Sunday, April 26, 2009

Blair's comments to the CIA about torture

For several days various right-wingers have been claiming that Admiral Blair's memo to CIA staff justifies the Bush Administration's use of torture. I think Blair's comments are being overblown. He said this: "High value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa'ida organization that was attacking this country"

I don't read that as a claim that attacks were thwarted or that lives were saved. I read that as a claim that the "high value information" was all or mostly background. A "deeper understanding" could justly be described as "high value", but it is decidedly not what those pushing for torture claimed that torture was needed to provide.

Let's not forget, this was a memo to CIA staff, and so we can expect that he would not directly attack the people who work for him. Given that, I read the statement as the most positive spin possible to put on the facts -- and presumably he is in a position to know if somebody gave up information that thwarted an attack as a result of being tortured.

I find another of his statements revealing, too -- the one that "... I will absolutely defend those who carried out the interrogations within the orders they were given." Since we know that interrogators frequently exceeded even the wide latitude that the torture memos allowed them, this looks to me like a statement that he would not oppose prosecutions of those who didn't keep to the letter of the memos.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Torture CYA?

Hilzoy makes another valuable contribution to the discussion of the torture memos, and observes that "not a single one of the cases in which the United States has prosecuted people for waterboarding turns up in these memos".

There's also some interesting CYA going on in the footnote on page 44 of the PDF that cites Hilao v. Estate of Marcos, a civil suit. First, there's the weaselly, "The court reached no conclusion that the technique by itself constituted torture." But the footnote continues, "However, the fact that a Federal appellate court would even colloquially describe a technique that may share some [of the] characteristics of the waterboard as 'water torture' counsels continued care and careful monitoring in the use of this technique."

Clearly, this is a "don't come crying to me if you get dinged" warning.

But the case cited is interesting. A description of the case begins: "The district court instructed the jury that it could find the Estate liable if it found either that (1) Marcos directed, ordered, conspired with, or aided the military in torture, summary execution, and 'disappearance' or (2) if Marcos knew of such conduct by the military and failed to use his power to prevent it. The Estate challenges the latter basis for liability ... ". Certainly the memo constitutes at least aiding the CIA in the practice of waterboarding. And it does not take very much to conclude that it constitutes conspiring with them to evade the law. Could Bradbury have felt a bit nervous about his possible personal civil liability if any of the victims managed to gain access to the courts? Could he have been attempting to establish a pre-emptive "they didn't heed my warnings" defense?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Making lemonade

Let's hope that the granting of immunity from prosecution for war crimes to CIA operatives leads to some serious investigation of exactly what happened in those black sites and in Gitmo. Because if you can't be prosecuted, you can't refuse to cooperate with an investigation.