New York Times Calls For Obama Administration To Investigate Cheney And Other Bush Officials For Torture

118px-richard_cheney_2005_official_portraitPresident_Barack_ObamaThe New York Times has published a blistering editorial calling upon President Barack Obama to fulfill our obligations under domestic and international law and investigate and prosecute those responsible for the torture program under the administration of President George W. Bush. The American Civil Liberties Union is also calling for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the program and possibly prosecute those responsible. The Obama Administration has steadfastly refused to prosecute anyone despite its admission that, to quote Obama, “we tortured some folks.” The political costs of such a prosecute were likely viewed as too high and Attorney General Eric Holder has again taken the politically expedient approach in avoiding any serious effort to hold those responsible for these crimes. In the meantime, many of those who would be prosecuted under domestic and international law have been writing books and giving interviews — casually discussing acts that are considered war crimes under international law.

The editorial, entitled “Prosecute Torturers and Their Bosses,” takes the position long advocated by experts in the field and various academics, including myself. There is no question that we tortured people under this program. While there are plenty of torture deniers about, both U.S. and international law is clear. Waterboarding is torture and we have prosecuted both our own citizens and foreigners for this long recognized form of torture despite early denials from people like Ashcroft. Moreover, Obama has admitted that it was torture. Holder admitted it was torture. The United Nations has denounced it as a torture. Leading Republicans and Democratic leaders have denounced it as torture. The United States Senate denounced it as torture. However, not a single person has been prosecuted by the Obama Administration. Instead, the Administration has been threatening allies who have threatened to start their own torture investigation under international treaties.

torture -abu ghraibI have previously written about the cynical calculation that led to Obama blocking the prosecution for those responsible for the torture program. He knew such prosecutions would be unpopular, and with so many constitutional principles since that time, he just did not see the value in adhering to principle (even those embodied within binding treaty obligations). Since Obama ran on a civil liberties platform, many expected an independent torture investigation as soon as he took office. After all, waterboarding is one of the oldest forms of torture, pre-dating the Spanish Inquisition (when it was called tortura del agua). It has long been defined as torture by both U.S. and international law, and by Obama himself. Torture, in turn, has long been defined as a war crime, and the United States is under treaty obligation to investigate and prosecute such crimes.

However, such a principle did not make for good politics. Accordingly, as soon as he was elected, Obama set out to dampen talk of prosecution. Various intelligence officials and politicians went public with accounts of the Obama administration making promises to protect Bush officials and CIA employees from prosecution. Though the White House denied the stories, Obama later gave his controversial speech at the CIA headquarters and did precisely that. In the speech, he effectively embraced the defense of befehl ist befehl (“an order is an order”). As I have written before (here and here), the Obama Administration has destroyed some of the core Nuremburg principles, particularly in its revisal of the “superior orders defense” to excuse U.S. officials.

The board notes that such an investigation would clearly include “former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos,” the editorial reads. “There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.”

The New York Times asks whether the Obama Administration has “the political courage” to order an investigation. That question unfortunately has been loudly and repeatedly answered in the negative.

298 thoughts on “New York Times Calls For Obama Administration To Investigate Cheney And Other Bush Officials For Torture”

  1. Every time I see one of our wounded servicemen or women I wonder if G W Bush and Cheney ever feel any remorse for what they caused not only to our own service people but the millions of people who lost their homes and were made refugees through no fault of their own. How would Bush feel if it happened to Texans? Then again probably he wouldn’t notice at all.
    We are gung-ho to have War Crime Tribunals when its the Nazis or Saddam torturing or doing the killing but we can’t seem to see the problem if our own politicians do it.

    1. Bill Devlin wrote: “We are gung-ho to have War Crime Tribunals when its the Nazis or Saddam torturing or doing the killing but we can’t seem to see the problem if our own politicians do it.”

      I have not heard anyone accuse Bush or Cheney of doing the kinds of crimes that the Nazi’s and Saddam did. There is a big difference between splashing water in the face of three prisoners which caused them no lasting harm and gassing to death thousands to millions of prisoners and burning or dumping their bodies in massive unmarked graves.

  2. Addendum: when I first knew the guy he was provocative and always trying to start a fight, with me and others. A few of us befriended him anyway. We remained close until I went off to college. I will admit a sense of some guilt in my mind about what I might have done better to help him when I could. Is that a form of survivor’s guilt, a similar nagging thought that occurs very occasionally, regarding my time in my war. Did my “privilege” blind me to what I needed to do? If nothing else, it keeps me humble.

  3. Chuck Stanley…since you’ve returned to this thread, after I said I’d never met a sadist, my recollections kicked in…one of my childhood friends qualifies (at least I think so) , and I agree, it was not and is not something I want to know more about. I cited the incident (elsewhere I think) where someone I knew well killed two elderly people with an ax. It was a savage and sadistic act carried out by someone who had amazing qualities otherwise, but a horrendous childhood in his home….that I witnessed because we grew up together. I don’t know the forensics of how his home life effected him, but I can surmise….not of it is pretty. Years later the news of his crime shocked me, in my naiveté’ I imagine, and I presume I initially block it out of my consciousness. He won’t do it again in a public venue, because he is serving life without parole. I don’t know what he’s done in prison, because I’ve not inquired. I don’t really grasp how you deal with people like that, and one reason I am interested in what you say is because I think I can learn something. If we disagree, it doesn’t mean I am not “listening” and reflecting on it.

  4. David,
    There is very little about the Gestapo and their behavior toward fliers that I don’t already know. Go back and read my account of the experiences of Kirby Cowan and the lost airmen of Buchenwald. My information is first hand, not from a book or article. I think Randy already pointed out that we both appear to know more about the subject than you do.

    I know Bob Hoover, who was also a POW. Bob managed to escape from a Luftwaffe POW camp. Those camps were nothing like Buchenwald.

    Your use of cum hoc logical fallacies is well known. My point remains. Scharff got the best and most accurate intelligence by being civil toward the POWs than any threats or torture ever did. In the Pacific Theatre of war, USMC Major Moran used much the same techniques with his Japanese POWs.

    Now, if you will excuse me I have to go to work.

    1. Chuck – your information on the Gestapo is second-hand, mostly anecdotal, not first-hand. Unless you were either a member of the Gestapo, the Luftwaffe or the USAAF or RAF your information cannot be first-hand. Just because you know someone does not make you an expert on the area or give you special gravitas.

      1. Would it be possible to suspend the Gestapo discussion and focus on the various Gestapo-type areas of our current government? To start:

        1: EPA is using methods never allowed before. Seizing land, telling land owners what they can do with their land, moving borders based on River changes.
        2: The IRS. Must I define all of its illegal use of the law?
        3: Czars in the White House. What do they do? How do they get paid? Do they have prior actions proving them ineligible for government service?

        It’s a start.

    2. Chuck Stanley wrote: “There is very little about the Gestapo and their behavior toward fliers that I don’t already know. … My information is first hand, not from a book or article.”

      If you already know everything, then why then did you ask me to give you a reference?

      As you are an aviator and older than me, I have no doubt that your knowledge in this area exceeds mine. I’m just trying to learn something here.

      So do you agree with RandyJet’s statement where he said:

      “… such a threat was not real since the antipathy of the Luftwaffe for the thugs of the SS and Gestapo was well known. He could have said, WE haff vays of making you talk, too and any POW would have known it was an empty threat.”

      Chuck, do you also disagree with Kenneth Simmons where in his book “Kriegie” that I referenced earlier he says that the Gestapo were there at Dulag Luft at Oberursel the same time that Hanns Scharff was there, and that they tortured prisoners there? Are you calling him a liar?

      It sure seems to me like Scharff was playing good cop in the classic good cop / bad cop interrogation play. This is what Mitchell established with the waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation techniques. The CIA was not anything like the Gestapo, out there shooting a dozen prisoners every single day, but they had that good cop / bad cop thing going on using the Enhanced Interrogation as the stick while other CIA agents were the carrot (just like Scharff).

    1. dubinsky wrote: “see the trial of Humpy Parker.”

      The record of his trial does not seem to exist anywhere. Have you ever read it anywhere? Do you have a link?

      The best I could find is a journalist account that he pled guilty, so no trial. He victimized thousands, mostly by targeting long haired people with a particular radio station’s bumper sticker. Then he would steal their cash, jewelry, drugs, etc. He had a big marijuana racket going. Reports of kidnapping too. The Chinese water torture and waterboarding activities were merely a side note to his nefarious activities.

      There was a book and movie made about his life. Terror on Highway 59.

      1. David,
        The trial at the cite does not name Humpy as a named defendant, but if you read the ruling, you will see he was on trial in a de facto fashion.
        Morris v. State, 697 SW 2d 687 – Tex: Court of Appeals, 9th Dist. 1985

        I don’t have a subscription to Westlaw or LexisNexis, so can’t run an in-depth search without going to the library. There won’t be any case cites if a case is not appealed and remains in the lower courts.

  5. Prarie Rose.
    Thank you. Very kind of you. That order to a subordinate by Gustav Rödel demonstrates the difference between the professional soldier and the criminal.

    Wikipedia is hardly the go-to source for solid facts for the simple reason you brought up. It can be edited by anybody. That is why responsible teachers won’t allow Wikipedia to be used for source material on assignments.

    For a much better source, I recommend the book, The Interrogator: The Story of Hanns Joachim Scharff, Master Interrogator of the Luftwaffe by Raymond Tolliver.

    1. Chuck, here’s a review for the book you recommended:

      “Ten great pages … but the rest was boring. The book is more about the interrogator himself (his experiences, who he interrogated, his life before and after the war) than about his interrogation techniques. Those techniques, while interesting, could have been covered in a 15 page magazine article. Additionally, the editing was *horrible*: the ‘U.S.’ instead of ‘us’ error (as in ‘the three of U.S. went to the park’) was especially grating.”

      Such a comment illustrates the power of allowing scholars to contribute to a book by editing its mistakes rather than leaving the mistakes and biases of one author. I noticed that you did not deny that a technique of Scharff was to threaten turning the prisoner over to the Gestapo if they did not talk.

      1. davidm, I have no idea if Scharff made such a threat, but any POW at the time knew that such a threat was not real since the antipathy of the Luftwaffe for the thugs of the SS and Gestapo was well known. He could have said, WE haff vays of making you talk, too and any POW would have known it was an empty threat. Then it is a gross breach of rationality to think that a threat is the SAME as torture. Get Real!

      2. David,
        Interesting. Your choice of picking the single two-star review of the 24 reviews of Tolliver’s book tells us more about you than of the book’s quality. You didn’t cite any of the 16 five-star reviews, nor any of the 6 four-star reviews.

        As for your claims regarding the Gestapo, I have seen no confirmation from a reliable source on that. Can you point to a reliable first-hand source? I can wait.

        1. Chuck Stanley wrote: “Your choice of picking the single two-star review of the 24 reviews of Tolliver’s book tells us more about you than of the book’s quality.”

          This kind of backhanded comment is really uncalled for. Books often present a particular narrative and many five star reviews are from true believers in that narrative. Read the reviews for yourself and you will see that the highly rated reviews are from people who want to perpetuate the narrative that German interrogators were not the terrifying interrogators they were often portrayed to be. Certainly Hanns Scharff was a great interrogator who used befriending tactics, but that is not the whole truth. He played the role of the good guy in the classic good cop / bad cop method of interrogation.

          Chuck Stanley wrote: “As for your claims regarding the Gestapo, I have seen no confirmation from a reliable source on that. Can you point to a reliable first-hand source?”

          There are some first hand accounts from POW’s illustrating the reality of the harsh conditions of Gestapo prisons, including the daily shooting of prisoners, at this link:

          Hanns Scharff was considered the best interrogator at Dulag Luft (Durchgangslager der Luftwaffe). The following page indicates that there were other interrogators there that used torture; hence, the good cop / bad cop scheme was in play.

          From the book “Kriegie” by Kenneth W. Simmons, published 1960:

          “At Dulag Luft each prisoner was studied by several psychologists in order to learn his likes, dislikes, habits and powers of resistance. The method of procedure was then determined, and the machinery was set into operation to destroy his mental resistance in the shortest possible time. If the prisoner showed signs of fright or appeared nervous, he was threatened with all kinds of torture, some of which were carried out, and he was handled in a rough manner. Others were bribed by luxuries. They were traded clean clothes, good living quarters, food and cigarettes for answers to certain questions. Those who could neither be swayed nor bribed were treated with respect and handled with care in the interrogator’s office, but were made to suffer long miserable hours of solitary confinement in the prison cells.”

          1. david – reviews are peculiar things. A good friend and I went to see Fury yesterday hoping to see a movie where they blew s**t up. And, yet, because we both watch loads of movies we discussed the film at length after wards. We could not figure out why the script was so bad and the reviews so good. Only a few of the bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes mentioned how bad the script was.

  6. ““….not wasting your time. Or mine.””
    Chuck Stanley,
    I echo Aridog. 🙂

    I read your link–excellent starting quote! Thank you for sharing that story.

  7. Aridog,
    The bureaucrats that you describe above are not the reason politicians and CIA agents and officials decided to torture. It was not civil servants making the decisions to torture or making the decision not to prosecute those that tortured.
    Chuck and Randy,
    Thanks for the clarification on the Luftwaffe!

    1. rafflaw, I was reading the Senate hearings on torture in Iraq, and the main actors in promoting it was Rumsfeld, and his coterie of political hacks who thought they knew more about getting intel than the professionals. Just as they knew that they knew more about warfare than Army professionals when they spit on the Army recommendation for the number of troops needed to occupy Iraq.

      The only instance where the Luftwaffe lost control of its POWs was after the Great Escape when Hitler himself ordered the Gestapo to take charge of the escapees and executed 50 of them when they were recaptured. In this regards, I urge all on this site to see the excellent film The Great Escape Part II with Christopher Reeve as Churchill’s cousin. It is the true story of what happened after the war ended and they went hunting for the criminals who committed that atrocity. If you liked the original movie The Great Escape, you will love this one too.

  8. Randy,
    What some people either don’t know (or choose to ignore) is that aside from top leadership, the Luftwaffe was a professional military organization, not goons like the Gestapo or SS. Most Luftwaffe officers and enlisted men had little or no use for the Gestapo and SS. It was Luftwaffe aces Rödel, Galland and a couple of others who sprung the allied fliers from Buchenwald less than a week before the Gestapo was going to hang them with music wire nooses. My friend Kirby Cowan was in that group.

    It is amazing what kind of mental gymnastics some commenters here are willing to use in order to be apologists for actions that should result in prosecutions, and in some cases make the perpetrators likely candidates for the death penalty.

    Both Hans Scharff and Major Moran actually remained friends with some of the people they interrogated. Stayed in contact and visited with many after the war. Franz Stigler was given post-war medals for his valor and humanity by the same Americans, French and Canadians he had flown against.

    How many middle eastern prisoners will be willing to sit down for Chai and pastries with their former captors after this is all over? I won’t be taking bets on the over/under.

  9. William Harasym … although I agree in principle, I also know that to prosecute one generation alone will open a can of worms that we cannot control. There really is an institutionalized class of senior bureaucrats in government that no administration, Obama’s nor Clinton’s nor Bush’s 41 & 43 could ever control. Nor any before them. I say that as as former, now retired, DoD “Fed,” and previously a uniformed member of the military. Our danger is the senior bureaucrats who go to DC as youth and never leave…they learn how to manipulate the others by sheer audacity. Cut that group by 75% and we have a chance. I doubt that will occur however. None-the-less, hope does spring eternal and one day there really might be a major “RIF” in those ranks. There are plainly too many chiefs for the “Indians” of regular civil service. I don’t hold out much hope for correcting that imbalance. But I do hope…anyway.

  10. Dang “,b>” was supposed to be & to emphasize who I was responding to….proof reading is my friend…one I seem to miss most of the time. Dang. Give me another 10 years and I just may “get it.”

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