Senior Bush White House staff, the Supreme Court, the Justice Department, the CIA, various government agencies, the Vice President all staked out a position over water boarding and torture in general during the last administration. Today’s New York Times paints a picture of warring factions over this much debated topic. The two major warring camps here appear to be Vice President Dick Cheney vs. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Looking past the 2 major players in the last administration, the NY Times article shows a tug of war that speaks out of both sides of its mouth. President Bush made flowery political statements condemning torture to the UN, which only unleashed a wave of phone calls from the CIA bemoaning that its interrogators would get skittish.
The United States is “committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example,” Mr. Bush declared, vowing to prosecute torture and to prevent “other cruel and unusual punishment.”
But inside the Central Intelligence Agency, the statement set off alarms. The agency’s top lawyer, Scott W. Muller, called the White House to complain. The statement by the president could unnerve the C.I.A. interrogators Mr. Bush had authorized to use brutal tactics on members of Al Qaeda, Mr. Muller said, raising fears that political winds could change and make them scapegoats.
White House officials reaffirmed their support for the C.I.A. methods. But the exchange was a harbinger of the conflict between the coercive interrogations and the United States’ historical stance against torture that would deeply divide the Bush administration and ultimately undo the program.
The cloak and danger implications of this Bush Administration policy on the definition and the use of what many consider to be torture dragged on back and forth during much of the Bush Presidency. The intrigue between players and agencies is much like a huge spider web. It is not an easy read but a necessary read to put the contention all into perspective.
Ms. Rice and her ally, John B. Bellinger III may be the real unsung heroes of the Bush Administration on this topic. Last week many of us saw a video of her defending water-boarding and other questionable techniques to a student. She insisted that the USA did not torture. What she didn’t share was how deeply divided the administration was over all of these issues and how hard she fought against the use of practices that some might consider torture.
When Mr. Bush finally reauthorized C.I.A. interrogations with an executive order in July 2007, it reflected the yearlong lobbying of Mr. Bellinger and Ms. Rice: forced nudity was banned, and guidelines for sleep deprivation were tighter.
But Mr. Cheney and his allies secured other victories. The executive order preserved the secret jails and authorized a laundry list of coercive methods. Ms. Rice, several officials say, declined to endorse the order but chose not to block it
The desire to be an honorable, civilized nation was in deep conflict with the need to protect American lives. The debate ended on January 20, 2009 when President Barack Obama was sworn in as President of the United States.
When Mr. Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, the C.I.A. still maintained a network of empty jails overseas, where interrogators were still authorized to use physical pressure. Within 48 hours, he banned the methods.
Finally, last month, the program that had been the source of so many vigorous fights in Washington’s power corridors met a prosaic end.
Leon E. Panetta, the new C.I.A. chief, terminated the agency’s contracts providing the security and maintenance for the prisons, emphasizing the economic benefits. Closing the C.I.A. prisons, Mr. Panetta said, would save taxpayers $4 million.
Does it do any good to dredge up the past? Should this investigation continue? If yes, for what purpose? Do Americans feel conflicted over this issue? Who are the villains?
In all probability, Americans are as conflicted over this debate as the Bush Adminstration was. It is probably time to move forward. Civilized societies often walk a thin line. It appeared that many posters were holding back their comments on the issue of torture, water-board, and US policy. Perhaps this article will cause some of us to draw our line in the sand, or become more muddled. Your thoughts?