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The Real Bad Apples

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June 18, 2008

“If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

Yesterday’s testimony by former DOD lawyer William Haynes and documents released by the Armed Services Committee highlighted how top Department of Defense and CIA officials selected and honed interrogation methods at Guantánamo by studying the torture techniques — sometimes called SERE techniques, for “Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape”) — that were used against U.S. soldiers during the Cold War.

The documents are shocking in their frankness. In a working group meeting, CIA lawyer Jonathan Fredman argues that the laws against torture are malleable. He encourages his colleagues to exploit any vagueness in the law and declares torture “is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

The rest of the documents are just as jarring. None of the officials seem too concerned about torturing other human beings; nor do they seem concerned about the consequences for U.S. personnel who would be ordered to participate in such interrogations. Instead they worry about backlash and making sure they have documentation to “protect us.”

Some of the first documents to highlight the SERE connection to Gitmo were released in conjunction with the ACLU’s Torture FOIA lawsuit. But because of their redactions, the documents could only hint at a connection. Today’s documents show that the adoption of SERE methods was a deliberate process orchestrated by the lawyers who worked directly for Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the CIA. They decided to approve some of the most abhorrent torture techniques used against U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam war.

It’s clear that the incidents at Abu Ghraib, the reports of abuse at Guantánamo (the physical proof of which was outlined today in a new report by the Physicians for Human Rights), and the abuse that lead to deaths at Bagram were by no means isolated or unconnected incidents. Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and stress positions were not the improvisation of a few low-level soldiers, but a policy developed at the highest levels of government.

That completely blows apart the “few bad apples” argument the Bush administration has used to deflect criticism in the past. Indeed they make clear that there are bad apples that committed heinous crimes and they are at the top of this administration.

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