Seasoned professionals within the administration opposed use of torture

The Senate Armed Services Committee Report (2009) shows that in memos to the Office of Legal Counsel in both the Justice Department and Defense Department, senior officials in the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) openly referred to torture:

“the memo did not purport to address the ‘myriad legal, ethical or moral implications of torture, rather the key operational considerations realtive to the use of physical and psychological pressures.” And the JPRA memos warned against the use of torture inasmuch as “the use of these methods would increase the prisoner’s level of resolve to resist cooperating…Once any means of duress has been purposefully applied to the prisoner, the formerly cooperative relationship cannot be reestablished. In addition, the prisoner’s level of resolve to resist cooperating with the interrogator will likely be increased as a result of harsh or brutal treatment.” (p. 28)

In testimony by Dr. Jerald Ogrisseg, a psychiatrist and former Chief of Psychology Services at the Air Force SERE school, recalled a memorandum (on July 24, 2002) that he wrote at the request of Lieutenant Colonel Dan Baumgartner, the Chief of Staff of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) who oversaw the military SERE survival in captivity training program. Baumgartner asked about the use of waterboarding to which Dr. Ogrisseg replied:

“I would never recommend using [waterboarding] in training. Waterboarding was completely inconsistent with the stress inoculation paradigm of training that we used, and was more indicative of a practice that produces learned helplessness — a training result we tried strenuously to avoid.”

When Baumgarner asked about using waterboarding against the enemy, something he was being asked by people “from above,” Ogrisseg replied,

“Wouldn’t that be illegal?” “I wouldn’t go down that path because, aside from being illegal, it was a completely different arena that we in the Survival School didn’t know anything about.”

Jane Mayer, whose series in The New Yorker (2005)  brought to light “The Dark Side”(the title of her later book) noted that many officials within the administration recognized the potential for criminal accountability they faced over the torture tactics and some moved frantically to protect themselves from possible future prosecution. Philip Zelikow, who was Secretary Condoleezza Rice’s senior adviser, argued against the torture in a memo to the Secretary of State in which he contested the Justice Department’s “Torture Memos” stating that he believed them to be wrong morally, legally and as a policy.

He warned that the interrogation techniques breached U.S. law, and could lead to prosecution for war crimes. Zelikow predicted that “America’s descent into torture will in time be viewed like the Japanese internments. Fear and anxiety were exploited by zealots and fools.” (Scott Horton. Harper’s Magazine, 2008) Zelikow indicated that the White House ordered his memo to be destroyed and attempted to collect all the copies. (Newsweek, 2009)

However, the American public was largely kept in the dark. David Bromwich reveals in the London Review of Books (2015) that: “As early as 2002 the New York Times had a story in preparation about a secret prison in Thailand, but agreed at Cheney’s request not to publish it.” He suggests that the Times was cowed by the claim that if the torture program were disclosed to the public, it would “result in loss of life, possibly extensive.”

[Many will recall that the Times also went along with the Administration and  promoted the Iraq war by disseminating false information fed to its reporter, Judith Miller, by a tainted source who promoted the fiction about Sadam Housein’s “weapons of mass destruction.” Source of the Trouble, New York Magazine, 2014]