Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Dark Side

TPMCafe is discussing Jane Mayer's book the Dark Side currently (both Christopher Hitchens and Slate's Emily Bazelon are part of the group). If you are interested in the Bush administration's use of torture you should read the book, not just the New Yorker articles.

In the discussion Mayer asks about the possibility of war crimes prosecutions in the next administration. Since such prosecutions are unlikely she also asks what effect this precedent will have both on future US administrations and the international standing of the US.

Mayer succinctly outlines the facts on which such a case would be based

In secret dungeons, U.S.-held prisoners were waterboarded, stripped naked, kept chained and near frozen, bombarded with unbearable sounds, deprived of daylight, kept isolated from human contact for months, fed barely enough to live on, beaten, confined in dog cages, and deliberately mistreated in other carefully-regulated ways under a policy set in place by the highest-ranking officials of our country. An unknown number died. A larger unknown number simply disappeared. We know that the Red Cross -- an independent non-partisan organization - warned the President and other top officials that at least fourteen of the individuals currently held in Guantanamo -- people who the Red Cross was able to interview -- were tortured. Not maybe. Definitely. The Red Cross also warned the President that he and others in his administration were in danger of being held liable for war crimes

We know an increasing amount about the intelligence community's division on this issue. Scott Horton has some very interesting comments on the state of affairs at the CIA.

In my mind, Jane is asking the most important question--the accountability question. I also have had a run-in with a senior CIA official who described to me in some detail being briefed on the new policies. "I decided that afternoon that I was taking an early retirement," he told me. He went on to note that "it seems quite a few people took early retirement after getting that briefing." He also told me his thinking was simple: "It's not that this was bad policy. It was a crime. Black and white." It's clear that these moves were very controversial within the intelligence service. Although the pushback in the military is now very well documented, the pushback at CIA remains anecdotal. It will come in time, I think.

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