Stu Taylor's Argument

My National Journal colleague argues that one source in the Senate Armed Services report on the Bush-Cheney torture program was misquoted. Since he's referring to classified portions of the report that I have no access to, I can't say whether the alleged quip from CIA lawyer Jonathan Fredman - "if the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong" - was said exactly as phrased or not. But the defense Stu offers is telling enough:

This is not to suggest that Fredman denies making all of the controversial statements attributed to him in the committee's report. The report (and the "minutes") may well be accurate in stating that he had described the vaguely written criminal law against torture as banning only physical pain so severe as to cause permanent damage to major organs or body parts and mental pain so severe as to lead to permanent, profound damage to the senses or personality.

So the substance of the claim remains undisputed. And this is what it is: Fredman absurdly narrowed the description of torture to the loss or permanent damage to major body organs (a Gestapo standard the US nonetheless failed to reach), and anything less than this as "enhanced interrogation". Since many prisoners did actually die at American interrogators' hands, and many more were brutalized into insanity, Fredman was accurately describing the line that Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld had ordered the CIA and military to dance on. His alleged quip suggests to me that he understood the intent of John Yoo all too well. Is Levin's report discredited because a quip might - and I emphasize might - have been slightly garbled?  Please. As Taykor concedes, the substance of the charges is in no doubt.

The lameness of this defense is replicated in Taylor's attempt to defend Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the other war criminals on the Potomac. Consider this paragraph:

The report dismisses with scorn the Bush team's view that terrorists were unprotected by the Geneva Conventions, while ignoring the fact that this view had deep historical roots and was defended by highly respected scholars.(The Supreme Court rejected this position in 2006.)

There may be arguments as to what level of Geneva protection prisoners had and have (I don't favor full POW protections, for example, and never have), but there really is no serious debate about the baseline standards of Article 3 for all prisoners of any kind, standards the Bush administration knowingly violated. Then this argument:

Take the report's conclusion that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's December 2, 2002, authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo, on the recommendation of then-Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes II, "influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques, including military working dogs, forced nudity, and stress positions, in Afghanistan and Iraq."

This is true to a point. And some criticism of Rumsfeld and Haynes is warranted. But the report's language might also foster an impression, unsupported by the evidence, that Rumsfeld, Haynes, and other top officials intended to encourage the widespread, wanton abuse of prisoners that Abu Ghraib came to symbolize.

I can appreciate Stu's attempt to be fair-minded here. Seeing people one knows and likes and has covered as war criminals is wrenching.

Staying friends with publicly acknowledged war criminals would make anyone uncomfortable. I keep my private and professional lives as separate as possible, but, before this nightmare, I was a friend of Don Rumsfeld for years. That friendship perhaps blinded me for too long to the policies he was secretly implementing, and it pains me to have to write the things I have had to write about Rummy. But that's my responsibility as a journalist: to ferret out the truth and to keep my personal friendships out of it.

I have no idea what was going on in Rumsfeld's head as he authorized the exact techniques that were exposed at Abu Ghraib and then professed shock that they had actually been implemented. Rumsfeld has a reputation for expecting his explicit orders to be followed. Maybe he didn't realize what he'd done until he saw it in photos. Maybe he was in denial. He did offer his resignation, and if Bush had had any honor, he would have accepted it. But he didn't and Rumsfeld still refuses to take responsibility for torture.

And even if you take Stu's point that Rumsfeld and Cheney may not have explicitly intended the exposure of the total insanity of Abu Ghraib, or the uncontrolled insanity itself (why would any government official have wanted that debacle?), it remains undeniable that they approved the techniques that shocked the world; they sent Geoffrey Miller to Abu Ghraib specifically to "Gitmoize" it; anyone with any knowledge of the hsitroy of torture knows how dangerously fast it can spread once legitimized; they brushed away warning signs of widespread torture and abuse from heroes like Ian Fishback, who had to go to the Senate to get the matter treated seriously in Washington. Then, critically, even after Abu Ghraib was exposed, they fought like hell to retain exactly those techniques for the CIA. Why else did Cheney and Rumsfeld push so hard against McCain in the Military Commissions Act? Why is Cheney even now boasting of waterboarding, a technique no one seriously argues is not torture and which was once subject to court martial and even execution in American history.

I cannot know the subjective state of mind of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Tenet, et al as they authorized torture. I do know that the objective facts show incontrovertibly that they did authorize it, and constructed elaborate - and absurd - legal cover for it, and were utterly indifferent to its evil until it hurt them politically, and retained the option for their entire term of office and refuse to acknowledge their own responsibility for it even now. Moreover, I know that in the military, all that matters in terms of responsibility is the line of command. Whatever your "intent", if you are defense secretary, you are legally and morally responsible for all illegal and criminal acts under your command. When your own signature approves the methods of Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and you have operational responsibility for the soldiers who implemented them, you are a war criminal. Period.

Prosecute them. Friends don't let friends get away with war crimes.