Why Did the Torture Apologists Come Out of their Caves?

I don’t really have the heart to refute Michael Mukasey’s apology for torture. In it, he contradicts assertions made by torture apologists who were closer to the torture. He includes extraneous (and false) details to fluff up his case. He falsely pretends the torture described in the torture memos accurately described what happened to the detainees he claims led to OBL. And he doesn’t even have the amusing self-contradiction that Rummy had, which at least made Rummy’s psychological pretzel interesting to read.

In short, for Mukasey, the capture of OBL is not time to celebrate, but rather an opportunity to launch a hackish political attack on President Obama.

But the piece did lead me to reflect on why the torture apologists are so desperately trying to give torture the credit for finding OBL.

There’s the big reason, of course, hinted at by Jose Rodriguez. He stated that the most valuable piece of intelligence Abu Faraj al-Libi revealed under torture was that OBL’s courier only communicated with the outside world every two months. From that, Rodriguez concluded that OBL was only a figurehead, no longer the active head of al Qaeda (a conclusion that may have been proven false by the intelligence found at OBL’s compound). Later that year, CIA would shutter the group focusing on finding bin Laden because–they had concluded–al Qaeda was no longer the hierarchy that had made OBL such a key figure earlier.

In other words, it’s not just that the torture apologists’ claims about torture–that it would immediately yield the information that would lead to OBL, allowing them to bypass the years of intelligence gathering it ultimately took to find OBL–proved so wrong. It’s that one of the chief torturers seems aware that the best piece of intelligence they got under torture is intelligence that led him to stop searching for OBL.

Then there’s the laughable reason Mukasey seems to be animated by: because Obama’s being mean to the torturers.

Yet the Justice Department, revealing its priorities, had gotten around to reopening investigations into the conduct of a half-dozen CIA employees alleged to have used undue force against suspected terrorists. I say “reopening” advisedly because those investigations had all been formally closed by the end of 2007, with detailed memoranda prepared by career Justice Department prosecutors explaining why no charges were warranted. Attorney General Eric Holder conceded that he had ordered the investigations reopened in September 2009 without reading those memoranda. The investigations have now dragged on for years with prosecutors chasing allegations down rabbit holes, with the CIA along with the rest of the intelligence community left demoralized.


We also need to put an end to the ongoing investigations of CIA operatives that continue to undermine intelligence community morale.

Mukasey’s concern is laughable, of course, because no one really believes these ongoing investigations exist for any reason except to shield the US from torture investigations conducted by countries like Spain and Poland. After all, if you won’t charge Jose Rodriguez for destroying evidence that the torture conducted by his contractors exceeded the torture memos, you’re not going to file charges against anyone. Moreover, the statutes of limitation are expiring as we wait.

Though perhaps this is the real reason motivating Mukasey:

Immediately following the killing of bin Laden, the issue of interrogation techniques became in some quarters the “dirty little secret” of the event. But as disclosed in the declassified memos in 2009, the techniques are neither dirty nor, as noted by Director Hayden and others, were their results little. As the memoranda concluded—and as I concluded reading them at the beginning of my tenure as attorney general in 2007—the techniques were entirely lawful as the law stood at the time the memos were written, and the disclosures they elicited were enormously important. [my emphasis]

Mukasey sullied his reputation as a tough but fair judge when he agreed not to pursue torture in exchange for getting the Attorney General job. And since that time, the fiction he has been telling himself–that John Yoo’s analysis was even remotely serious, that the torturers didn’t exceed the guidelines of the memo, and that the torture proved valuable–has been exposed as a sordid lie. And ultimately, OBL’s death makes clear, it wasn’t worth it. The torture just impeded the real intelligence work that ultimately yielded OBL.

After all, ultimately the torture apologists staked their reputation on a certain approach to terrorism. That’s their legacy. It’s all they’ve got.

And, ultimately, I guess there’s one more reason the torture apologists came out of their caves. Either because of the media’s own complicity, or because the media has to sow controversy where celebration should suffice, the media is inviting them out of their caves; scheduling Condi Rice, Michael Chertoff, Michael Hayden, Rudy Giuliani, Rummy, and the pulse-less wonder himself for the Sunday shows. (The last time the Sunday shows featured a crowd like this, they were lying about mushroom clouds to gin up a war to distract us from beating al Qaeda.)

  1. MadDog says:

    If history had not already made its judgment on the torturers and their apologists, none of these creatures would find it necessary to again crawl out from under their rocks.

    If truth were told, their continued yammering is but conclusive evidence that history has found them guilty.

  2. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    I happen to agree that the media has been shameless in allowing *any* of these people on the airwaves to excuse their conduct, and I assume it is an effort by the media to flame controversy.
    Like the pseudo-flap over whether photos of bin Laden should be released (ugh!!), this nonsense is puerile.

    But this:

    the torture proved valuable–has been exposed as a sordid lie. And ultimately, OBL’s death makes clear, it wasn’t worth it. The torture just impeded the real intelligence work that ultimately yielded OBL.

    After all, ultimately the torture apologists staked their reputation on a certain approach to terrorism. That’s their legacy. It’s all they got.

    really resonates.

    One of the things that I find deplorable about the entire claims that torture works is the way that it insults the sloggy, patient work of people we’ll probably never know about, but who showed up for work year in, year out, and did their jobs.

    I find the torture mongers utterly disrespectful of how life actually works: life is not a series of Jack Bauer quick-solve episodes. It’s the patient, unsung work that matters over the long haul.

    As for the torturers, Real News Network has a very interesting interview up with Gareth Porter, explaining why the Bush admin (led by those torture-apologists Cheney and Rumsfeld) did **not** want to locate Osama bin Laden: if they’d found the baddie, they couldn’t build their intel-military-contractor-war-machine.

    It was never about Osama; it was about militarising the economy and creating a surveillance culture. Osama was just the bright, shiny object.

    But I think they’re out desperate to change the ‘narrative’ because these are the same pack of asshats who outed a CIA agent, then pardoned the guy who outed the CIA agent, all while overseeing torture. These are worse than incompetent: they’re war criminals. And on top of that, they’re traitors.

    Of course, the media can’t state those simple facts.
    Which is only one reason that blogs have taken off.

    • Jeff Kaye says:

      Yes, they certainly did not want to find OBL.

      [Rodriguez] stated that the most valuable piece of intelligence Abu Faraj al-Libi revealed under torture was that OBL’s courier only communicated with the outside world every two months. From that, Rodriguez concluded that OBL was only a figurehead, no longer the active head of al Qaeda (a conclusion that may have been proven false by the intelligence found at OBL’s compound). Later that year, CIA would shutter the group focusing on finding bin Laden because–they had concluded–al Qaeda was no longer the hierarchy that had made OBL such a key figure earlier….

      …one of the chief torturers seems aware that the best piece of intelligence they got under torture is intelligence that led him to stop searching for OBL.

      That is not how their “mosaic” system works, i.e., relying on a single piece of evidence, much less tortured evidence. Or rather, should work. But perhaps in the irrational frenzy of becoming torturers, they began to believe in the magic veracity of tortured evidence.

      One piece of any confession, much less a tortured one, is insufficient to assess anything. It is something to be followed up, analyzed, fit into a larger picture, etc. If they decided OBL wasn’t worth following, it wasn’t because one prisoner told them something about a courier.

      My guess it that rotl is right, and they really didn’t wish to pursue him, because an at-large OBL was better for “business” and their agenda at that point. If the government decided to get OBL now, it’s because his usefulness at-large was more or less over, and there was more mileage to be gotten out of his capture/killing than not.

      Of course, it’s possible that someone could have put together knowledge of where he was from the Wikileaks docs and other leaks and open source documents, showing the collaboration between ISI and the U.S. in hiding or not pursuing OBL was a reality. That would have been politically embarrassing.

      The U.S. and ISI were able to collaborate in many, many other instances. (Take a look at this article, for instance, in today’s Canadian Star.) So now the game is how much did ISI know? How much were the U.S. and Pakistan collaborating, and other BS.

      Thanks, too, EW, for laying out the mendacity, nay, the complicity of the press in pushing the torture meme. A debased society, unaware of how far down the real rabbit hole we have fallen.

      Mukasey is an abomination, and such a person, with nothing left honorable inside him, can only experience day to day life with an inner dread. In such ways are crimes their own form of inner torture. I look forward to the day when he stands in the dock. The others are beneath mention, as they are torturers of the first order.

    • readerOfTeaLeaves says:

      Two more points:

      1. — Cheney had 5 (count ’em, FIVE!) deferrments from military service during Viet Nam.
      2. — Bush went AWOL from the National Guard service his daddy got him.

    • Arbusto says:

      Not in these United(?) States. Holder and Obama will not prosecute torturers nor their leaders. Of course Obama’s “looking forward”© doesn’t jibe with the sanctioned killing of Bin Laden. Well honesty and continuity aren’t Obama’s strength anyway.

    • Mary says:

      That was under Bush. ;) Under Obama, it goes more like: If your drone bombings kill wedding parties, keep doing it until you get it right.

      Mukasey’s unbelievable letter, with Filip, re: the Yoo et al OPR investigation, coupled with an even more eye poppingly bad commissions op ed I read (where he used the Lincoln assassination commissions as his pitching post) tied in with this make you wonder if he was mostly picked for AG because close observers thought he was getting senile enough to be worth something to them.

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    How unsurprising that Mikey Mukasey published his defense in Rupert Murdoch’s WSJ. His News of the World in the UK, a personal favorite of his and springboard to the highest reaches in his News Corporation’s management, is defending itself against claims that it routinely violated the law for years by hacking into cell phones, home answering machines and computer e-mail files.

    Mukasey, of course, is defending his own record. His judgment that torture was illegal, that it was an appropriate use of prosecutorial discretion not to prosecute, his judgment that the execrations in John Yoo’s memos passed as competent legal argument, not abject sophistry and capitulation to the wishes of an errant executive. He’s defending all of those, as well as his waiting out his own statute of limitations. His special pleading is conflicted and unpersuasive, and ought to make anyone reconsider hiring him as its outside counsel on any matter more important than fixing a parking ticket.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I think the jury’s out and will likely remain so – unless Mr. Obama has an epiphany on the road to Langley and rediscovers the benefits of transparency in government – on how current or closely involved OBL was in directing current acts of violence. Being aware of them, having a record of possible new attacks, is not sufficient evidence that he was directing them or doing more than blessing them.

  5. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Their best evidence under torture was that OBL was “no longer a threat”? I don’t suppose it occurred to anyone in the intel community that the devil’s best trick was convincing us he didn’t exist. Or that OBL’s followers had an interest in selling a line that would protect their leader? It certainly seems evidence for the proposition that whatever is elicited under torture can be hard or impossible to sift clear of lies, half-truths and pure jumble.

    That utilitarian argument ignores two others: that other forms of interrogation are both legal and more productive, though they require time and better preparation, and that torture is still wrong, because it corrupts the torturer – and those on whose behalf he claims to torture – as much as his victims.

  6. jodo says:

    It’s that one of the chief torturers seems aware that the best piece of intelligence they got under torture is intelligence that led him to stop searching for OBL.

    That says it all for me. Now would these people please go back to their caves.

  7. rikkidoglake says:

    Even “fair and balanced” Wikipedia is relatively outspoken (though you have to check back frequently) on the subject. The first version of the article Enhanced Interrogation Techniques from July 2007:


    “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques is a doublespeak term from the Bush administration used to describe techniques of aggressively extracting information from captives which they have advocated as necessary in the War on Terror. Despite the alternate name, experts consider this to be torture and ineffective.[”

    The version as of the afternoon of 6 May 2011:


    Note that the controversial noun “doublespeak” is gone, and the watered down version now questions only “some”:

    “Enhanced interrogation techniques or alternative set of procedures were terms adopted by the George W. Bush administration in the United States to describe interrogation methods used by US military intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to extract information from individuals captured in the “War on Terror” after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

    The Obama administration in 2009 stated it would abide by the Geneva Convention and described some of the techniques as torture.”

    But the rest of today’s version is still not exactly ignoring history:

    “Following NPR’s controversial ban on using the word torture and Ombudsman Alica Shepard’s defense of the policy that “calling waterboarding torture is tantamount to taking sides”, Berkeley Professor of Linguistics Geoffrey Nunberg pointed out that virtually all media around the world, other than what he called the “spineless U.S. media”, call these techniques torture.

    . . . Atlantic Monthly writer Andrew Sullivan asserts the first use of a term comparable to “enhanced interrogation” was a 1937 memo by Gestapo Chief Heinrich Muller coining the phrase “Verschärfte Vernehmung,” German for (according to Sullivan) “sharpened,” “intensified” or “enhanced interrogation” to describe subjection to extreme cold, sleep deprivation, and deliberate exhaustion among other techniques. Sullivan reports that in 1948 Norway prosecuted German officials for what trial documents termed “Verschärfte Vernehmung” including subjection to cold water, and repeated beatings. It is as yet unclear when US government officials first adopted the term enhanced interrogation, and there is no evidence they were aware of its antecedents in Gestapo terminology.”

    • eCAHNomics says:


      There’s nothing new under the sun about torture & all it’s various forms.

      Every new torturer has to reinvent the wheel as an excuse.

    • bobschacht says:

      Thanks for pointing out this history.
      Y’know, in case you hadn’t noticed, the wikipedia does have a “Discussion” tab, and if you follow their rules of debate, you can call them on the carpet for pussyfooting around. Of course, before doing that, it is good to read whatever discussion has taken place that led to pulling the “doublespeak” epithet.

      I hope the experts here (and I have half a dozen or more of you in mind) will avail themselves of the opportunity the Wikipedia provides to correct and expand their treatment on these and other subjects frequently discussed here. You are as competent as anyone else contributing to those articles. After all, the results there may in some cases last longer than the comments here.

      Bob in AZ

      Bob in AZ

  8. Oregon says:

    I think the answer here is fairly obvious. The right wing always wants to be the master of violence. That’s the brand. It’s about machismo. It’s about maintaining the basic frame of “Republicans are men, Democrats are women.” It’s about the gendering of politics. It’s about appealing to the id.

    The Republicans have to be, in their political DNA, more violent than the Democrats.

    So where can they go after a Democrat assassinates or otherwise kills the biggest terrorist of our era?

    How can they show that they are all of that and MORE?

    Naturally they go for a policy that some Democrats (too few) oppose.

    They are trying to reestablish the Republican brand, wounded by Obama’s successful mission, that’s all, so that when you need to vote your inner violence in 2012, you will have no doubt who represents you.

    It’s smart politics. Clever politics. Admirable, in a perverse way. It has nothing to do with how best to extract information. It’s all about who is more willing to inflict pain, use violence, make the bad guys hurt, etc. There are many many people for whom that is the deepest underlying factor in politics. Who is tougher?

    • NMvoiceofreason says:

      Several scientists have documented a split between democrats (thinking) and republicans (feeling). We get upset because our rational arguments get rejected. They get upset because our way of doing things feels wrong.

      No one will ever win a republican primary because they are the more rational of the two candidates. No one will win a democratic primary by being a panderer like Donald Trump.

      The good news is we made them feel like pussies. Hurts their masculinity. Doesn’t feel right at all. Just not right at all.

    • woodman says:

      great take on the regressives. can include this philosophy on their domestic agenda as well. it just doesn’t matter who they hurt, as long as they can assert their power.

  9. Watson says:

    They are saying that they have the wife and daughter of OBL in custody.

    I assume that the torture apologists will recommend that they be tortured, ideally in the presence of each other, to produce high value info for the GWOT.

      • bobschacht says:

        No. The wife and daughter are not in the hands of our Seals or other forces. IIRC, they are now in the hands of the Pakistanis, who are probably treating them better than some of our folks would.

        I’m afraid that the frontier justice of Wyatt Earp and the OK Corral still have a hold on the American idea of how to handle these things.

        Bob in AZ

  10. Stephen says:

    Furthermore, just to make it simple and crystal clear, your either with us or against us.

  11. William Newbill says:

    Why did they come out of their caves? Because Barack Obama made it o.k. to torture people by not even investigating the war crimes committed by John Yoo and others. The British legal scholar Phillipe Sands documented the specific war crimes committed and the people who committed them. it’s a who’s who of the Bush Administration. When you excuse torture you encourage its practitioners to continue their disgusting and shameful defense. Even Ronald Reagan would have been horrified by the Republican torture team. Worse, Democrats aid and abet these criminals by endorsing the Nuremberg defense. If a lawyer told you it was ok to murder someone then it’s legal even if it’s illegal. Nonsense.

    • bobschacht says:

      Why did they come out of their caves? Because Barack Obama made it o.k. to torture people by not even investigating the war crimes committed by John Yoo and others.

      This is a really important point. If we were prosecuting these guys, like we should, they would all stay in their caves for fear of saying something incriminating. But where there are no recriminations, they have nothing to lose.

      Bob in AZ

    • NMvoiceofreason says:

      “Fashad Mohamed is an Iraqi who died in custody on April 5, 2004.He is alleged to have been captured, and beaten by SEAL team 7, the same SEAL team accused of beating another Iraqi who later died shortly thereafter. He was hooded, sleep deprived, and soaked with water. According to the published reports he was finally allowed to sleep he didn’t wake up.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fashad_Mohamed “The autopsy findings in this 27-year-old man seem insufficient to explain his death. The fact that they seem to have found pulmonary edema, water in the lungs, is very unusual in a man of this age without heart disease. The available information is insufficient to explain his death. A full investigation report that describes the circumstances preceding his death and the manner in which the body was found shortly before any attempt at resuscitation is needed to explain the cause of death and to rule out a homicide which seems more likely than not in a 27-year-old man who suddenly died in captivity. – Dr. Steven Miles, Professor and Bioethicist, University of Minnesota Medical School on autopsy of Fashad Mohamed, died in U.S. custody, April 5, 2004”
      http://www.humanrightsfirst.info/pdf/06221-etn-hrf-dic-rep-web.pdf @ pg 21.

      They have come out of their caves because public opinion is their final shield against prosecution.

  12. radiofreewill says:

    In my outlier hypothesis of the story, OBL is secretly ‘allowed’ to escape from Tora Bora in December 2001. In the process, he truly believes that he’s being sheltered by loyalists. But, in actuality, he comes under the glass jar of ‘ally’ Musharraf’s total control and surveillance.

    Everyone that comes and goes is watched 24/7 – the entire web of al-Qaeda gets mapped out in detail, unbeknownst to all of them.

    Every plan that gets discussed is known in real time as it develops – giving the silent observers the chance to then ‘intervene’ to foil the attack (LAX), or not (Madrid.)

    Al-Qaeda members are selectively captured because they have knowledge of plots that support political narratives (Ghul, and the election attack in 2004, for instance.)

    Etc, etc, etc…if it were true, it would be a total re-write of our understanding of what was going on.

    But, one thing that it would mean – in general – is that everything around it was Kabuki – Security Theater, as EW calls it, on an immense scale – invading Iraq, Torture, the creation of the Security State, and now the Surveillance State, manipulating the Terror Alert Level, and on and on.

    A $3T deceit all stage managed for effect to advance the hidden agenda of a man claiming to act above the rule of law for our own good.

    It’s a crazy possibility, but something to think about…

  13. orionATL says:

    mukasy is here because he was called foward to witness:

    to defend bush and cheney by preventing any reasonable speculation that theb bush/cheney torture orders failed, and failed widely, in their objective – to find bin laden.


    how many in gitmo are there because of their supposed knowledge of al-q and of bin laden?

    finding bin laden was the crucial rationale for establishing gitmo.

    if it did not succeed, and it did not,

    then gitmo was an enormous, and enormously illegal, policy failure which damaged america’s reputation without commensurate return.

    big question:

    who called mukasey forward?

    was it the bush/cheney loyalalists?

    or was it the obama admin?

    i’m betting the latter.

    there is an exceedingly perverse way of reasoning among people at very high levels of power

    in which they make every effort to justify, even if it requires “tortuous” reasoning, the behavior of their

    so i suspect, without any concrete information supporting my suspicion,

    that the obama admin invited the bush admin to defend itself publicly.

    “better them than us” i suppose was the cynical political reasoning.

    in any event, has anyone heard a peep out of the obama admin about the inefficacy of torture?

    or about the illegality, in international and domestic legal jurisdictions, of torture?

  14. radiofreewill says:

    In the context of the outlier, or looking-glass, hypothesis, all Al-Qaeda plots would have been known and tracked, in advance – giving Bush the opportunity to intervene and foil any attack.

    Could the March 10 Hospital visit have been over advance knowledge of Madrid on March 11?

    Could Bush have been claiming that his unitary executive power, acting as the CIC, allowed him to ‘let’ Madrid happen in order to protect the ‘looking glass’ secret, in the same way that Churchill ‘let’ the bombing of Coventry happen to protect the Ultra Secret?

    Is it possible that Comey and the Senior Leadership at DoJ threatened to quit en masse if the attack was allowed to happen without alerting the Spaniards?

    With the result being that Bush was ‘forced’ to go it alone on Madrid when Ashcroft refused to sign the Re-certification – with Bush, instead, signing his own re-certification, witnessed by Gonzo.

    And then Madrid happened…

    Could it have happened that way?

  15. Anson Mitchell says:

    No apologies here. I am for our intelligence services doing whatever they have to do to keep us safe.

    And if that means waterboarding a few stinking Muslim terrorists, so be it. And anyone who is not okay with it is just urinating on the graves of the 9/11 victims. It is as simple as that.

    • William Newbill says:

      No apologies for saying you don’t know what you’re talking about, but ignorance is bliss. I have yet to meet or speak with a single person who supports torture who has any idea how ineffective it is in protecting the U.S. Ask professional interrogators. At the end of the day people who support torture have no moral values, none. You want to save the village by destroying it? That’s not new, it’s just stupid.

  16. JohnLopresti says:

    I think a lot of fairly subtle issues get subsumed under the emotion of a variety of arguments both the fair and the other sort that are in contravention of the Geneva accords. The reason for the cathartic stridency from the reactionaries in politics is the age old penchant of that part of the political spectrum to speak at many decibels when they find voices to bear that standard. There is a lot of complexity in these matters, much of it likely going to require the distance of lapsed years of time before truer scrutiny will be applied.

    The way I read the electoral demographics in the US, currently about 1/3 of the electorate is Republican, slightly more than 1/3 are Democratic party members, and the Independent category nearly is as large as the Republican share, coming in in the <1/3 proportion of the electorate range.

    This computes more starkly for the vocal reactionary politicians when polls depict the measure of Republican electorate support for normalizing torture as ~40% for the most controversial circumstances. The 40% figure equates to 1 person in 8 being in support of torture as policy. Probably a quantum of Democratic party members and even Independents might boost the ratio to 1 person in 7. Not much. I doubt American policy will change, regardless of the rhetoric. And not much study will be directed at the issue until many more years pass.