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Rotted From the Head: Senate Lays Bare Bush Torture System -- But So What?

December 14th, 2008

Chris Floyd

At last, years late -- but better late than never, I suppose -- we have official recognition by the United States Senate of a fact that has been well-known to anyone willing to even glance at reality in past decade. We refer of course to the newly released report by the Senate Armed Services Committee, in which a bipartisan panel led by Carl Levin and John McCain states quite plainly that the top officials of the Bush Administration created and maintained a systematic program of torture against the prisoners captured (or kidnapped or renditioned or simply rounded up swoopstake in mass raids) in the Terror War.

The report, based on 18 months of investigation, lays out the process by which the White House and Pentagon instigated torture, perverted the laws to justify torture and spread torture throughout the world. The Washington Post reports:

In the most comprehensive critique by Congress of the military's interrogation practices, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued a report yesterday that accuses [Donald] Rumsfeld and his deputies of being the authors and chief promoters of harsh interrogation policies that disgraced the nation and undermined U.S. security. The report...contends that Pentagon officials later tried to create a false impression that the policies were unrelated to acts of detainee abuse committed by members of the military.

"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own," the report states. "The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees."

The report is the most direct refutation to date of the administration's rationale for using aggressive interrogation tactics -- that inflicting humiliation and pain on detainees was legal and effective, and helped protect the country. The 25-member panel, without one dissent among the 12 Republican members, declared the opposite to be true.

The administration's policies and the resulting controversies, the panel concluded, "damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority."

Many of the mainstream press stories on the report stress Rumsfeld's role in the torture regimen -- which is understandable in one respect, given that the report focused on abuses in the military wing of the gulag, not the even more secret and extreme CIA branches. But it is also clear that Rummy is being put in the frame as the designated fall guy for those even higher up. For despite the corporate media attention to the Pentagon, the report makes very clear that the trail of blood and atrocity leads directly to the White House. Mark Benjamin in Salon.com spells it out:

According to the report, the torture ball started rolling with the president and his Feb. 7, 2002, memorandum stating that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to al-Qaida or the Taliban. The CIA and the Department of Defense began scurrying to establish their brutal interrogation regimes, while the White House and top Bush administration officials brushed aside legal hurdles and approved specific, horrifying techniques.

In the spring of 2002, for example, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asked then-CIA Director George Tenet to brief members of the National Security Council on the harsh interrogation program under development by the CIA, a program that has utilized waterboarding. Meetings ensued. "Members of the president's cabinet and other senior officials attended meetings at the White House where specific interrogation techniques were discussed," the report states. Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was there.

Rice also asked former Attorney General John Ashcroft to provide his stamp of approval, and he did. On Aug. 1, 2002, Ashcroft's Office of Legal Counsel issued legal memos after input from former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and former counsel to the Vice President David Addington. The memos used semantics to make abuse fair game, defining torture as only that pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

By then, the CIA was already off and running with its new authority, spiriting prisoners off the streets of Pakistan and into its network of secret prisons, or "black sites," for interrogation. On Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld joined the party, issuing a memo authorizing the use of tough techniques for detainees in military custody at Guantánamo, including stress positions, forced nudity, use of dogs and sensory deprivation. Legal memos from all three military branches had previously warned that the tactics might be illegal, but the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, put the kibosh on any further study.

Again, this has already been well-documented in several books and articles, and by earlier Congressional probes, but the Levin-McCain report is the most forthright institutional response to the shameful -- and still on-going -- torture system erected by the Bush Administration.

Now, what is going to be the upshot of this shocking report from the highest reaches of the national government? Why....nothing, of course! As Juan Cole notes, the report "calls for no sanctions to be imposed" -- and certainly no prosecution of what were clearly, beyond all question, violations of U.S. law.

Cole also professes to be "mystified" as to "why this report is being announced now, at the end of the week and at a time of the year in the political calendar when it will not get much play." Surely he is being ironic; it was released in this manner precisely to ensure that "it will not get much play." It will almost certainly be no more than a one-day story; indeed, even on its one day, it has been obscured by the Blagojevich brouhaha and the failure of the auto bailout.

Here is the bottom line: No one who was in any position of real power is going to be punished for these outrages. Not even Rumsfeld; his "fall guy" role will be confined to serving as a lightning rod for bad PR, for awhile, before an inevitable, Nixon-like "rehabilitation" somewhere down the line. (Maybe Obama will appoint him to some blue-ribbon "bipartisan" commission on some weighty matter.) Cole also expresses this wan hope:

But if I were Rumsfeld and Bush, I'd avoid a lot of travel abroad from now on. Some zealous prosecutor might have them arrested, as happened to "Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who was charged in Spain and arrested in Britain (though he was released to Chile, he had been in danger of being extradited to Spain).

This is not going to happen either. Pinochet was the retired dictator of a small state with no global heft at all. Bush and Rumsfeld are deeply entrenched figures in the world-dominating American power system. No American president -- that is to say, no temporary manager of that power system -- is going to allow such figures to be arrested or prosecuted by any foreign government. That is just a pipe dream. It simply is not going to happen in this universe -- not unless we ever manage to effect some sort of genuine change -- instead of bipartisan "continuity" -- in the American Back to Top
power system.

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