Obama administration couldn’t ignore evidence of torture

“A government of laws, not of men.” — John Adams

Attorney General Eric Holder doesn’t seem to have any enthusiasm for revisiting the torture controversies of the Bush era. Neither does his boss, President Obama. Contrary to the view of some conservatives, Obama and his team are not interested in making any political points with the liberal base by prosecuting CIA operatives for abusing detainees.

But Obama and Holder had no choice. There is enough evidence that laws were broken and international treaties were violated that Holder had to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. He would have been remiss in his responsibilities as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer if he had done otherwise.

The appointment of John Durham, a registered Republican and veteran prosecutor, doesn’t automatically mean that CIA employees or contractors will eventually be indicted. (It seems unlikely the investigation will ensnare high-ranking Bush administration officials.) Durham’s charge is to thoroughly investigate the evidence and see where it leads. At the very least, Americans should find out much more about the brutality that festered and spread in a time of fear and panic.

Documents released Monday revealed, in miserable detail, some of the methods used.  One detainee was told that his children, who were in the custody of American and Pakistani authorities at the time, would be killed if there were any more attacks on U.S. soil. One detainee was lifted up by his arms after they were already bound behind his back.

One detainee’s carotid artery was pressed so hard he passed out. He was revived so his “interrogator” could repeat the procedure. Other documents, released months ago, had already revealed that one detainee was waterboarded 183 times.

I know, I know. Al Qaida has done far worse. But we’re not them, are we? We don’t behead journalists or send suicide bombers to blow up shoppers in a marketplace. Isn’t that among the reasons we’re determined to prevail against terrorists? Aren’t we trying to preserve standards of humanity and civilized behavior?

Perhaps we’ve seen so many James Bond movies and so many episodes of “24″ that we believe that the world of espionage demands torturing suspects. But many real-world experts say that simply isn’t so. Indeed, many military officers, FBI agents and even CIA employees were deeply troubled by the abused heaped on  detainees.

And lots of those same reality-based experts say torture is as ineffective as it is inhumane. In severe pain, prisoners do often make confessions, as John McCain did when he was tortured by the Viet Cong. But such confessions are often unreliable. If the nation were facing the threat of imminent attack, security experts could waste valuable time chasing down false leads.

Dick Cheney continues to insist that waterboarding and other such illicit techniques produced valuable information that saved lives, but he has not pointed to a specific session of torture that yielded high-quality intel. The CIA’s inspector general concluded that detaining and interrogating suspects clearly produced vital intelligence, but whether “enhanced” techniques contributed “is a more subjective process and not without some concern.” In other words, U.S. agents may have discovered just as much without torturing anyone.

The Obama administration has concluded that any intelligence that may have been gleaned through torture was not substantial enough to outweigh the damage done to America’s standing in the world. The outrages at abu Ghraib, the years-long detention of suspects at Guantanamo Bay without charge, the scary ‘renditions’ that amounted to kidnapping — all these have already contributed to a climate of anti-Americanism.

In the long run, the U.S. cannot win against jihadists by killing every would-be suicide bomber. We have to win the war of influence — of “hearts and minds” — that persuades people around the world to work with us instead of against us. Letting the world know we stand against torture is an important weapon in that campaign.

22 comments Add your comment


August 26th, 2009
7:05 am

I have heard much debate about whether or not President Obama should revisit this controversy because it will simply create MORE controversy. There are those, just as our former Vice President, Dick Cheney, who insist it let to intel that saved American lives. There are others who said it did not work. But, the question for Americans is not whether it worked or did not work. The question is a simple one, whether what we did was right or wrong. We must not be governed by expediency, but by the rule of law. Failing in this regard undermines all that we believe ourselves to be and more importantly what we aspire to become as a people.

Turd Ferguson

August 26th, 2009
7:58 am

Perhaps inviting all the jihadists over for a “cool one” might work. Such naivety’.

[...] Obama administration couldn’t ignore evidence of torture [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] [...]


August 26th, 2009
9:15 am

Inviting Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo, Dick Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzalez and others to a party that includes sworn depositions would clear these matters and move us forward.


August 26th, 2009
10:38 am

Even the brain-damaged, ex-alcoholic born-again Bush couldn’t bring himself to say, “America tortures”. GW Bush stood in front of the world and said, “Americans do not Torture!”. Of course, like so many of his claims, it was a lie.

Listening to Republicans defend Cheney, they seem to embrace the pro-Torture label. They’re already the party of No. The anti-government, anti-Obama, anti -tax Party. Do they really want to be the pro-Torture Party?? What a stain!


August 26th, 2009
10:43 am

If I were a CIA member and knew of a terrorist attack, then I would probably let it happen for fear being called a criminal. That is what is going to probably happen.


August 26th, 2009
11:30 am

Well Howard, the rule of the law would dictate that our government protect our borders and Obama is real good at ignoring that one. The rule of law would dictate he had no right to fire a CEO of a company, he did that. The rule of law would dicate that the people he picked for his cabinet would have suffered some reprucussion for not paying their freaking taxes, they did not. So don’t give me this “rule of law” BS. Obama ignores the law when he wants to and doesn’t when he thinks it might win him some votes. He’s all about power not doing the right thing. Just remember who he listened to for 20 years and then acted like he never heard a thing against the country that was very good to him.


August 26th, 2009
11:34 am

You are right John, put CIA people in jail, ruin their lives for what? For interrogating as directed scum of the earth? Try getting someone to do their job. That’s one of the reasons we have so much crime in America, the criminals have more rights than the people they violate. Nuts. Just nuts.

Gone off the Deep End

August 26th, 2009
11:43 am

Since when do scumbags have rights?

Pat Phelps

August 26th, 2009
12:16 pm

Congratulations Cynthia, Obozo and his Demogods have managed to weaken our country once again. I hope you don’t lose a family member the next time our country is attacked. Thanks to your liberal idiots in charge, believe me, we will be hit again. I pray to almighty God that this Obozo nightmare is over in 3 years.

Just because

August 26th, 2009
1:17 pm

Holder had no choice?? The almighty lily white (no pun here) Holder who has never done anything wrong. You might want to refresh your memory with regard to his record!!!

[...] U.S. News And World Report opinonProbe of CIA Imperils Interagency Trust — Wall Street JournalObama administration couldn’t ignore evidence of torture — AJCCIA Torture Indictments? No Thanks. — Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times opinionA Spy [...]


August 26th, 2009
1:42 pm

Funny how AG Holder can ignore voter intimidation by New Black Panthers in Philadelphia. Or pressure for the Clinton pardons of FALN terrorists to gin up votes for Hillary. Funny how that works, isn’t it?


August 26th, 2009
4:56 pm

Holder had no choice….Of course….

Holder’s former law firm is currently doing pro-bono work for the Gitmo Detainees…And to just think…we chastised chaney for being affiliated with haliburton..

But really, I think this stunt by holder is a bad idea…. George Soros must have something to do with it….

Brian O'Malley

August 26th, 2009
8:06 pm

Thank you for this excellent column. May God bless Cynthia Tucker!

Pat Phelps

August 26th, 2009
8:26 pm

Quick, someone get Brian O’Malley some government health care.

Logical Dude

August 27th, 2009
1:17 am

Gone off the Deep End says “Since when to scumbags have rights?”
So, you don’t agree with the Constitution which says men have ‘inalienable’ rights? PLEASE think before you blurt out and make Americans look even dumber than the world already thinks.
Yes, scumbags have rights. Also, many of those captured have been released. They must not have been scumbags, you see. So, IN THE INTEREST OF JUSTICE, everyone has rights until proven guilty in a court of law. THEN you can remove some of their rights that are granted by the government.
The laws were created to protect the innocent from abusive government power. And you are falling into the trap of giving the government power to abuse your rights. Yes, YOUR rights are lessened whenever we allow someone else’s rights to be abused.

Brian Patrick O'Malley

August 27th, 2009
8:47 am

The Declaration of Independence does say that all men are created equal with certain unalienable rights.

We have multiple treaty obligations to inflict no torture or degrading treatment of people in custody.

We should also remember that during the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), the British did not consider captured American soldiers and sailors “prisoners of war” until an Act of Parliament on March 25, 1782. That was months after a British army surrendered at Yorktown. The war was considered virtually over. In the meantime, thousands of Americans perished in dungeons and prison ships in occupied New York City, and continued to do so until the very end of the war. Prisoners also died under horrible circumstances in Savannah, Philadelphia, the West Indies, and other locales.

Please consult the 2008 book from Basic Books by historian Edwin G. Burrows, “Forgotten Patriots: The Untold Story of American Prisoners During the Revolutionary War.” The “untold story” is also told in books like “The Prisoner in the American Revolution,” by Jesuit historian Charles Henry Metzger. Loyola University Press, 1971.


August 28th, 2009
8:36 pm

I can’t believe what I am SEEING! Don’t all of you understand that the CIA, these people being investigated, are trying to keep YOU SAFE?!!!! Would you torture somebody who you knew had plans to kill your mother? Your sister? Your kids? Would you try to get information to PREVENT that from happening? Or are you going to say, “No, I must make sure I don’t violate his rights”.
The facts are that they only WATER-BOARDED three times!
George Bush didn’t do everything right, but he worked hard to try to keep this country safe! Obama is putting our country in jeopardy by investigating the VERY PEOPLE WHO KEPT HIM & HIS FAMILY SAFE … AS WELL AS YOURS!

Life coach

August 28th, 2009
9:29 pm

Oh so he objects to torture. He is like all of the efeminate types who never have the nerve to join the service and defend his own country. What about the mental and finacial torture he is about to inflict on America. I had such high hopes…. I should have voted for the Republicans! And I will in 2010.

Brian O'Malley

August 29th, 2009
10:38 am

“In my short 46 years in the Armed Forces, Americans confronted the horrors of the prison camps of the Japanese in World War II, the North Koreans in 1950-1953, and the North Vietnamese in the long years of the Vietnam War, as well as knowledge of the Nazi’s holocaust depredations in World War II. Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so.”

–Gen. John W. Vessey (US Army, Retired) to Sen. John McCain (Republican-AZ), 12 Sept. 2006, supporting McCain’s effort to preserve American adherence to the Geneva Conventions.

Google it or look it up on Bing.com for the c-spanarchives.org and other listings of it. There are many veterans among Americans who oppose torture.

C K Hall

September 1st, 2009
11:18 am

Did Cynthia Tucker mean the Obamacare Circus?