Bush and Cheney Have Confessed to Authorizing Torture – Now Even the New York Times Is Calling for Their Prosecution

Authors of White House torture manual, from left: Pres. Bush, Vice Pres. Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenent
Authors of White House torture manual, from left: Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and Tenent

In an editorial today, the New York Times called for prosecuting Dick Cheney, George Bush and their subordinates for war crimes:

Americans have known about many of these acts for years, but the 524-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report erases any lingering doubt about their depravity and illegality: In addition to new revelations of sadistic tactics like “rectal feeding,” scores of detainees were waterboarded, hung by their wrists, confined in coffins, sleep-deprived, threatened with death or brutally beaten. In November 2002, one detainee who was chained to a concrete floor died of “suspected hypothermia.”

These are, simply, crimes. They are prohibited by federal law, which defines torture as the intentional infliction of “severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” They are also banned by the Convention Against Torture, the international treaty that the United States ratified in 1994 and that requires prosecution of any acts of torture…

No amount of legal pretzel logic can justify the behavior detailed in the report. Indeed, it is impossible to read it and conclude that no one can be held accountable. At the very least, Mr. Obama needs to authorize a full and independent criminal investigation.

The question everyone will want answered, of course, is: Who should be held accountable? That will depend on what an investigation finds, and as hard as it is to imagine Mr. Obama having the political courage to order a new investigation, it is harder to imagine a criminal probe of the actions of a former president.

But any credible investigation should include former Vice President Dick Cheney; Mr. Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington; the former C.I.A. director George Tenet; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, the Office of Legal Counsel lawyers who drafted what became known as the torture memos. There are many more names that could be considered, including Jose Rodriguez Jr., the C.I.A. official who ordered the destruction of the videotapes; the psychologists who devised the torture regimen; and the C.I.A. employees who carried out that regimen.

On one hand, the prosecution of Bush and Cheney should be a no-brainer. Both have confessed their responsibility for setting up the torture regime.

Late one Friday evening in April 2008, Bush issued a statement admitting that he signed off on a torture manual written in the White House by his senior national-security officials and their aides, under the direction of Dick Cheney.

“Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people,” Bush told ABC’s Martha Raddatz, “And yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.”

The committee that approved the White House Torture Manual included Cheney, Sec. of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft, CIA Director George Tenet, and their aides.

Raddatz reported that the “high-level discussions about [the torture techniques] were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed — down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.”

According to Raddatz’ reporting, “These top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects — whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.”

The startling confession by the president of the United States that he had participated in prima facie war crimes went went unnoticed by the “liberal media,” which happened to have been obsessed that day by a surreptitiously recorded gaffe made by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama who suggested at a closed-door fundraiser that voters were “bitter” after years of poor job prospects, which explained why “they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Consensus among media types was that the prospect that Sen. Obama might be facing a campaign-killing “Macaca” moment was newsworthy. The sitting president’s confession to having committed war crimes was not.

Reacting a few days later to Bush’s confession, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley likened Bush’s senior officials writing the torture manual at the White House to Tony Soprano and his mob at the Bada Bing Club, “sitting around regularly talking about something defined as a crime.” During that same interview, Turley asserted that the torture program has “always been a war crimes trial ready to happen.”

Turley, who supported impeaching Pres. Clinton, is currently the lawyer representing House Speaker John Boehner and the Republicans in the House in their various lawsuits against Pres. Obama.

Earlier this month, Dick Cheney also confessed to approving the torture regime — so proud, in fact, he said, “I’d do it again in a minute.”

Back in April 2008, within a week after Bush confessed to the alleged war crimes, the ACLU called for an investigation into the torture program — a call the rights organization renewed within hours after the Senate Intelligence Committee released its torture report earlier this month.

Overseas, a human rights group in Berlin has filed a criminal complaint against Bush and the government officials who planned and carry out the torture regimen. Reports surface occasionally that Bush and the others have cancelled foreign travel plans to avoid being arrested, but these reports are never treated as front page news.

Paradoxically, the reason Bush, Cheney and the rest are unconcerned about the prospect of being prosecuted for war crimes is that they know they are protected by the man they most despise: Pres. Obama. Within days after the release of the Senate report, the Obama Justice Department announced that it would not initiate charges against the CIA officers named in the report, and the president has indicated in the past that he had no interest in litigating war crimes charges against his predecessors.