Rectal Rehydration, Death by Hypothermia and “Enhanced Interrogation” of the Illegally Detained: Agency Gone Rogue or Approved by the Administration?
Did the White House approve the conduct set forth in the CIA Torture Report? Or did the CIA engage in that conduct without the approval of any political branch of government?
The question is not merely academic.
If the CIA’s conduct was not approved by elected officials who answer to the voters, then to whom does the CIA answer? If the CIA’s conduct was approved, then the voters need to know by whom so they can cast future votes with full understanding of what is at stake.
By now we have had time to digest the disturbing details in all their infamy: the rectal “feedings,” the ice baths and sleep deprivation; the death of Gul Rahman; the forced placement of body weight on broken limbs; sensory deprivation so intense it lead to self-mutilation and hallucinations; and, the mistaken identifications, false accusations and simple negligence that lead to the illegal detention of 26 human beings and “enhanced interrogation” of our own intelligence sources.
Rather I should say all of us have heard those details now except for Dick Cheney. Or at least he had not heard of them last week, when he sat down with Fox New’s Bret Baier.
As scathingly detailed by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, Dick Cheney is trying to have his torture cake and eat it too. When Baier asked whether it was true that “President Bush was not fully briefed on the program and deliberately kept in the dark by the CIA,” Cheney was unequivocal in his response:
The notion that … somehow the agency was operating on a rogue basis and that we weren’t being told or that the President wasn’t being told is just a flat out lie.
Later in the interview, Cheney reiterated that:
The men and women of the CIA did exactly what we wanted to have them do in terms of taking on this program.
All right then. The CIA was doing exactly what Bush and Cheney wanted when its operatives injected pureed food into the anuses of detainees. The CIA was doing exactly what Bush and Cheney wanted when its operatives left a man half-naked man chained to the floor in a frigid cell.
Only Cheney is either a coward or he does not actually know what he is talking about, because later in the interview he retreats to what appears to be an inconsistent position. As noted by Friedersdorf:
… Baier notes a particularly depraved tactic. “At one point, this report describes interrogators pureeing food of one detainee and then serving it in his anus,” he says, “something the agency called ‘rectal rehydration.’ I mean, is that torture?” (More to the point, did Bush and Cheney know about that? Is it “exactly” what they asked the CIA to do?)
“I don’t know anything about that specific instance,” Cheney said. “I can’t speak to that. … “
Cheney cannot have it both ways. If he wants to be the face of the defense for the enhanced interrogation program, he should own it. If he is not willing to own it, in all its gory particulars, then he cannot really present a meaningful defense. Either the administration approved the conduct described in the report—or the CIA acted without the approval or knowledge of the political branches tasked with overseeing that agency on the people’s behalf. That the CIA was trying to prevent future attacks is not related in any logical way to which of those things is true.
Cheney’s tactic throughout the interview is to avoid being pressed on this issue by: 1) extolling the praises of the CIA for doing exactly as Cheney and Bush wanted ; 2) denying knowledge of any of the troubling accusations contained in the torture report; and, 3) then getting emotional and bringing up 9/11.
Consider the following examples.
Baier asks Cheney whether Bush was comfortable with leaving a man chained to the ceiling in a diaper to urinate and defecate on himself. Cheney responds:
I have no idea. I never heard of any such thing.
If Cheney does not know the details, why is he giving interviews? Why should anyone take his word about any of it? That is the topic at hand, sir!
Baier raises the issue of Gul Rahman, who died of hypothermia shackled naked from the waist down to a freezing cement floor in a frigid cell:
Three thousand Americans died on 9/11 because of what these guys did. And I have no sympathy for them.
There is a missing link in the logic here. Even if we assume there are people so bad that we can sleep with unfettered consciences while our CIA tortures them to death, what is the evidence Gul Rahman was one of them?
Rahman was not captured on a battlefield, like enemy combatants of yore. To the contrary, Associated Press reporting states that:
Rahman had driven from Peshawar, Pakistan, in the northwest frontier to Islamabad for a medical checkup. He was staying with Baheer, an old friend, when U.S. agents and Pakistani security forces stormed the house and took both men, two guards and a cook into custody.
In fact, in addition to this Gul Rahman, who died in CIA custody, the CIA apparently kept a different Gul Rahman in isolation for a month because its operatives were confused about which Gul Rahman was the target (page 133/499 of the Committee report).
At least 26 people were found to have been improperly detained. Two of our own intelligence sources were subjected to enhanced interrogation. Tortured detainees gave information that falsely implicated others. One man provided false intelligence under torture that was used in Colin Powell’s address to the UN in advance of the Iraq War.
Dick Cheney is not troubled by these details.
On Meet the Press this past Sunday, he gave yet another interview, in which he disavows any problems with the detention of innocent people. He also disavows any qualms over the death of Gul Rahman, despite appearing to agree that the wrong Gul Rahman ended up frozen to death:
Let me ask you, what do you say to Gul Rahman, what do you say to Sulaiman Abdula, what do you say to Khalid al-Masri? All three of these folks were detained, they had these interrogation techniques used on them. They eventually were found to be innocent. They were released, no apologies, nothing. What do we owe them?
DICK CHENEY: Well—
CHUCK TODD: I mean, let me go to Gul Rahman. He was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water, froze to death in C.I.A. custody. And it turned out it was a case of mistaken identity.
DICK CHENEY: —Right. But the problem I had is with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield. …
CHUCK TODD: 25% of the detainees though, 25% turned out to be innocent. They were released.
DICK CHENEY: Where are you going to draw the line, Chuck? How are—
CHUCK TODD: Well, I’m asking you.
DICK CHENEY: —you going to know?
CHUCK TODD: Is that too high? You’re okay with that margin for error?
DICK CHENEY: I have no problem as long as we achieve our objective. And our objective is to get the guys who did 9/11 and it is to avoid another attack against the United States.
But Cheney did not offer any evidence that “enhanced interrogation” prevented other attacks. He cited without elaboration to the “West Coast” “Second Wave” plot. But that claim was debunked in the CIA Torture Report based on information provided to the Committee by the CIA itself. If the Torture Report is wrong or incomplete on this issue, Cheney needed to tell us why.
Baier challenged him by repeating a claim made on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Mark Udall that the classified Panetta Review found no “direct linkage” between enhanced interrogation techniques and thwarting any attacks. As chronicled by Friedersdorf:
Here is Cheney’s actual retort:
“Well, I don’t know where he was on 9/11, but he wasn’t in the bunker.”
That is a non-answer.
A U.S. Senator who has seen the documents said on the floor of the U.S. Senate that Leon Panetta found no direct link between enhanced interrogation and thwarted attacks—and Dick Cheney’s response is, “Well he wasn’t in the bunker with us?”
The American people deserve more.
Their defenders deserve more.
What is lost in Cheney’s chest pounding is a meaningful reflection on why, beyond principles, civilized nations disavow torture. It is done for the same practical reasons that, for thousands of years, enemies have agreed to return bodies, to ensure last rites, to grant quick deaths or to refrain from persecuting surviving family members.
Because they want to make sure their own people get the same consideration.
What have we done for so little gain?