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Profile: Senate Armed Services Committee
Senate Armed Services Committee was a participant or observer in the following events:
Richard Perle, a senior staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee and an aide to Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson (see Early 1970s), uses his position to help fellow neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz gain a position with the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA). Neoconservatives such as Perle and Wolfowitz do not believe in either arms control or disarmament (see 1965 and August 15, 1974). In 2004, author Stephen Green will write, “Wolfowitz also brought to ACDA a strong attachment to Israel’s security, and a certain confusion about his obligation to US national security” (see 1978). [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
Reagan officials reopen the stalled Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) arms limitation talks with the Soviet Union, against the advice of President Reagan’s more hardline officials (see January 1981 and After). The talks center on the Soviets’ SS-20 missile, designed to strike European targets. In return, then-President Carter had agreed to deploy US intermediate-range nuclear missiles—Pershing II’s and Tomahawks—in West Germany and Italy by 1983. According to author J. Peter Scoblic, the missiles have little real military value, as American ICBMs, submarine-based nuclear missiles, and long-range bombers could destroy Soviet targets with near-impunity. They do, however, have some political significance, mostly in helping tie European security to US security. Carter had agreed to open talks with the Soviets to get rid of the SS-20s entirely.
Hardliners Sabotage Talks - The more pragmatic Reagan officials succeed in reopening the talks; Reagan hardliners, thwarted in stopping the talks, set about sabotaging them in any way available. When arguments in favor of delays and “further study” finally fail, they pressure Reagan to offer an agreement they know the Soviets will refuse: the so-called “zero option,” which originates with Defense Department official Richard Perle (see Early 1981 and After). Perle says that the Soviets should remove all of the SS-20s, and in return, the US will not deploy its Pershings and Tomahawks—in essence, having the Soviets concede something for essentially nothing. State Department officials suggest a fallback position in case the Soviets reject Perle’s offering; in his turn, Perle appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and compares anyone who opposes his zero-sum offering to Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Adolf Hitler in 1938.
'Walk in the Woods' - When the Soviets reject Perle’s option, Reagan hardliners argue that the government should accept no compromise. The head of the INF negotiation team, Paul Nitze—a Cold War figure who has come out against arms control (see January 1976) but is not fully trusted by the hardline ideologues because of his history as an arms negotiator—wants a compromise. In official negotiations, he sticks to the all-or-nothing position of Perle, but opens private, informal negotiations with his Soviet counterpart, Yuli Kvitsinsky. One afternoon in 1982, Nitze and Kvitsinsky go for what later becomes known as their “walk in the woods.” Sitting together on a log during an afternoon rainstorm, the two hammer out an agreement that greatly favors the US—mandating a 67 percent reduction in Soviet SS-20s and allowing the US to deploy an equal number of Tomahawks. Not only would the Soviets have to reduce their already-deployed contingent of missiles and the US be allowed to deploy missiles, because the Tomahawks carry more independent warheads than the SS-20s, the US would have a significant advantage in firepower. The deal also sets limits on SS-20 deployments in Asia, and forbids the Soviets from developing ground-launched cruise missiles. In return, the US would agree not to deploy its Pershing missiles.
Hardliners Block Agreement - Perle and his hardline allies in the Reagan administration succeed in blocking acceptance of the Nitze-Kvitsinsky agreement. As author J. Peter Scoblic later writes, “Perle’s ideological obstructionism—concisely conveyed in his disparagement of Nitze as ‘an inverterate problem-solver’—reached fantastic heights.” Perle first tried to block Reagan from even learning the details of the agreement, and lied to Reagan, asserting falsely that the Joint Chiefs of Staff opposed the agreement. Perle, in conjunction with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, eventually convinces Reagan to stick to the “zero option.” Perle argues against pressure from key US allies such as Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, telling Reagan, “We can’t just do something; we’ve got to stand there—and stand firm.” In 1983, Perle tells Weinberger that it would be better for the US to deploy no missiles at all than to accept the agreement. Scoblic will write: “In other words, he argued that foregoing deployment in return for nothing was better than foregoing deployment in exchange for something. The position made no sense, but the Reagan team held firm to it, once again preventing the adoption of a viable arms control deal.” When the US deploys Pershing missiles in Europe in November 1983, the Soviets walk out of the talks. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 120-123]
Entity Tags: Richard Perle, Margaret Thatcher, Joint Chiefs of Staff, J. Peter Scoblic, Caspar Weinberger, Paul Nitze, Ronald Reagan, Reagan administration, Senate Armed Services Committee, US Department of State, Yuli Kvitsinsky
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
After Islamic militants bomb a Berlin discotheque, killing two American soldiers (see April 5, 1986 and After), the White House blames Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and prepares to attack Libya in retaliation. Some members of Congress, including Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn (D-GA), question the appropriateness of the Reagan administration committing what may well be an act of war without consulting Congress. Others say the White House should make public its case against Libya before launching what in essence is the opening salvo in a war, instead of insisting that the evidence against Libya must remain classified. However, Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) staunchly defends the White House’s unilateral action. He tells a PBS reporter that “if the president of the United States reviews it and feels it’s adequate,” then the nation should trust what he says about classified intelligence. “It seems to me that this is a clear-cut case where the president as commander in chief… is justified in taking whatever action he deems appropriate and discussing the details with us after the fact.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 52]
Admiral William Crowe. [Source: Associated Press]Admiral William Crowe, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, breaks with the Bush administration to come out for the continuation of US sanctions (see August 6, 1990) and against the proposed war against Iraq (see November 29, 1990). Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Crowe says: “[W]e should give sanctions a fair chance before we discard them.… If, in fact, the sanctions will work in twelve to eighteen months instead of six months, a trade-off of avoiding war, with its attendant sacrifices and uncertainties, would in my estimation be more than worth it.” Joseph Wilson, the ranking US diplomat in Iraq, is dismayed at Crowe’s stance. The embassy had sent a report to Washington weeks before stating the opinion of the embassy diplomats and staff that sanctions were not having the desired effect; though they were eroding Saddam Hussein’s military structure, Wilson and his staff concluded, they would not in and of themselves force Hussein out of Kuwait any time soon. Economic sanctions would take years, perhaps a decade or more, to have the effect the US wants. “By that time,” Wilson will later write, “he would have looted the Kuwait treasury, found ways around the sanctions, and repopulated Kuwait with Iraqis so as to rig any vote on the future of the country. Sanctions would make the war easier, we believed, but not unnecessary, as long as our goal was to liberate Kuwait.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 161-162]
Andrew Krepinevich, Executive Director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities: “There appears to be general agreement concerning the need to transform the US military into a significantly different kind of force from that which emerged victorious from the Cold and Gulf Wars. Yet this verbal support has not been translated into a defense program supporting transformation… the ‘critical mass’ needed to effect it has not yet been achieved. One may conclude that, in the absence of a strong external shock to the United States—a latter-day ‘Pearl Harbor’ of sorts—surmounting the barriers to transformation will likely prove a long, arduous process.”
[US Congress, 3/5/1999] This is very similar to what strategists at PNAC have said (see June 3, 1997).
Carl Levin. [Source: Publicity photo]Air Force General Richard Myers is questioned about the US military’s response to the 9/11 attacks when he appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee for his confirmation hearing as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but his answers are vague and confused, and he claims, incorrectly, that no fighter jets were scrambled in response to the hijackings until after the Pentagon was hit. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 119; Farmer, 2009, pp. 241-243] Myers has been the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since March 2000. [US Air Force, 9/2005] With General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, flying toward Europe on the morning of September 11 (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he served as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 9/11 attacks. [Myers, 2009, pp. 10; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431-433]
Myers Says Fighters Were Only Scrambled after the Pentagon Attack - During the hearing, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) asks if the Department of Defense was contacted by “the FAA or the FBI or any other agency” after the first two hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), but before 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Myers replies, “I don’t know the answer to that question.” Levin then asks if the military was “asked to take action against any specific aircraft” during the attacks. Myers answers, “When it became clear what the threat was, we did scramble fighter aircraft, AWACS, radar aircraft, and tanker aircraft to begin to establish orbits in case other aircraft showed up in the FAA system that were hijacked.” Myers elaborates later in the hearing, telling Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL): “[A]fter the second tower was hit, I spoke to the commander of NORAD, General [Ralph] Eberhart (see (9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And at that point, I think the decision was at that point to start launching aircraft.” But he tells Levin that “to the best of my knowledge,” the order to scramble fighters was only given “after the Pentagon was struck.”
Flight 93 Was Not Shot Down, Myers Says - Myers addresses the military’s response to Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He says: “[I]f my memory serves me… we had launched on the one that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. I mean, we had gotten somebody close to it, as I recall.” However, he adds, “I’ll have to check that out.” When Levin mentions that there have been “statements that the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania was shot down,” Myers responds, “[T]he armed forces did not shoot down any aircraft.” He says, “[W]e never actually had to use force.” Although Myers appears unclear about when the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) launched fighters in response to the hijackings, he is more confident when he states: “At the time of the first impact on the World Trade Center, we stood up our Crisis Action Team. That was done immediately. So we stood it up. And we started talking to the federal agencies.” [US Congress, 9/13/2001]
NORAD and the 9/11 Commission Contradict Myers's Account - Myers’s claim that fighters were only launched in response to the hijackings after the Pentagon was hit will later be contradicted by the accounts of NORAD and the 9/11 Commission, which state that fighters were ordered to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 9:24 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 27] The 9/11 Commission will also contradict Myers’s claim that the military launched fighters in response to Flight 93 and “had gotten somebody close to it.” “By the time the military learned about the flight,” the 9/11 Commission Report will state, “it had crashed.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34]
Myers's Testimony Prompts Criticism in the Media - Journalist and author Philip Shenon will question why Myers, a veteran Air Force fighter pilot, would give such an inaccurate account of the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks during the hearing. “It seemed obvious that Myers, of all people at the Pentagon, would want to know—would demand to know—how jet fighters under NORAD’s control had responded on the morning of September 11 to the threat in the skies,” he will write. [US Congress, 9/13/2001; Shenon, 2008, pp. 119] John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will comment that “Myers’s evident confusion about precisely what had occurred prompted criticism in the media and a quick, if contradictory, response from the administration.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 243] Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, will provide a more detailed account of the military’s response to the hijackings in an “impromptu hallway interview” at the Pentagon on September 14 (see September 14, 2001). [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001] And four days later, NORAD will release a timeline of its response to the hijackings (see September 18, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
Wayne Allard. [Source: Publicity photo]General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee and gives NORAD’s account of the events of September 11 and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks that day, but the 9/11 Commission will later find that some of the information he provides is incorrect. [US Congress. Senate, 10/25/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 248] Eberhart was at NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, and then went to NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain when the 9/11 attacks were taking place. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004] NORAD released a timeline of its response to the hijackings on September 18 (see September 18, 2001) and Eberhart’s testimony is consistent with that account. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001]
Eberhart Says Fighters Were Scrambled in Response to First Hijacking - During the hearing, Eberhart tells Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO) that after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) alerted NORAD to the first hijacking, of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), NORAD ordered two F-15 fighter jets to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), “almost simultaneously to the first crash” at the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Eberhart says that after he learned a plane had hit the WTC, he was initially unsure if that plane was Flight 11. “I’m sitting there hoping that someone has made a mistake; there has been an accident; that this isn’t the hijacked airplane [that hit the WTC], because there is confusion,” he recalls. He says he was informed that “it was a light commuter airplane” that hit the WTC, although, he says, it “didn’t look like that was caused by a light commuter airplane.”
Fighters Didn't Have Enough Time to Stop Second Crash - Eberhart says the FAA notified NORAD that there was “a second hijacked plane”—referring to Flight 175—“somewhere in there,” but although the Otis fighters were “flying toward New York” after being scrambled, they were still eight minutes away from the city when Flight 175 crashed into the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Tragically, there was just too much distance between Otis and New York City to get there in time,” Eberhart comments.
Eberhart Says NORAD Learned Flight 77 Was Hijacked before It Crashed - Eberhart says the first documented instance NORAD has of the FAA notifying it about Flight 77, the third aircraft to be hijacked, was at 9:24 a.m. After the hearing, in responses submitted for the record, Eberhart adds that the FAA notified NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that Flight 77 “was headed towards Washington, DC.” NEADS, he states, “then passed this information to NORAD’s Air Warning Center and Command Center in Cheyenne Mountain, and to the Continental US NORAD Region’s Regional Air Operations Center.”
Fighters Were Scrambled Too Late to Prevent the Pentagon Attack - Eberhart says NORAD launched two F-16 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia “as soon as” the FAA alerted it to the hijacking of Flight 77 (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, he says, these fighters were still “approximately 13 minutes away from Washington, DC, when that tragic crash [at the Pentagon] occurred.”
Eberhart Is Unaware of Reason for FAA's Delay in Contacting NORAD - Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Eberhart: “The timeline that we’ve been given is that at 8:55 on September 11, American Airlines Flight 77 began turning east, away from its intended course. And at 9:10, Flight 77 was detected by the FAA radar over West Virginia heading east. That was after the two planes had struck the World Trade Center towers. Then 15 minutes later, at 9:25, the FAA notified NORAD that Flight 77 was headed toward Washington.” In light of this, he asks, “[D]o you know why it took 15 minutes for the FAA to notify NORAD?” Eberhart replies: “I do not know, sir, why it took that amount of time for FAA. I hate to say it, but you’ll have to ask FAA.” Senator John Warner (R-VA), who has an extensive military background, tells Eberhart he is “a little bit stunned that you don’t know why that delay occurred.” He continues, saying, “I would have thought by now all of you in this chain would have gone back, rehearsed these things, figured out what happened, what went wrong, so that we ensure it won’t happen again.” In his responses submitted for the record, Eberhart suggests possible reasons for the delay, stating that after the FAA lost radar contact with Flight 77, it “began to receive calls from outside agencies with reports of a possible downed aircraft. Additionally, the loss of radio contact with the aircraft added to the confusion.” Consequently, he states, “I believe the FAA was faced with conflicting information, which hindered them from making an accurate assessment of the actual location of the aircraft.”
Eberhart Says NORAD Was Following Flight 93 before It Crashed - Eberhart says NORAD was aware of the problems with Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, before it crashed in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He tells Allard that the FAA “knew before it deviated its flight pattern” that Flight 93 “was hijacked.” He says NORAD had been “trying to decide, initially, if that flight was going to continue west and if there was some other target for that flight. Was it Chicago? Was it St. Louis? And what might we do to launch an aircraft to intercept it.” But he says that after the FAA reacquired Flight 93 on radar, NORAD thought the plane “was headed probably for Washington, DC, but maybe New York.” He says NORAD decided at that time to keep the Otis and Langley fighters in place over New York and Washington. If another suspicious plane was approaching, he says, “our intent was to go out and meet that aircraft and destroy it if we needed to, if it entered either Washington, DC, or New York City airspace.” However, in his responses submitted for the record, Eberhart states that the “data/log entries received by NORAD from the FAA [after September 11] do not show a time or entry indicating the FAA specifically notified the Pentagon that United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked.” He also states that NORAD “did not notify” the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that Flight 93 had been hijacked.
9/11 Commission Disputes Some of Eberhart's Claims - Several claims Eberhart makes in the hearing will be contradicted by evidence uncovered by the 9/11 Commission during its investigation of the terrorist attacks. Whereas Eberhart says the military was first notified about the hijacking of Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. and implies that this notification prompted the scrambling of fighters from Langley Air Force Base, according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, “[T]he first notification regarding American 77 occurred at 9:34, when it was reported ‘lost’” (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Congress. Senate, 10/25/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 248-254] The notice NEADS received at 9:24 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report, was the incorrect claim that Flight 11 “had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, DC” (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 34] Consequently, Farmer will write, “the scramble of the Langley fighters did occur as an immediate reaction to a notification about hijacking, but that notification was not, as [Eberhart’s] testimony implies, a report that American 77 was hijacked, but the report that American 11 was still airborne and heading for Washington.” And while Eberhart claims the FAA told NEADS that Flight 77 was heading toward Washington, according to Farmer: “The FAA never notified NEADS that American 77 was heading for Washington, DC. There is no such notification recorded on any tape or in any log maintained at NEADS or at NORAD.” Furthermore, while Eberhart claims the military was following Flight 93 on radar before it crashed and was in position to shoot it down if it approached Washington, Farmer will write that “in fact, NEADS never located United 93 on radar, because the plane had already crashed by the time NEADS was notified.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 251, 254-255]
According to a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report (see April 21, 2009), US counterterrorism officials are growing frustrated at the lack of “useful leads” coming from interrogations of suspected terrorists. The officials are particularly concerned with what one Army major will later recall as “establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq.” The lack of actionable intelligence will result in military interrogators resorting to much harsher interrogation methods. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
According to a 2009 Senate Armed Services Committee report (see April 21, 2009), the Pentagon begins asking the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for assistance in developing a set of procedures for “harsh interrogations”—torture—to be used against suspected terrorists captured by US soldiers and intelligence operatives. JPRA has “reverse-engineered” a training program, Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE), which trains US soldiers to resist torture techniques if captured by an enemy, to produce harsh techniques to be used in interrogating suspected terrorists. [Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Methods Already in Use - Military interrogators have already begun using the methods inflicted on them during SERE training on their prisoners, and SERE instructors—often having no training in interrogation procedures and no experience with other cultures—have been reassigned as interrogators. [Savage, 2007, pp. 216] The JPRA program will result in the personal approval of 15 “harsh” techniques by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The policies will be adopted by US interrogators in Afghanistan, at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, and at Guantanamo. [New York Times, 4/21/2009] In a June 2004 press conference, General James T. Hill, the commander of the US Southern Command (SOCOM), which oversees the Guantanamo detention facility, will say that US officials tapped the “SERE School and developed a list of techniques.” Hill will say that he was reassured by Pentagon officials that the techniques were “legally consistent with our laws.”
Methods Devised to Produce Propaganda, Not Reliable Information - Trained interrogators are, in the words of reporter Charlie Savage, “aghast at this policy.” Savage will write that unlike many Pentagon officials, Special Forces troops, and even SERE instructors, they know full well where SERE techniques originated: from the techniques used by Chinese and North Korean interrogators to torture and brutalize US soldiers during the Korean War. The Koreans and Chinese were experts at coercing American captives to “confess” to “war crimes” and other offenses; those confessions were used for propaganda purposes. “After the war,” Savage will write, the captured soldiers “all told the same story: Chinese interrogators, working with the North Koreans, had put them through a series of sustained torments” identical to those used in SERE training “until their minds had bent and they had made the false confessions.” The stories led to the concept of Chinese “brainwashing” techniques made famous by such books and films as The Manchurian Candidate. In 1963, the CIA concluded that the techniques were virtually useless at producing reliable intelligence, but worked very well in coercing victims to say whatever interrogators wanted them to say. “[U]nder sufficient pressure subjects usually yield but their ability to recall and communicate information accurately is as impaired as the will to resist.” Savage will write, “Neither SERE trainers, who run scenarios by following the instructions in basic military manuals, nor their Special Forces trainees understood that the coercive techniques used in the program were designed to make prisoners lose touch with reality so that they will falsely confess to what their captors want to hear, not for extracting accurate and reliable information.” Colonel Steve Kleinman, the former head of the Air Force’s strategic interrogation program, will later comment: “People who defend this say ‘we can make them talk.’ Yes, but what are they saying? The key is that most of the training is to try to resist the attempts to make you comply and do things such as create propaganda, to make these statements in either written or videotaped form. But to get people to comply, to do what you want them to do, even though it’s not the truth—that is a whole different dynamic than getting people to produce accurate, useful intelligence.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 216-217]
Facing criticisms that the Bush administration lacked accurate and specific intelligence about Iraq’s alleged arsenal of illicit weapons, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld provides the Senate Armed Services Committee with a new reason for why it was necessary for the US to invade Iraq. “The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq’s pursuit of weapons of mass murder,” he says. “We acted because we saw the evidence in a dramatic new light, through the prism of our experience on 9/11.” [BBC, 7/9/2003; USA Today, 7/9/2003; Washington Times, 7/10/2003] When asked when he learned that the reports about Iraq attempting to obtain uranium from Niger were false, Rumsfeld replies, “Oh, within recent days, since the information started becoming available.” [Slate, 7/10/2003; WorldNetDaily, 7/15/2003] The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had debunked the claim four months before (see March 7, 2003). [Rich, 2006, pp. 99] Rumsfeld later revises his statement twice, first saying that he had learned “weeks,” and then “months,” before. [WorldNetDaily, 7/15/2003]
The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) sends a team to Iraq to train interrogators in harsh, SERE-derived methods of interrogation (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, July 2002, and July 1-2, 2002). JPRA personnel demonstrate a number of methods to Special Military Unit (SMU) personnel, including “walling” (see May 10, 2005) and particular methods of physically striking detainees. JPRA personnel are present at several interrogations where detainees are placed in stress positions and repeatedly slapped. In at least one interrogation, JPRA personnel take part in abusing a prisoner, stripping him naked and giving orders to place him in a stress position for 12 hours. In August 2007, one JRPA official will tell the Senate Armed Services Committee that, in regards to stripping detainees, “we [had] done this 100 times, 1,000 times with our [SERE school] students.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
The legal experts at the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate (OSJA) issue a memorandum amending the set of interrogation rules included in a September 10 memo (see September 10, 2003) by military legal experts in Iraq. The additional methods included in that memo can only be used with prior approval by Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez on a case-by-case basis, the OSJA document says. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 ] Like Major General Geoffrey Miller, the OSJA stresses the importance of collaboration between MPs and intelligence personnel. It also provides “safeguards such as legal reviews of the interrogation plans and scrutiny of how they were carried out,” the Washington Post later reports. [Washington Post, 6/12/2004] Additionally, the memo discusses how the Arab fear of dogs can be exploited. [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 ] According to a later report (see August 25, 2004) by General George R. Fay, interrogators at Abu Ghraib immediately adopt the new set of rules. But Staff Judge Advocate Colonel Mark Warren will recall that the memo is not implemented until its approval by the US Central Command (CENTCOM). [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 ] Evidence, however, supports the Fay report. “After mid-September 2003,” Fay will write, “all [s]oldiers assigned to Abu Ghraib had to read a memorandum titled IROE [Interrogations Rules of Engagement], acknowledging they understood the ICRP, and sign a confirmation sheet indicating they had read and understood the ICRP.” [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 ] According to classified documents uncovered by the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009), CENTCOM lawyers begin objecting to the policies almost immediately. One e-mail, from a CENTCOM lawyer to a Staff Judge Advocate, warns, “Many of the techniques appear to violate [Geneva Conventions] III and IV and should not be used.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
David Kay tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Iraq Survey Group has failed to find any evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. “Let me begin by saying, we were almost all wrong,” he says in his opening remarks, before revealing that the inspection teams found no weapons of mass destruction. “I believe that the effort that has been directed to this point has been sufficiently intense that it is highly unlikely that there were large stockpiles of deployed militarized chemical and biological weapons there,” he says. [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ]
Hussein Deceived Own Generals - Kay says that apparently even Iraq’s own military commanders believed, falsely, that their military possessed chemical or biological weapons that were ready to be deployed. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) asks Kay: “I believe at one point you noted that even [Saddam Hussein’s] own military officers believed that they had [WMD]. In other words, they would think—” Kay interjects, ”—that someone else had them.” Sessions asks for an explanation, and Kay says: “Well, in interviewing the Republican Guard generals and Special Republican Guard generals and asking about their capabilities and having them, the assurance was they didn’t personally have them and hadn’t seen them, but the units on their right or left had them. And as you worked the way around the circle of those defending Baghdad, which is the immediate area of concern, you have got this very strange phenomena of, ‘No, I didn’t have them, I haven’t seen them, but look to my right and left.’ That was an intentional ambiguity.” [CNN, 1/28/2003; Guardian, 1/29/2003; US Congress, 1/28/2004 ; Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155]
Trying to Have It Both Ways - In 2007, current CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see April 2001 and After) will write, “In retrospect, it appears that Saddam Hussein wanted it both ways: to convince certain audiences that Iraq had WMD, while simultaneously working to convince others that it had abandoned all its illegal programs.” In May 2006, Foreign Affairs magazine will note that Iraq’s former Defense Minister, Ali Hassan Majeed (also known as “Chemical Ali”), knew Iraq possessed no WMDs before the US invasion, but also knew that many of his colleagues “never stopped believing that the weapons still existed. Even at the highest echelon of the regime, when it came to WMD there was always some element of doubt about the truth.” The Foreign Affairs article notes that during a meeting of the Revolutionary Command Council some time before the invasion, Hussein was asked if Iraq indeed possessed such weapons. He said Iraq did not, but refused to countenance any attempt to persuade others outside of the council of the truth. The reason for this deception, Hussein said, was that if Israel believed Iraq had such weapons, it would be less likely to attack Iraq. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 154-155] Kay has just resigned as the head of the Iraq Survey Group (see January 23, 2004).
A new interrogation policy is approved for US personnel regarding prisoners detained in Iraqi facilities such as Abu Ghraib. The policy will remain classified as late as mid-2009, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) will release excerpts from it. The policy warns that interrogators “should consider the fact that some interrogation techniques are viewed as inhumane or otherwise inconsistent with international law before applying each technique. These techniques are labeled with a [CAUTION].” Among the techniques labeled as such are a technique involving power tools, stress positions, and the presence of military working dogs, all potential violations of the Geneva Conventions. [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Sometime in 2006, the deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force (CITF) at Guantanamo tells the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) that CITF “was troubled with the rationale that techniques used to harden resistance to interrogations [SERE training—see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002 ] would be the basis for the utilization of techniques to obtain information.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
General John Abizaid testifies before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. [Source: Washington Note]General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that sectarian violence in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, has grown so severe that the nation may be on the brink of civil war. “A couple of days ago, I returned from the Middle East,” he says. “I’ve rarely seen it so unsettled or so volatile. There’s an obvious struggle in the region between moderates and extremists that touches every aspect of life.” He continues, “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.” The New York Times reports that “the tone of the testimony at the Armed Services Committee’s three-and-a-half-hour hearing was strikingly grimmer than the Pentagon’s previous assessments, which have sought to accentuate the positive even as officials acknowledged that Iraq’s government was struggling to assert authority and assure security amid a tide of violence.” [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
Harsh Criticism of Rumsfeld - Abizaid is joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld had initially refused to attend the hearing, but agreed to attend after Senate Democrats criticized his refusal. Neither Rumsfeld nor Pace contradict Abizaid’s assessments, though Rumsfeld emphasizes that the war must not be lost. Pace notes that while civil war is possible, he does not believe it is “probable,” and Abizaid says he is “optimistic that that slide [into civil war] can be prevented.” Some of the harshest criticism of Rumsfeld comes from committee member Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who tells him that he failed to send enough troops to Iraq in the 2003 invasion “to establish law and order,” he erred by disbanding the Iraqi army, he failed to plan adequately for the occupation phase, and he “underestimated the nature and strength of the insurgency, the sectarian violence, and the spread of Iranian influence.” Now, she says, “we hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios, but because of the administration’s strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?” Rumsfeld responds, “My goodness,” and then says: “First of all, it’s true, there is sectarian conflict in Iraq, and there is a loss of life. And it’s an unfortunate and tragic thing that that’s taking place. And it is true that there are people who are attempting to prevent that government from being successful. And they are the people who are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women and children, and taking off the heads of people on television. And the idea of their prevailing is unacceptable.” Clinton will call for Rumsfeld’s resignation later in the day (see August 3, 2006). [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
'Whack-a-Mole' - Because of the continued instability in Iraq, Abizaid says, there is little possibility that US troops will be able to return home in any significant numbers before at least the end of the year. Instead, he says, more US troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad to contain the worsening violence in the capital, and warns that the US will undoubtedly suffer serious casualties in that operation. Acknowledging the necessity for US soldiers to stay in Iraq for the immediate future, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) finds the military’s practice of moving those soldiers from one violence-ridden part of Iraq to another little more than playing a game of “whack-a-mole.” McCain says, “What I worry about is we’re playing a game of whack-a-mole here,” with insurgent activity popping up in places that troops have vacated. “Now we’re going to have to move troops into Baghdad from someplace else. It’s very disturbing.” McCain will wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a “surge” of more American troops into Iraq (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007). [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael V. Hayden, appearing before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, states that the Afghan government’s outreach and provision of security to the country is inadequate. Hayden stresses that the key to making progress in Afghanistan is bolstering security, stating, “The capacity of the government needs to be strengthened to deliver basic services to the population—especially security.” He notes that there are not enough properly trained, equipped, or well-paid security forces in Afghanistan. “Even though the Afghan National Army continues to become larger, stronger, and more experienced, progress has been slow and little progress has been made in constructing an effective Afghan National Police force,” reads his prepared statement. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/15/2006 ]
A new report finds that the Defense Department (DoD) is displaying a “precipitous decrease in attention” to securing and controlling US nuclear arms. The report, issued today by the Defense Science Board, is the product of a task force assigned to investigate the August 2007 incident where a B-52 bomber flew across the continental United States carrying six nuclear missiles (see August 30, 2007). The report says, “The decline in DoD focus has been more pronounced than realized and too extreme to be acceptable.” The chairman of the task force, retired Air Force General Larry Welch, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee in conjunction with the report, and tells the assembled lawmakers of his concern that “the nation and its leadership do not value the nuclear mission and the people who perform that mission.” Welch’s task force points out that Air Force colonels, Navy captains, and mid-level civilians are currently in charge of managing the Pentagon’s nuclear programs, whereas during the Cold War that task was handled by senior flag officers. The task force recommends the appointment of an assistant secretary of defense for nuclear enterprise reporting directly to the defense secretary, and the delegation of flag officers in each of the military services who would focus solely on the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Part of the problem, the report notes, is the “widespread perception in both the Navy and Air Force that a nuclear forces career is not the highly promising opportunity of the past era.” [Washington Post, 2/13/2008]
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a classified 261-page report on the use of “harsh” or “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—against suspected terrorists by the US. The conclusion of the report will be released in April 2009 (see April 21, 2009). The report will become known as the “Levin Report” after committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI). Though the report itself is classified, the committee releases the executive summary to the public.
Top Bush Officials Responsible for Torture - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples,” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Began Shortly after 9/11 - The report finds that US officials began preparing to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques just a few months after the 9/11 attacks, and well before Justice Department memos declared such practices legal. The program used techniques practiced in a US military program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE—see December 2001), which trains US military personnel to resist questioning by foes who do not follow international bans on torture. As part of SERE training, soldiers are stripped naked, slapped, and waterboarded, among other techniques. These techniques were “reverse-engineered” and used against prisoners in US custody. Other techniques used against prisoners included “religious disgrace” and “invasion of space by a female.” At least one suspected terrorist was forced “to bark and perform dog tricks” while another was “forced to wear a dog collar and perform dog tricks” in a bid to break down their resistance.
Tried to 'Prove' Links between Saddam, Al-Qaeda - Some of the torture techniques were used before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq (see March 19, 2003). Much of the torture of prisoners, the report finds, was to elicit information “proving” alleged links between al-Qaeda and the regime of Saddam Hussein. US Army psychiatrist Major Paul Burney says of some Guantanamo Bay interrogations: “Even though they were giving information and some of it was useful, while we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. We were not being successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link… there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.” Others did not mention such pressure, according to the report. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009] (Note: Some press reports identify the quoted psychiatrist as Major Charles Burney.) [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009] A former senior intelligence official later says: “There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used. The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al-Qaeda and Iraq that [former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed] Chalabi (see November 6-8, 2001) and others had told them were there.… There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder.” [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Warnings of Unreliability from Outset - Almost from the outset of the torture program, military and other experts warned that such techniques were likely to provide “less reliable” intelligence results than traditional, less aggressive approaches. In July 2002, a memo from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA), which oversees the SERE training program, warned that “if an interrogator produces information that resulted from the application of physical and psychological duress, the reliability and accuracy of this information is in doubt. In other words, a subject in extreme pain may provide an answer, any answer, or many answers in order to get the pain to stop” (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009]
Ignoring Military Objections - When Pentagon general counsel William Haynes asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to approve 15 of 18 recommended torture techniques for use at Guantanamo (see December 2, 2002), Haynes indicated that he had discussed the matter with three officials who agreed with him: Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and General Richard Myers. Haynes only consulted one legal opinion, which senior military advisers had termed “legally insufficient” and “woefully inadequate.” Rumsfeld agreed to recommend the use of the tactics. [Senate Armed Services Committee, 12/11/2008 ]
Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard B. Myers, Paul Burney, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Ahmed Chalabi, Senate Armed Services Committee, Carl Levin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which released a classified report on the Bush administration’s policies on torture (see December 11, 2008), suggests to Eric Holder, the attorney general-nominee, that President Obama appoint someone with “real credibility” to mount an independent investigation into the use of torture by US officials. He tells a reporter: “We’re going to try to complete this investigation, at least on the [Defense Department] side… [b]ut on the intelligence, the CIA side, that’s going to be up to the Intelligence Committee. I know I suggested to Eric Holder… that he select some people or hire an outside person whose got real credibility, perhaps a retired federal judge, to take all the available information, and there’s reams of it.” [Think Progress, 1/22/2009]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases previously classified documents that contain excerpts from a government report on harsh interrogation tactics used by US personnel against detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. The excerpts document repeated instances of abusive behavior, sometimes resulting in the deaths of prisoners. The documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), contain a report by Vice Admiral Albert Church, who compiled a comprehensive report on the Defense Department’s interrogation operations. Church terms the interrogations at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan as “clearly abusive, and clearly not in keeping with any approved interrogation policy or guidance.” Only two pages from the Church report were released without redactions.
Deaths at Bagram - A portion of the document reports on the deaths of two prisoners at Bagram (see December 5-9, 2002 and November 30-December 3, 2002), who were, the document states, “handcuffed to fixed objects above their heads in order to keep them awake.” The report continues: “Additionally, interrogations in both incidents involved the use of physical violence, including kicking, beating, and the use of ‘compliance blows,’ which involved striking the [prisoners] legs with the [interrogators] knees. In both cases, blunt force trauma to the legs was implicated in the deaths. In one case, a pulmonary embolism developed as a consequence of the blunt force trauma, and in the other case pre-existing coronary artery disease was complicated by the blunt force trauma.” Both detainees died from pulmonary embolisms caused by, the ACLU writes, “standing chained in place, sleep deprivation, and dozens of beatings by guards and possibly interrogators.”
Deaths at Other Facilities - The documents also report on torture conducted at Guantanamo and several US-Afghan prisons in Kabul; the death of prisoner Dilar Dababa in Iraq in 2003 at the hands of US forces; the torture and beating of an Iraqi prisoner at “The Disco,” a detention facility located in the Special Operations Force Compound at Mosul Airfield in Iraq; an investigation into torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad; and the murder of prisoner Abed Mowhoush.
Process Flowed Through Undersecretary Cambone - Columnist Scott Horton writes: “A large portion of the torture, maiming, and murder of detainees occurred under authority issued under secret rules of engagement in the Pentagon. Much of this flowed through Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, a figure who has so far evaded scrutiny in the torture scandal.… Even the Senate Armed Services Committee review fails to get to the bottom of Dr. Cambone, his interrogations ROEs for special operations units he controlled, and the death, disfigurement, and torture of prisoners they handled. This is one of many reasons why a comprehensive investigation with subpoena power is urgently needed. But full airing of the internal investigations already conducted by the Department of Defense is an essential next step.” [Raw Story, 2/12/2009; American Civil Liberties Union, 2/12/2009]
Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate for Iran, and its conclusion that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program in 2003, is still valid (see December 3, 2007). Administration officials have issued contradictory opinions in the days before Blair’s testimony (see March 1, 2009 and March 1, 2009). Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asks Blair: “In 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran said that ‘the intelligence community judges with high confidence that in the fall of 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program.’ Is the position of the intelligence community the same as it was back in October of ‘07? Has that changed?” Blair answers: “Mr. Chairman, the nuclear weapons program is one of the three components required for deliverable system, including the delivery system and the uranium. But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not—has not started them again, at least as of mid-2007.” [Think Progress, 3/10/2009]
The Senate Armed Services Committee releases a report showing that CIA and Pentagon officials explored ways to “break” Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees in early 2002, eight months before the Justice Department issued its “golden shield” memo (see August 1, 2002) approving the use of waterboarding and nine other methods of interrogation that most legal observers believe amount to torture. The report, under Pentagon review since before its release, focuses solely on military interrogations, and not on interrogations carried out by CIA officers and contractors; it rejects claims by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration officials that Pentagon policies played no role in the torture of prisoners in US custody. Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) says the report shows a direct link between early Bush administration policy decisions and the torture and abuse of detainees. “Senior officials sought out information on, were aware of training in, and authorized the use of abusive interrogation techniques,” Levin says. “Those senior officials bear significant responsibility for creating the legal and operational framework for the abuses. The paper trail on abuse leads to top civilian leaders, and our report connects the dots. This report, in great detail, shows a paper trail going from that authorization” by Rumsfeld “to Guantanamo to Afghanistan and to Iraq.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; New York Times, 4/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Policies Driven from Top - One of the report’s findings is that top Bush administration officials, and not a “few bad apples” as many of that administration’s officials have claimed, are responsible for the use of torture against detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere. Levin says in a statement that the report proves that such claims “were simply false.” He adds that the report is “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] The report adds details to the material already released that showed Bush officials, particularly those in the Offices of the Vice President and Defense Secretary, pushed for harsher and more brutal interrogation techniques to be used during the run-up to war with Iraq, in hopes that results might prove the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that administration officials had long touted (see December 11, 2008). Levin says: “I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link [between al-Qaeda and Iraq]. They made out links where they didn’t exist.” Senior Guantanamo interrogator David Becker confirmed that only “a couple of nebulous links” between al-Qaeda and Iraq were uncovered during interrogations of unidentified detainees. [McClatchy News, 4/21/2009]
Ignored Warnings that Torture Techniques Worthless, Illegal - The report, released in classified form in December 2008 (see December 11, 2008), also documents multiple warnings from legal sources and trained interrogation experts that the techniques could backfire, producing false and erroneous intelligence, and might violate US and international law. One Army lieutenant colonel warned in 2002 that coercion “usually decreases the reliability of the information because the person will say whatever he believes will stop the pain,” according to the Senate report. Another official, after being briefed on plans to use “extreme methods” on detainees, asked, “Wouldn’t that be illegal?” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
Torture Methods Became Procedures at Detention Sites - Instead of being abandoned, the methods became the basis for harsh interrogations at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other US detention facilities around the world, including the CIA’s so-called “black sites.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Washington Post, 4/22/2009]
White House Officials Ignorant of SERE Techniques - The report—261 pages long and with almost 1,800 footnotes—documents how techniques from a US military training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) were adapted for use against detainees. SERE trains US soldiers to resist harsh interrogation methods if captured by an enemy that does not observe the Geneva Conventions’ ban on torture. The military’s Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JRPA) reverse-engineered SERE methods to use against detainees (see December 2001). Other tactics, such as waterboarding, were culled from methods used by Chinese Communists against US soldiers captured during the Korean War (see July 2002). [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ; Agence France-Presse, 4/21/2009; Washington Post, 4/22/2009] According to the report, Bush White House officials seemed unaware of the Chinese Communist origins of the SERE tactics, and were apparently unaware that veteran SERE trainers insisted that the methods were useless for getting reliable information from a prisoner. Moreover, the former military psychologist who recommended that the CIA adopt SERE techniques “had never conducted a real interrogation.” One CIA official called the process “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.” Bush administration officials also ignored concerns raised by military legal experts over the efficacy and legality of the techniques (see November 2002).
Torture Policies Directly Responsible for Abu Ghraib Scandal - The Armed Service Committee concludes that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were a direct result of the Bush torture policies. It writes: “The abuses of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own.… Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials (see December 2, 2002) conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in US custody.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ]
Carl Levin (D-MI), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pens a lengthy op-ed for the Huffington Post to coincide with his committee’s release of a report documenting the abuse of prisoners under Bush administration policies (see April 21, 2009). Levin calls the report “a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse—such as that seen at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and Afghanistan—to low-ranking soldiers. Claims, such as that made by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a ‘few bad apples,’ were simply false. The truth is that, early on, it was senior civilian leaders who set the tone.” Levin cites numerous statements and actions by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, among others, but the ultimate responsibility for the torture program, he writes, must lie with Bush and Cheney. Levin writes that many high-ranking officials who must be counted as supporters of the administration, such as Iraq commander General David Petraeus, opposed the use of torture and abusive interrogation methods on detainees. Levin concludes: “If we are to retain our status as a leader in the world, we must acknowledge and confront the abuse of detainees in our custody. The committee’s report and investigation makes significant progress toward that goal. There is still the question, however, of whether high level officials who approved and authorized those policies should be held accountable.” Levin has recommended that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special investigator “to look at the volumes of evidence relating to treatment of detainees, including evidence in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report, and to recommend what steps, if any, should be taken to establish accountability of high-level officials—including lawyers.” [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Rachel Maddow and Ron Suskind during their MSNBC interview. [Source: Huffington Post]MSNBC host Rachel Maddow interviews author Ron Suskind, who has written several books documenting the clandestine activities of the Bush administration. Maddow is most interested in the recent release of the Senate Armed Services Committee report documenting the use of torture against prisoners in US custody (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009). Suskind notes that there were two separate but parallel tracks being followed in the administration, authorizing both the military and the CIA to torture prisoners. He believes the administration’s underlying motive was to find, or create through false confessions, a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda that would justify the invasion of Iraq. Suskind tells Maddow: “What’s fascinating here is that if you run the timelines side by side, you see for the first time… that the key thing being sent down by the policymakers, by the White House, is ‘Find a link between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda, so that we can essentially link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks and then march into Iraq with the anger of 9/11 behind us.’ That was the goal and was being passed down as the directive.… It’s often called ‘the requirement’ inside the CIA, for both agents with their sources and interrogators with their captives: ‘Here’s what we’re interested in, here’s what we, the duly elected leaders want to hear about. Tell us what you can find.’ What’s fascinating, is in the Senate report, is finally, clear confirmation that that specific thing was driving many of the activities, and, mind you, the frustration inside of the White House… as frustration built inside of the White House that there was no link that was established, because the CIA told the White House from the very start that there is no Saddam to al-Qaeda link—‘We checked it out, we did it every which way, sorry’—the White House simply wouldn’t take no for an answer, and it went with another method: torture was the method. ‘Get me a confession, I don’t care how you do it.’ And that bled all the way through the government, both on the CIA side and the Army side.” Suskind notes that the “impetus was not to foil potential al-Qaeda attacks. The impetus here was largely political and diplomatic. The White House had a political/diplomatic problem. It wanted it solved in the run up to the war.” [Huffington Post, 4/22/2009; MSNBC, 4/22/2009]
Senator John Ensign (R-NV) calls the recently released Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009 and April 21, 2009) a “Democrat partisan” report. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews asks Ensign if he is shocked that those torture practices were based on techniques used by Chinese Communists to elicit false confessions from American prisoners of war (see 1957). Ensign accuses Matthews of being “inflammatory.” Matthews says he is not being inflammatory because he is reading directly from the report. At that point, Ensign says: “Chris, the reason I said it is because you didn’t preface that with saying that was a Democrat report. That was a Democrat partisan report. And you have to understand where the people who were doing that report—where their ideology comes from.” Matthews retorts: “Well, apparently, Senator John McCain [R-AZ] is part of what you call a ‘Democrat report.’ It’s the full committee report.… [I]t’s the Armed Services Committee report. It went through three months of review by the Defense Department, until its final release just yesterday. It seems to me this was vetted, sir. And you say this was some Democrat report.” Ensign responds: “The Democrats are in control of all of the committees. This was a Democrat majority report. This was not with the participation of the minority where the minority signed it, ‘Yes, we agree with these views.’” Before the interview, another MSNBC correspondent noted that both McCain and another Republican committee member, Lindsey Graham (R-SC), endorsed the report. And reporter Amanda Terkel, of the progressive news Web site Think Progress, reports that she spoke with a committee spokesman who confirmed that the full, unanimous committee released the report. When Matthews informs Ensign that McCain endorsed the report, Ensign says: “Well, I disagree with you. We had a discussion at lunch about this and many members of the [Senate Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee] completely disagreed with the report. That’s why I said it was a Democrat partisan report.” [Think Progress, 4/22/2009]
The former US commander of Iraq prisons in 2003, retired Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, tells CBS News interviewers that she and her fellow senior officials were scapegoated by the Bush administration for the crimes and abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib prison. She says that every order concerning prisoner interrogations came from the top down. “These soldiers didn’t design these techniques on their own… we were following orders,” Karpinski says. “We were bringing this to our chain of command and they were saying whatever the military intelligence tells you to do out there you are authorized to do.” Karpinski’s interview is in response to the report just released by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which found that the torture policies carried out by the military came directly from the highest reaches of the Bush administration as early as 2002 (see April 21, 2009). The report also concludes that the Abu Ghraib abuses were a direct result of Bush administration policies, as were widespread abuses at Guantanamo Bay. After the Abu Ghraib scandal became well known, Karpinski was demoted to colonel and later retired. She says: “The line is clear. It went from Washington, DC. From the very top of the administration with the legal opinions through Bagram to Guantanamo Bay and then to Iraq via the commander from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And the contractors who were hired to do those things.” Asked about her assertion that she and the soldiers prosecuted for crimes committed at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005) were “scapegoated” by Bush officials, Karpinski says: “Scapegoat is the perfect word and it’s an understatement. Right now, with the hard, fast facts in those memos, the black and white proof, the administration is suggesting that those operatives should be immune from any investigations or persecution.” [CBS News, 4/22/2009]
Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, defends the Bush administration’s practices of torture by denying that anything authorized by the administration was, in fact, torture. Cheney, interviewed on MSNBC, is responding to the issues raised by the recent Senate Armed Services Committee report on Bush-era torture policies (see April 21, 2009). “The tactics are not torture, we did not torture,” she says. To bolster her denial, Cheney says that the tactics are not torture because they were derived from training methods employed in the SERE program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, and July 2002). “Everything that was done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training,” Cheney says. “We did not torture our own people. These techniques are not torture.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress notes that in the May 30, 2005 torture memo (see May 30, 2005), then-Justice Department official Steven Bradbury wrote, “Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.” [Think Progress, 4/23/2009]
Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, says that he believes even senior Pakistani officials knew where Osama bin Laden was hidden (see May 2, 2011) and they still know the location of other top militants.
Knowledge at High Levels - Levin says: “At high levels, high levels being the intelligence service… they knew it.… I can’t prove it. [But] I can’t imagine how someone higher up didn’t know it. The thing that astounds me more than anything else is the idea that people in Pakistan higher up in the intelligence service [the ISI] or their police or their local officials didn’t know he was there. I find that difficult to believe.”
Possible Hearings - He says that the Senate Armed Services Committee has started a preliminary investigation into the issue of Pakistan’s possible knowledge of bin Laden’s location before his death, and the committee may hold public hearings on the issue in the future.
Pakistan Shelters Other Militant Leaders - Levin adds that he has “no doubt” that people at the highest levels of Pakistan’s government are protecting others, including top Taliban head Mullah Omar and leaders of the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. He says that Omar and others “live openly” in Pakistan. “They cross the border into Afghanistan and kill us. And the Pakistan government knows where they’re at, they’re openly living in north Waziristan. The Pakistan government knows where the so-called Quetta Shura is, which is the Afghan Taliban leadership in Pakistan.”
Denials Predicted - He concludes: “[T]he government of Pakistan is going to continue to say they didn’t know bin Laden was there. It’s kind of hard to believe that higher level people didn’t know, but they’ll continue to say that. But what they won’t say is that they don’t know where the Haqqani terrorists are because they do know, and they’ve told us they know.” [ABC News, 5/5/2011]
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