More Interrogation Documents And The “Fundamental Disservice”

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Word came yesterday that House Democrats are still seeking more once-classified documents about the Bush Administration’s harsh interrogation program–in this case, the May 2005 memo by a State Department lawyer contesting the legal reasoning of Justice Department lawyers. According to the author of the memo, Philip Zelikow, White House officials once attempted to “collect and destroy all copies of my memo.”

As interesting as this memo will be, its substance will be relatively academic–a counterargument to controversial legal reasoning. It is likely to lack what is most needed: more information on what actually happened to the detainees and how effective the techniques were. The document I most want to read is the 2004 CIA Inspector General report, which apparently caused a significant uproar in the Bush Administration, since it concluded that the harsh techniques were of dubious effectiveness, that they were conducted under insufficient medical supervision and that they went far beyond the training techniques that the White House used to argue that the program did not involve torture.

The most galling misinformation in this latest round of debates over harsh interrogation is the claim by several Bush Administration defenders, including the greater Cheney clan, that what the CIA did to high-value detainees cannot be considered torture because these same techniques are used in training on U.S. Servicemen. A couple weeks ago, Liz Cheney, a former State Department official and second daughter, explained it this way on MSNBC:

Everything that was done in this program, as has been laid out and described before, are tactics that our own people go through in SERE training. And that our own people have gone through for many years. So it really does a fundamental disservice to those professionals who were conducting this very effective program–and to those people who approved the program in order to keep this nation safe and prevented attacks through the program–to call it torture.

Cheney’s statement here, with respect to the nature of the “tactics,” is false, according to snippets of the CIA IG report that were cited in the recently released 2005 Justice Department memos.

“Individuals undergoing SERE training are obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program,” wrote Steven Bradbury, the author of two of the 2005 Justice Department memos.

But here is the most important part, which should be read back to anyone who claims that the U.S. only employed those techniques that it was willing to use on its own soldiers. Citing the IG report, Bradbury wrote in 2005:

The waterboard technique . . . was different from the technique described in the DOJ opinion and used in the SERE training . . . At the SERE school . . . the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator . . . applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. . .  . OMS [The CIA Office of Medical Services] contends that the expertise of the SERE psychologist/interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant.

The ACLU has said that it continues to seek, in court, a significantly unredacted version of the CIA IG report.