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Context of 'April 20, 2009: Senator McCain: One Waterboarding Is ‘Too Much. Waterboarding Is Torture, Period’'

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In his first exit interview after the November 2008 elections, Vice President Dick Cheney unapologetically acknowledges that the US used waterboarding on suspected terrorists, and says that the Guantanamo Bay prison should remain open until terrorism has been eradicated. Methods such as waterboarding were indeed used on at least one subject, suspected 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and May 2003), Cheney says, but he goes on to claim that those methods do not constitute torture. “On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture,” he says. “We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. I think those who allege that we’ve been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.” Asked if he authorized the waterboarding of Mohammed, Cheney says: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.” Cheney says that waterboarding Mohammed produced critically important information: “There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source. So it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.” Cheney adds that the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were justified regardless of whether that nation possessed weapons of mass destruction. The only thing US intelligence got wrong, he says, “was that there weren’t any stockpiles. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock.” [ABC News, 12/15/2008; ABC News, 12/15/2008] In the US, waterboarding has been considered a war crime at least as far back as World War II (see 1947, January 21, 1968, and November 29, 2007); in 2007, a judge concurred (see November 4, 2007). A former senior Justice Department official determined that waterboarding is torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005), as did a former deputy secretary of state who was subjected to waterboarding as part of his military training (see January 21, 2009) and a US senator who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam (see April 20, 2009). The CIA suspended the use of waterboarding in 2005 after determining that the technique was most likely ineffective and certainly illegal (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005), and banned it entirely in 2006 (see Between May and Late 2006); the CIA’s Inspector General determined that the practice was torture (see March 6, 2009). The FBI and DIA have forbidden their agents from using the technique (see May 13, 2004 and February 7, 2008). The US military banned its use in 2006 (see September 6, 2006). The king of Saudi Arabia will accuse the Bush administration of torturing prisoners in its custody (see April 24, 2009). The information derived from torturing Mohammed and other prisoners is widely considered unreliable (see August 6, 2007, April 16, 2009, December 18, 2008, and March 29, 2009), and may well have been initially designed to elicit false confessions (see April 22, 2009).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The White House releases four key Justice Department memos documenting the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods—torture—against suspected terrorists. The memos were released as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The documents show that two high-level detainees were subjected to waterboarding at least 266 times between them. Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, contradicting earlier CIA reports that he “broke” after a single waterboarding session (see December 10, 2007). Confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded at least 183 times in March 2003. The so-called “insect” technique—exposure to insects within an enclosed box—was approved for use on Zubaida, but apparently never used. Numerous prisoners were subjected to “walling” and “sleep deprivation,” with at least one detainee subjected to the technique for 180 hours (over seven days). Three of the memos were written by then-Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) chief Steven Bradbury in May 2005 (see May 10, 2005, May 10, 2005, and May 30, 2005), and the fourth by Bradbury’s predecessor, Jay Bybee, in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009] Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says: “These legal memoranda demonstrate in alarming detail exactly what the Bush administration authorized for ‘high value detainees’ in US custody. The techniques are chilling. This was not an ‘abstract legal theory,’ as some former Bush administration officials have characterized it. These were specific techniques authorized to be used on real people.” [CNN, 4/17/2009] House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) agrees, saying: “This release, as well as the decision to ban the use of such techniques in the future, will strengthen both our national security and our commitment to the rule of law and help restore our country’s standing in the international community. The legal analysis and some of the techniques in these memos are truly shocking and mark a disturbing chapter in our nation’s history.” [Think Progress, 4/16/2009] Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), whose committee is conducting an investigation of abusive interrogation methods used during the Bush administration, says Bush officials “inaccurately interpreted” the Geneva Conventions prohibiting torture. “I find it difficult to understand how the opinions found these interrogation techniques to be legal,” she says. “For example, waterboarding and slamming detainees head-first into walls, as described in the OLC opinions, clearly fall outside what is legally permissible.” [United Press International, 4/16/2009]
White House Condemns Methods, Opposes Investigations - Attorney General Eric Holder says of the memos: “The president has halted the use of the interrogation techniques described in these opinions, and this administration has made clear from day one that it will not condone torture. We are disclosing these memos consistent with our commitment to the rule of law.” Holder adds that, according to a Justice Department statement, “intelligence community officials who acted reasonably and relied in good faith on authoritative legal advice from the Justice Department that their conduct was lawful, and conformed their conduct to that advice, would not face federal prosecutions for that conduct.” Holder states, “It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department.” [US Department of Justice, 4/16/2009] President Obama condemns what he calls a “dark and painful chapter in our history,” and promises that such torture techniques will never be used again. However, he restates his opposition to a lengthy investigation into the program, saying that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” In contrast, Leahy says that the memos illustrate the need for an independent investigation. Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, points out that the memos were written at a time when the CIA was working to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. “Those methods, read on a bright, sunny, safe day in April 2009, appear graphic and disturbing,” he says. “But we will absolutely defend those who relied on these memos.” [New York Times, 4/19/2009] The ACLU demands criminal prosecution of Bush officials for their torture policies (see April 16, 2009). [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009]
Techniques Include Waterboarding, Insect Exposure, 'Walling' - The memos show that several techniques were approved for use, including waterboarding, exposure to insects within a “confinement box,” being slammed into a wall, sleep deprivation, stress positions, forced nudity, and others. [American Civil Liberties Union, 4/16/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009; BBC, 4/23/2009]
Waterboarded Well beyond Allowed Procedures - Because the information about the waterboarding of Zubaida and Mohammed comes from the classified and heavily redacted CIA’s inspector general report, which has not yet been released to the public, the information is at least in part based on the videotapes of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions that were later destroyed by CIA officials (see March 6, 2009). The CIA memo explained that detainees could be waterboarded between 12 and 18 times in a single day, but only on five days during a single month—which mathematically only adds up to 90 times in a month, and thus does not explain how Mohammed could have been waterboarded 183 times in a month if these procedures were being followed. The memos also reveal that in practice, the waterboarding went far beyond the methodologies authorized by the Justice Department and used in SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002).
Information Unearthed by Blogger - Initial media reports fail to divulge the extraordinary number of times Zubaida and Mohammed were waterboarded. It falls to a blogger, Marcy Wheeler, to unearth the information from the CIA memo and reveal it to the public (see April 18, 2009). [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Central Intelligence Agency, Dennis C. Blair, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Dianne Feinstein, Jay S. Bybee, Geneva Conventions, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Steven Bradbury, Patrick J. Leahy, Abu Zubaida, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Marcy Wheeler.Marcy Wheeler. [Source: Project Censored]Progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler, who posts under the moniker “emptywheel” at FireDogLake.com, finds that, upon careful perusal of the March 30, 2005 CIA torture memo just released by the Obama administration (see May 30, 2005 and April 16, 2009), two suspected terrorists, Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were waterboarded 266 times. Initial, more cursory news reports on the memo did not reveal this fact. The next day, the New York Times will cite Wheeler in its report on the discovery. [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009; New York Times, 4/19/2009] Wheeler writes: “The CIA wants you to believe waterboarding is effective. Yet somehow, it took them 183 applications of the waterboard in a one month period to get what they claimed was cooperation out of KSM. That doesn’t sound very effective to me.” [Marcy Wheeler, 4/18/2009] Days later, an unidentified “US official with knowledge of the interrogation program” will tell a Fox News reporter that the claim of 183 waterboardings for Mohammed is inaccurate and misleading. Mohammed was only waterboarded five times, the official will claim. The figure of 183 is the number of “pours” Mohammed was subjected to. “The water was poured 183 times—there were 183 pours,” the official says, adding, “[E]ach pour was a matter of seconds.” The report of five waterboardings for Mohammed comes from a 2007 Red Cross report, the official will say. [Fox News, 4/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Marcy Wheeler, Obama administration, FireDogLake (.com), Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Zubaida, New York Times, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Responding to the news that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 18, 2009), Senator John McCain (R-AZ) reiterates his opposition to waterboarding and to torture: “One is too much. Waterboarding is torture, period. I can ensure [sic] you that once enough physical pain is inflicted on someone, they will tell that interrogator whatever they think they want to hear. And most importantly, it serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us.” He adds, “The image of the United States of America throughout the world is a recruiting tool for Islamic extremists.” However, McCain says it was a “serious mistake” for the Obama administration to release the CIA torture memos (see April 16, 2009), saying, “The release of these memos helps no one, doesn’t help America’s image, does not help us address the issue.” [Think Progress, 4/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, John McCain

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two days after staunchly defending waterboarding as an interrogation tactic (see April 20, 2009), Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) now claims he has always “strongly opposed” waterboarding. Lieberman, joined by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), writes: “We have… strongly opposed the overly coercive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that these [recently released Justice Department] memos (see April 16, 2009) deemed legal. We do not believe, however, that legal analysis should be criminalized, as proposals to prosecute government lawyers suggest.” [US Senate, 4/22/2009] The same day Lieberman defended the use of waterboarding, McCain, who has always opposed torture as an interrogation method, spoke out again against the practice (see April 20, 2009).

Entity Tags: Joseph Lieberman, John McCain, Lindsey Graham

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a likely candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential candidacy, refuses to say whether waterboarding is or is not torture. Interviewed on Fox News, Gingrich calls the release of the four Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing and defending torture (see April 16, 2009) “a big mistake,” but adds, “I want to see the United States run the risk, at times, of not learning certain things in order to establish a standard for civilization.” When asked if waterboarding is torture, Gingrich refuses to give a straight answer. “I think it’s something we shouldn’t do,” he says, but then adds: “Lawyers I respect a great deal say it is absolutely within the law. Other lawyers say it absolutely is not. I mean, this is a debatable area.” When asked if waterboarding violates the Geneva Conventions, Gingrich again demurs, saying, “I honestly don’t know.” He then says, “I think—I think that there—I am exactly where Senator [John] McCain was.” McCain has long opposed the use of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009). [Think Progress, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), a strong opponent of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009), says that the US must “move on” from the Bush era of torture and not investigate the Bush administration’s torture policies. McCain refuses to support Democratic calls to impeach former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who authored several of the torture memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), even as he acknowledges Bybee broke the law. McCain says: “He falls into the same category as everybody else as far as giving very bad advice and misinterpreting, fundamentally, what the United States is all about, much less things like the Geneva Conventions. Look, under President Reagan we signed an agreement against torture. We were in violation of that.” McCain says that “no one has alleged, quote, wrongdoing” on the part of Bush officials such as Bybee, saying only that they gave “bad advice” to Bush and other senior officials. [Think Progress, 4/26/2009]

Entity Tags: John McCain, Bush administration (43), Jay S. Bybee

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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