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April 22, 2009

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A Perfect Storm of Ignorance and Enthusiasm would make a great title for a history of the Bush administration.

*sigh*

I keep having this nightmarish impression of a catastrophic unremarked faith in ... professionals and professionalism, maybe. Look, everyone here is wearing suits. All this makes sense.

And that's still just me trying to translate this.

Oh man. I didn't think the SERE story could be worse than I thought, but it is!

The institutional context always matters, especially when leaders take the blundering, arrogant approach that the Bush admin did. Take the facts uncovered in the article a step further, and I think you can pretty easily discount any supposed "knowledge" that torture produces valuable intelligence. Any such knowledge would have been the product of the same flawed institution.

In the ordinary bureaucratic context, folks on the right understand this - and indeed they've made a living off of stories of such disconnect - but for some reason they are blind when their guy is in charge and the issue is torture. I don't understand it.

"The fact that no one knew what the actual interrogators thought of all this is standard for the Bush administration, but it should not have been."

It's mind numbing what the past eight years managed to normalize...

"The agency was counting on the Justice Department to fully explore all the factors contributing to a judgment about legality, including the surrounding history and context," the official said."

This sounds fishy to me, and is a response which fits perfectly into the "good faith defense" which the CIA is attempting to construct. "We were relying on the lawyers to tell us that it was okay."

This despite the fact that any agent and/or interrogator would have been trained in legal, historic and policy issues vis-a-vis torture. Their training must cover these issues as to what constitutes legal and illegal methods of coercion, because the FBI agents were able to spot it immediately and balked at -- and ultimately refused to participate -- in these interviews. The CIA has no excuse.

Also, Seton Hall University School of Law has an ongoing project on detainee abuse whereby they have reviewed over 100,000 pages of documents released from the Dept. of Defense (DOD) under FOIA. Most recently (April 1, 2009) they released two reports detailing the responses of the FBI and DOD to the torture of detainees. One is titled "Torture: Who Knew". T

All of Seton Hall's reports are available online at http://law.shu.edu/center_policyresearch/Guantanamo_Reports.htm

BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT, BULLSHIT. Rumsfeld and Bush as aviators would have known or participated in SERE training. Many or most of the CIA officers would have known and nearly all of the Navy Medical Officers would have known or trained at SERE. Colin Powell would have know of SERE. Jesus Christ, does everyone embrace ignorance as virtue so Goddamn easily?

I haven't finished reading the article, I'm so sickened. The whole article is based purely on the people involved's say-so, i.e. the story isn't "Nobody knew !" but "They claim they didn't know". Wow, SURPRISE.

I'm not saying that everybody knew what they were doing, or that ignorance of those things wasn't a contributor to how it worked out, if you're looking for an explanation and not an excuse.
But I'm pretty sure a lot of that ignorance was willful, and anyway it shouldn't be an excuse. And most importantly, OF COURSE they'll say they didn't know stuff. They might be wrong, they might be right, but what they say has no bearing on that whatsoever.

Hey, I know of willful ignorance. Once I exploited a might-be-a-bug on a morpg. I didn't inform the creators of the game that there might be a bug before exploiting it, and even posted instructions saying not to inform them on a private forum that the creators had access to but didn't read (stupid, I know).
Yet when I got called on cheating, I was OUTRAGED. I'd been doing it all in TOTAL good faith !
It's only after some simmering-down time that I realized that I'd been deluding myself and that I had cheated. That for all my rationalizations, if I had been above board I wouldn't have been afraid of the game creators finding the "bug" before I could exploit it, I would have asked them about it first thing !

I can easily imagine the CIA being in the same place right now. "But we didn't know ! I thought it was like hazing ! I wasn't told ! It didn't occur to me !".
Bullshit. You were so gung-ho or pressured about this that you didn't try to find out stuff, that might be true, you might have believed in good faith you were doing the right thing, and by all means explore that in your quest for self-knowledge, but to everyone else it's irrelevant.

My understanding is that SERE is only for those who have a high risk of capture, so that would have ruled out Bush the younger, unless he was in danger of getting stuck in a frat party kegger. Rumsfeld was a Navy aviator and the program wasn't extended to the Army and Navy until the Vietnam war. Colin Powell, I don't know about, but he certainly wasn't in the inner circle.

I have to agree with r. This is bullshit squared. "Oh lord, we didn't know that this was actually torture! Who could have thought that!". Let me say it again. BULLSHIT.

Every normally educated person with a trace of a conscience can identify torture for what it is. Hell, even the proponents of a torture regime know it, which is demonstrated by the attempts to destroy evidence of it. It is evil, it is degrading, and it is UNACCEPTABLE for a country that fancies itself the leader of the free world.

So why was torture sanctioned anyway? Why is it that until this very day still around a third of the American public is open to accept torture? THIS is what deserves some investigation.

I remember perfectly well those days in the past, because I was watching them with growing horror. Basking in the afterglow of a quick military victory, this "the gloves have come off" rhetoric superseded any doubts. America was swept along in a huge wave of patriotism, and only few had the courage to stand up and say "hey, what we're doing here is wrong". It wasn't ignorance, it was COWARDICE.

In a way, thank god for the subsequent disaster in Iraq to slowly wake the American public from its self-absorbed dreamy victory slumber. It took long enough. But had Bush/Cheney succeeded here, the transformation of America into an unchecked rogue and torture state would have been completed AND sanctioned by the public.

THIS is the really scary truth. Not this "oh god, we didn't know! How incompetent!" nonsense.

josh marshall taught us a long time ago that the important thing about an article like this is not so much what it says, but who leaked it and why and against whom.

why this massive claim of ignorance, right now? why the admission that these were methods designed to produce false confessions, not good intelligence? why now?

who are the 'former c.i.a. offical's, the 'former top officials', and the other sources? and why are they spinning in this direction?


i'm not a good enough kremlinologist to fill in the details. i think at the least, it shows that the united front is breaking up. people are scared. cheney is no longer able to enforce the code of silence.

it is the responsibility of every american who loves justice to keep up the pressure and the outrage. our pressure *is* making a difference.

that's partly because the white house is no longer occupied by a gang of criminal thugs. but having non-criminals in the white house is only a necessary condition for seeing justice done; it is not sufficient.

unless they are demanded by a large body of citizens, obama will not proceed with real prosecutions. we need to make him do it.

This is silly, and a kind of silliness that is dangerous. "If only they'd known", it leads you to think. "We have to make sure next time they know."

This didn't happen because they didn't know what they were doing, the administration AND Congressional leadership didn't approve of it out of ignorance. Congressmen investigating didn't ask if maybe we weren't going too easy on them out of ignorance. It happened because of one of the dirty little secrets of modern politics and psychiatry:

A frighteningly large percentage of politicians are sociopaths.

High functioning sociopaths, of course. Sociopaths who've successfully learned to conceal their lack of a conscience. But sociopaths none the less.

Modern politics, besides providing the ideal career path for sociopaths, does a pretty good job of filtering normal people out. If you're reluctant to make promises you know you can't keep, to tell one group of people one thing, and another something else, you won't do well in high level politics.

"that's partly because the white house is no longer occupied by a gang of criminal thugs."

Dream on. It's just a different gang.

on a different note, does anyone else think the times story should have been illustrated with picture of sgt. schultz, saying, "i know nussssing!"

I find it unbelievable that George Tenet did not know the details of SERES.

But maintaining ignorance consistently is one possible legal defense: if a jury can be convinced that Tenet was genuinely completely ignorant.

Dream on. It's just a different gang.

One group tortured; the other proposed to raise Brett's taxes, to the extent he earned more than $250,000. Just exactly the same.

he had no idea of the origins and history of the SERE program when the C.I.A. started it in 2002.

One of the things that repeatedly dumbfounded me about the Bush adminstration was this: I'm just a guy. I'm reasonably well-read, but I have no experience in or special knowledge of national security matters. But over and over again, things I knew were beyond the ken of the administration's policy makers.

One thing about this post struck me as odd. Hilzoy is exercised about the lack of competence involved in not knowing the background of the SERE program and its history of inducing false confessions. Um, what about the moral issue? Like, SERE was based on the assumption that our prisoners were somewhat likely to encounter not "interrogation" but torture at the hands of fanatical ideological psychopaths, so we wanted them to be prepared. Maybe knowing the background would cause a few questions, like: hmmm, this "reverse-engineered" SERE program seems based on the idea that we'll sample buffet-style the torture tactics of the folks we were preparing against and use them for our side? Isn't that really really twisted? I get that not knowing this involved a lack of due diligence, especially about the false confessions part. But let's not lose the moral aspect either.

rea: But over and over again, things I knew were beyond the ken of the administration's policy makers.

A national security report made by 10 Downing Street to the UK Parliament in the run-up to the Iraq war was found - by someone who knew how to use Google! - to depend largely on a report written by a university student several years earlier.

When you are attempting to promote policy based on lies, being ignorant is a feature, not a bug.

SERE was based on methods originally designed to yield false confessions.

Why make a detour through "didn't know" about this history?

Why assume the US program wasn't designed to produce false information? It's completely consistent with the fabrication of other intelligence.

It does remind me of the "I forgot" comedy sketch that Steve Martin used to do in the 1970's.

The set-up went something like "two small words that can help you get out of so many problems...I FORGOT"...."I forgot armed robery was illegal"..

a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm

Heh, I think I know that person.

kid bitzer asks the right question: who leaked it and why and against whom? I think this is part of the game to see who is left holding the torture bag, CIA or DOJ, which seems pretty clear from "The agency was counting on the Justice Department to fully explore all the factors contributing to a judgment about legality, including the surrounding history and context"

Any prosecution against CIA personnel, whether low or high level, and they will point to the OLC memos and say, "Hey, we asked if this was legal, and DOJ said it was, what do you expect us to do?" Key here will be, of course, whether they could rely on the memos when the facts that were represented to Bybee/Yoo/Bradbury were not true (I think at least one of the memos states something like "if the facts aren't as you say they are, you cannot rely on this opinion" - which is what we put in tax opinions all the time).

That, of course, will be what the DOJ officials will point to if they are prosecuted, "Hey, CIA told us that these techniques really didn't do much harm, were used sparingly, and were constantly monitered by medical personnel, how are we supposed to know that wasn't true?" That argument is a little hard to take when subsequently OLC finds out that, whoops, things are not as they seem.

Ultimately, what we will likely find is that all players were in on the game, CIA wanted to use the techniques but wanted legal cover, Cheney et. al. also wanted to use them to prove a link to saddam (per the recently released senate report), and Bybee/Yoo/Bradbury, in concert with Addington, were all too happy to oblige.

If the Obama administration is serious about prosecuting this, they should start with Yoo. He's soft.

Why assume the US program wasn't designed to produce false information? It's completely consistent with the fabrication of other intelligence.

And also consistent with the recent news that the Bush Admin OKd torture in order to get "evidence" connecting Saddam to the 9/11 attacks.

No, I don't buy the claims of ignorance, not even from those who didn't get SERE training. Anyone in the US with any decent knowledge of history knows that torture has always been used to get predetermined results, in order to justify predetermined policies.

The Bushies knew there was no link between Saddam and the 9/11 attacks. Well, maybe not Bush himself, who was the most purely ignorant President we've ever had - but Cheney and Rumsfeld certainly knew it.*

Cheney and Rumsfeld also knew enough about the history of torture - how it's been used from antiquity to the modern era for the precise purpose of extracting false confession - to know torture would be useful to them for establishing a false link between Saddam and al-Qaeda.

Really, there is no dungeon deep enough for these monsters. And to those who defend them still... go crawl back under the rocks you came from.

*They already knew there was no real evidence, because why elsewould they go to the trouble to create an entire shadow intelligence apparatus designed to produce false evidence?

Ugh, I agree that the place to start peeling them off is with the lawyers, but also the doctors and psychiatrists. If the professional associations start pulling people's licenses, they'll point to the others.

Depending on when research started on this article, there does seem to be a straight line connecting Obama allowing for the policy-developers to face further legal scrutiny and all these folks coming forward to dish.

I share in the calls of BS: this looks like a lot of ass-covering. If it happens to be true, though, I might modify my desire that they all be skinned alive to an expectation that they spend a few months in public stocks to be pelted with rotten eggs. Oh, and prison.

There is no way in hell these people did not know about the SERE program. Even if they did not – they were briefed on the specifics. This is old news:

With one known exception, no formal objections were raised by the lawmakers briefed about the harsh methods during the two years in which waterboarding was employed, from 2002 to 2003, said Democrats and Republicans with direct knowledge of the matter. The lawmakers who held oversight roles during the period included Pelosi and Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), as well as Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan).

Individual lawmakers' recollections of the early briefings varied dramatically, but officials present during the meetings described the reaction as mostly quiet acquiescence, if not outright support. "Among those being briefed, there was a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing," said Goss, who chaired the House intelligence committee from 1997 to 2004 and then served as CIA director from 2004 to 2006. "And the reaction in the room was not just approval, but encouragement."

“briefed about the harsh methods” and “a pretty full understanding of what the CIA was doing”.

And while there is no doubt that Bush and his administration bear the primary responsibility for all of this, top Democrats were complicit. Following the last few threads on this topic here, that fact has been largely ignored. They only had problems with it as the elections came closer.

At least the Bush administration and the CIA are consistent – they defend their actions even today. Top Democrats were enablers and then flipped for political gain.

And Obama is just posturing now – no one will ever be prosecuted for any of this. Pelosi was in it up to her neck.

here's another good article on this, from Spencer Ackerman.

--

And while there is no doubt that Bush and his administration bear the primary responsibility for all of this, top Democrats were complicit.

which forms of torture did Pelosi authorize ?

To the extent that members of the Bush administration are using ignorance as an excuse, I agree 100% with the objections to it on this thread.

But I also think that there was plenty of (often willful) ignorance in the Bush White House. Ideology and loyalty appear to have been more important than knowledge or expertise.

Whatever the particular admixture of ignorance in this case, it doesn't provide any legal cover for those guilty of war crimes. They had an affirmative duty to know what they were doing.

OCSteve -- To the extent *anyone* had a hand in this disgrace, I don't care what letter goes after their name. If Pelosi had enough information to know better, she should go down too.

of course they knew about SERE training: Bush (pilot), Cheney (former SecDef), Rumsfeld (Navy pilot, SecDef).*

it's ridiculous to think otherwise.

* - i think we can assume Colin Powell knew about what was going on, too.

it's ridiculous to think otherwise

Yes, it is. Rare moment of cleek-agreement, here.

The only possible reason for a claim such as this is that they're lying.

It's way past time to dump this whole mess out into the light and see it in its entirety. Including the stuff that's still currently classified.

OCSteve - I wouldn't put too much reliance on Porter Goss says, he's a lying fnck who managed to trash the agency and get his criminal friends appointed to the highest levels of the CIA.

That said, if it were true that those members of Congress were fully briefed, and I find it hard to believe that the Bush administration was happily telling them everything it was doing all the time (you know, the administration that treated congress as pretty much irrelevant for 8 years), then fnck them too.

farmgirl: OCSteve -- To the extent *anyone* had a hand in this disgrace, I don't care what letter goes after their name. If Pelosi had enough information to know better, she should go down too.

Sure. But let's not forget that the Republicans who are bringing this up are doing so as a strategy against prosecuting Republicans - or because they are readily duped by their party into believing that the Democrats really are "just as bad". A problem with serious discussion about this is the insistance of Republicans that blame has got to be "bipartisan" - they feel obscurely yet strongly that it would be fundamentally wrong for the blame to land exclusively on Republicans - even if Republicans were exclusively responsible.

Hence the reiterations by Brett and OCSteve that Pelosi and Reid have got to be blamed, and that Obama will shield them at the cost of prosecuting those responsible for authorising torture.

In fact, the person Obama is most likely to need to shield is the man he picked to be his Secretary of Defense - who, unlike Pelosi or Reid, is likely to be directly implicated in the US military's torture of prisoners. Obama's decision to value continuity over morality last November was the first strong indication that he wouldn't support investigation or prosecution.

A frighteningly large percentage of politicians are sociopaths.

High functioning sociopaths, of course. Sociopaths who've successfully learned to conceal their lack of a conscience. But sociopaths none the less.

Why on earth would you expect a single person to accept this evidence-free and, frankly, libelous assertion on your say-so?

Sounds like officials are laying the groundwork for a "good faith" ignorance defense.

The popular conservative saw "Ignorance is no excuse for the law" comes to mind.

I'll second Ugh's last sentence @ 9:26 - but as a possible minor defense of the participation of the Congresspeople OCSteve named via the WaPo link, one has to remember that during the Bush 43 Administration, Congressional "briefings" on intelligence matters (especially where Democrats had to be involved) were often conducted in one degree or another of secrecy - for "national security" purposes, of course - and that even if they HAD wanted to blow the whistle, they would have been constrained by the confidentiality rules as to what they could publicly say.

Of course, as OCS points out, there's no particular evidence that any of the Congresscritters cited made any objections even afterward; except when/where it was politically convenient.

Oh, and what Ugh said re Porter Goss: he's scarcely the most disinterested party, he might be correct, but one should take his accounts with a grain of salt.

Obama's decision to value continuity over morality last November was the first strong indication that he wouldn't support investigation or prosecution.

I respectfully disagree, Jesurgislac.

The first indication that he wouldn't support investigation or prosecution is that he never made investigation or prosecution an issue in his campaign.

The second major indication was his vote on FISA "reform," with its attempt to retroactively protect those who had broken the law.

There's never been any indication that Obama was interested in investigating or prosecuting the crimes of the last eight years.

I'm not sure, but I find it quite plausible that someone might undergo SERE training yet not understand the antecedents. The purpose of such a program is not to encourage a deeper understanding of the history of torture, but a practical understanding of the techniques that could be used against you. Perhaps someone on the board has undergone SERE training and could explain how the program explains about the history of torture, but to draw a possibly distant analogy, there are a lot of people instrumentalists who don't know the history of their instrument.

And speaking of "false confessions"....

The hits just keep on comin'!

Via McClatchy :

Report: Abusive tactics used in effort to find Iraq-al Qaida link

Nut graf:

"There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used," the former senior intelligence official said on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

"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."

RTWT.

"And while there is no doubt that Bush and his administration bear the primary responsibility for all of this, top Democrats were complicit."

What you're talking about are the Gang of Four briefings. Members of Congress responsible for intelligence oversight were given briefings into the planned "enhanced interrogation" programs.

The Democrats you're talking about a Pelosi, Harman, Bob Graham, and Rockefeller. R's were Goss, Hoekstra, Shelby, and Roberts.

Note:

Congressional officials say the groups' ability to challenge the practices was hampered by strict rules of secrecy that prohibited them from being able to take notes or consult legal experts or members of their own staffs.

And:

Harman, who replaced Pelosi as the committee's top Democrat in January 2003, disclosed Friday that she filed a classified letter to the CIA in February of that year as an official protest about the interrogation program. Harman said she had been prevented from publicly discussing the letter or the CIA's program because of strict rules of secrecy.

So we're talking about a total of eight members of Congress, four Dems and four Reps, who were briefed on something but were not allowed to take notes, discuss the proposed techniques with their legal or other staff, or with other members of Congress.

"Complicit" is a word that needs some unpacking.

As far as I'm concerned, those eight failed miserably in their oversight responsibility, and it would be fine with me if any of them still in office got the sack. It would be fine with me if we investigated them to see what they knew when, and whether they own any criminal liability in not disclosing what they knew.

But I note that it would have been pretty difficult for them, in 2002 or 2003, to raise any kind of effective protest. It would have been their word, period. They would have had no documentation, no legal finding, no nothing other than their bald statement that the CIA was doing something "bad".

russell,

I think the record of the eight congresspeople in question (and their Senate counterparts) needs to be investigated by someone with access to the whole record.

But I also think complicity is broader than this. For example, I think a good case can be made that those who voted for the Military Commissions Act in the fall of 2006 are also complicit in the administration's war crimes.

One of the things that repeatedly dumbfounded me about the Bush adminstration was this: I'm just a guy. I'm reasonably well-read, but I have no experience in or special knowledge of national security matters. But over and over again, things I knew were beyond the ken of the administration's policy makers.

Yes. If their claims to not knowing anything about the history of torture are true, then they are either retarded or have lived in a world without television, movies or books. Either way they would be unfit for public life. Load o'crap.

As far as the difficulty of the Congress people coming forward to blow the whistle on the "techniques" back in 2002/2003, that's bullcrap, as well. All they had to do is stand up in the meeting and say they would not be silent if our government tortured. Hard? Yes. But pushback at that point could have made a big difference. They were too afraid for their careers, moral cowards. They allowed other humans to be tortured because they were afraid they would lose power. I have no sympathy.

Ben: I respectfully disagree, Jesurgislac.

Good points both, actually, Ben.

Svensekr: As far as the difficulty of the Congress people coming forward to blow the whistle on the "techniques" back in 2002/2003, that's bullcrap, as well.

I'd be quite happy to know exactly what they were briefed on and let the political chips fall as they may. Were they told "enhanced interrogation" or was it made explicit to them exactly what techniques the Bush administration had discussed and decided to authorise?

And if George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Bob Gates, and all the rest of the senior Bush administration officials who were directly responsible for the US torture of prisoners are in the dock on trial for their crimes... then I fully expect that Republicans will scream that there ought to be at least some Democrats in the dock too. But for that, I think they'll have to rely on the testimony of the Bush administration officials confessing in explicit detail to the crimes they told the senior Democrats they intended to commit...

Any of you as old as I am know this is exactly what we fought the Cold War AGAINST. I know the grammar is wrong, but the wording seems poetic when stated this way. I am, and have been, so ashamed of this whole episode. I hate being ashamed of my country, but to go into denial to avoid being ashamed is even worse. The saddest part for me is that it wasn't Bush, it was US. We elected him twice.

I'm gradually renewing my pride in my country, but this chapter needs to be cleaned up.

They were too afraid for their careers, moral cowards.

Concerned perhaps for more than just their own careers, but I'm sure that was also on their mind.

My point was more about the number (4 dems in total) and less about their character.

But I also think complicity is broader than this.

I agree. With a handful of exceptions, the Congress of the Bush years was remarkable for its utter failure to act as a check on the executive.

Jay C: Of course, as OCS points out, there's no particular evidence that any of the Congresscritters cited made any objections even afterward; except when/where it was politically convenient.

Jay C, you yourself point out the Bush administration's preventive attack on this problem, decreeing complete secrecy, so members of Congress (and anyone else informed of the program) could not speak publicly. This had the force of law -- people might have been prosecuted.

Jane Harman went on record, so she says. So did Philip Zelikow.

At the time, in 2005, I circulated an opposing view of the legal reasoning. My bureaucratic position, as counselor to the secretary of state, didn't entitle me to offer a legal opinion. But I felt obliged to put an alternative view in front of my colleagues at other agencies, warning them that other lawyers (and judges) might find the OLC views unsustainable.

Philip Zelikow, interviewed by Rachel Maddow

We may wish that someone had the courage to speak publicly at the time, risking consequences, but I don't think it's fair to demand that. We may admire such courage from public officials when it's displayed, but we cannot require it.

As for the administration's ignorance, that is clearly a pretense. Zelikow continues,

My colleagues were entitled to ignore my views. They did more than that: The White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo. I expect that one or two are still at least in the State Department's archives.

They were too afraid for their careers, moral cowards.

not just their careers. leaking that kind of information would have put them in jail. and given the mood of the country, it might have even put their lives in danger. and the program would have continued, regardless.

even now, the country doesn't really have the appetite to fight this stuff - the media is still afraid to use the word 'torture' when talking about torture. fight this in 2002 by leaking secret information ? absurd.

the Congress of the Bush years was remarkable for its utter failure to act as a check on the executive.

I think what the Bush years prove, or nearly prove, is that Congress is powerless in the face of an executive who is determined to ignore it, and that the President is King.

even now, the country doesn't really have the appetite to fight this stuff

Polls suggest otherwise, cleek.

What is true is that our policy elites (including the media) desperately want to avoid fighting this stuff.

What is true is that our policy elites (including the media) desperately want to avoid fighting this stuff.

and sometimes, that's all that matters.

liberal japonicus : I'm not sure, but I find it quite plausible that someone might undergo SERE training yet not understand the antecedents.

I'm not sure it's understanding the antecedents the issue... I think it's an issue of understanding those techniques are torture and not just harsh training exercises.

I mean, look at this : 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.

I assume anyone who had undergone the training would at least know those were torture techniques the enemy might use. I find it hard to believe anyone else wouldn't know it either, I mean, it's in the NAME of the program ! Survive, Evasion, Resistance and Escape... from fluffy blankets, what else ?

I think what the Bush years, and plenty of years before them, prove, is that Congress doesn't care to rein in the Executive, if it might result in them being held responsible in the event things don't turn out well.

Powerless? They've got plenty of power, just no spine.

Well I'm going to step in an defend Obama a little.

One doesn't normally announce the target of a prosecution until the case has been built pretty well. So it is understandable to me that the Obama administration would be vague about targets. I also think that it is understandable why, if a prosecution happens at all, the target will be narrowed down to those who gave the orders, rather than those who obeyed: it is a more effective way to clean up corruption to get the top people then to get the lower ones.

But prosecutions are not going to be easy. There is the instinctive opposition of powerful people who see themselves and their peers as a ruling class, not accountable. There are all the people with periferal involvemnt in the troture who don't want their involvement brought to light even if they aren't going to be prosecuted--and some of those people are in positions to block investigations. There are all the people who have had time to shred files, erase tapes and so on. Generally prosecutors don't take a case to court if they don't think they can win.

So it may be that the Obama administration just isn't sure that an investigation will lead to successful prosecutions.

It may be that that the best we can get is for some of the dirty linen to get aired (like the torture memos) and that indviduals get punished through other means. For eample, impeaching thaht judge whose mane starts with a "B" that hilzoy wrote about. Getting Yoo disbarred. That sort of thing.

I'd like to see a whole bunch of people get burned on this and I don't care which party they are from. But if wishes were horses...Obama can't just snap his fingers and make things happen. He can appoint people to the Deparrtment of Justice who are uncorrupted and let them decide what to do--and he is doning that.


I think you were closer with your "sociopaths" formulation. Calling Democrats "spineless" is letting them off the hook-- it's sort of their ruse to keep liberals distracted from their actions ("if they would only locate their spine...").

And they didn't even do the torture right. It was intended to elicit false information, but even after hundreds of waterboardings they couldn't get him to provide the false information they wanted: Evidence of a connection between Sadaam's Iraq and Al-Quaeda.

Yeah, now it all makes sense. A desperate need not to save the country but to cover Bush's butt and find a reason to have invaded Iraq.

I'm not sure, but I find it quite plausible that someone might undergo SERE training yet not understand the antecedents.

Impossible. I've spoken to a number of USN pilots who have taken the top SERE training (there are other levels that are solely classroom training).

One has to understand SERE is a combination of field exercises and classroom training. For example, class participants "escape" and are told to conceal themselves in a wooded area. SERE trainers then attempt to find them; often, several students are successful in remaining hidden until the exercise is concluded. They then move into a classroom and discuss what worked, what didn't and what good techniques might be employed in different conditions.

Similarly, after the interrogation portion, students are instructed. The fact is there is little military info that has any tactical or strategic value that can be extorted via torture; the students are taught that torture is for the purpose of eliciting false confessions. The classroom portion acknowledges that complete resistance is impossible but there are guidelines or codes of conduct that can be adhered to. In this case, precedents are reviewed, including how the code of conduct has changed.

And they didn't even do the torture right. It was intended to elicit false information, but even after hundreds of waterboardings they couldn't get him to provide the false information they wanted: Evidence of a connection between Sadaam's Iraq and Al-Quaeda.

And the saddest thing ? They could just have sat him down in front of a nice latte, offered him some cake and said : "we're looking for some evidence that Al-Qaeda and Saddam were working together, that way we can go to war with Iraq which will overtax our forces, take the focus off Afghanistan and majorly help with your recruiting operations. Oh, and it will get you rid of Saddam. What say you ?"

But that wouldn't have been fun.

Wait a minute.

Even setting aside the massive institutional knowledge that should've been there, are you telling me that not one single person in this entire slow-motion fustercluck of medievalism--not one--had ever seen G.I. Jane?

9-11 changed everything.

Glenn Greenwald had a good post yesterday affirming that it shouldn't be Obama's decision whether or not to prosecute, that we ought to have an independent enough DoJ that the decision is entirely out of the president's hands. In principle I agree 100% with this argument (which was, in fact, occasioned by Obama saying something similar himself).

not one--had ever seen G.I. Jane?

Did anyone see G.I. Jane?

In fact, the person Obama is most likely to need to shield is the man he picked to be his Secretary of Defense - who, unlike Pelosi or Reid, is likely to be directly implicated in the US military's torture of prisoners.

Jes, what in the world are you talking about? Until Bush tapped him as SecDef in 2007, Gates was the Dean of A&M.

Why do you constantly make stuff up like this? This is a really basic fact that could be confirmed with about 30 seconds of googling.

The NYT story is, at least possibly, accurate. I agree that it's ridiculous to imagine that people concerned with interrogation wouldn't have considered the history of SERE interrogation methods. But here's the thing: for the Bush administration, torture was never about interrogation. It was about punishing America's enemies, and about inspiring fear, and about reaffirming the masculinity of the torturers, and showing contempt for the 'liberals' (read: civilized people) who claimed that other methods of interrogation were morally and pragmatically superior. Real men use violence to beat information out of the bad guys, just like in all those action movies. Only weaklings, cowards, and women turn to other methods.

And so, the people assembling this program did not say: Give us techniques that get the best intelligence out of prisoners. (If they had, SERE trainers would have explained to them first thing that torture is unreliable and leads to false confessions.) Instead, they asked: Give us justifications for hurting prisoners. Tell us how far we can go, and how much we can hurt them, legally; and reinterpret those laws to allow as much infliction of pain as the text, in its most strained interpretation, makes possible. And the lawyers told them: if we do X to American soldiers as part of training, it will be possible to argue that X is not torture.

And so, I can well believe that no one in the room knew the source or history of the SERE techniques; such things were simply irrelevant, as the only criteria were (1) whether the techniques had some fig leaf of legal justification, and (2) how much pain the techniques inflicted. The effectiveness of these techniques as interrogation tools was never called into question. The purpose of torture is always torture.

It was about punishing America's enemies, and about inspiring fear, and about reaffirming the masculinity of the torturers, and showing contempt for the 'liberals' (read: civilized people) who claimed that other methods of interrogation were morally and pragmatically superior

the problem there is: BushCo didn't want anyone to know about this stuff. and it's hard to intimidate or impress a person with something you won't tell that person about.

I think it more likely that they thought torture techniques capable of eliciting false confessions when that's what you're trying to do would also be suitable for eliciting true confessions if you were after those, instead. And so regarded the purposes to which the techniques had been used for in the past irrelevant.

Of course, it's a well known problem with most forms of torture that, once you've motivated the person, they're going to tell you whatever they think you WANT to hear, regardless of whether it's true.

And therefore they ignored the fact that torture itself was the wrong way to go--morally, ethically, historically, and legally.

russell: (as a proxy, as I don’t have time to go through the whole thread):

The main blame falls on BushCo (and me for voting for them). But top Democrats were complicit. Or else they phoned it in as far as their responsibilities on those intelligence committees go. The “gang of four” was briefed on all this at least 30 times. “I couldn’t take notes or involve my staff…” You’re buying that? You would accept that from a (R)? I didn’t know what water boarding was because my staff wasn’t there to look it up on Google and tell me?

I understand what happened. Hell, in the weeks and months following 9/11 I would have been fine with nuking Afghanistan. Turn it into a parking lot and we’ll come back in a few hundred years and put in the biggest mall ev-ah…

I don’t blame Pelosi for what she did then, as I understand it completely. I blame her for going along back then, and then turning it into a political hammer while pretending her hands are clean to gain more power.

Just like the bombing of Cambodia, torture was kept a secret. Yet somehow, rumors surface. So torture that is not announced can still intimidate.

Adam: Why do you constantly make stuff up like this? This is a really basic fact that could be confirmed with about 30 seconds of googling.

I'm sure that you could confirm in about 30 seconds of googling that the US military stopped torturing prisoners on December 18th 2006.

But if you spent a bit longer on research than 30 seconds on google, you would find that torture continued after Donald Rumsfeld left office, and that in fact prisoners held by the US military were still being tortured in February 2009. While I suppose it's possible that Bob Gates could swear under oath he had simply no notion of this, that would merely prove him to be an incompetent Secretary of Defense: one who did not know that personnel in his department were committing serious crimes.

OCSteve: I don’t blame Pelosi for what she did then, as I understand it completely. I blame her for going along back then, and then turning it into a political hammer while pretending her hands are clean to gain more power.

Because you just can't stand the idea that a Democratic politician could, in fact, be able to take a moral political hammer to the scum you supported because you wanted to commit genocide.

The “gang of four” was briefed on all this at least 30 times. “I couldn’t take notes or involve my staff…” You’re buying that? You would accept that from a (R)? I didn’t know what water boarding was because my staff wasn’t there to look it up on Google and tell me?

The point about the staff isn't that they wouldn't know what waterboarding was without somebody giving them a staff briefing. The point is that they weren't allowed to talk to *anyone* about it, *at all*.

Dems and Reps, same same. I hold them equally responsible, and I understand how both would find it difficult to find a legal, within-channels way to make an effective protest.

Apparently, Harman was the only one who did.

But by all means, we should do the due diligence on them all.

russell: But by all means, we should do the due diligence on them all.

Thanks. All I hoped to hear on this site.

That last was sincere, in case it came across as snarky…

A couple of points: the people insisting that the techniques used in SERE were designed only to get false confessions are just wrong. The techniques used by the Gestapo and KGB and subsquently modified by the Chinese and North Koreans were used both to gain genuine information and to generate confessions, both false and true, depending on the situation, and the instructions given to the interrogators. The insistence that the techniques were only ever used to gain false confessions simply aren't true.

I don't think this matters to any relevant issue, really, but I mention it as a point of historical clarity.

"Anyone in the US with any decent knowledge of history knows that torture has always been used to get predetermined results, in order to justify predetermined policies."

That's not true: torture has sometimes been used historically to try to obtain further information for an investigation, whether by the Gestapo, KGB, earlier, or if we just count plain good old American police beatings. It's been of limited and unreliable usefulness, as is well-known, but such absolute generalities that it's never been used to try to find genuine information are false and unhelpful.

And forgive me for thinking I have a decent knowledge of the history of this.

"Cheney and Rumsfeld also knew enough about the history of torture - how it's been used from antiquity to the modern era for the precise purpose of extracting false confession - to know torture would be useful to them for establishing a false link between Saddam and al-Qaeda."

There's an extremely obvious problem here, which is that Zubaydah and KSM were waterboarded hundreds of times, and had all sorts of other torturous methods used on them, and yet no useable false information about a tie to Iraq turned up.

Maybe the intent to do this failed -- that's plausible -- but the idea that said tortures will always produce false confessions as desired, and that these tortures were knowingly administered to gain false confessions of al Qaeda plotting in league with Iraq is clearly problematic, given the lack of such results.

I'm a little confused that people can make these statements and not see the obvious logical problem here.

no worries dude.

OCSteve, and just wanted to say, I concur wth Russell. The rules were as stated, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have done more than they did. Or should have done more than they did.

I think you would agree, BTW, as an aside, that there is a lot more negativity toward the Obama adminsitration from the "left" side of this blog in just the first 3 months of his administration, than you would have found on most of the right wing blogs of Bush's administration during the entire 8 years he was in office.

Just saying.

But if you spent a bit longer on research than 30 seconds on google, you would find that torture continued after Donald Rumsfeld left office, and that in fact prisoners held by the US military were still being tortured in February 2009.

If you're talking about the articles that you keep reposting about this (like the rumor from the Reprieve staffer earlier this year), that's OK -- I've already seen them and they're bad, bad, bad. They're poorly sourced and even if taken at face value they don't demonstrate a continuation of the interrogation policies, but rather that the condition at Gitmo are still reprehensible. Which, thanks, but again, not news.

Regardless, Jes, that's not what you said -- you said that Gates "is likely to be directly implicated" in the torture policies, which you have no shred of evidence for whatsoever. Not. One. Bit.

And Jes, since you don't care to provide cites (because, as seems clear, you didn't bother to substantiate the claim in the first place), here you go. Gates was, as far as anyone on the outside knows one of the only people in the Bush Administration who took a stand against waterboarding, Gitmo, etc., etc., and in public he didn't equivocate about it. More to the point, he wasn't even there when the policies were authorized. You are making stuff up.

John Miller: I think you would agree, BTW, as an aside, that there is a lot more negativity toward the Obama adminsitration from the "left" side of this blog in just the first 3 months of his administration, than you would have found on most of the right wing blogs of Bush's administration during the entire 8 years he was in office.

I’ll only quibble with that a little. There was very little pushback in 8 years on war/torture/executive powers etc. There was plenty on fiscal policy and expansion of government.

But overall – I agree with you. And I’m very happy to say that I am impressed at how both the front-pagers and the regulars have called out Obama when he has been wrong. Sorry if I have not said that enough…

"And while there is no doubt that Bush and his administration bear the primary responsibility for all of this, top Democrats were complicit."

"Complicit" meaning what, exactly? I certainly want any investigation to look at what Congressional leaders and the senior members of the Intelligence Committees knew, but I'm not aware that said members of Congress had or have veto power over any and all executive decisions. If you have some cites on that, I'd be most interested to see them.

Certainly it's against the law for any member of Congress, most particularly those included in intelligence briefings, to go public with highly classified information, so criticism of any members for not so going public has to extend to the point that said members of Congress would have had to risk being expelled from Congress and jailed.

If, on the other hand, these members somehow had legal veto powers that I'm unaware of, and merely were cowed by political fear, then I'm all for condemning them and drumming them out of office, at the least.

But I'd like to see a cite that there's such Congressional veto power. I'm not aware that there is.

As a digression, I'd like to point out that the 9/11 Commission, and subsequent Commission on intelligence failures, both called for a major reorganization of congressional intelligence oversight, and the creation of a Joint Committee, and none of this, which should have been done, was ever done. So there's plenty to criticize about congressional intelligence oversight in general.

Jes: Because you just can't stand the idea that a Democratic politician could, in fact, be able to take a moral political hammer to the scum you supported because you wanted to commit genocide.

Seriously? I mean, seriously? Is it really necessary to poison the discussion here by accusing OCSteve, flat out, of wanting to commit genocide!? Last time I joined in one of these threads, you accused me of being pro-torture. This is troll behavior.

Adam: you said that Gates "is likely to be directly implicated" in the torture policies, which you have no shred of evidence for whatsoever. Not. One. Bit.

Ah. I hadn't actually realised you were making that fine distinction between holding Bush administration officials responsible for torture, and holding them responsible for drafting torture policies. Sure, you're right: Gates is not responsible for the torture policies which were drafted while he was President of Texas A&M. He is only responsible for the torture which was committed while he was Secretary of Defense. Unless, of course, he can prove that he was utterly completely ignorant of what was going on in prisons staffed by the US military.

As for the Reprieve articles, yeah, sure, sure - Guantanamo Bay ex-prisoners are such a poor source of evidence about how prisoners continued to be tortured even after Obama took office... By the way, did you know that on May 11th, Clive Stafford Smith, Binyam Mohamed’s lawyer, director of Reprieve, will appear in court to be charged with the crime of telling President Barack Obama that the Privilege Review Board at the Pentagon had redacted the whole of a memo Smith wrote to Obama describing Binyam Mohamed’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay? link Apparently Obama doesn't have clearance to know that there are things the Pentagon doesn't want him to know about prisoners being tortured.

This extraordinary consensus was possible ... largely because no one involved -- not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees -- investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

Hogwash.

Colin Powell didn't know what SERE was? Donald Rumsfeld wasn't aware that we'd convicted Japanese officers for waterboarding after 1945 and at least one U.S. soldier for subjecting a Vietnamese prisoner to it? The head of the freaking CIA had no knowledge of his agency's decades of research into "touchless" torture, of the KUBARK manual, of the doctrine of coercive interrogation based on "dread, dependence, and debility"?

This "extraordinary consensus" had eff-all to do with lack of knowledge or competence and everything to do with moral compass and political courage, and the lack thereof.

George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and George Tenet were fully aware that they were pushing a torture policy, and that these acts had been considered crimes by us when performed by others and when done by our own personnel, within the lifetimes of most of the people sitting around the table. But that clique insisted that the attacks of September 11 changed everything, and were prepared to intimidate and marginalize anyone who dared to object or raise too many questions about "taking the gloves off" and "working on the dark side".

The NYT maintains its reputation for testing its readers' credulity in its strenuous efforts to cover the CIA's rear end. Don't play along.

He is only responsible for the torture which was committed while he was Secretary of Defense.

I disagree, but, again, you have not a single solitary shred of evidence about this. You are deceptively referring to some secondhand allegations about the conditions at Gitmo, which is not even remotely the same thing.

I imagine you're aware of this, because you still refuse to repost those articles (or any other substantiation for your claim), which I only remember because they were so ridiculous. You were, I imagine, hoping that no one would call you out on this continuous fusillade of nonsense you spout whenever this topic comes up.

By the way, did you know that on May 11th, Clive Stafford Smith, Binyam Mohamed’s lawyer, director of Reprieve, will appear in court to be charged with the crime of telling President Barack Obama that the Privilege Review Board at the Pentagon had redacted the whole of a memo Smith wrote to Obama describing Binyam Mohamed’s treatment in Guantanamo Bay? link Apparently Obama doesn't have clearance to know that there are things the Pentagon doesn't want him to know about prisoners being tortured.

(a) So you admit that you were referring to the articles that discuss the conditions at Gitmo and not -- repeat not full stop -- interrogation policies?

(b) Yes, I had heard about Clive's case, from a friend who works at Reprieve as -- gasp -- an attorney for detainees. What in the world does that have to do with your original point? Do you just assume that anyone who disagrees with you is some sort of rightwing ideologue? (FWIW, you're grossly oversimplifying the issue, as usual.)

Typepad is now removing italics, blockquotes, and links. If that's happening on your browser, too, the first paragraph of my comment above is a quotation from the NYT story.

Gary: I’m not sure what the “oversight” part means then. Go public – of course not – I’d be the first to condemn that. But based on reports so far – they condoned it. Some wanted to be assured they didn’t need to do more (not saying that was R or D as I have not seen anyone make that case). Other than Harman, there is no evidence so far that anyone objected at all until it was politically expedient to do so.

Adam: Thanks, but it’s a waste of bandwidth. My bad. I gave her the opening by stating that right after 9/11 I would have been OK with nuking Afghanistan. That is how I recall feeling at the time. If they had put the button in my hand and said go for it – I like to think I would have reconsidered. I’m not sure though – I was seeing everything through a red haze. I was not rational.

My intended point was just that I understand how all this could happen. But for Jes, well, she can run with a statement like that for 25 unrelated threads. She throws stuff back in my face that I said years ago before I changed my position on many things. I’m also a racist, a bigot, an Islamaphobe, and a homophobe BTW. Just so you know…

Adam: You are deceptively referring to some secondhand allegations about the conditions at Gitmo

Right, because the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay can only ever make "secondhand allegations" about the conditions under which they were held.

Adam, I'll accept that some people do not regard the way in which prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were treated certainly up until February 2009 as torture, and we can argue about that. With examples. But your dismissal of direct first-hand testimony and medical evidence as "secondhand allegations" suggests to me that you're just not worth arguing with.

"What in the world does that have to do with your original point?"

Well, what the decision to prosecute Clive Stafford Smith for sending that memo to President Obama says is: prisoners continued to be tortured in Guantanamo Bay after December 18th 2006, which means Bob Gates is implicated, and torture continued after January 21st 2009, which means Obama begins to be implicated.

And also: someone has made the decision that President Obama must neither be allowed to know about prisoners being tortured after he took office, nor must he be allowed to know that he isn't being allowed to know. We're talking official values of "to know". Who decided? How far is Obama complicit in the decision that he shouldn't be officially told about torturing prisoners?

Is it really necessary to poison the discussion here by accusing OCSteve, flat out, of wanting to commit genocide!?

OCSteve said he wanted to commit genocide after 9/11. In this thread. April 22, 2009 at 05:51 PM. While trying to climb onto a moral high horse about Pelosi failing to tell all about whatever she was told, which we still don't know what it was. (I mean, I can't actually imagine the Bush administration being as explicit and direct as they apparently were when kicking ideas about how to torture people around at inner circle meetings in the White House. But maybe they were. Hopefully, we'll find out when an independent prosecutor is appointed and subpoena's everybody.)

Avedon at the Sideshow linked to this - the difference between conservative and liberal ideas about accountability - and it does clarify for me why Brett and OCSteve and the other conservatives here keep frantically bringing up Pelosi and Reid, et al

Right, because the prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay can only ever make "secondhand allegations" about the conditions under which they were held.

They didn't. Their lawyers did, and not in a representative capacity, but as a general allegation of their views of the conditions at Gitmo. That is the very definition of secondhand information.

Adam, I'll accept that some people do not regard the way in which prisoners at Guantanamo Bay were treated certainly up until February 2009 as torture, and we can argue about that.

There is no evidence to that effect. None. Not even the sources you are citing claimed that torture is ongoing. If it were, to what purpose? What information would they be trying to obtain?

You are cheapening the term "torture" by generalizing it to cover abusive prison conditions (which don't just exist in Gitmo, by the way). Worse, you're doing it to score cheap rhetorical points against the Obama administration for not firing Gates.

Well, what the decision to prosecute Clive Stafford Smith for sending that memo to President Obama says is: prisoners continued to be tortured in Guantanamo Bay after December 18th 2006, which means Bob Gates is implicated, and torture continued after January 21st 2009, which means Obama begins to be implicated.

No it does not. You are lying to cover for making an incorrect claim, again. Period. Cite the language from the memo that supports your argument. Go ahead.

And also: someone has made the decision that President Obama must neither be allowed to know about prisoners being tortured after he took office, nor must he be allowed to know that he isn't being allowed to know. We're talking official values of "to know". Who decided?

Again, your claim about the lawsuit against Clive is entirely incorrect but anterior to the point, which was, again, that you made a completely, utterly unsubstantiated claim about Gates and then tried to spin that into a generalized accusation of complicity by the entire Obama administration. You have done nothing since but throw up chaff to distract from the original misrepresentation.

How far is Obama complicit in the decision that he shouldn't be officially told about torturing prisoners?

About as complicit as he is in beating his wife, one would imagine.

OCSteve: I’m also a racist, a bigot, an Islamaphobe, and a homophobe

As I recall, you did actually apologize for the homophobic comments you made after Proposition 8 passed, once you'd been faced with the direct understanding that what you'd said had been personally hurtful to people you knew. So, no, I wouldn't call you a homophobe.

But you never did apologize or retract your assertions that it was only fair to harass and discriminate against Muslims because of their religious behavior. You just kept repeating your assertion that of course it was okay to do that until I gave up discussing it with you.

...but I'll take it that you do, in fact, see what's wrong now with wanting to commit genocide, since you admit it wasn't rational to want to do it.

"Perhaps someone on the board has undergone SERE training and could explain how the program explains about the history of torture"

I obviously haven't undergone such training, but I do know that there are 3-4 levels, and only a limited number of military personnel get the higher levels of training.

Brief outline here:

[...] SERE training takes place at four levels:
Level A: Entry level training. These are the Code of Conduct mandatory classes taken by all at induction (recruit training and OCS). All service personnel get this basic training annually.
Level B: For those operating or expected to operate forward of the division rear boundary and up to the forward line of own troops (FLOT). Normally limited to aircrew of the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. Level B focuses on survival and evasion, with resistance in terms of initial capture. Because of reports of captured British sailors being broken easily as a result of lack of resistance training, the U.S. Air Force now requires all aircrew to receive Level B SERE training.[citation needed] By 2008, the effectiveness of this aspect of Air Force training was being questioned by some, now allegedly consisting of "an online course which, with reading, videos and quizzes, takes 3–4 hours to complete."[citation needed]
Level C: For troops at a high risk of capture and whose position, rank or seniority make them vulnerable to greater than average exploitation efforts by any captor. Level C focuses on resistance in terms of prison camps and serious military interrogation.
Level D: For aircrews, but more recently phased out; what would have been SERE-D students in future undergo SERE-C training at Fairchild (see below).
Level A Code of Conduct training is just information on what the Code you're supposed to adhere to is; it doesn't go any further than that, and isn't SERE training in any remotely serious sense. Level B is also reportedly minor training. It's Level C and D that get to serious assaults on your person, and are what we think of when we think of SERE (those of us who think of it.)

Here is a bit more detailed info for anyone interested. Level B seems to be more informational, rather than putting anyone into stressful conditions, though I certainly don't know details of the distinctions between levels. (Testimony from those who have actually undergone SERE training at B, C, or D levels would be vastly more informative than what little I know, obviously.)

[...] 3–3. Topics of instruction for level B training

The following topics will be included as part of level B training:
a. Code of Conduct training. (See chap 4.)
b. Hostage situation training. (See chap 5.)
c. How to avoid capture, evade detection, survive when operating in enemy territory, and use methods of recovery employed by combat search and rescue forces.
d. Understanding of enemy PW management practices, interrogation, indoctrination techniques, and captor goals. The instruction should include—
(1) An explanation of the adverse physical and mental conditions under which these methods and techniques are conducted.
(2) Information concerning resistance under the varying interrogation techniques and degrees of coercion used by an enemy.
(3) Making soldiers aware that even under extremes of coercion they must avoid aiding the enemy to the best of their ability.
(4) Countermeasures that can be used against enemy exploitation attempts. These include the following:
(a) Application of leadership principles, discipline, and the chain
of command.
(b) Development of group and individual loyalties.
(c) Creation of special systems of organization.
(d) Understanding enemy ethnic traits and how they apply to the
captivity situation.
(e) Employment of skills in sanitation, first aid, personal hygiene, and emergency self-treatment of typical PW camp illnesses using primitive materials.
( f ) U s e o f r e l i g i o u s a n d p e r s o n a l c o n v i c t i o n s t o c o m b a t t h e
stresses of captivity.
(5) Ensuring that individual soldiers understand that personal affairs are to be put in order prior to commitment to a combat theater.

I have no idea what G. W. Bush or Rumsfeld would or wouldn't know about the program, but I really don't think the question is relevant. They're responsible, period.

Moreover, it's known that Rumsfeld specifically mocked the idea of excessive standing as torture, stating that he stood to work all day. The fact that I'm additionally skeptical of G. W. Bush's intellectual curiosity into such particulars also has no bearing on his ultimate responsibility. Something about where a buck stops.

I completely agree that this is either lying or bulls**t. And since when is this sort of ignorance an excuse? Oh wait, these are the people who, when the insurgencies in Iraq started to proliferate, responded with "well, no one could have foreseen that this is how things would play out..." Oddly enough, what "no one could have foreseen" was thought by many to be pretty likely.

On the subject of torture at Gitmo in the Obama Presidency, this sounds like a form of torture to me. I haven't googled enough to find out whether these allegations are true--I thought people here were talking about this force feeding some weeks back, so there are no doubt others around who know more.

I thought I put a link in there, but it doesn't work. Here is my second attempt--

LINK

"I think what the Bush years prove, or nearly prove, is that Congress is powerless in the face of an executive who is determined to ignore it, and that the President is King."

I don't think the Bush years prove that at all. On the contrary, I think that what the Bush years prove, among many other things, is that Congress is powerless when Congress is cowed and even a significant fractions such as a sixth, a fifth, or a quarter, refuses to speak up or act against a rampaging Executive, because of political cowardice.

Nell: "Colin Powell didn't know what SERE was?"

He absolutely knew/knows.

"Donald Rumsfeld wasn't aware that we'd convicted Japanese officers for waterboarding after 1945 and at least one U.S. soldier for subjecting a Vietnamese prisoner to it?"

That I can definitely believe is plausible, though I have no knowledge if it's true or not.

"The head of the freaking CIA had no knowledge of his agency's decades of research into 'touchless' torture, of the KUBARK manual, of the doctrine of coercive interrogation based on 'dread, dependence, and debility'?"

I think that's quite possible, though probably less likely than that he did know. Tenet didn't come up as part of the Agency, and there's not a lot of reason to think he was a major historian of the agency, or expert on "the dark side."

In fact, most personnel working constantly with classified material tend to disregard material in the public domain, so I find it entirely plausible that many leftists who have read up on such matters know more about KUBARK and other Dark Side history than innumerable Agency personnel, let alone the political appointee DCI (despite Tenet's three years as a staff member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence ).

Information in intelligence agencies is, after all, highly compartmentalized, and political appointees don't tend to do their own research, and in fact would have significant motivation to not go looking into or asking for briefings on, dirty details.

When William E. Colby was ordered by DCI James R. Schlesinger to order everyone in the agency to report to him all such dark secrets they were aware of, the "family jewels" to be compiled, back in 1973, no one person in the agency was aware of all of them, to the best of my knowledge. (Schlesinger's order was to "report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on in the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this Agency.")

(Digressively, in case anyone is unaware, there are no major such activities undertaken by the CIA that weren't in response to at least a broad presidential directive; the CIA has never, contrary to legend, been particularly "rogue"; they've done the dirty work their presidents tasked them to do, even if the president made clear he didn't want or need to know details.)

I think it's entirely reasonable that he might be aware of KUBARK, and not at all implausible than he wasn't. I also think it's entirely plausible he's totally lying. Just my guesses, of course.

Bit of specific history:

[...] 4) CIA Science and Technology Directorate Chief Carl Duckett "thinks the Director would be ill-advised to say he is acquainted with this program" (Sidney Gottlieb's drug experiments) (p. 213)
Or see the rampant lying to Congress during Iran-Contra. I'm shocked, shocked, at the idea that someone connected to an intelligence agency might lie, and particularly shocked that they might lie to a reporter. (Or that a politician might lie.)

Not so much.

Again, I really don't think it matters; Tenet was responsible for the Agency, and what it did. Period.

Steve: "But based on reports so far – they condoned it."

How, exactly, did they condon it? Cite? Certainly the absence of public protest isn't evidence. And we don't even know what they did or didn't know, let alone what they said to the briefers.

I'll repeat: it should be fully investigated, and if any members could have protested or acted legally in some way, and didn't, I'm fine with tossing them out of office, and shunning them, and whatever other appropriate condemnatory actions might be taken against them.

But I'm not seeing evidence at present to support your assumptions, which seem to be only assumptions.

Nell: "The NYT maintains its reputation for testing its readers' credulity in its strenuous efforts to cover the CIA's rear end."

I don't read Shane and Mazzetti's article that way; they pass along such claims, but I don't see the article as in any way endorsing them. And the article has plenty of damning specific information.

Jes: As I recall, you did actually apologize for the homophobic comments you made after Proposition 8 passed, once you'd been faced with the direct understanding that what you'd said had been personally hurtful to people you knew. So, no, I wouldn't call you a homophobe.

OK – responding one more time – for the record…

Yes. I said something badly that hurt and offended people here I care about. When I realized that, I was genuinely sorry. I still am. I count it among my top 5 blog screw-ups…

But you never did apologize or retract your assertions that it was only fair to harass and discriminate against Muslims because of their religious behavior. You just kept repeating your assertion that of course it was okay to do that until I gave up discussing it with you.

And I never will. It had nothing to do with religion. I never did apologize or retract that it is right to remove passengers from an airliner who are acting in that manner – and I won’t. For all your righteousness – if you were in an adjoining seat I bet you would not either.

...but I'll take it that you do, in fact, see what's wrong now with wanting to commit genocide, since you admit it wasn't rational to want to do it.

I’ve talked about that plenty. When I’m honest about what I felt back then, you use it as an opportunity to throw it back in my face on many unrelated threads. In fact, anything I express honestly here is just a data point for you to throw back at me later.

I’m not going to bother to find and link all my comments – regulars know me, and newbies can search the site for OCSteve and judge for themselves if they wish to wade through all my dribble.

I support:
-Gay marriage.
-LBGT rights in general.
-Repealing DADT.
-Abortion (Clinton style – safe, legal, and rare).
-Reasonable taxation and social safety nets.
-Many other things most here would agree with – I just hit the hot-button issues.

I did in fact initially support the war in Iraq and I voted for W. I came to regret that, mostly due to the influence of folks here. I am, I’m happy to say, capable of learning about my mistakes.

But yet, I’m just a hard-core GOP sap I am…

Thanks Gary, I did take a look at that, but I was more asking if someone on this board could give a more personal take on the training (if they are allowed, it may be classified) I was responding to the point that it was obvious that this person or that person knows something, though I agree completely that this is not a defense.

I didn't mean to ignore Jadegold's comments, but, speaking as an educator, just as doing a debriefing about how to evade capture is not going to have a large portion of information on the history of people who evade capture, I'm thinking that a debriefing on torture is not going to have a large component on the history and philosophical aspects of torture, but more about practical matters. In addition, since Rumsfeld was a reserve navy aviator pre Vietnam and Bush was never under threat of capture, they would not have had SERE, I would think. Should they have known? Of course, but the intellectual incuriousity of that crew should make it unsurprising that they didn't, or that they ignored it totally to shoehorn their own ideas into it.

"your dismissal of direct first-hand testimony"

First-hand testimony is most credible when delivered by parties believed to be unbiased and disinterested.

Just noting. Presumably there would be some skepticism in order in the case of, say, interrogators at Guantanamo saying that they never had a cross word with a detainee, no matter that it was "direct first-hand testimony." You might even -- and I'm taking a wild guess here -- be inclined to dismiss such "direct first-hand testimony."

I wouldn't automatically dismiss -- or buy as gospel -- the testimony in any situation of interested parties to any situation. YMMV.

"You are lying to cover for making an incorrect claim, again. Period."

"Lying" is something one does knowingly, with intent. I, for one, don't think Jes engages in that. And I'm of the opinion that one should refrain from accusations of intent without proof.

Or, in other words, one should try to avoid claims, particularly inflammatory ones, that are dependent on mind-reading intent.

"Making claims you haven't supported," on the other hand, has no such implication, but I, at least, think will do to convey your lack of belief in the accuracy of her assertions.

People can be, shall we say, over-convinced of the strength of their position or beliefs, or, shall we say, over-enthusiastic in how strongly they present their opinions, positions, or beliefs, even unto the point of making insupportable, or at least insufficiently supported, or at least, arguable, claims, without any intent to lie.

I have a variety of criticisms of many of Jes' argumentative habits, and am at times, shall we say, skeptical of a number of her assertions/obsessions -- while also often fully or largely agreeing with her enthusiastically, and generally applauding her passion, and her writing skills -- but I don't think Jes ever intentionally lies.

Annoying as she may be at times.

FWIW.

Speaking of annoying, this latest Typepad habit of removing links and block quotes and italics is yet another fanastic leap in the nearly complete brokenness and uselessness of Typepad. Whatever happened to moving Obsidian Wings off of it?

(For the nth time, I point out that Blogger/Blogspot are free, and work fine, and are easy to use: what's the problem with switching to it?)

Typepad deleted, along with my blockquoting, my link about SERE.

Jes: "you supported because you wanted to commit genocide."

That is just out of line. It really is.

@Gary: Good points, for the most part, about bureaucratic compartmentalization. It's remarkably easy not to know something when you don't want to know it. Still, I'm not buying the ignorance claim for most of the people who were there.

Shane and Mazzetti present the article as the result of an investigation into what made it possible for there to be such an "extraordinary consensus" with "little debate" on something previously considered a grave crime. The answer they come up with: people with decades of experience in the military, law, and government lacked an adequate understanding of, and knowledge about, the interrogation techniques they were approving.

The principals who didn't actually lie about their lack of knowledge demonstrated a massive, simultaneous failure of curiosity. That's just not a question of how much one values competence and expertise, or the availability of information.

To the extent that Shane and Mazzetti frame it that way, they make it a technical, bureaucratic, institutional kind of failure rather than what it clearly is: a complete failure of moral judgement and courage on the part of powerful people, any one of whom could have made a much bigger, louder issue of the decisions. Any two or three of them together could have put the brakes on in a big way, by forcing those missing facts onto the table. But they were afraid to; each of them wilted before the charge of "keeping us from finding out about the next attack."

I'll grant that someone who's spent even a little time with people on the receiving end of U.S. foreign policy is going to be more knowledgeable about torture than someone at the commanding heights where that policy is set. But they're not pitiful, helpless giants up there. They let the macho, vengeful frat boy tone set by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld keep them from making the case they knew perfectly well how to make.

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