Torture Memos Expose Dark, Imperial Presidency

by Robert S. Becker, Ph.D. on April 28, 2009

Abuse Pushed Hard To Justify Iraqi Invasion

This was not a happy week for the torture lobby, nor its defenders, derailing months of charm offensive by Bush-Cheney legacy boosters. A wary President Obama backed off attempts to defuse the torture parade – fretting over divisive investigations and hard-to-win court convictions. Public indignation likely surpassed February polling when 65% favored torture investigations, 40% criminal prosecutions.

Two releases, from the White House and Senate, disclose a premeditated Bush-Cheney torture program that postdated the original transgression, namely invading Iraq under false pretenses. This sequence dramatically reverses classic scandals, whether the Scooter Libby/CIA outing, Watergate, Iran-Contra or Clinton escapades. Earlier, the charade of cover-ups followed crimes, thus the countless perjury convictions. With Bush-Cheney interrogation, unholy torture was authorized to serve the unholy smokescreen clouding an unholy invasion.

Complicity with torture spreads like a toxic asset, impacting not just disgraced Bush lawyers or jailed Abu Ghraib soldiers (who, we learn, followed orders), but big-time officials, intell specialists, and agencies (CIA and armed forces). Consider pliant Democrats who went along and, like Senator Feinstein, condoned a string of Bush Attorneys General blind to waterboarding as torture. Political, let alone legal radioactivity won’t vanish by “moving forward.”

Warring Against the Constitution

What do we know? This scandal combines ruthlessness, contempt for law and magnitude: waterboarding hardly stands alone, one of ten abuses.

For me, the “torture debates” dramatize the dark side of an imperial presidency that made war on the Constitution, the separation of powers, and the rule of law. This scandal has legs by symbolizing the Bush Era, with Watergate-sized implications. Of course, big revelations that expose rogue White Houses once a generation bring good news, too. Eventually, the bottom line of governance re-appears: what real safeguards stand against authoritarian presidents gutting clear-cut legal statutes and decades of treaties?

Today, few buy President Bush’s celebrated lie from ‘05, “We do not torture.” Evidence mounts, inside and outside the government, that fixes this con alongside Bush classics: “Mission Accomplished” or “bin Laden: dead or alive.” Is Dick Cheney’s desperation not showing, sending dismal credibility to new bottoms? In contrast, President Obama, after a stumble, corrected any restraints on Attorney General Holder or Congress from mandated roles to uncover secret torture and determine remedies.

Torture Insinuates an Administration

We now have high confirmation that:

1) Torture spanned a government-wide conspiracy to ferret out spin (whether true or not) for invading Iraq; as Frank Rich summarizes this crusade, “If only 9/11 could somehow be pinned on Iraq, the case for war would be a slamdunk.”

2) Torture incorporated “reverse engineering” infamous, Chinese communist Korean War abuses designed to coerce false confessions for propaganda;

3) Torture remained U.S. policy for seven years, impacting Abu Ghraib, Qitmo, and black sites, despite protestations by the Pentagon, State Dept., and FBI;

4) Torture was approved and monitored by the president, V.P., and the Sec’y of Defense.

5) Torture secured no special intell, nor reliably deflected terrorist attacks;

6) Torture-induced confessions empower defense objections that jeopardize future convictions.

7) Torture, Qitmo, and Abu Ghraib fueled worldwide terrorist recruitment, anti-Americanism.

And more weekly goodies:

1) In total denial of last week’s revelations or expert testimony (from ex-CIA Inspector General, ex-FBI head) torture doesn’t work, the rightwing’s obsessive, pro-torture drumbeat continues, led by Cheney, oblivious to public opinion.

2) Law professor Jonathan Turley reminds us signed treaties obligate us to investigate all torture allegations as potential war crimes;

3) Favoring knowledge over punishment, Americans welcome disclosure, echoing John McCain: torture is “not about them; it’s about us… the things we stand for and believe in and practice . . . an observance of human rights.”

I expect torture inquests to become more non-partisan as Republicans bolt from Cheney’s rejection of “human rights.” Insider Newt Gringrich condemned torture years ago as violating “the foundation of American values.” The ultimate GOP icon, President Reagan, in 1984 rejected torture as “an abhorrent practice” and praised a century “of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment.” Note, not just torture, but “inhuman treatment.” Of course, Reagan the WWII vet knew a Japanese torturer was put to death for waterboarding Americans.

More revelations are coming, soon from Justice on legal ethics, thus keeping the torture lobby on the run. That torture is “cruel and inhuman,” doesn’t work, marginalized national security, jeopardized future indictments, and fueled terrorist recruitment – that’s why this scandal won’t fade. The media is on board. If nothing else, we can now assess a terrible national disgrace, Abu Ghraib. Rethink those “few bad apples,” per Donald Rumsfeld’s blatant lie, having authorized prison brutality. What emerges is the entire rotten apple tree – the planting and force-feeding apples of abuse – farmed by the unholy trinity: Rumsfeld, his bullying pal, V.P. Cheney, and W., the gullible dupe blind to torture on his watch and any potential “war crimes.”

To read an earlier cry in the dark, see my November 2005 dissent, “We do torture”:

For more whether torture is legal:

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