Published on Sunday, February 10, 2008 by CommonDreams.org
by Ray McGovern
After one spends 45 years in Washington, high farce does not normally throw one off balance. I found the past few days, however, an acid test of my equilibrium.I missed the National Prayer Breakfast-for the 45th time in a row. But, as I drove to work I listened with rapt attention as President George W. Bush gave his insights on prayer:
“When we lift our hearts to God, we’re all equal in his sight. We’re all equally precious…In prayer we grow in mercy and compassion…. When we answer God’s call to love a neighbor as ourselves, we enter into a deeper friendship with our fellow man - and a deeper relationship with our eternal Father.”
Vice President Dick Cheney skipped Thursday’s prayer breakfast in order to put the final touches on the speech he gave later that morning to the Conservative Political Action Conference. Perhaps he felt he needed some extra time to devise careful words to extol “the interrogation program run by the CIA…a tougher program for tougher customers, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11,” without conceding that the program has involved torture.
But there was a touch of defensiveness in Cheney’s remarks, as he saw fit repeatedly to reassure his audience yesterday that America is a “decent” country.
After all, CIA Director Michael Hayden had confirmed publicly on Tuesday that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and two other “high-value” detainees had been waterboarded in 2002-2003, though Hayden added that the technique has since been discontinued.
An extreme form of interrogation going back at least as far as the Spanish Inquisition, waterboarding has been condemned as torture by just about everyone-except the hired legal hands of the Bush administration.
On Wednesday President Bush’s spokesman Tony Fratto revealed that the White House reserves the right to approve waterboarding again, “depending on the circumstances.” Fratto matter-of-factly described the process still followed by the Bush administration to approve torture-er; I mean, “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding:
“The process includes the director of the Central Intelligence Agency bringing the proposal to the attorney general, where the review would be conducted to determine if the plan would be legal and effective. At that point, the proposal would go to the president. The president would listen to the determination of his advisers and make a decision.”
Cheney’s task of reassuring us about our “decency” was made no easier Thursday, when Attorney General Michael Mukasey stonewalled questions from the hapless John Conyers, titular chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Conyers tried, and failed, to get straight answers from Mukasey on torture.
Conyers referred to Hayden’s admission about waterboarding and branded the practice “odious.” But Mukasey seemed to take perverse delight in “dissing” Conyers, as the expression goes in inner city Washington. Sadly, the tired chairman took the disrespect stoically.
He did summon the courage to ask Attorney General Mukasey directly, “Are you ready to start a criminal investigation into whether this confirmed use of waterboarding by U.S. agents was illegal?”
“No, I am not,” Mukasey answered.
Mukasey claimed “waterboarding was found to be permissible under the law as it existed” in the years immediately after 9/11; thus, the Justice Department could not investigate someone for doing something the department had declared legal. Got that?
“That would mean the same department that authorized the program would now consider prosecuting somebody who followed that advice.”
Oddly, Mukasey himself is on record saying waterboarding would be torture if applied to him. And Michael McConnell, Director of National Intelligence, was even more explicit in taking the same line in an interview with Lawrence Wright of New Yorker magazine. McConnell told Wright that, for him:
“Waterboarding would be excruciating. If I had water draining into my nose, oh God, I just can’t imagine how painful! Whether it’s torture by anybody else’s definition, for me it would be torture.”
Okay, it would be torture if done to you, Mike; how about if done to others? Sadly, McConnell, too, missed the prayer breakfast and the president’s moving reminder that we are called “to love a neighbor as ourselves.” Is there an exception, perhaps, for detainees?
Cat Out of Bag
When torture first came up during his interview with the New Yorker, McConnell was more circumspect, repeating the obligatory bromide “We don’t torture,” as former CIA Director George Tenet did in five consecutive sentences while hawking his memoir on 60 Minutes on April 29, 2007. As McConnell grew more relaxed, however, he let slip the rationale for Mukasey’s effrontery and the administration’s refusal to admit that waterboarding is torture. For anyone paying attention, that rationale has long been a no-brainer. But here is McConnell inadvertently articulating it:
“If it is ever determined to be torture, there will be a huge penalty to be paid for anyone engaging in it.” Rest of article here.