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Chris Anders: The Watchdog Bites at the Torture Administration

Christopher Anders,
Director of Policy and Government Affairs, Democracy and Technology,
American Civil Liberties Union
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May 21, 2008

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’tcontrolled 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 asplaying a role in the torture issue describes then-Attorney General JohnAshcroft expressing his concerns about a particular interrogation withthen-National Security Advisor Rice
  • regular meetings of the White House National Security Council PolicyCoordinating Committee (then chaired by Rice’s top lawyer JohnBellinger) in which top Justice Department Criminal Division managerstold about FBI agents reporting abuse of detainees and explainingconcerns about “gravely damaging . . . the rule of law” at Guantánamo,
  • a meeting held in the office of then-Criminal Division chief MichaelChertoff with the current Criminal Division chief Alice Fisher (whoresigns her job this Friday—is this a coincidence?) and a top FBIofficial with Chertoff saying that he believed that abusiveinterrogations would make it hard to ever use the evidence in court,even if FBI “clean teams” later got the same admissions through legalmeans,
  • a report of FBI agents who kept their records of torture and abusethat they observed in a file called “War Crimes”,
  • page after page after page showing that, despite critical reports fromFBI agents filtering all the way up to the White House and to FBIDirector Mueller himself, no one putting a stop to it or actually tryingto enforce the laws that they were charged with enforcing.

The Inspector General collected lots of facts, but now it’s left to allof us to unpack his report—and to demand that Congress and the nextpresident get to the bottom of who did what on torture, whether crimeswere 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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