Bush Admits to Approving Torture–But Which Use of It?

The WaPo reports that Bush, in his book, admits to approving waterboarding.

In a memoir due out Tuesday, Bush makes clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique against alleged Sept. 11 plotter Khalid Sheik Mohammed, an admission the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for him.

In his book, titled “Decision Points,” Bush recounts being asked by the CIA whether it could proceed with waterboarding Mohammed, who Bush said was suspected of knowing about still-pending terrorist plots against the United States. Bush writes that his reply was “Damn right” and states that he would make the same decision again to save lives, according to a someone close to Bush who has read the book.

At one level, this is thoroughly unsurprising. We know the Bush Administration very deliberately implemented torture, so it’s unsurprising to hear that it was approved by the President.

But–at least as Jeffrey Smith relays the admission from Bush–it raises as many questions as it does answers.

It appears that Bush admits to approving torture for use with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. That is, he approved torture sometime around March 1, 2003, when KSM was captured.

That date is itself very significant. After all, on February 5, 2003, the first Democrat (Jane Harman) was briefed that the CIA had used waterboarding. Her response was a letter, objecting not just to the destruction of the torture tapes, but also asking specifically whether Bush had signed off on torture.

I would like to know what kind of policy review took place and what questions were examined. In particular, I would like to know whether the most senior levels of the White House have determined that these practices are consistent with the principles and policies of the United States. Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the President?

In response, CIA appears to have met with the White House around February 19, ostensibly to talk about an appropriate response. They also appear to have consulted with the White House on how they should record the results of the Gang of 4 briefings from that month; in the end, they only recorded the outcome of the Senate briefing–which Jay Rockefeller did not attend and at which Pat Roberts is recorded to have signed off not just on torture, but on destroying the torture tapes depicting that torture. In other words, for much of February 2003, CIA was working closely with the White House to create a false appearance of Congressional approval for torture, even while they were specifically refusing to give Congress something akin to a Finding making it clear the President had signed off on that torture.

And now we come to find out that’s precisely the period during which–at least according to Bush–he approved torture.

But note what that leaves out. At least from Smith’s description, it appears that Bush says nothing about approving the waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah (nor the reported waterboarding of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi). Mind you, Ron Suskind has reported that Bush was intimately, almost gleefully, involved in ordering torture for Abu Zubaydah.

But Bush doesn’t cop to that in his book.

Now, there may be good reason for that. After all, John Yoo had not yet written the memo claiming that waterboarding did not amount to torture at the time Abu Zubaydah was first tortured.

Moreover, there’s the whole issue of the approval method for the torture that occurred before August 1, 2002.

The source says nearly every day, Mitchell would sit at his computer and write a top-secret cable to the CIA’s counterterrorism center. Each day, Mitchell would request permission to use enhanced interrogation techniques on Zubaydah. The source says the CIA would then forward the request to the White House, where White House counsel Alberto Gonzales would sign off on the technique. That would provide the administration’s legal blessing for Mitchell to increase the pressure on Zubaydah in the next interrogation.

According to multiple reports, the White House–Alberto Gonzales at least, if not his boss–approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on a daily basis. And when you read the Bybee Memo and the OPR Report on it, it’s very clear that the memo carved out legal authorization specifically for the torture directly authorized by the President. Indeed, the White House’s prior approval for torture–potentially up to and including waterboarding–may explain the urgency behind the memo in the first place, to provide retroactive legal cover for Bush’s unilateral disregard for US laws prohibiting torture.

In other words, Bush has admitted to approving torture in 2003. But that likely obfuscates his earlier approval for torture at a time when he had no legal cover for doing so.

In other news, the statute of limitations on the torture tape destruction expires in just three or four days. Yet we’ve got silence coming from John Durham.

  1. BoxTurtle says:

    “In other news, the statute of limitations on the torture tape destruction expires in just three or four days. Yet we’ve got silence coming from John Durham.”

    I think everyone here predicted that as soon as the investigation was announced.

    And Bush has nothing to worry about. Obama will NOT taken any action. There won’t even be a sternly worded letter.

    And even if we assume that the US threats to any other country who might want to take this to a War Crimes trial are ineffective, and even if we assume that our attempts to influence the judges in that most unlikely trial fail, there is still no chance that an arrest warrant for any BushCo figures would be honored by ObamaLLP.

    The worst that will happen is that BushCo figures will have to get diplomatic passports id they want to travel. And I’m sure that will not be an issue.

    Boxturtle (Just lookin’ forward….)

  2. Jim White says:

    Maybe Bush hired a robo-signer to sign off on those hundreds of times we waterboarded KSM and AZ.

    Re Durham: I had been wondering if Obama and/or Holder would actually have the balls to unseal indictments in this very small window after the elections and before the SOL expires. But yeah, my money’s on the “silence” continuing.

  3. alabama says:

    This gives us half of the circuit–the reporting half. Beforehand came the command, working its way down the same chain from Bush. Bush didn’t just “authorize” the torture, he “authored” it.

    No one puts it this way, but it had to happen this way, because it took an order from Bush to keep you out of jail. (An order, I mean, in advance, not an amnesty later on: everyone knew that Bush didn’t go for amnesties).

  4. BoxTurtle says:

    Bush didn’t just “authorize” the torture, he “authored” it.

    Imo Cheney authored. Bush suthorized.

    Boxturtle (I have this flashback of Radar handing forms to Col. Blake who blindly signs them)

  5. BoxTurtle says:

    And the stinkin’ edit still says too much time has elapsed. suthorized=authorized.

    Boxturtle (Just to annoy people: Remember, John Yoo is TEACHING law)

  6. klynn says:

    In other news, the statute of limitations on the torture tape destruction expires in just three or four days. Yet we’ve got silence coming from John Durham.

    And I encourage everyone to visit EW’s torture timeline in light of Durham’s silence and remember Nuremberg.

    JD’s silence is a miscarriage of justice.

    • grumps says:

      I grew up near Nuremberg at that time and the Americans decided that what Hitler and his cohorts did was a crime against humanity and war crimes, punishable by death.
      But when might makes right and integrity is gone……

      • BoxTurtle says:

        The winners write the history…and the rules.

        Boxturtle (Notice the neat constitutional exceptions we’ve managed to carve out for Moslems)

      • Teddy Partridge says:

        Because as hard as he worked as a kid, there were always frogs without firecrackers stuck in their ass, and flies without their wings pulled off. One man, with a twisted CIA at his beck and call, still can’t do it all. Especially early on, when it wasn’t ‘legal.’

        I mean, this book had to get CIA vetted, right? And they do, um, have an interest in the topic, right? A stay-outta-jail interest?

        • beowulf says:

          No, the book was not vetted by CIA for two reasons:

          1. Elected officials (President, VP, Senators) do not sign confidentiality agreement when they’re given access to secrets. Curiously, the House of Represantives indulged in its inferiority complex vis a vis the Senate by requiring House Members to sign a confidentiality agreement before accessing secret intel.

          2. Not sure if its a statute or simply long standing custom, but former presidents are allowed to declassify material that was classified during their administration.

        • onitgoes says:

          Plus W’s daddy, GHW Bush, is Mr. CIA, himself. No problema what Bush, Jr, says. It doesn’t matter.

      • 1970cs says:

        For the same reason they wrote down and videotaped all of this. He gets another thrill out of admitting it in public.

        • onitgoes says:

          Agree. Recall W’s smirking frat-boy chimp face. This is the kind of thing that lazy legacy silver-spoon entitled f*cks like him like to do: get in your face with it and snigger and smirk. W gets off on rubbing it in our faces. Whaddaya gonna do about it??

        • ottogrendel says:

          Yup. The money, power and privilege that W was born into always thows trump. Above all, W will remain wealthy and powerful. He knows this. Torture, crime and abuse of executive power is a natural expression of his status and existence above the law.

        • Teddy Partridge says:

          Recall that the book was delayed, ostensibly for reasons of the mid-terms. But perhaps there was a more self-serving legal reason, as the Statute of Limitations slips away? I can’t imagine W going to his grave without taking the chance to rub it in our face, once he’s been assured he cannot be prosecuted. While travel might be restricted, I can’t imagine any American authority turning him over to ferriners.

          We might be in for a spate of revelations.

  7. JThomason says:

    This story is the linchpin in the degeneration of American civil values and the erosion of the rule of law and Constitutionalism. I know this is a conclusory reflection. But the propagation of standards degrading the sanctity of the human body will devolve through society in the counter-revolution of tyranny. Continued thanks for your vigilance and the vigilance of the retinue.

    • bobschacht says:

      This story is the linchpin in the degeneration of American civil values and the erosion of the rule of law and Constitutionalism.

      Another way to frame this is that Bush and Cheney, with the protection of Obama, have pushed the Overton Window on debate about torture so far to the Right that civil values, the rule of law, and Constitutionalism are reduced to “academic” debates of marginal relevance to public discourse. And Obama does not even try to push back.


      Bob in AZ

  8. radiofreewill says:

    It seems possible, if not probable, to me, that Gonzo was signing-off on torture, daily, while hiding-from-review Bush’s ‘in-house legal empowerment’ – whatever that may have been construed as – to authorize said torture.

    Imvho, this is very likely a clear case of Bush acting Above the Law with no real cover – only loyal secrecy.

  9. JamesJoyce says:

    Not only was “Executive Oil” responsible for the major shift from a defensive military posture to a preemptive military position, to protect oil’s access to “oil,” which still guts America at the “pump.” We now have the evidence to confirm the Commander and Chief endorsed the use of “torture,” in violation of both US and international law, to protect America?

    No American has a problem with protecting America. What American’s do have a problem with is the protection of monopolistic corporate oil interests, which effectively and arguably undermine sound economic policy, life and liberty, under the guise of protecting America.

    Savak, trained by, and paid for by US/CIA, tortured Iranians also. This was to protect western oil interests, via the covert overthrow of a government.

    Lets look at reality here. When OIL hit $147.00 a barrel, America imploded. Remember $4.50 per gallon gas? Inflation! American Alzheimer Affliction”


    A midterm election just passed. Did one politician mentioned America’s propensity to waste vast economic value/fortunes right your car’s tailpipe. America does spend more money on transportation than food. But not one politician mentioned how we spend more money on “war” than we do food and transportation combined, to perpetuate monopolistic energy corporation’s business models and profit, while enabling the waste of .80 cents of every American dollar spent on gasoline, at a minimum!

    History will prove 911 provided “Executive Oil,” with the opportunity. The motive is always “profit.” The means, violation of law, under the color of law. The crimes are many in the execution of economic policies and agendas, where the rule of law is manipulated and tossed to the side for the benefit of select corporate interests. No American has a problem with protecting America. The question is who and what should we protect America from?

    Given the economic realities facing America today, looking backwards, to understand the context of today, America and American’s have been gutted, like a codfish. Now, the keys where given right back, in many ways, to the responsible “party” for steering the “USS Giagantica,” right into the iceberg. All pumps have been “manned” and we have been adrift at sea, with little repair. Hope we do not sink now! In the event we do, Corporations and money unload first. But not before closing the bulkheads and watertight hatches, to the lower compartments……

    Silence is cancer. Meanwhile the nexus between America’s reduced standard of living, reduced quality of life and the consequences of protecting dependencies, is hidden from view, codependent on the obfuscation of reason and law. The same types of obfuscations of reason and law, which permitted, protected and allowed the institution of slavery. Connecting the dots, while exposing the blind zits, hidden from view!

    • lsls says:

      “History will prove 911 provided “Executive Oil,” with the opportunity. The motive is always “profit.” The means, violation of law, under the color of law. The crimes are many in the execution of economic policies and agendas, where the rule of law is manipulated and tossed to the side for the benefit of select corporate interests. No American has a problem with protecting America. The question is who and what should we protect America from?”

      Let’s imagine that this is true. What information would they really want to know from KSM? I’d like to know or see transcripts to see/hear what they actually were trying to get him to give up…I’d bet they just wanted an admission of guilt regarding 9/11 so they would haven someone to pin it on and bolster their official story……….but gee whiz…the tapes got destroyed. KSM could have been a mere deflection from OBL, who is either dead or a grossly, exaggerated personality created by the CIA. Ambassador Crocker recently said something like OBL is only a “symbol” and not really important. Interesting. I believe it all comes back to oil without a doubt.

    • Gitcheegumee says:

      I totally concur.

      Wonder if this “admission’ was included BEFORE the Dems lost the House a coupla days ago..probably so,considering the time it takes to print and bind books.

      Interestingly enough, on a trip to Panama,in 2005, Bush stated that the US does not torture:

      Monday, 7 November 2005,

      US does not torture, Bush insists

      The CIA has declined to comment on claims of a covert prison network

      US President George W Bush has defended his government’s treatment of detainees after a media allegation that the CIA ran secret jails in eastern Europe.

      “We do not torture,” Mr Bush told reporters during a visit to Panama.

      He said enemies were plotting to hurt the US and his government would pursue them, but would do so “under the law”. “We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice,” Mr Bush said at a joint news conference with Panamanian President Martin Torrijos. “Our country is at war and our government has the obligation to protect the American people,” Mr Bush said. “Any activity we conduct is within the law.”

      The Senate has passed legislation banning torture, but the Bush administration is seeking an exemption for the CIA spy agency.

      “We do not torture and therefore we’re working with Congress to make sure that as we go forward, we make it more possible to do our job,” Mr Bush said. (Excerpt)

      • Gitcheegumee says:

        BBC NEWS | Americas | US does not torture, Bush insists

        Nov 7, 2005 … US President George W Bush has defended his government’s treatment … “We do not torture,” Mr Bush told reporters during a visit to Panama. …

        news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4415132.stm – Cached – Similar

      • Mary says:

        Bush had also stated initially that he had nothing to do with the USAttorney firings, until, of course, he got back to the US and with his lawyer, after which he made the cryptic statements that the USA’s served at his pleasure, but no one ever pressed him on whether that meant he was saying that he did, after all, fire them himself and if so, why his initial statement in So Am and later through Tony Snow had been false.

        Never really asked the hard to answer questions.

  10. ottogrendel says:

    “an admission the human rights experts say could one day have legal consequences for him”

    I’m not holding my breath. Who in the Obama administration with the power to bring the hammer down is going to do so? Why would the new adminstration give away the extra-legal expansion of executive power carved out under George W?

    Andrew Bacevich’s “The New American Militarism” is useful here.

  11. Gitcheegumee says:

    Bush makes clear that he personally approved the use of that coercive technique ..WaPo

    Interesting that the term coercive technique is employed by WaPo,rather than the word ,”torture”.

  12. bluewombat says:

    The mailing address I have for John Durham is:

    John Durham, Esq.

    U.S. Department of Justice

    157 Church St., 23rd Floor

    New Haven, CT 06510

    I wrote him a letter in October of 2009 calling for full speed ahead — it would appear that my government has ignored me once again.

    (When I wrote to him, I sent him a set of official Center for Constitutional Rights Torture Team trading cards, http://ccrjustice.org/torture-team-cards)

    Sorry, don’t have fax, e-mail or phone.

  13. bluewombat says:

    I agree with Boxturtle that the “You Can’t Edit Anymore” function pulls the trigger too fast.

    Wanted to say that my link doesn’t seem to work.

    But if you enter “Center Constitutional Rights Torture Team Trading Cards” on a good non-privacy-invading search engine like http://www.ixquick.com, it will come up OK.

  14. whitewidow says:

    Totally OT, but I ran across this crazy story and I thought wheelers would find it amusing.


    (for some reason – most likely user error – I’ve always had trouble getting my links to work here so doubling up for good measure)

  15. nonpartisanliberal says:

    BIG DEAL! Obama does not believe in punishing war criminals like himself, but only punishes the whistle blowers who expose war crimes.

    Wait! Did Bush just blow the whistle on himself? Sorry, but as a fellow politician, Obama grants him BRAGGING rights.

  16. Mary says:

    Does he want to ante up with admitting to sending al-Libi to Khadafy as well? I’m guessing he doesn’t want to be asked about al-Libi and the false information he and Cheney had torture out of him and laundered through Powell to the UN.

    And the media will obligingly never ask those questions at all.

  17. Jeff Kaye says:

    Three points:

    1) EW is right that the timing of the “revelation” is self-serving, and masks even greater legal liability.

    2) JThomason @15 is correct that the sociological meaning of Bush’s statements have a terribly damaging effect up the culture. Bush’s “damn right” is an atavistic appeal to the worst in human nature, and reduces the social contract to mere might makes right status, or even worse, suggests that extreme violence should be visited upon out groups, whose own POV can never be addressed, or even tolerated. Was 9/11 really worse than Nagasaki?

    3) Torture as U.S. policy has a long history, and the search for recent origins underplays the fact of its continuity, in particular since the end of WWII. (There was earlier torture, e.g. in the Philippines war, but this was not a studied, continued military policy, as it has been since the U.S. lost its moral bearings in its effort to defeat the Germans and Japanese. The road was slippery, but sure, in its downhill, vertiginous descent.)

  18. WilliamOckham says:

    I think everybody is missing the rationale behind Bush’s admission of authorizing the torture of KSM (and if anyone has already commented on this, I apologize). The torturers knew from the beginning that they had work the PR side of this evil. Bush can admit to torturing KSM because of who KSM is. Nobody will feel any sympathy for KSM. It is much easier to accept torture when it’s being done to someone who is already living up to his cartoon villain role in our national psychodrama. If anyone objects it is really easy to paint them as an al Qaeda sympathizer.

    It would be much harder to admit to the torture of AZ, or a helpless 15 year old boy or the completely innocent greengrocer or airline counter employee. No, the clear line of responsibility for the torture of the innocents will be carefully hidden by pols and their handmaidens in the press. I should apologize to real handmaidens everywhere. Make that whores and useful idiots in the press.

    • Mary says:

      I’m not missing that and it’s why I raise al-Libi so frequently. There’s no sympathy bc of who KSM is, and also bc there’s no significant disinformation that is in the public record.

      The fact that al-Libi was deemed important enough to torture, important enough to launder his incorrect al-Qaeda training camps info through Powell to the UN, and that torture info was then used to create 2 million Iraqi refugees and leave tens and tens of thousands dead – the sympathy for torturing someone to generate those consequences is lost a bit when the info tortured out of him was false and when the torturers then handed him off to be suicided by Reagan’s friends (not) the Libyans.

      I’d love to see him asked about al-Liby and also asked what he’d tell Ronald Reagan about handing over al-Libi to Khadafy instead of to Congress or the US courts who were investigating how we torturecd our way into war with Iraq.

      But it would be worthwhile, as well, to see him asked about the still unreleased August 2002 CIA memo, explaining that AT LEAST 1/3 of those at GITMO were not only not the worst of the worst, but not even involved with al Qaeda in any way. To ask him about Maher Arar, if he can name Arar’s daughter’s, if he’s ever apologized to Arar, etc.; to ask him about Ahmed Errachidi and whether he’s ever apologized to Errachidi – to ask him what would constitute justice for Arar and Errachidi and el-Masri and how America should demonstrate it’s commitment to justice in their cases, etc.

      Easy questions with names and facts to easily pull from the public records, but no one will ask him. No one.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      re torturing helpless teenagers…

      Gitcheegumee and I wondered a ways back, what about John Walker Lindh? Reposting my comment from previous Durham diary The AP’s “Most Complete Published Account” that Leaves Out Torture:

      …Lindh, an American kid, was Detainee 001 and Rumsfeld personally wrote a document telling interrogators to “take the gloves off” when interrogating Lindh specifically. As soon as his capture was publicized, Saturday, December 1, 2001, Lindh’s parents got him a lawyer on Monday, December 3, who immediately wrote Rumsfeld, Powell, Ashcroft and Tenet and asked to see his client. Lindh didn’t know that but did ask to see a lawyer; instead he got whisked away for two months of secret torture.

      FRANK LINDH: Well, the government never told him. They held him for fifty-four days incommunicado, until he was brought back to Washington, DC area, northern Virginia.

      AMY GOODMAN: Questioning him?

      FRANK LINDH: Oh, yes, yes, questioning. After the torture, he was brought in and said, “If you’ll talk to us, we’ll stop torturing you.”

      All of this is before the April 2002 start date of the taping that you note above, but wouldn’t you think Lindh’s sessions would have been taped? And also, maybe seeing an American kid from Marin CA tortured would be a reason to destroy tapes? He was offered a plea bargain at the last minute, which he took, having no faith in a fair trial, and part of that plea bargain was he had to keep silence about torture.

      He would also have to consent to a gag order that would prevent him from making any public statements on the matter for the duration of his 20-year sentence, and he would have to drop any claims that he had been mistreated or tortured by U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan and aboard two military ships during December 2001 and January 2002

      I guess my question is still who authorized what when and how, and are there tapes?

      And why — the stupidity of it — some ticking time bomb scenario that was:

      FRANK LINDH: What I find most troubling about this treatment, however, was that it was completely gratuitous and unnecessary. John Lindh did not need to be tortured in order to tell American forces what he knew, where he had been and what he had seen. He was glad to be rescued, he had nothing to hide. I cannot fathom why the military would have felt it necessary to humiliate him in this way.

      Again, Detainee 001, out of sight out of mind now.

    • thatvisionthing says:

      re working the PR side of evil… you are now entering the Karl Rove dimension:

      LAWRENCE WILKERSON: You’ve got another dimension to it, too, and you hinted at it there. It’s what I call the “Karl Rove dimension.” You want to exploit this as much as you possibly can, so you put them in shackles, you put hoods on them, you put them in orange jumpsuits, and you show a little TV footage every now and then. You want the American people to believe that these are heinous, despicable, deadly criminals.

      • Jeff Kaye says:

        Exactly. And if you get the chance, you can have a show trial, too. But the worst is yet to come. We’ve told you that experiments were done upon the prisoners. As this story is fleshed out, the full horror of our descent into national crime will be crystal clear. You’d think what we know would have already done that. Yet apparently it has not. But what has yet to come out will not be ignored. I feel quite confident about that.

        • thatvisionthing says:

          God bless you for all you do. I am so damned sorry and angry for all the crap done in our name. I wish I could heal something or somebody. I wish I could make something right.

  19. tjbs says:

    Torture/ Murder/ Treason you name it you claim it.

    After a public admission of a war crime not to mention the supreme war crime pre-emptive war AKA a war of aggression,Eric Holder has no choice but to detain this bush fellow for crimes against humanity.

    This is a big reason the dems lost, accessory to treason mr obama and mr holder.