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In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross last week, Seymour Hersh stated that Vice President Dick Cheney had “salted” the military and national security apparatus with trusted associates who were able to report back to him on what was going on. Hersh goes on to state that he thinks Cheney’s ability to influence or direct policy is limited. Still, keeping that in mind it’s interesting to watch the unfolding debate over the release of the torture memoranda.
In response to Freedom of Information Act requests, the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel was slated to release four closely guarded memoranda created by John Yoo, Jay Bybee, and Stephen Bradbury addressing the use of specific torture techniques including waterboarding, holding prisoners in close confinement (in coffin-like conditions), and “head smacking.” Attorney General Holder had cleared the release; it was set for last Thursday. Then something happened. Newsweek’s Mike Isikoff quotes a source close to the issue stating that “Holy hell has broken loose over this.” While the Obama lawyers thought the matter was settled, John O. Brennan—the man Obama once hoped to appoint to head the CIA before a public firestorm erupted over his continuing embrace of torture techniques—launched a rearguard action designed to overcome the decision at Justice. Brennan argued that disclosure of the memos would be harmful because it would “embarrass” and “shame” CIA officers who had used the techniques. That claim is certainly very doubtful, since there are at least as many CIA operatives who have publicly advocated disclosure as oppose it. He also argued that it would be bad policy to disclose techniques used.
In fact, of course, the argument against disclosure is absurd. The techniques are well-documented and known to the public. The publication just two weeks ago of extended excerpts from the Red Cross’s report on treatment of CIA prisoners charted and graphically described the techniques used. Brennan’s motivation in opposing the disclosure has two possible bases: a desire to be able to continue to use the techniques in the future, and concern about a formal inquiry into the Bush-era torture regime. Release of the new OLC memoranda is certain to fuel public and Congressional demands for such an inquiry—which former Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated last week he felt was certainly on the horizon. And any formal inquiry is certain in turn to drive demands for accountability, including the prospect of criminal prosecutions.
Brennan is a protege of former CIA director George Tenet and although he expressed some reservations about waterboarding, he was a defender of other Tenet-era torture programs. Now ensconced as a senior counterterrorism advisor, he has become the principle advocate of the “don’t look back” mantra with respect to the misdeeds of the Bush years. And in this, Brennan’s principal concern is the protection of Brennan and Tenet–but in the process he has emerged as Dick Cheney’s clear champion.
The disclosure of the OLC memoranda presents a key policy fork in the road for Obama. If he is faithful to his commitment to transparency and to end torture, the government will have to come clean with these memos. If Obama keeps them under wraps, the public will have good reason to question his undertaking to end torture–and good reason to question whether a Cheney “shadow administration” actually has the power to influence policy.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
On a Friday evening in January, a thousand people at the annual California Native Plant Society conference in San Jose settled down to a banquet and a keynote speech delivered by an environmental historian named Jared Farmer. His chosen topic was the eucalyptus tree and its role in California’s ecology and history. The address did not go well. Eucalyptus is not a native plant but a Victorian import from Australia. In the eyes of those gathered at the San Jose DoubleTree, it qualified as “invasive,” “exotic,” “alien” — all dirty words to this crowd, who were therefore convinced that the tree was dangerously combustible, unfriendly to birds, and excessively greedy in competing for water with honest native species.
In his speech, Farmer dutifully highlighted these ugly attributes, but also quoted a few more positive remarks made by others over the years. This was a reckless move. A reference to the tree as “indigenously Californian” elicited an abusive roar, as did an observation that without the aromatic import, the state would be like a “home without its mother.” Thereafter, the mild-mannered speaker was continually interrupted by boos, groans, and exasperated gasps. Only when he mentioned the longhorn beetle, a species imported (illegally) from Australia during the 1990s with the specific aim of killing the eucalyptus, did he earn a resounding cheer.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A tourism company in Australia announced a service that will allow users to take the “world’s biggest selfies,” and a Texas man accidentally killed himself while trying to pose for a selfie with a handgun.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”