A Great Deception

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There are lots of stories on the web today about the Senate Armed Services Committee report that was released last night. It shows, among other things, that the Bush Administration began planning for its harsh interrogation program months before it received legal authorization, and that Pentagon policies led to much of the mistreatment of prisoners in the photos from Abu Ghraib.

Neither revelation comes as a surprise. We have known for years, from official military documents, that Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush Administration officials were misleading the public about the role sanctioned detainee treatment played in the abuse at Abu Ghraib. Similarly, the Bush White House made quite clear that it planned to “take the gloves off” immediatly after 9/11. (The Washington Post headline on October 21, 2001: “CIA Told To Do Whatever Neccessary To Kill Bin Laden.”) And reporters have long known about the use of military torture restistence trainings to school CIA interrogators.

But what is most striking, in retrospect, is the degree to which President Bush and his aides spent years trying to deny what everyone knew was happening. My former colleague at Salon, Mark Benjamin gets at the heart of the issue in his story on the new Senate report.

To hear former President Bush tell it, you would think the United States only turned to the techniques in desperation. When Bush announced the existence of the CIA’s interrogation program in September 2006, for example, he argued that suspected al-Qaida operative Abu Zubaydah stopped cooperating with interrogators after his capture on March 28, 2002, forcing the agency to get rough. “We knew that Zubaydah had more information that could save innocent lives,” Bush said. “But he stopped talking. As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation,” the president said. “And so, the CIA used an alternative set of procedures.”

Not to worry, the president explained. “The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively, and determined them to be lawful.”

But that’s not how it happened.

It is tough to hide from history in an open democracy. At this point, former officials from the Bush Administration can no longer deny what happened. They can only argue that the death of 3,000 Americans and the threat of further attacks justified what they did.

Read the entire Senate report here.