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Joanne98 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-26-09 09:13 AM
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The Banality of Bush White House Evil

By FRANK RICH
WE dont like our evil to be banal. Ten years after Columbine, it only now may be sinking in that the psychopathic killers were not jock-hating dorks from a Trench Coat Mafia, or, as ABC News maintained at the time, part of a dark, underground national phenomenon known as the Gothic movement. In the new best seller Columbine, the journalist Dave Cullen reaffirms that Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were instead ordinary American teenagers who worked at the local pizza joint, loved their parents and were popular among their classmates.

On Tuesday, it will be five years since Americans first confronted the photographs from Abu Ghraib on 60 Minutes II. Here, too, we want to cling to myths that quarantine the evil. If our country committed torture, surely it did so to prevent Armageddon, in a patriotic ticking-time-bomb scenario out of 24. If anyone deserves blame, it was only those identified by President Bush as a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values: promiscuous, sinister-looking lowlifes like Lynddie England, Charles Graner and the other grunts who were held accountable while the top command got a pass.

Weve learned much, much more about America and torture in the past five years. But as Mark Danner recently wrote in The New York Review of Books, for all the revelations, one essential fact remains unchanged: By no later than the summer of 2004, the American people had before them the basic narrative of how the elected and appointed officials of their government decided to torture prisoners and how they went about it. When the Obama administration said it declassified four new torture memos 10 days ago in part because their contents were already largely public, it was right.

Yet we still shrink from the hardest truths and the bigger picture: that torture was a premeditated policy approved at our governments highest levels; that it was carried out in scenarios that had no resemblance to 24; that psychologists and physicians were enlisted as collaborators in inflicting pain; and that, in the assessment of reliable sources like the F.B.I. director Robert Mueller, it did not help disrupt any terrorist attacks.

The newly released Justice Department memos, like those before them, were not written by barely schooled misfits like England and Graner. John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee graduated from the likes of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Michigan and Brigham Young. They have passed through white-shoe law firms like Covington & Burling, and Sidley Austin.

Judge Bybees rsum tells us that he has four children and is both a Cubmaster for the Boy Scouts and a youth baseball and basketball coach. He currently occupies a tenured seat on the United States Court of Appeals. As an assistant attorney general, he was the author of the Aug. 1, 2002, memo endorsing in lengthy, prurient detail interrogation techniques like facial slap (insult slap) and insects placed in a confinement box.

He proposed using 10 such techniques in some sort of escalating fashion, culminating with the waterboard, though not necessarily ending with this technique. Waterboarding, the near-drowning favored by Pol Pot and the Spanish Inquisition, was prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II. But Bybee concluded that it does not, in our view, inflict severe pain or suffering.

Still, its not Bybees perverted lawyering and pornographic amorality that make his memo worthy of special attention. It merits a closer look because it actually does add something new and, even after all weve heard, something shocking to the five-year-old torture narrative. When placed in full context, its the kind of smoking gun that might free us from the myths and denial that prevent us from reckoning with this ugly chapter in our history.

Bybees memo was aimed at one particular detainee, Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured some four months earlier, in late March 2002. Zubaydah is portrayed in the memo (as he was publicly by Bush after his capture) as one of the top men in Al Qaeda. But by August this had been proven false. As Ron Suskind reported in his book The One Percent Doctrine, Zubaydah was identified soon after his capture as a logistics guy, who, in the words of the F.B.I.s top-ranking Qaeda analyst at the time, Dan Coleman, served as the terrorist groups flight booker and greeter, like Joe Louis in the lobby of Caesars Palace. Zubaydah knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He showed clinical symptoms of schizophrenia.

By the time Bybee wrote his memo, Zubaydah had been questioned by the F.B.I. and C.I.A. for months and had given what limited information he had. His most valuable contribution was to finger Khalid Shaikh Mohammed as the 9/11 mastermind. But, as Jane Mayer wrote in her book The Dark Side, even that contribution may have been old news: according to the 9/11 commission, the C.I.A. had already learned about Mohammed during the summer of 2001. In any event, as one of Zubaydahs own F.B.I. questioners, Ali Soufan, wrote in a Times Op-Ed article last Thursday, traditional interrogation methods had worked. Yet Bybees memo purported that an increased pressure phase was required to force Zubaydah to talk.

As soon as Bybee gave the green light, torture followed: Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times in August 2002, according to another of the newly released memos. Unsurprisingly, it appears that no significant intelligence was gained by torturing this mentally ill Qaeda functionary. So why the overkill? Bybees memo invoked a ticking time bomb: There is currently a level of chatter equal to that which preceded the September 11 attacks.

We dont know if there was such unusual chatter then, but its unlikely Zubaydah could have added information if there were. Perhaps some new facts may yet emerge if Dick Cheney succeeds in his unexpected and welcome crusade to declassify documents that he says will exonerate administration interrogation policies. Meanwhile, we do have evidence for an alternative explanation of what motivated Bybee to write his memo that August, thanks to the comprehensive Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainees released last week.

The report found that Maj. Paul Burney, a United States Army psychiatrist assigned to interrogations in Guantnamo Bay that summer of 2002, told Army investigators of another White House imperative: A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq and we were not being successful. As higher-ups got more frustrated at the inability to prove this connection, the major said, there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce that intelligence.

In other words, the ticking time bomb was not another potential Qaeda attack on America but the Bush administrations ticking timetable for selling a war in Iraq; it wanted to pressure Congress to pass a war resolution before the 2002 midterm elections. Bybees memo was written the week after the then-secret (and subsequently leaked) Downing Street memo, in which the head of British intelligence informed Tony Blair that the Bush White House was so determined to go to war in Iraq that the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. A month after Bybees memo, on Sept. 8, 2002, Cheney would make his infamous appearance on Meet the Press, hyping both Saddams W.M.D.s and the number of contacts over the years between Al Qaeda and Iraq. If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.


Continued>>>
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/opinion/26rich.html?_r=2
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