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Torture

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  • Dick Cheney: Liar and proud torture advocate

    All the howling falsehoods the former VP told in his defense of torture

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The torture program set up by the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks was a brutal, illegal, and slipshod travesty for which there has been no reckoning. All of the people who designed, implemented, and justified the brutal and useless interrogations of terrorism detainees have successfully ducked accountability for a variety of reasons: Republicans actively support torture, Democrats voluntarily abandoned their opportunity to impose accountability for the program, and both parties are apt to excuse flagrant abuses committed in the name of “national security.”

    This is why we have the grim spectacle of President Donald Trump (whose stated position on torture is that it should be used as sadistic punishment) nominating as CIA director Gina Haspel, who oversaw the torture of detainees and later led the effort to destroy videotaped evidence of interrogations. It’s also why former Vice President Dick Cheney can go on cable news and give lie-filled defenses of the horrific interrogation program he shepherded into existence.

    Cheney sat down with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo this week and oozed out a series of falsehoods about his torture program -- lies that elicited precisely zero challenges from Bartiromo. Let’s run through the many misleading claims and outright bullshit Cheney spewed in defense of his shameful legacy.

    “It [the torture program] was set up in a way that what we did was, in fact, consistent with our fundamental statutes and agreements that were in place.”

    The legal basis of the torture program was a dishonest and contradictory memo, drafted and acted upon in complete secrecy, that put the United States in direct conflict with the Geneva Conventions and served primarily to protect the people who wanted to make torture the policy of the United States. To protect CIA officials and political appointees from prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996, the Bush administration pushed legislation to redefine which acts constituted a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Cheney and crew did not act within existing law -- they concocted bizarre secret legal rationales and sought to change laws where necessary to protect themselves.

    “And it [torture] worked. We were able -- waterboarding was applied, actually, to only three individuals. One of those was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.”

    Torture did not work. Torture does not work.

    The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the Bush torture program found that it was ineffective at obtaining intelligence. The CIA officials who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed quickly determined that the technique had “proven ineffective,” that they’d “lost ground” with Mohammed’s interrogation, and that “the potential for physical harm is far greater with the waterboard than with the other techniques, bringing into question the issue of risk vs. gain.” In the end, “no information provided by Mohammed led directly to the capture of a terrorist or the disruption of a terrorist plot,” per The New Yorker.

    And Cheney would like everyone to focus on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed because he is genuinely evil and a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist -- someone who, per Cheney’s obvious implication, deserved to be tortured. He’d be less enthusiastic to talk about Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times and nearly drowned because the U.S. government believed he was a top-level Al Qaeda operative. He wasn’t, and the government has since acknowledged as much.

    That’s to say nothing of detainees who were tortured and died while in U.S. custody. And let’s not forget the innocent people who were swept up by the government, like the Afghani man who was tortured so brutally that he begged his CIA interrogators to kill him, or the pregnant woman who was beaten in the abdomen and chained to a wall.

    “He’s [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] the guy who got waterboarded more than anybody else. I think what we did helped ultimately produce the intelligence we needed to be able to get [Osama] bin Laden.”

    Nope. The Senate torture report debunked this claim, noting that “the most critical -- or the most valuable” information that led to bin Laden’s death “was not related to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques,” that the CIA was targeting the courier who ultimately led U.S. forces to bin Laden before any of its detainees provided information on him, and that “CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques withheld and fabricated information about” the courier.

    “If it were my call, I would not discontinue those [torture] programs. I’d have them active and ready to go. And I’d go back and study them and learn.”

    This is an interesting comment in that Cheney’s desire to go back and “study” the torture sessions “and learn” from them at least sort of recognizes that they were a beastly disaster. Unfortunately, the current nominee for CIA director led the agency’s internal effort to destroy videotaped evidence of its torture sessions, which makes it more difficult to “learn” from the abuses it committed.

    “If you know Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the mastermind behind all of this, if you know he is number two to bin Laden in terms of the attack, if you know he’s probably the guy who knows more than anybody else except bin Laden what’s next, what’s their next target, how many people are they going to kill and how they are going to do it, and then you tell me that the only method we have is ‘please please pretty please tell us what you know.’ Well, I don’t buy that.”

    This is Dick Cheney, a liar and a villain, falsely arguing that the only options available to interrogators were a) asking nicely and b) torture. If those were, in fact, the only options, then the case for torture would seem more plausible. But the Army Field Manual lays out a whole range of permissible interrogation techniques and details how to effectively use them. Right now, all military and intelligence personnel are legally bound to follow the Army Field Manual when conducting interrogations. And, as has already been established, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s interrogators quickly determined that torturing him wasn’t productive.

    “I think the techniques we used were not torture.”

    They were.

    “A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn’t deemed torture at the time.”

    It was.

    “The techniques we used are techniques we use on our own people in training. We didn’t go and make them up someplace.”

    Cheney is referring here to SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training. And he is correct that the torture program was based on SERE training techniques, which are used to prepare American military personnel should they be captured and … you guessed it … tortured. To that point, the SERE program was developed based on interrogation methods used by the Chinese military which were designed not to extract information, but to elicit false confessions.

    “The president signed off, I signed off, the National Security Council signed off. They did a good job, they got the intelligence they needed, and we were safe from any further mass-casualty attacks in the seven and a half years on our watch. Now people want to go back and try to rewrite history. But if it were my call, I’d do it again.”

    It’s an amazing thing that the former vice president of the United States can go on TV and declare -- proudly -- that he and the president he served with made torture the official policy of the United States. It’s a howling outrage that a statement like this isn’t viewed as a confession of culpability in grotesque human rights violations. But that’s what happens when no accountability is imposed for one of the most shameful chapters in the war on terror.

  • Fox News repeatedly claims information obtained by torture led to Osama bin Laden’s death. It didn't.

    The 2014 Senate torture report revealed that the US collected key intelligence on bin Laden’s location without torture

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    In the coverage leading up to and following CIA acting Director Gina Haspel’s confirmation hearing to become director, multiple Fox News personalities and guests have asserted that torture helped lead to the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. However, the Senate’s 2014 investigation of the CIA torture program indicates that there is no evidence for this claim. 

    In recent days, Fox figures and guests have made bold claims that torturing detainees at secret CIA prisons known as “black sites” resulted in valuable intelligence that helped track down the former leader of Al Qaeda:

    • On his May 7 Fox show, Sean Hannity cited an earlier guest to claim that if there had been “no waterboarding we wouldn't have found Osama bin Laden's courier and we wouldn't have gotten bin Laden.” Hannity made the same claim the following night. 
    • In an May 8 appearance on Fox’s The Story with Martha MacCallum, former Vice President Dick Cheney said that the torture program “gave us clues that led directly to helping identify the location of Osama Bin Laden.” Cheney repeated the claim two days later on Fox Business. 
    • On the May 9 edition of Fox News’ The Five, co-host Kimberly Guilfoyle asserted that “the water boarding led them to Osama Bin Laden's house.”
    • On May 10, all three co-hosts of Fox & Friends agreed that “you don’t get bin Laden” without torture.
    • On the May 11 edition of Fox & Friends, Geraldo Rivera commented that “torture in retrospect may seem regrettable, but there’s no denying that it did lead to the courier that did lead us to the terror mastermind” Osama bin Laden.

    In 2014, the Senate investigated the CIA’s torture program. According to a Vox summary of the 525-page document, the Senate report reveals that the CIA extracted “key intelligence” on bin Laden courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti -- “‘including information the CIA would later cite as pivotal’ in finding Bin Laden” -- by 2002. However, “the CIA didn't acquire any intelligence on al-Kuwaiti via torture until 2003. The CIA had begun trying to find and identify al-Kuwaiti well before any of that information was in.”

    In 2004, the CIA torture program did capture a man named Hassan Guhl who told the U.S. government that al-Kuwaiti was a bin Laden assistant and that the Al Qaeda leader "likely lived in a house with a family somewhere in Pakistan," according to Vox. However, “Ghul told the CIA all of that before they decided to torture him.” The Senate report explains that “during and after the use of the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, Ghul provided no other information of substance on al-Kuwaiti." From the Senate’s report on CIA torture, via NPR:

  • Fox News uses Nuremberg defense to cover for Gina Haspel’s torture record

    Network figures say Haspel was “simply following orders” 

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS

    Gina Haspel’s March 13 nomination as CIA director is reviving the debate about torture, and Fox News is defending her role in the agency’s George W. Bush-era program by insisting that she was “simply following orders” and should not be held responsible for her contributions to the torturing of detainees.

    Haspel, who became the agency’s acting director on April 26 after a long tenure there, oversaw a secret CIA prison in Thailand where suspected terrorists were detained and tortured, including one man who was waterboarded three times. Haspel was also “a strong advocate” for destroying tapes of CIA torture sessions, The New York Times reported, a stance Haspel herself reiterated in her confirmation hearing. 

    As debate swirled about Haspel’s involvement in torture leading up to her confirmation hearing, Fox News took the lead in providing media cover for her. Several Fox personalities have zeroed in on some variation of the argument that “she was just following orders” -- a defense made infamous by multiple high-ranking Nazi officials who attempted to defend themselves during the Nuremberg trials.

    In addition to insisting that Haspel was merely following orders, Fox personalities have defended her nomination by suggesting that being tortured is similar to having a difficult job, and that Haspel would make a good TV “hero” for running a secret CIA prison as a woman. Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade even suggested Haspel refuse to “apologize for the Americans who are alive today and were not burned alive or had their heads cut off” thanks to torture.

    Haspel’s apparent predilection to follow orders is especially worrisome given that Trump has repeatedly threatened to bring back torture. In Trump’s first days in office, a White House draft order called for a review and possible reopening of CIA “black site” prisons. In his first presidential TV interview, Trump said of waterboarding, "Absolutely I feel it works," adding that America has to "fight fire with fire." During the campaign, Trump infamously called for America to kill the families of terrorists, which would violate the Geneva Conventions. Trump said he would “bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding," and also called for America to “broaden” the laws prohibiting torture in order to “beat the savages.” And while some, like former CIA Director Michael Hayden, are saying that Haspel will stand up to Trump, her record shows otherwise

    Video by Miles Le

  • Cheney biographer Steve Hayes tells Gina Haspel to bring back torture

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    As CIA director nominee Gina Haspel prepared for her confirmation hearing, The Weekly Standard’s Steve Hayes, who has authored a sympathetic biography of Iraq War architect and former Vice President Dick Cheney, advocated for her confirmation on Fox News and encouraged her to go forward with a “detention and interrogation program” if accepted to the post.

    On the May 9 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom, Hayes joined host Bill Hemmer in downplaying Haspel’s leading role in operating a black site in Thailand and later destroying possibly incriminating evidence of torture, telling Hemmer that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) will “try to make a big deal of that.” Hayes also asserted that “the American people … would like somebody who is regarded as tough on terror,” boosting a talking point from the White House:

    Finally, Hayes endorsed the future use of a “detention and interrogation program” if Haspel is confirmed, saying, “I, for one, would like there to be a detention and interrogation program. Now we can have a debate about whether it should include some of the advanced interrogation techniques that were used, but one of the problems under the Obama administration is that there was no serious detention and interrogation program for the jihadist leaders that we captured.” These tactics have not only proven ineffective, but the record of torture under the Bush administration had serious issues with regards to human rights and legality. Hayes mentions none of this.

  • Torture fan Sean Hannity still hasn't been waterboarded like he promised

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Gina Haspel’s nomination to be director of the CIA has reinvigorated the long-simmering controversy over the George W. Bush administration’s decision to turn America into a torture state. Haspel, who oversaw the torture of one detainee at a CIA black site in 2002 and later engineered the destruction of videotaped evidence of torture, is being held up as a hero by conservative pundits who celebrate her “toughness.”

    One of those pundits, Fox News’ Sean Hannity, has spent the past week defending Haspel and advocating for the torture techniques she implemented. “We can't have evil exist in this world without doing something to counter it,” he said on his March 13 show. “And if it means that terrorists caught on the battlefield are forced to answer questions, well, sadly that’s what you have to do because you are dealing with evil.”

    This line of argument resurrects an issue related to the torture controversy that has remained conspicuously unresolved for nearly a decade: Sean Hannity promised to be waterboarded but still hasn’t done it.

    Hannity has long been an advocate for torture, and one of his more curious pro-torture strategies is to dismiss its unpleasantness while simultaneously lauding its effectiveness. Back in April 2009, while speaking to actor Charles Grodin on his Fox News show, Hannity said: “Is it really so bad to dunk a terrorist's head in water and make him talk? Tell me what's wrong with that.” Later in the program, the two had this exchange:

    CHARLES GRODIN: Have you ever been waterboarded?

    SEAN HANNITY (HOST): No, but Ollie North has and I've talked to him about it.

    GRODIN: And how -- would you consent to be waterboarded?

    HANNITY: Yes.

    GRODIN: So we could get the truth out of you?

    HANNITY: Yes. Sure.

    GRODIN: We can waterboard you?

    HANNITY: Sure.

    GRODIN: Are you busy on Sunday?

    HANNITY: I'll do it for charity. I'll let you do it.

    GRODIN: I wouldn't do it.

    HANNITY: I'll do it for the troops' families.

    That was almost nine years ago, and Hannity still has not been waterboarded, but not for lack of trying. Keith Olbermann, then an MSNBC host, tried to get Hannity to live up to his promise by pledging $1,000 to charity for every second of torture Hannity could endure. Four years after his initial promise, ThinkProgress called into his radio show to ask when he was going to follow through, and Hannity snapped at the reporter for being rude. “Here I am, nice enough to bring you on the program and give you an opportunity to give your pretty radical left-wing point of view,” he said, “and that’s kind of -- you know what -- the way you treat me.”

    And now here we are in the year 2018 and Hannity is still noticeably unwaterboarded and still hiding behind the fact that his buddy Oliver North knows what it’s like. “Have you been waterboarded in your life, in your career in the military as a marine that served his country and have a Purple Heart or two,” Hannity asked North on his March 15 show. North said yes he had as part of SERE training, a program soldiers go through to learn how to resist -- you guessed it -- torture. “I waterboarded at least 150 people,” North said, “some of whom I'm sure are right now wondering what the heck is going on because it was all legal before.”

    Look, Sean, one of the sad consequences of the utter lack of torture accountability and your status as a premier advocate of state-sponsored barbarism is that the torture issue isn’t going away, which means this whole “I volunteered to be waterboarded” issue isn’t going away -- that is, until you get waterboarded. No one is saying you’re a coward, Sean. In no way am I implying that the reason you haven’t followed through on your nine-year-old promise to be waterboarded for charity is that behind the bravado lurks a secret terror of what the “dunking” entails.

    Quite the contrary, in fact. I think your promise to volunteer to put yourself through this physically debilitating and psychologically horrifying torture technique is the height of manliness. A total alpha move. And the fact that you’re going to do it for the troops is just patriotic icing on the testosterone cupcake.