"Mr. Tenet Declined To Be Interviewed"

TENETAlexWong:Getty

The NYT today offers a glimpse of the Bush administration's attempted defense of its full-scale adoption of torture tactics developed and finessed by Communist regimes bent on producing false confessions. They had no idea, we are now told, of the history of torture, no grasp of where the torture techniques they adopted came from, and no willingness to find out:

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

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Let us first note that if this is true, the decision to abandon the Geneva Conventions was based on literally criminal ignorance. Anyone with a degree in history or a Google account could have found out any of these things if they had wanted to. I did, as soon as the cascade of evidence of abuse and torture unleashed by Bush came to light. And let us note secondly that this is not a defense. For Tenet to have proposed a criminal torture technique without inquiring as to its history and past use is a function of criminal incompetence. For that, a man who presided over the worst attack on the homeland in US history and compounded it with destroying the moral standing of the US was awarded a Medal of Freedom.

Is it too late for Tenet to give it back?