust’ (npr.org)
- John Brennan chosen by Barack Obama as new CIA head (telegraph.co.uk)
- Official: Obama to tap Brennan as CIA director (cnn.com)
Zero Dark Thirty, the new film depicting the hunt for and killing of Osama bin Laden, depicts graphic images of torture and implies that the torture provided “actionable” intelligence.
However, three US Senators, Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain vehemently contend that this country use of (illegal) torture did not provide any aid in tracking down bin Laden. And they do so in a letter to Sony Pictures that made the film.
We understand that the film is fiction, but it opens with the words ‘based on first-hand accounts of actual events’ and there has been significant media coverage of the CIA’s cooperation with the screenwriters. As you know, the film graphically depicts CIA officers repeatedly torturing detainees and then credits these detainees with providing critical lead information on the courier that led to Osama bin Laden. Regardless of what message the filmmakers intended to convey, the movie clearly implies that the CIA’s coercive interrogation techniques were effective in eliciting important information related to a courier for Osama bin Laden. We have reviewed CIA records and know that this is incorrect. Zero Dark Thirty is factually inaccurate, and we believe that you have an obligation to state that the role of torture in the hunt for Osama bin Laden is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film’s fictional narrative.
More from The Hollywood Reporter.
- Is the new Osama bin Laden snuff flick “Zero Dark Thirty” pro-torture? (boingboing.net)
- CIA challenges accuracy of ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ (security.blogs.cnn.com)
- Kathryn Bigelow, Torture Apologist? Ctd (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Acting CIA Director Says ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Is “Not A Realistic Portrayal Of The Facts” (m.deadline.com)
I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine ‘black sites’ and the use of so-called enhanced-interrogation techniques were terrible mistakes. The majority of the committee agrees.
– Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announcing the approval by that Committee of a detailed report describing the CIA’s detention and torture program following 9/11. The report is currently classified.
Feinstein also stated that the report:
…includes details of each detainee in C.I.A. custody, the conditions under which they were detained, how they were interrogated, the intelligence they actually provided and the accuracy — or inaccuracy — of C.I.A. descriptions about the program to the White House, Department of Justice, Congress and others.
It is time that a full examination of this country’s use of torture is fully and openly investigated. Such an open investigation is necessary for the country as a whole to know what was done in its name and thereby avoid repeating such immoral crimes in the future.
Also yesterday, Khaled el-Masri, a German national who was mistaken for a terrorist and abducted nine years ago, won a hearing in the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that his rights had been violated and confirmed his account that he had been seized by Macedonia, handed over to the C.I.A., and then brutalized and detained for months in Afghanistan. This finding, in a court created by many of our allies, may well provide a trigger for further investigations by such allies even if the US fails to prepare a full recounting of the abuse. Needless to say, the CIA “refused to comment” on the unanimous ruling. More details here.
- “Court Finds Rights Violation in C.I.A. Rendition Case” (lawprofessors.typepad.com)
- Kathryn Bigelow, Torture Apologist? (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Senate Intelligence Committee decries CIA torture as ‘terrible mistakes’ (rawstory.com)
- Senate under pressure to release mammoth report on CIA interrogation (guardian.co.uk)
- Senate committee approves report on CIA interrogations, revives torture debate – Reuters (reuters.com)
Cheney is trying, in short, to draw us back into the same tiresome debate over the efficacy of torture, which is about as compelling as a debate about the efficacy of slavery or Jim Crow laws. Only fools debate whether patently illegal programs “work”—only fools or those who have been legally implicated in designing the programs in the first place. … Cheney gets away with saying torture is “legal” even though it isn’t because if it were truly illegal, he and those who devised the torture regime would have faced legal consequences—somewhere, somehow. That’s the meaning of the “rule of law.”
If Dick Cheney really believes that authorizing torture is legal, let’s see him travel to Europe, or virtually anywhere else in the world. It won’t happen because he almost certainly would be immediately arrested.
- I Guess Torture Is Legal Now (newser.com)
- Cheney memoir: Just because he believes in torture, we don’t have to. (slate.com)
- Rev. Richard L. Killmer: No Matter What Cheney Says, Torture Is Never Acceptable (huffingtonpost.com)
Conor Friedersdorf, writing in The Atlantic, describes, in great detail and with ample citations exactly why Dick Cheney is loathed by so many. Lies about WMD, lies about an Iraq/Al-Qaeda connection, impassioned support for torture, and on and on.
Well worth a full read to remind yourself just how bad he was.
Despite these questions and uncertainties, and having full awareness of them, the vice president nevertheless proceeded to misrepresent the facts in his public statements [leading up to the Iraq War], claiming that there was no doubt about the existence of chemical and biological weapons in Iraq and that a full-scale nuclear program was known to exist, including: (a) March 17, 2002: “We know they have biological and chemical weapons.” (b) March 19, 2002: “We know they are pursuing nuclear weapons.” (c) March 24, 2002: “He is actively pursuing nuclear weapons.” (d) May 19, 2002: “We know he’s got chemical and biological…we know he’s working on nuclear.” (e) August 26, 2002: “We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons… Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction. There is no doubt that he is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us.” (f) March 16, 2003: “We believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons.”
– quotation from article quoting Wil S. Hylton
- Darth Cheney, unleashed. (lawafterthebar.wordpress.com)
- “[Dick Cheney]‘s developed an angst and almost a protective cover, and now he fears being tried…” (shortformblog.tumblr.com)
- Dick Cheney autobiography heaps praise on Tony Blair (guardian.co.uk)
- Dick Cheney Memoir Tries To Rewrite History, Critics Claim (huffingtonpost.com)
Most importantly, we should be talking about the morality of torture, not its efficacy. When the U.S. infantry becomes bogged down in a tough battle, they don’t turn to chemical weapons even though they are extremely effective. The reason they don’t is because such weapons are illegal and immoral.
– Matthew Alexander, former senior U.S. military interrogator, on why justifying torture of terrorism suspects on the grounds of results is indefensible.
The Obama Justice Department will investigate the deaths of two prisoners under the control of the CIA for possible criminal violations. Good step.
But what the DOJ gives with one hand, they more than take away with the other. The cases of approximately 100 other detainees are now closed.
This is unfortunate. The only way to get past the past torture committed by the United States is a full and honest accounting of such practices so as to reduce the chances of the abuses occurring again. Whether it is via a criminal investigation or an independent review not resulting in criminal charges, such an accounting is critical.
- DOJ Conducting Criminal Investigation of Deaths of Two Detainees (legaltimes.typepad.com)
- Creepy handwritten notes of CIA psychologist who helped design US torture techniques for terror detainees (boingboing.net)
Mistreatment of enemy prisoners endangers our own troops, who might someday be held captive. While some enemies, and al-Qaeda surely, will never be bound by the principle of reciprocity, we should have concern for those Americans captured by more conventional enemies, if not in this war then in the next.
Though it took a decade to find bin Laden, there is one consolation for his long evasion of justice: He lived long enough to witness what some are calling the Arab Spring, the complete repudiation of his violent ideology.
As we debate how the United States can best influence the course of the Arab Spring, can’t we all agree that the most obvious thing we can do is stand as an example of a nation that holds an individual’s human rights as superior to the will of the majority or the wishes of government? Individuals might forfeit their life as punishment for breaking laws, but even then, as recognized in our Constitution’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, they are still entitled to respect for their basic human dignity, even if they have denied that respect to others.
All of these arguments have the force of right, but they are beside the most important point. Ultimately, this is more than a utilitarian debate. This is a moral debate. It is about who we are.
– Senator John McCain, in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post yesterday.
- The torture “debate”: Torture is still immoral and ineffective. Bin Laden’s death doesn’t change that. (slate.com)
- “The case against waterboarding never rested primarily on its usefulness. It rested on its wrongfulness.” (reason.com)
And Barry Rithotz has written a very comprehensive round-up of evidence.
This is a subject I know something about. I was a student at the DIA interrogation school i[n] 1969. I worked as an interrogator/debriefer for three years after that working for the DIA. One of the first things we discussed was torture – and yes water boarding is torture. We were reminded that torture is against both US and international law. We were reminded that we executed Japanese who had water boarded Americans. More importantly we were instructed that torture is ineffective. When you torture people they tell you what they think you want to hear – anything they think you want to hear. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. You may get some good intelligence from torture but you are going to get a lot more bad intelligence which will both send us down the wrong road and endanger US troops and agents. Torture has historically been used to get false confessions – you can ask John McCain about that.
There has been lots of talk but no evidence that torture contributed to the death of Osama bin Laden. There is no evidence that torture has contributed to any worth while intelligence.
- Torture is still Torture, and it is Still Illegal. (jonathanturley.org)
- No, Torture Was Irrelevant (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- The New York Times’s tortured line on torture | Dan Kennedy (guardian.co.uk)
- The Epistemology of Torture Justification (delong.typepad.com)
- Alberto Gonzales Explains Why Torture Didn’t Work Even While Defending It (emptywheel.firedoglake.com)
The short answer is yes.
For purposes of international law, Article 51 of the United Nations Charter clearly provides states with a right of self-defense:
Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.
bin Laden claimed credit for the attack on 9/11, the largest loss of life on American soil caused by foreign attack. His killing was a legitimate response to the attack. As Lindsey Graham said this week:
“From a Navy SEAL perspective, you had to believe that this guy [Osama bin Laden] was a walking IED,” an improvised explosive device, said Graham.
“I think the SEALS had to believe that the moment they encountered [bin Laden] that they were well within their right. Shooting him as soon as possible probably protected everyone, including the SEALS, women and children,” he said. “The moment they saw bin Laden they had to consider him a threat. “
As for US law, there are several bases for the action’s legality. First, Section 2(a) of Public Law 107-40, Authorization for Use of Military Force, authorizes the President to “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.” bin Laden, having admitted responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, certainly qualifies as a person who planned or authorized the attack. And he repeatedly stated he would plan future attacks.
Second, bin Laden was essentially a war general. As such, he was subject to military targeting.
Ilya Somin, a professor at George Mason University’s School of Law, echoed Greenberg’s argument that “targeting individual enemy combatants in war is perfectly legal and moral”.
Somin points at US targeting of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the Japanese fleet during World War II, and the British and the Czechs’ killing of German SS General Reinhard Heydrick in 1942, as precedents.
“Surely international law does not give terrorist leaders greater protection than that enjoyed by uniformed soldiers such as Admiral Yamamoto.”
“And if it is legal to individually target the commander of a uniformed military force, it is surely equally legal to target the leader of a terrorist organisation, including Osama bin Laden,” he told Al Jazeera.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, torture is never legal under either US domestic and treaty law. When an alleged combatant is captured it is not lawful to subject the prisoner to torture. There are no exceptions.
The United States has always prohibited the use of torture in our Constitution, laws executive statements and judicial decisions. We have ratified three treaties that all outlaw torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. When the United States ratifies a treaty, it becomes part of the Supreme Law of the Land under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”
Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions. He must be protected against torture, mutilation, cruel treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment under, Common Article 3.
The Common Article III of Geneva Convention, of which the US is a signatory, provides, in part, as follows with respect to prisoners of war defined as individuals who have “fallen under the power of the enemy”:
Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.
Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.
Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.
In other words, torture of a prisoner already under a government’s total control is never a legal form of self-defense.
So far I know of no information that was obtained, that would have been useful, by ‘advanced interrogation.’ In fact, according to published reports … some of the key people who knew about this courrier denied it.
Where there is published information in the various newspapers and media that the information about this courier was intercepted conversation between two individuals — that’s as far as I know. I stand on the side of the United States and by the Geneva conventions, of which we are signatories, which we were in violation of by waterboarding.
– US Senator John McCain
- John McCain: Waterboarding Didn’t Help Get Bin Laden (alan.com)
- John McCain: No Evidence Waterboarding Helped Find Bin Laden (outsidethebeltway.com)
- Torture Still not OK (spillingink.net)
Several Bush administration officials, including the despicable John Yoo who authored legal memoranda authorizing torture, are claiming that the “enhanced interrogation techniques” aka torture implemented by the Bush administration is responsible for the killing of bin Laden. This is not true.
As reported in today’s New York Times:
… a closer look at prisoner interrogations suggests that the harsh techniques played a small role at most in identifying Bin Laden’s trusted courier and exposing his hide-out. One detainee who apparently was subjected to some tough treatment provided a crucial description of the courier, according to current and former officials briefed on the interrogations. But two prisoners who underwent some of the harshest treatment — including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was waterboarded 183 times — repeatedly misled their interrogators about the courier’s identity.
In today’s Wall Street Journal, John Yoo claims:
Sunday’s success also vindicates the Bush administration, whose intelligence architecture marked the path to bin Laden’s door. According to current and former administration officials, CIA interrogators gathered the initial information that ultimately led to bin Laden’s death. The United States located al Qaeda’s leader by learning the identity of a trusted courier from the tough interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 attacks, and his successor, Abu Faraj al-Libi.
It is really a bit sad that some Republicans believe that they will take credit for torture in order to get a bit of credit for bin Laden’s slaying. Keep in mind that career prosecutors in the Department of Justice concluded that, in drafting the memos supporting terrorism, Yoo used flawed legal reasoning. And whatever small value torture may have produced is not the worth the cost of the erosion of our traditional values of decency and humanity. And note, below, that even Donald Rumsfeld confirms that waterboarding did not lead to bin Laden.
- The Big Lie: Torture Got Bin Laden (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
- Waterboarding Timeline Shows Torture Did Not Lead To Getting Bin Laden (alan.com)
- Rumsfeld confirms: Waterboarding did not net intelligence that led to bin Laden (dailykos.com)
- Senate Intel Chair Feinstein adds voice to those saying torture did not expose bin Laden’s hideout (dailykos.com)
- Surveillance, Not Waterboarding, Led to bin Laden (wired.com)