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Columns

Terror, Torture, and the Two Parties

Pham Binh

The right is up in arms because the Obama administration released torture memos from the Bush era. The memos revealed that two Al-Qaeda bigwigs, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, were waterboarded a total of 266 times. Mohammed (or KSM as he's known in the mainstream media) was waterboarded 183 times in March of 2003 in part because Cheney and Rumsfeld were desperate to find a link between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's government to bolster their case for war. One intelligence official at the time put it this way:

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 Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi 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…Cheney's and Rumsfeld's people were told repeatedly, by CIA…and by others, that there wasn't any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies. [But they] blew that off and kept insisting that we'd overlooked something, that the interrogators weren't pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information.

The Bush administration's defenders claim that torture is an effective and necessary tool in the "war on terror" (clinically rebranded as "overseas contingency operation" by the Obama administration).

The funny thing is the techniques the Bush administration and right champion as effective were devised and used by Stalinists in North Korea, North Vietnam, and China to extract false confessions from American servicemen for propaganda purposes. That's how the Vietnamese got Republican presidential nominee John McCain to "confess" to being a war criminal. Dick Cheney apparently doesn't see any contradiction between advocating the use of methods developed to extract false confessions in order to reach the truth about future terrorist plots.

The torture scandal has put the Democratic Party and its head, Barack Obama, in a conundrum. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as far back as 2002, was aware of the waterboarding and did not object. In fact, she and/or her colleagues asked if the C.I.A. was being tough enough on suspected terrorists.

Obama has said he wants to "look forward, not backward" (translation: don't make me open this can of worms, god damn it!). Examining the legality of the policies of his predecessors creates the possibility that a future Republican administration might do the same to him in the future. It would open the Executive Branch to the childish partisan bickering that ensure Congress' approval ratings hover slightly above Bush's IQ. Furthermore, a full-blown investigation would expose the fact that the Democrats gave the Bush the green light for eight years on torture and just about everything else.

Don't hold your breath to see Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Addington, Yoo, Tenet, or Ashcroft in orange jumpsuits anytime soon. We'll be lucky to get a single prosecution out the Obama administration because so many layers of bureaucracy and people from both sides of the aisle were involved to one degree or another in making torture American policy.

The man elected to change the system is now at the head of the very Washington power structure he railed against on the campaign trail. Not only is the president surrounded by corporate lobbyists, entrenched bureaucracies, and political insiders, but he's appointed many of them to staff the top jobs in his administration.

Obama now faces a choice between the right thing to do and the easy thing to do.

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