April 23rd, 2009
09:22 PM ET

Politics of 'torture' heating up in Washington

Read the "torture memos" obtained by the ACLU: #1, #2 , #3, #4

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/04/23/torture.politics/art.capitolday.gi.jpg]

Ed Hornick
The CNN Wire

Who knew what, and when?

Those questions - focused on recently released Bush-era CIA memos detailing "enhanced interrogations" of suspected al Qaeda members - are now being posed inside the Beltway, as calls for an independent investigation into torture allegations have become louder.

House Minority Leader John Boehner said Thursday that the release of what he described as the "torture" memos is politically motivated. "Last week, they (Obama administration) released these memos outlining torture techniques. That was clearly a political decision and ignored the advice of their director of national intelligence (Dennis Blair) and their CIA director (Leon Panetta)," Boehner said.

The Ohio Republican pointed out that he saw a partial list of the number of members of the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans "who were briefed on these interrogation methods and not a word was raised at the time, not one word."

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Michigan - also blasted concerns being raised by Democrats. "Only now that we have a new administration are people coming out who were aware of these programs, saying, 'wait a minute, these were terrible programs,'" he said. "In reality, two, three years ago, they signed off on it, they voted for legislation that funded these programs, and now all of a sudden these are terrible practices."

But when asked whether she had raised objections to the interrogation measures at the time, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi - then a ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee - vehemently said, "We were not, I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or other enhanced methods were used."

"What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel ... but not that (the methods) would (be used)," the California Democrat added. "...Further, the point was that if and when they would be used, (the administration) would brief Congress at that time."

President Barack Obama has said that waterboarding - which simulates drowning– is torture, and has defending releasing the CIA memos.

One memo showed that CIA interrogators used waterboarding at least 266 times on suspected al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected planner of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States.

Earlier this week, Obama left open the possibility of criminal prosecution for former Bush administration officials who drew up the legal basis for aggressive interrogation techniques many view as torture. He said it will be up to Attorney General Eric Holder to decide whether to prosecute the former officials. Prosecutions of CIA interrogators carrying out Justice Department orders would not, however, be prosecuted, according to Obama and Holder.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller said he agreed that CIA operatives shouldn't face prosecution, but is "not prepared to say the same for the senior Bush administration officials who authorized or directed these policies in the first place."

But, the West Virginia Democrat added, "The focus for right now should be on finding the facts." Sen. Patrick Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he wants a commission of inquiry to look into the matter.

"We must take a thorough accounting of what happened, not to move a partisan agenda, but to own up to what was done in the name of national security, and to learn from it," he said. But the Senate's top Democrat said Thursday that it's important for both Democrats and Republicans to take a step back and let the appropriate investigation take place. Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada said that while he doesn't support an independent "truth commission" to look into the matter, he does want the Senate Intelligence Committee to take the lead.

"It would be very unwise from my perspective to start having commissions, boards, tribunals until we find out what the facts are. I don't know a better way to get the facts than through the intelligence committee," he said. "Justice must be served. Retribution ought not be what were talking about," he added.

Earlier this week, the Senate Armed Services Committee released a 230-page report detailing interrogation tactics used at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the methods employed at Guantanamo Bay. The report showed that top Bush administration officials gave the CIA approval to use waterboarding as early as 2002.

"These are 230 pages of facts as to how abusive techniques were used, (and) what I consider to be abominable legal opinions were written to justify those techniques," committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Michigan, told CNN.

Levin now wants the Department of Justice to investigate exactly what happened - something Obama called for on Tuesday. On Thursday afternoon, Holder told a House committee on the memo prosecution question, "I will not permit the criminalization of policy differences."

But, he said, "it is my responsibility as the attorney general to enforce the law. It is my duty to enforce the law. If I see evidence of wrongdoing I will pursue it to the fullest extent of the law and I will do that in an appropriate way."

Other Democrats, nonetheless, are calling for criminal inquiries to be held. "It is the duty of the United States under the law to at least have an investigation," said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-New York. Democratic leadership sources said, however, that strong Republican resistance makes that a hard sell. And that resistance has begun to show - coming from a top Senate Republican.

Sen. John McCain - who was tortured as a Vietnam War prisoner of war - has been a vocal opponent of the practice. But on Wednesday, he told reporters that it's important for the country to move forward. "If we prosecute individuals for providing their best recommendation to the president of the United States, it will have a chilling effect from now on," the Arizona Republican said.

McCain - along with Sens. Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, and Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina - on Wednesday sent a letter to Obama strongly urging him not to prosecute government officials who provided legal advice related to detainee interrogations.

"Pursuing such prosecutions would, we believe, have serious negative effects on the candor with which officials in any administration provide their best advice, and would take our country in a backward-looking direction at a time when our detainee-related challenges demand that we look forward," they said in the letter.

– CNN's Dana Bash and Time's Mark Thompson contributed to this report.

Filed under: Raw Politics • Torture
soundoff (82 Responses)
  1. Fred Smith

    A correction needs to be made in the media's reference to the abusive tactics of Al-Quaeda prisoners as "interrogation tactics" or "enhanced interrogation tactics." In fact, these were never interrogation tactics. As you know, they were borrowed from the Red Chinese agents' use of same against American POWs during the Korean War, for the purpose of brainwashing them into falsely condemning the U.S. These tactics are, in fact, brainwashing tactics, used not to obtain intelligence but to generate propoganda. Witness the high-level Al Queda prisoner who the CIA said last week, eventually cooperated with normal interrogation methods and gave much useful information. Then, AFTERWARD, he was subjected to the 'torture' tactics. What purpose in doing so, other than to create false propaganda that, for instance, Saddam Hussein was in league with Al Quaeda, or that he planned to attack the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction? The big story has yet to be reported: That the Bush administration used these methods to force certain prisoners to give "confessions" of whatever "facts" the Bush administration deemed useful at the time. This needs to be followed up on. The story is not over; it has not yet hit full stride.

    April 27, 2009 at 2:24 am |
  2. Art

    The president opened a can of worms on this one. Politics as usual. War is hell. Where's Bin Laden? Are they going to let the Taliban get to the nukes in Pakistan? We need to focus on the road ahead.

    April 26, 2009 at 9:07 am |
  3. Jeff

    A full investigation needs to be done. If criminal war crimes were conducted, the guilty should be punished to the full extent of the law. Just like any others that have committed war crimes in the past. If nothing is done, it will leave a door open for others in the future to lead an administration that is above the law.

    April 25, 2009 at 8:59 pm |
  4. Dave

    This is perhaps the stupidest debate in U.S. History. It is also extremely damaging to the image of the United States. The George Soros driven left are like a howling lynch mob. Is it possible that Mr. Soros is an agent of a foreign government? Methinks it likely. At a time when our country is hurting badly why would the President do this? Does he really care about our beloved country? I don't see it. In this day and age some radical change is probably necessary but the question that we must ask ourselves is where is Mr. Obama driving this bus? And if we go over the cliff how many of us are going to survive? What will life be like in this new America? Why does he not just tell us the truth? The release of this documentation and these photos is so unecessary. What other countries on the face of the Earth exposes their winky to the world? Russia...China...Iran? How do those Countries treat enemy combatants?

    April 25, 2009 at 6:10 pm |
  5. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    I am so sick and tired of this mess Bush left behind. For 8 years Bush did nothing but create the worse mess our country could be in. He had no business meddling in the Middle East if he wasn't looking for bin Laden who is still at large. Bush is a total failure and idiot and anyone who followed him is in the same category.

    April 25, 2009 at 11:33 am |
  6. Randall Close

    Recently, Robert Gates said (or directly implied) that prosecution of those involved in illegal torture would be a defeat for us and a victory for America's enemies....This is sad when our gov't views truth and justice as a 'defeat'. Sad that America isn't 'big enough' to admit when it is wrong. Sad that America's leaders still do not understand human nature (particularly foreign culture) and fail to consider the enormous damage that their hypocrisy does in international relations.

    As an American who has lived and worked outside the US most of my life, I can say that the 'culture' of America's enemies are far more likely to move them to 'tone it down' if they see America behaving with humility and sincerity, than to escalate animosity towards us.

    April 25, 2009 at 8:28 am |
  7. Michael

    I was the Operations Officer for the JSSA (Joint Services SERE Agency) at Fort Belvoir, VA, from 1986 – 1990. Waterboarding was transferred from the SERE (resistance to interrogation) "world" to the HUMINT (Interrotators) "world" on my watch. I was even nominated for an award because I was putting more and more SERE Instructors into the field to "train" "Special Operations" personnel world-wide. I recently allerted Senator Levin about these events, and his staff never asked to see the records which I claim documents the moment in time where SERE went over to HUMINT. Hopefully someone from AC360 will contact me in the not too distant future?

    April 24, 2009 at 11:30 pm |
  8. mike

    Anderson, you stated that there was concern that our enemies (terrorists) now would use torture on out troops when they are captured...well last time I looked the torture techniques used by terrorists involved CHOPPING OFF HEADS!!!! Geez your reporting on this topic is totally out in left field...we are dealing with terrorists who want to kill us! they now see that being captured by US gets them to a resort, free meals, etc. as compared to any "prison" that they themselves may use.

    April 24, 2009 at 11:23 pm |
  9. Ron, Canada

    Torture - the US has lost its moral high ground. Why not torture their family members - after all, there's nothing wrong with torture provided it gleans some high value intelligence.

    To see the US fall...

    Japanese were executed as war criminals for waterboarding torture. But, if you're American in 2009, it's now a different playbook.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:19 pm |
  10. David

    Prosecute them all... they broke the law and must pay- we are under Obamas watch so if something happens to us now the next President can go after this administration for negligence. big deal

    April 24, 2009 at 9:26 pm |
  11. Wanbli Gleska Tokahe

    Also those who made men stand naked before them are not only tortures but sick perverts. The republicans say oh there has not been another 911. Well I think one was enough during Bushes presidency.
    Just because another one didn't happen he dserves a medal or what. Republicans are sick people wondering how to make their party improve and recruit more non-whites while they glorify the likes of rush limbaugh who is the most facist white guy on radio. I heard him say on the radio native americans are savvages and always will be savages. He said one of our leaders was even named Mankiller. The Republicans should keep flaunting this racist man and see how much support they get from the Native American community. And Osama should not listen to them he will be in trouble for bombing pakistan without a legal declaration of war. He is also in for it for war crimes if he continues listening to these war mongrels.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:05 pm |
  12. Wanbli Gleska Tokahe

    Once I lost my vehicle registration, the police stopped me, asked whos car, I said mine. Well they beat me until I said I stole it. Went to jail and they found out it was my car, so they filed assault on an officer to clean it up. Torture will make you say anything, just as the the women locked up in Iran, but the U.S only sees it when it happens to them. I am native American. The torturer has to be totally sick and evil. The ones who say it is alright and give the orders are worse. This is not to be swept under the carpet. When you are waterboarding and torturing and do not see it is wrong you need to be imprisoned for life, as all those ones who support it, including Sean hennity and rush limbaugh, they are all sicK War crimes are war crimes torture is torture. Whether Bush did it or saddam hussein or hitler.

    April 24, 2009 at 8:56 pm |
  13. Jeff Ivy

    I think Jeff Burlington has been watching too much 24. Torture has never been proved a reliable source for information. We received more reliable information from people we don't torture.

    It is frightening to think of what is going to happen to our citizens being held in Iran and North Korea on charges of spying. What example are we giving these countries on how to treat our citizens?

    April 24, 2009 at 7:11 pm |
  14. STEVE in Oregon

    bad guy captured involved in killing 3,000 innocent people and said your children along with thousands more will die also soon but refuses to disclose...... I'd waterboard....

    Wouldn't you?

    I hear on CNN our miltary waterboards in training....
    wonder if congress has plans on filing charges against our military personnel?

    Torture is torture......right...or is that different?

    April 24, 2009 at 5:50 pm |
  15. Joe

    This is really Obama and the left being vindictive of the Bush administration. No one investigated the Japanese internment camps after WWII or the fire bombing of dresden or FDRs tactical screw ups when the U.S first entered. The same for Lincolns suspension of Habeus Corpus during the Civil War which was plain Illegal. The Dems need to lay off the Bush Haterade its getting boring, but then I guess the Daily Show and friends would run out of material if they didnt keep attacking Bush.

    April 24, 2009 at 2:48 pm |
  16. Randall Close

    I salute Pres. Obama's courage in seeking to hold accountable any and all who have acted wrongly in our gov't. Though the process may not be easy, it will ultimately yield positive results both at home and abroad. Rule of law and gov't transparency are hallmarks of American society.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:41 am |
  17. Jeff Burlington,WI

    I do not condone the practice of torture on the enemy. But I do not see the rational in prosecuting individuals who promoted / participated in the interrogations because time was the factor in getting critical information. It will set a precedence that will paralyze this nations security in future scenario's. Given the helplessness of the United States mood at the time to prevent another 9/11 attack, I feel it was an acceptable measure at THAT time to do what needed to be done to high level extremists / combatives who's purpose in life is to cause harm to the "Infidels" in the US. If the US government sat idle and more attacks on our country / individuals occurred, the finger pointing would have been rampant. In a war , sometimes its best not to know the tactics as long as the result is a safe society.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:34 am |
  18. Terry, TX

    This is such a joke..get .Pelosi first...in this bogus witch hunt. I heard on CNN Rep Conyers and Senator Leahy want the "Truth" committees...Is this the same Rep Conyers whose wife is under federal investigation for theft of public funds. Senator Leahy...Leaking Leahy...oh he has a history of leaking confidential material while in a sensitive intel committee....he had to resign from the committee...CIA death was linked to his leak.
    These guys are great.

    April 24, 2009 at 10:12 am |
  19. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    There were no objections to the use of enhanced interrogations methods--that is until someone get caught using them--it all politically motivated.

    April 24, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  20. Rick, Indiana

    Move on..More waist of taxpayers money..US government needs to get a life..

    April 24, 2009 at 9:29 am |
  21. ronvan

    Whats next? Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield-Rice on trial? What about those soldiers who were forced out of the military or put in jail? What about the interrogators, doctors & all the others? How long will it be until someone tries to sue the U.S. government over this? The ACLU is already waving thier flag, how many others are going to jump on the band wagon? How long until someone comes up with the idea to build a museum covering this period? How long until this comes to a conclusion & at what cost?

    April 24, 2009 at 8:42 am |
  22. Travis

    Forgive me but I can't shed any tears for the terrorists who underwent "enhanced interrogation". If innocent people have been saved by waterboarding a few radical killers then so be it. In my opinion the ends justify the means.

    I suppose the alternative would be to read them thier full Miranda rights, be provided with free ACLU attorneys, placed in medium security prisons where they can watch cable TV, and attend mosque 5 times a day. If they refuse to give information that could prevent mass killings of innocents then....oh well, that is their constitutional right. Maybe if we all attended some cultural diversity training then we could better understand why these radical killers hate us so much. Of course we should apologize to them first before we do anything!

    April 24, 2009 at 8:34 am |
  23. John Thesen

    Have the american people forgotten about the tourturing and beheading of U.S. and the Coalition forces? Ever heard of "an eye for an eye". Maybe if we would have beheaded the Al Queda POWS, these fanatics would now we weren't going to tolerate there, hostilities. "Fight fire with fire" I say.

    April 24, 2009 at 7:05 am |
  24. Robert Ruiz

    This administration is making a huge mistake releasing all this information and we will pay for this in the future. It's so politically motivated that I'm losing faith in them as they put our security at risk in the name of politics.

    April 24, 2009 at 5:38 am |
  25. William Koester

    I have to say that I agree with McCain, Lieberman, & Graham. It's almost like we are so worried about the rights of terrorists to the point of cutting our own throats. Will it take anothe attack on this country again before we realize how important it was to extract the information needed, even if it meant using more exteem measures. As an average american I can't understand the mind set of those wanting to investigate the methods used. Especially when being pushed by such groups as thaACLU and other Democrats who to me, appears to be on a "witch hunt" that can only weaken us as a country and put our forces in harms way again. Some times war does call for extreem measures...but I guess we hsve forgotten 9/11. It's stupid to me to have our information put out like this and to give our eniemies an advantage that could very well cost us many more lives. In the end I feel it's us or them. Are we really this petty and stupid?

    April 24, 2009 at 5:25 am |
  26. Keith

    I am sickened by the Republican party's reaction to justice being served. The whole, childish, "if we get in trouble, then so will you" defence is insulting to me as an American. I don't give a care what party the guilty ones are affiliated with. A crime is a crime. They are selling out the American people in trying to make sure that their cronies are protected. And as far as the argument that it puts our people in harms way overseas, without getting in to who really put so many of them in harms way, what could it possibly make worse? We're afraid that they might get the idea to water-board our brave soldiers before they blow them up or behead them? Seriously? The whole right wing these days are just following the brain washing cattle call of Fox news. The bully that went too far and got caught, and is in total panic mode, fight or flight at its worst. Shame on those who sell out our founding fathers ideals in the name of self preservation.

    April 24, 2009 at 4:15 am |
  27. Hershel Pleasant

    Dear Mr. Cooper

    If torture gained information reliable why diid we respond to the 911 attack against the wrong country?. Our response destabilized that region balance of power and united our enmies. If everyday people have to follow rules of law why should politicians that were foolishly trusted get away with breaking the law. Such double standards fuel sentiments of betrayal spilling over into many topics thats covered by the news: Healthcare, Livable work weges, International trade laws, and Lack of enforement of illegal alien laws, etc..... "Americans only want fair play."

    April 24, 2009 at 3:10 am |
  28. Susan Gloria Joseph, Ph.D.

    Equating the training of U.S. troops andthe torture of prisoners is mis-leading and inaccurate. While the physical experiences may be similar, the psychological experience is entirely different.

    Our troops are volunteers. They are aware that they are participating in a training exercise, and that it is in the interest of their superiors that they survive in good condition.

    Prisoners subjected to these methods are in the hands of strangers with whom they rarely share even a language. They are in unknown territory among people who see them as "the enemy." There is no reason for them to think their captors want them to survive, at all.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:56 am |
  29. Paul

    Must say Bill Bennett is absurd. To claim that water boarding is not torture because the US does it to their own soldiers as a training exercise. Please. When is the last time a us soldier was water boarded over 300 times in one month. Bill, say what you must but please its about the indignant posturing that goes with these reaching statements that really sours the viewing public. Unfortunately CNN seems to encourage this, for me I just change the channel in disgust thinking to myself that It's scary that a large percentage of Americans justify torture in this twisted fashion.
    One of your Canadian viewers (at least for now)

    April 24, 2009 at 1:49 am |
  30. Will

    Ok my thing about this whole torture thing is. The republicans were fine with it aslong as their guy is in office. But the second their guy gets out of office they whine and cry like my 8year old brother.And thats really sad when a 13year old teenager is more mature than most middle aged republicans

    April 24, 2009 at 1:41 am |
  31. Ken

    The torture debate sounds more and more absurd as it goes on. Either we stand for something or we don't. Of course torture is wrong even if it works. Bank robbery is wrong even if the money is used for a good purpose. How is it that the party that is constantly claiming to occupy the moral high ground so easily abandons the very ground they claim is theirs in order to feel safe? The ends do not justify the means. Whatever happened to the values that we are supposed to be trying to protect here, or the real kind of courage that says you do the right thing even if it cost you, because it is right? The only thing worse than losing to an malicious opponent is becoming like them, in which case, we have already lost. This is not a matter where someone has to act in self-defense, or in defense of another (eg. taking the life of someone who is trying to kill you or someone else – something that, even then, should be done with a sense of regret) – this is becoming like what we abhor. And then, once we go down that road, where does it stop? Where does it end? And if we manage to "win" – what is it exactly is it that we have won?

    April 24, 2009 at 1:37 am |
  32. steve coffman

    As far as waterboarding and getting information about the terrorists and feeling like we abused their rights, try looking at those 9/11 videos of people jumping out of windows to escape the flames and hitting the buildings below them. Try looking at the video of the beheadings by the terrorists or the butchered bodies of Americans they hung on bridges and smiled for the camera in front of the tortured and mutilated bodies. Guess the ACLU does not think that qualifies for their politically correct left siided viewpoints? I watched as the towers collapsed, trapping thousands inside them including emergency personel. Do I feel good about waterboarding? No, but if it saved a single innocent American life, it was worth it. Let some of the complainers “donate” some of their families to the terrorists and let them say waterboarding is not worth the information received from it after their loved ones are returned in mutilated pieces. People forget who started this “war”. It was not the USA and It is sickening to listen to the politcially correct whiners complain, especially when you never heard the outrage when the videos of Americans being tortured, beheaded, mutilated, showed up on the screen.
    These people who are against getting the terrorists plots unveiled do not deserve to be called patriots, they need to be called traitors.

    April 24, 2009 at 1:30 am |
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