Monday, May 11, 2009

Torture Report Contradicts Cheney

Waterboarding Neither "Efficacious Or Medically Safe"

From Gregg Sargent's The Plum Line
There’s a big piece of news about Dick Cheney and torture buried toward the end of this big Washington Post piece about the torture wars.

Specifically: The White House has decided to declassify and release a classified 2004 CIA report about the torture program that is reported to have found no proof that torture foiled any terror plots on American soil — directly contradicting Cheney’s claims. The paper cites “allies” of the White House as a source.

Dem Congressional staffers tell me this report is the “holy grail,” because it is expected to detail torture in unprecedented detail and to cast doubt on the claim that torture works — and its release will almost certainly trigger howls of protest from conservatives. [...]

Here’s the key nugget from the Post piece:

Government officials familiar with the CIA’s early interrogations say the most powerful evidence of apparent excesses is contained in the “top secret” May 7, 2004, inspector general report, based on more than 100 interviews, a review of the videotapes and 38,000 pages of documents. The full report remains closely held, although White House officials have told political allies that they intend to declassify it for public release when the debate quiets over last month’s release of the Justice Department’s interrogation memos…

Although some useful information was produced, the report concluded that “it is difficult to determine conclusively whether interrogations have provided information critical to interdicting specific imminent attacks,” according to the Justice Department’s declassified summary of it.

This news is particularly timely in light of Cheney’s continuing high-profile claims that torture may have saved “hundreds of thousands of lives.”

Sam Stein from Huffington Post notes:

But there is no need to wait for the report's declassification. Information from its pages was already made public in the footnotes of the Office of Legal Counsel memos written by Steven Bradbury in 2005 and released by the current administration less than one month ago.

And the conclusion seems pretty clear: Not only did interrogators, for a period of time, use waterboarding that was deemed by U.S. officials to be more frequent and intense than was medically safe, it did so to apparently limited results.

As the Huffington Post reported back in mid-April, on a footnote on Page 41 of the Bradbury memo, it is written that "Agency interrogator[s]" had "in some cases" used the waterboard in a manner different than the way "used in the [the Marine Corps' Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape] SERE training."

"The difference was in the manner in which the detainee's breathing was obstructed," read the footnote, citing the IG report. "At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject's airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator... applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee's mouth and nose." [...]

The important things to take away from the footnote seem clear: for a period of time interrogators were using the waterboard with a "frequency and cumulative use" that had to be toned down. Moreover, they were doing it in a way that was determined to not be "efficacious."

The officials tasked with crafting and implementing the interrogation methods adjusted the techniques to fit within the legal parameters set forth by the Bush Department of Justice. But for a period of time, they were operating in excess and outside those bounds.

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