Fact Check: President Bush on Torture

Today, President Bush continued to defend flawed legal opinions that leave the door open to torture. Instead of leveling with the American people about what his Administration is doing, he tried to convince the American people that the laws against torture are unclear. Here are the facts.

President Bush: “This government does not torture people. We stick to U.S. law and our international obligations.” (www.whitehouse.gov, 10/5/07)

  • FACT: U.S. officials who authorize or use “enhanced” interrogation techniques risk violating U.S. law and could face criminal prosecution. (Leave No Marks: ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Techniques and the Risk of Criminality, Human Rights First, Physicians for Human Rights, 8/2/07)

    FACT: The International Committee of the Red Cross has reportedly issued a report calling the C.I.A. techniques tantamount to torture. “Congressional and other Washington sources familiar with the report said that it harshly criticized the C.I.A.’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and caution, could have potentially devastating legal ramifications.” (“The Black Sites, A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program,” Jane Mayer, The New Yorker8/13/07)

    FACT: Every time Bush asserts that the U.S does not torture, he is not just undermining his own credibility, he’s diminishing the Red Cross too. “It’s a downward spiral,” says Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. “If I’m the ICRC and I’m visiting [abused] prisoners in, say, Egypt, the Egyptians will say ‘What are you going to do? The U.S. says this isn’t torture’.” (Time, 10/5/07)

President Bush: “The techniques that we use have been fully disclosed to appropriate members” of Congress. (www.whitehouse.gov, 10/5/07)

  • FACT: The White House has not shared sufficient information with the American public . . . or with Congress. Here’s Congressman Alcee Hasting’s take on the briefing process: “[T]he public and all but a few members of Congress who have been sworn to silence have had to take on faith President Bush’s assurances that the C.I.A.’s internment program has been humane and legal, and has yielded crucial intelligence. Representative Alcee Hastings, a Democratic member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said, ‘We talk to the authorities about these detainees, but, of course, they’re not going to come out and tell us that they beat the living daylights out of someone.’ He recalled learning in 2003 that Mohammed had been captured. ‘It was good news,’ he said. ‘So I tried to find out: Where is this guy? And how is he being treated?’ For more than three years, Hastings said, ‘I could never pinpoint anything.’ Finally, he received some classified briefings on the Mohammed interrogation. Hastings said that he ‘can’t go into details’ about what he found out, but, speaking of Mohammed’s treatment, he said that even if it wasn’t torture, as the Administration claims, ‘it ain’t right, either. Something went wrong.’” (“The Black Sites, A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program,” Jane Mayer, The New Yorker8/13/07)

    FACT: Members of Congress are demanding more information from the Administration. (CQ, 10/4/07)

President Bush: “There are highly trained professionals questioning these extremists and terrorists.” (www.whitehouse.gov10/5/07)

  • FACT: The C.I.A. does not have institutional experience in interrogations. “[T]he C.I.A. had virtually no trained interrogators. A former C.I.A. officer involved in fighting terrorism said that, at first, the agency was crippled by its lack of expertise. “It began right away, in Afghanistan, on the fly,” he recalled. “They invented the program of interrogation with people who had no understanding of Al Qaeda or the Arab world.” The former officer said that the pressure from the White House, in particular from Vice-President Dick Cheney, was intense: “They were pushing us: ‘Get information! Do not let us get hit again!’ ” In the scramble, he said, he searched the C.I.A.’s archives, to see what interrogation techniques had worked in the past. He was particularly impressed with the Phoenix Program, from the Vietnam War. Critics, including military historians, have described it as a program of state-sanctioned torture and murder. A Pentagon-contract study found that, between 1970 and 1971, ninety-seven per cent of the Vietcong targeted by the Phoenix Program were of negligible importance. But, after September 11th, some C.I.A. officials viewed the program as a useful model. A. B. Krongard, who was the executive director of the C.I.A. from 2001 to 2004, said that the agency turned to “everyone we could, including our friends in Arab cultures,” for interrogation advice, among them those in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, all of which the State Department regularly criticizes for human-rights abuses.” (“The Black Sites, A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program,” Jane Mayer, The New Yorker8/13/07)

    FACT: The C.I.A. does not have institutional experience in handling detainees. “The C.I.A. knew even less about running prisons than it did about hostile interrogations. Tyler Drumheller, a former chief of European operations at the C.I.A., and the author of a recent book, ‘On the Brink: How the White House Compromised U.S. Intelligence,’ said, ‘The agency had no experience in detention. Never. But they insisted on arresting and detaining people in this program. It was a mistake, in my opinion. You can’t mix intelligence and police work. But the White House was really pushing. They wanted someone to do it. So the C.I.A. said, ‘We’ll try.’ George Tenet came out of politics, not intelligence. His whole modus operandi was to please the principal. We got stuck with all sorts of things. This is really the legacy of a director who never said no to anybody.’” (“The Black Sites, A rare look inside the C.I.A.’s secret interrogation program,” Jane Mayer, The New Yorker8/13/07)


Published on October 5, 2007


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