Blog of Rights

Chris Anders: The Watchdog Bites at the Torture Administration

By Chris Anders, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:17pm
At last. A report from the Justice Department that is on the correct side of the torture issue. Yesterday morning, the Inspector General of the Justice Department posted a long-awaited report on the FBI's role in interrogations (PDF)—and how the rest of the Bush administration swept aside the concerns of FBI agents who complained about the CIA and Defense Department using torture.
Torture and America

The report does not reflect any change of heart for Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Instead, the Inspector General is the internal watchdog, the only office in the Justice Department that isn't controlled by the Bush Administration politicos.

The stunning 370-page IG report is a tour-de-force of new facts about perhaps the most serious, deliberate, and systematic plan to violate due process and human rights in our nation's history. For anyone who still believes that the torture seen at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo was simply the work of a few bad eggs, reading just two or three pages—almost any two or three pages in the lengthy report—will show that torture was a widespread and deliberate practice.

Written in a Washington version of a stream-of-consciousness style, with facts packed together but without any real themes or much organization, there are important revelations and many nuggets of new truths throughout the report. Things you can learn by flipping through the report include:

  • the first government report ever to identify Condoleezza Rice as playing a role in the torture issue describes then-Attorney General John Ashcroft expressing his concerns about a particular interrogation with then-National Security Advisor Rice
  • regular meetings of the White House National Security Council Policy Coordinating Committee (then chaired by Rice's top lawyer John Bellinger) in which top Justice Department Criminal Division managers told about FBI agents reporting abuse of detainees and explaining concerns about "gravely damaging . . . the rule of law" at Guantánamo,
  • a meeting held in the office of then-Criminal Division chief Michael Chertoff with the current Criminal Division chief Alice Fisher (who resigns her job this Friday—is this a coincidence?) and a top FBI official with Chertoff saying that he believed that abusive interrogations would make it hard to ever use the evidence in court, even if FBI "clean teams" later got the same admissions through legal means,
  • a report of FBI agents who kept their records of torture and abuse that they observed in a file called "War Crimes",
  • page after page after page showing that, despite critical reports from FBI agents filtering all the way up to the White House and to FBI Director Mueller himself, no one putting a stop to it or actually trying to enforce the laws that they were charged with enforcing.

The Inspector General collected lots of facts, but now it's left to all of us to unpack his report—and to demand that Congress and the next president get to the bottom of who did what on torture, whether crimes were committed, and make sure that a special counsel will decide that, where warranted, any crimes are criminally prosecuted.

There's no better read this upcoming Memorial Day weekend.

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