Bush officials didn't look into history of interrogation methods before approving their use.

Bush officials didn't look into history of interrogation methods before approving their use.

Bush officials didn't look into history of interrogation methods before approving their use.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 22 2009 6:36 AM

Didn't Know Much About Torture History

The New York Timesleads with a detailed look at how the Central Intelligence Agency implemented the harsh interrogation techniques for terrorism suspects without knowing much about their history or inquiring too deeply about their effectiveness. The interrogation methods were approved without dissent, or even much debate, in a number of "high-level meetings in 2002" after a concerted push by the top two CIA officials. The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox lead with President Obama leaving open the possibility of prosecuting Bush administration officials who approved the harsh interrogation techniques. Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Obama also said that if Congress is determined to investigate the interrogation practices, he would not stand in the way. While emphasizing that he was "not suggesting" the idea, Obama said that an investigation by a bipartisan commission that would look much like the one that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks would be preferable to a congressional panel that could easily devolve into partisan sniping.

USA Todayleads with an in-house analysis that found 16 of the 62 lawmakers who left Congress last year are now working for organizations that seek to influence the government in some way. Although ethics rules mandate a "cooling off period" before former lawmakers can directly lobby their former colleagues, they can still work as advisers as well as lobby administration officials or state policymakers. "They can't call or visit a congressional office for a lobbying purpose but can do all the work on a lobbying campaign," Craig Holman of the watchdog group Public Citizen said.

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The NYT's must-read piece about how the "brutal methods of interrogation" came to be used by CIA officials is, at times, hard to believe. Is it really possible that high-level officials decided to pursue such a dramatic course of action without wondering whether this had been discussed in the past? Whatever you may think of Bush-era incompetence, it seems someone, somewhere would have thought to search through government archives. But that's exactly what they didn't do, concludes the NYT after talking with "more than two dozen current and former senior officials."

The thinking seemed to be that since the interrogators would be employing methods used on American military trainees, they couldn't possibly amount to torture. But a quick search of government archives would have discovered that the training program was devised to give American service members an idea of torture methods employed by Communists in the Korean War, which had elicited false confessions from captured Americans. The officials were so ignorant of history that they didn't even know that water-boarding had been prosecuted by the United States after World War II. And even though veteran military trainers warned that the methods were ineffective, their insight never reached the right people. It all amounted to "a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm," one former CIA official said.

The WP off-leads, and everyone covers, a newly declassified Senate investigation that concludes Pentagon and CIA officials began to plan ways in which they could use the harsh interrogation techniques months before Justice Department lawyers approved their use and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-level terrorism suspect. The Senate Armed Services Committee report also notes that many experts warned that the techniques could produce false information and might break U.S. and international law. These methods were then used by both the CIA and the military in Guantanamo as well as detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Sen. Carl Levin, the committee chairman, said the report "connects the dots" and shows how methods used in a military training program ended up appearing in the recently released Justice Department memos.

Obama's statement to reporters that it would be up to the attorney general to decide whether the senior Bush administration officials who came up with a rationale for the interrogation techniques broke the law amounted to a shift for the administration. At first, when the torture memos were released, Obama seemed to leave open the question of whether these officials could be prosecuted. Then, on Sunday, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel told ABC that these former officials wouldn't be prosecuted. Obama has always put an emphasis on "looking forward and not backward," as his press secretary said, but is now facing intense pressure from Democratic lawmakers and human rights organizations to investigate the interrogation techniques that were used after the Sept. 11 attacks. The WP hears word that the idea of a "9/11-style" commission was discussed at length before the memos were released, but Obama made it clear that was something for Congress to decide and he didn't want to comment on it one way or another.

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Exemplifying the debate over the harsh interrogation techniques, it was also revealed yesterday that Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, sent out an internal memo last week that said the practices managed to produce some "high-value information." That part of the memo was left out of what was released to the news media last week. Last night, Blair emphasized that while the techniques may have resulted in valuable information, it wasn't worth the damage to the country's reputation, and there's no way of knowing "whether the same information could have been obtained through other means."

The LAT reports that "within hours" of Obama's statements, CIA employees were anxiously sending each other messages about what it could mean. "What the president said today will send a chill inside the agency," a former official said. According to the WP's David Ignatius, the "chill" has already set in. Although Obama has vowed that those who were following orders won't be prosecuted, "the people on the firing line don't believe him. They think the memos have opened a new season of investigation and retribution," writes Ignatius. Releasing the memos may have been the right thing to do, "[b]ut nobody should pretend that the disclosures weren't costly to CIA morale and effectiveness."

The WP goes inside with a look at how European prosecutors are likely to investigate CIA and Bush administration officials for breaking an international ban on torture if the United States takes no action to hold them accountable in the United States. Officials say that the release of the Justice Department memos would make it easier for prosecutors to open such investigations. Even if their citizens are not involved, some European countries allow investigations of human rights crimes anywhere in the world. The Post explains that although winning these cases is rare, "those targeted can face arrest if they travel abroad." The U.N. special investigator for human rights said that the interrogation techniques "may be something that will be haunting CIA officials, or Justice Department officials, or the vice president, for the rest of their lives."

The WP and LAT front word that the Justice Department is considering dropping the charges against two former pro-Israel lobbyists who have been accused of disclosing secret national defense information. Meanwhile, Rep. Jane Harman vigorously denied allegations that she offered to use her influence to push the Bush administration to be lenient with the lobbyists. The trial is set to begin on June 2, but officials at the Justice Department are concerned they don't have much of a chance of winning the case. Officials insist their decision to review the case is unrelated to the Harman revelation.

The WP reports that police in Alexandria, Va., say a parking meter repairman stole at least $170,000 over about a year—all in quarters, nickels, and dimes. The repairman apparently went to work at 3 a.m., so he could steal the money when no one was around. The money wasn't in his bank account, but when police searched his house, they found it "looked a bit like a Las Vegas casino," notes the paper. There were coins everywhere. "That much money in quarters, dimes and nickels would weigh at least four tons," says the Post. "If it was all in nickels, it would weigh nearly 19 tons."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.