Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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April 16, 2009
By: Hilzoy


I am presently reading through the torture memos that the Obama administration released today. I will comment on them when I have had a chance to work through and digest them. I do want to say one thing now, though.

Yesterday, various news outlets began reporting that these memos would be released. The fight seemed to be about how heavily they would be redacted. From the WSJ:

"The Obama administration is leaning toward keeping secret some graphic details of tactics allowed in Central Intelligence Agency interrogations, despite a push by some top officials to make the information public, according to people familiar with the discussions. (...)

Under one option, the outlines of which were described by current and former government officials close to the discussions, the administration would ask a judge to keep secret large parts of the Bradbury memos. Two of the memos contain particularly explicit details of methods and describe combinations of tactics that were deemed to fall within the bounds of the Geneva Convention on torture, according to people who have read them.

Two or three proposals that would reveal varying degrees of detail contained in the memos about the CIA program are before the president, another senior administration official said."

As Steve noted, the memos are not heavily redacted at all. I skimmed through them looking for redacted bits; most of them are very short redactions -- names, or things like: "as the CIA informed us in [REDACTED]", where the redaction is less than a line. These are perfectly defensible redactions. The number that are longer than that is very small. (I count eleven, none in the Bradbury "Techniques" memos discussed in the WSJ piece.)

On this one, the right side won.

Hilzoy 6:05 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (15)

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Here's my thoughts after giving the "torture" memos a rapid read. My initial reaction was, "These techniques are really stupid." Then, "these are really open-ended." Stupid because they indicate that intelligence gathering from suspects of any kind by Americans has not progressed at all with modern advances biotechnology, psychology, medicine, or it technology. If I were a Republican I would not want them released either, because they indicate a mortifying level of intellectual and emotional immature in the people who ran our country. Open-ended for, as Bradbury said in the May 30th memo, the two sentences, "As we explain below, based on CIA assurances, we understand that the interrogations conducted by the CIA do not take place in any 'territory under [United States] jurisdiction' within the meaning of Article 16. We therefore conclude that the CIA interrogation program does not violate the obligations set forth in Article 16." So within the US you can apply these techniques-which-are-not-torture, but once outside you can do anything you want. The upshot, one can only conclude, these people like to watch other people suffer. Yes, they did murder a lot of Americans and justice demands that they forfeit their lives but if we torture we become like them.

Posted by: Kurt on April 16, 2009 at 6:18 PM | PERMALINK

On this one, the right side won.

Chalk another one up to excessive pearl clutching and hand wringing from some on the left. Obama does things his way and with forethought. He is a politician after all and a smart one.

As for the techniques, like I said in a previous thread, "lizard brains" at work here. To decide to place insects in a "box" with a prisoner who allegedly fears them, and then deduce that it's legal if you tell said prisoner they don't sting, is the height of mindless jackassery.

And I don't think the lower downs should be prosecuted any more than I thought the Abu Graib idiot guards should have been. The next shoe to drop is what happens to the vermin lizard lawyers who thought this shat up and approved it, and the real ciminals who told them to.

Posted by: Comrade Stuck on April 16, 2009 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Come back with your condescending bullshit about "hand wringing" when someone gets tried for torture. Until then, Obama is still defending it.

Posted by: vrk on April 16, 2009 at 6:45 PM | PERMALINK

After a cursory read of the memos I see that they are exactly what I thought. Their logic is cartoonish and their transparent thought process is worthy of the best goons. I believe la Cosa Nostra could write better defenses and justifications of their hit lists than this stuff.

Funny though, after all the years waiting I see the words "right side won" and sort of have a Pavlovian response to the word "right". Hopefully that wears off with time.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on April 16, 2009 at 6:47 PM | PERMALINK

Come back with your condescending bullshit about "hand wringing" when someone gets tried for torture. Until then, Obama is still defending it.

Well, at least your smart enough to recognize who my "condescending Bullshit" was addressed to.

Posted by: Comrade Stuck on April 16, 2009 at 6:51 PM | PERMALINK

Page 7 of the Bybee memo was interesting. He describes Abu Zubaydah as "quick to recognize and assess moods and motivations of others", "narcissistic features", "prizes his independence", "humble and regular guy", "confident, self-assured and possesses an air of authority" and "proud of his ability to lie and deceive others successfully". I know, I know. Sounds like Bush, right? But then he adds, "intelligent and intellectually curious." How do you not laugh?

Posted by: Danp on April 16, 2009 at 7:03 PM | PERMALINK

We have now seen a pattern of these types of stories, with leaks that turn out to be wrong. I suspect some Bush holdovers are trying to frame the public expectation in hopes of pressuring Obama to go their way, or, in the alternative, giving them a foothold to attack if he goes against them, claiming some kind of "flip flop" or "caving in to pressure from the left".

Posted by: Newton Whale on April 16, 2009 at 7:05 PM | PERMALINK

Would it violate the president's "no prosecution" policy if the people doing the "not quite torture" were given a psych evaluation and required to undergo therapy so we can separate the patriots from the freaks?

Posted by: Midland on April 16, 2009 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

I've noticed a trend with Obama. There is a lot of discussion and hang-wringing about what might be done, and sometimes about what is appearing to be done, but in the end the result tends to be what his supporters would want.

The stimulus bill? Too little, no too big, no too many taxes, too little mass transit, too much compromise. In then end, it was pretty much what he wanted at the beginning - and it is now law and thus a done deal.

Similarly I notice a lot of concern about the memos, but they were released, and with minimal redactions. Now that they are released they won't be unreleased.

Worth watching if this trend continues.

Posted by: Cool on April 16, 2009 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

May all the gods smile upon those people, who quite selflessly and at great intellectual risk, listen to Limbaugh so we don't have to.

Posted by: anonymous on April 16, 2009 at 7:56 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't read the released memos yet, but I did read Jane Mayer's book, THE DARK SIDE. On pg. 230, she said that Joh Yoo wrote in one of his memos, that mistreatment of prisoners would not "shock the conscience of the court" or violate prohibitions against "cruel and unusual punishment", unless sadism or malice could be proven. According to Mayer, "amont the practices the memo discussed as arguably legal were gouging a prisoner's eyes out, dousing himn with "scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance", or "slitting an ear, nose, or lip, or disabling a tongue or limb". Biting, too, was considered."

In other words, we could legally maim or disfigure someone (inclusing gouging eyes out or cutting tongues out). Makes me proud.

Posted by: Always Hopeful on April 16, 2009 at 8:23 PM | PERMALINK

It must be said that the impressive blogger and well regarded attorney Glenn Greenwald says Obama deserves a good deal of credit for this. Stay positive.

Posted by: consider wisely on April 16, 2009 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, Mr. President :)

Posted by: MissMudd on April 16, 2009 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

I hope you are correct when you assert that the right side won. I hope that the administration is preparing the public for prosecutions and not attempting to hide behind a little honesty, but...

The AUG 1 2002 Jay Bybee memo is improperly marked in that it does not cite either an "original classifying authority" or name a document that it was derived from. Further it does not have declassification instructions, or even state the reason that the document is classified. These "markings" are required on any legitimately classified document. This one looks like a little boy playing with his "Top Secret" stamp.

The 2005 documents appear to have the required markings. The redacted multi-line block at the bottom of the first page is likely the required references and declassifying instructions. The redacted block between TOP SECRET//---------/NOFORN is the name of the program - "code words". These should be two unrelated words - like "YELLOW SNOW" - which suggests that there is a central record of this program and a central repository for the associated documents.

Any indication of why these documents were classified has been redacted. We can't tell if these documents were classified because they contain classified information from another source or if the OLC thinks they have original classification authority for this kind of document.

The pattern to the redactions indicates that there is a much larger program than they're letting on to. The redactions eliminate the trail back to that program. I'm still not convinced that the right side won.

Posted by: CH on April 16, 2009 at 11:37 PM | PERMALINK

Besides the consequences of trashing several interational and American conventions/laws, torturing people leaves you with physically and emotionally damaged prisoners who, I imagine, are mad as h*ll and looking for revenge, and damaged torturers, either sickened or delighted by their experiences. What to do with them? Even guarding prisoners who you know are going to be tortured must damage people with a conscience. If Obama is not going to prosecute (!), then please call Bishop Tutu and ask for his help in setting up a truth and reconciliation commission. Argentina swept their dirty war under the rug and are still suffering for having done that. People need to know what their government did in their name and decide the appropriate course.

Posted by: Heather on April 16, 2009 at 11:56 PM | PERMALINK



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