Steven Bradbury’s Revenge

Since I noted in August 2011 that Mitt had named two torture architects to his legal advisory committee (Tim Flanigan and Steve Bradbury), I have had zero doubt that Mitt would embrace torture if he were President. So Charlie Savage’s story–reporting on a September 2011 memo confirming that fact–wasn’t surprising in the least to me. Here’s the key recommendation from the memo:

Governor Romney has consistently supported enhanced interrogation techniques. Governor Romney is also on record as stating that he does not believe it is wise for him, as a presidential candidate, to describe precisely which techniques he would use in interrogating detainees. The combination of these two positions, as well as the information presented above, leads to two principal options in this area for his campaign.

The first option is that Governor Romney could pledge that upon taking office, he will rescind and replace President Obama’ s Executive Order restricting government interrogators to the Army Field Manual. Consistent with the authority reserved for the President under the Military Commissions Act, he could commit his Administration to authorizing (classified) enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal, and effective in generating intelligence to save American lives. But because President Obama’s release of the OLC memos has reduced the number of available techniques that meet these criteria, Governor Romney should not commit in advance to a timetable for implementing this plan; it may well take time to identify potential techniques and analyze their effectiveness and legality.

[snip]

The Subcommittee recommends the first option. Governor Romney has recognized for years that the sounder policy outcome is the revival of the enhanced interrogation program. And a reluctance by the Governor to expressly endorse such an outcome during the campaign could become a self-fulfilling prophecy once he takes office by signaling to the bureaucracy that this is not a deeply-felt priority. [my emphasis]

Mitt is pro-torture. We knew that, and he hasn’t hidden that fact.

But there are a couple of details about this that are curious.

First, note the language here. The advisors worry that if Mitt doesn’t explicitly endorse getting back into the torture business during the election, he might not do so. They want to force his hand before he’s elected to make sure he’ll carry through.

That is not the language of advisors. It’s the language of puppet-masters (though I’m sure the equivalent memos from inside the Obama camp aren’t much different). That is, the legal advice here is designed not so much to provide the best advice (if it were, then the support used in the memo wouldn’t be such discredited propaganda). Rather, it is to force Mitt’s hand in the eventuality he becomes President.

The other interesting aspect of this are the people. Savage provides this list of the advisors, in addition to Steven Bradbury, in the loop on this memo (he notes that it’s unclear whether they have bought off on the advice).

The list also included Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary; Cully Stimson, the Pentagon’s detainee policy chief; and many other Bush-era executive branch veterans: Bradford Berenson, Elliot S. Berke, Todd F. Braunstein, Gus P. Coldebella, Jimmy Gurule, Richard D. Klingler, Ramon Martinez, Brent J. McIntosh, John C. O’Quinn, John J. Sullivan, Michael Sullivan and Alex Wong. Three others — Lee A. Casey, Maureen E. Mahoney and David B. Rivkin Jr. — served in earlier Republican administrations.

First, note where Savage starts this list: Michael Chertoff, who as Criminal Division head in 2002 refused to give Bush’s torturers an advance declination on prosecution. That refusal ultimately led to the contorted form of the original Yoo memos authorizing torture. If Chertoff supports this policy (Savage’s caveat noted), then it’s a pretty clear indication that Chertoff was cautious in 2002 because people like Ali Soufan were running around saying mock burial was torture, and not because he had any qualms about torture himself. That’s not surprising in the least, but still worth noting.

Maureen Mahoney (who defended Jay Bybee in the OPR investigation) and David Rivkin (who defended Rumsfeld in civil suits for torture) have also backed their earlier legal representation with their own reputation (or lack thereof).

Finally, note who’s not on this list: Tim Flanigan, who with Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney, and David Addington, was one of the most central architects of torture and other illegal counterterrorism approaches.

It’s sort of odd that Mitt advisor Tim Flanigan, one of the original architects of torture, wasn’t the one leading this effort last year.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

10 replies
  1. Jeff Kaye says:

    “That is not the language of advisors. It’s the language of puppet-masters…” – Very well put.

    Btw,I was actually irked by Savage’s article because of this:

    In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in the Army Field Manual.

    Now, you know and I know that the AFM is not simply a list of “nonabusive tactics”. I was happy to see that when I tweeted, “@charlie_savage Obama restriced interrogation 2 “list of nonabusive tactics”? Not true: Amnesty, PHR, HRW, &c note abuse in AFM Appendix M” both Andrea Prasow at HRW and Zeke Johnson at Amnesty USA retweeted.

    I’d like to think others would make that point, too. Because otherwise, much of the resulting torture “debate” is based on a lie… a lie of omission: the US government does torture. Why can’t people say that? Answer: because it’s inconvenient b/c a certain Democratic president says we don’t, and we wouldn’t want to confront him on this, yes? Oh, we can complain re no accountability, and Obama can say, well, it’s better for the country this way. But he can’t really answer the issue of torture in Appendix M, so he calls it something else.

    How is this really different than what Cheney does with waterboarding? Answer: it’s no goddamn different. IN fact, it’s worse, as psychological torture, as detainees told the ICRC is actually worse than the physical torture. I know this because I’ve assessed and treated the tortured, studied the literature, etc. But for the press, it’s see no evil, hear no evil.

    Let’s start by just saying the truth, otherwise, why beat up on Romney and his advisers? Is Obama’s posturing any more pure than theirs?

    [Added note: Looking at twitter, some may have taken that my criticisms include this blog, Marcy and all. Hardly so. But I am talking about everyone else. – Hell, where else can I even write about this stuff and expect any kind of a sympathetic response?]

  2. harpie says:

    @Jeff Kaye: I hear you , Jeff. The double standards are infuriating.

    It seems like Bradbury would use Obama’s EO on the AFM as the sharpest weapon against him [weak on terror], when the truth is:

    Appendix M is really DOD’s Empty Vessel for Torture Authorization

    That’s a very insightful post and thread. Marcy links to a piece at Alternet by Jeff [who also posted many informative comments], and an op-ed in the NYT by Matthew Alexander…

    …who said [in 2010]:

    The greatest shame of the last year, perhaps, is that the argument over interrogations has shifted from debating what is legal to considering what is just “better than before.” The best way to change things is to update the field manual again to bring our treatment of detainees up to the minimum standard of humane treatment.

    truly depressing

  3. bustednuckles says:

    It’s not just about the physical torture or whatever euphemism du jour they want to use.
    Look at what happened to Hamdi and Padilla in Gitmo.

    The conditions there made them clinically insane and incapable of helping prepare their own defense.

  4. harpie says:

    @Jeff Kaye:

    Btw,I was actually irked by Savage’s article because of this:

    In one of his first acts, President Obama issued an executive order restricting interrogators to a list of nonabusive tactics approved in the Army Field Manual.

    That’s why I had an issue with the FP article about the opinions on torture survey Marcy wrote about yesterday. Zegart’s second proposal for an answer to the question:

    So why exactly have Americans become more supportive of torturing and assassinating terrorist under Obama than they were under President George W. Bush?

    is dismissed because “harsh interrogation policies” were [supposedly] “made illegal”. [Also,she forgets to take into account the “assisinating” part of the question.]

  5. Peterr says:

    Finally, note who’s not on this list: Tim Flanigan, who with Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney, and David Addington, was one of the most central architects of torture and other illegal counterterrorism approaches.

    It’s sort of odd that Mitt advisor Tim Flanigan, one of the original architects of torture, wasn’t the one leading this effort last year.

    Sounds to me as if this memo might have been requested *by* Flanigan, so that he can use it to bolster whatever internal debates are going on behind the curtain. “OK, you don’t buy this argument from me? Fine — here’s a bunch of hardcore legal folks who back me up.” Note that in the very last paragraph, the memo calls its authors “the Subcommittee.” My hunch is that Flanigan is part of the Committee, not the Subcommittee, and thus is a recipient, not an author. (Though you can be sure his fingers were dipping into the mixing bowl as this cake was being made.)

    As you say, this is a puppet-master language memo. The last page in particular is rather funny, however. Option 1, the one recommended by the memo’s authors, included this line: “[Romney] could commit his Administration to authorizing (classified) enhanced interrogation techniques against high-value detainees that are safe, legal, and effective . . .”

    It’s kind of humorous to see them paraphrasing the abortion language of “safe, legal, and rare.”

  6. harpie says:

    But because President Obama’s release of the OLC memos has reduced the number of available techniques that meet these criteria, Governor Romney should not commit in advance to a timetable for implementing this plan; it may well take time to identify potential techniques and analyze their effectiveness and legality.

    Poor Steven, he’ll have to re-do all that hard work of coming up with and analyzing more “potential techniques”. But he’s nothing if not a hard-working patriot.

  7. Jeff Kaye says:

    @harpie: “The best way to change things is to update the field manual again to bring our treatment of detainees up to the minimum standard of humane treatment.”

    According to Feinstein, they actually did review the AFM and found that it was okay as is!

    One thing I didn’t note (and thanks for linking to Marcy’s excellent article on Appendix M) is the date of the Romney “draft” paper. This sudden leak now is apparently meant to force Romney to debate the issue and make Cheney-Bradbury’s points in the political arena. Marcy is correct, I believe, that this is meant to pen Romney in, just in case he was thinking of going rogue on this.

    Yes, I know what Romney said about waterboarding before, but we all know he shifts with the winds, and likely believes little of what he says, except maybe what he said about the 47 percent, but in that he was merely voicing what the rich plutocrats everywhere already think and say privately in the secure walls of their exclusive clubs.

  8. DeadLast says:

    Don’t forget that Bybee is a Mormon (as are Jeppsen & Mitchell who devised and implemented the torture program). Based upon what I heard when I was in college in Provo, BYU was one of the top recruitment colleges after Yale for the CIA. Supposedly it had something about foreign language studies, accounting, and obedience to authority.

  9. youmayberight says:

    In contrast to Gov. Romney, I think Paul Ryan may well agree with those who oppose torture — at least with some of the arguments raised.

    The Romney memo, on page 4, claimed “there is ample evidence in the public record that enhanced interrogation techniques did indeed generate significant intelligence….”

    But Ryan today, in response to a question from Chris Wallace concerning independent economic studies, said: “This just goes to show if you torture statistics enough, they’ll confess to what you want them to confess to.”

    I do believe Mr. Ryan was implying that he doubts the effectiveness of torturing people as a way to get information.

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