Thursday, April 10, 2008

Torturing from the top

By Michael J.W. Stickings

See, it's not all about John Yoo. The U.S. didn't just start torturing its detainees because a government lawyer said it was okay, or because some executive-branch extremist like David Addington determined that anything and everything was permissible in a time of war, or because some dim-witted troops at Abu Ghraib just didn't know any better. At some point, early on, a decision to allow torture, to enable it, must have been made -- and it must have been made at the highest levels of government. To put it another way, the decision to turn America into a nation that tortures must have been made at the top. The so-called "principals" must have signed off on it and Bush himself must have signed off on it.

And, it seems, they did just that. Here's ABC News:

In dozens of top-secret talks and meetings in the White House, the most senior Bush administration officials discussed and approved specific details of how high-value al Qaeda suspects would be interrogated by the Central Intelligence Agency, sources tell ABC News.

The so-called Principals who participated in the meetings also approved the use of "combined" interrogation techniques -- using different techniques during interrogations, instead of using one method at a time -- on terrorist suspects who proved difficult to break, sources said.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.

As the national security adviser, Rice chaired the meetings, which took place in the White House Situation Room and were typically attended by most of the principals or their deputies.

That's right -- not underlings like Yoo, not lawyers and academics, not bureaucrats and soldiers, but the very top officials in the U.S. government: Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Powell, Tenet, and Ashcroft. They signed off on it. They were the enablers of torture. They were the ones who turned America into a nation that tortures.

And they must be held accountable.

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