Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) has picked up where he left off almost a year ago last night by unveiling an unclassified report (PDF) detailing the origins of U.S. torture policies and the route those policies took through the government and into the darkened rooms where military interrogators put them into practice.
The release of this report is coincidental to last week’s release, by the Obama Justice Department, of a series of Bush-era memos written to justify a number of torturous CIA interrogation techniques.
Levin got this process rolling in June of last year, releasing a shorter report and a series of Pentagon memos—the fruits of a two year investigation—which painted a more skeletal picture than last night’s report does.
For instance, we’ve known since last year that, in July, 2002, senior Pentagon officials compiled information on Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) techniques. (The military operates a number of SERE schools, where soldiers are trained to withstand the horrors that might be inflicted upon them if captured by regimes that don’t adhere to the Geneva Conventions). We’ve known many of those officials’ names for some time. And we’ve known how the techniques they authorized moved from the realm of theory into practice, first in Guantanamo and then in Iraq.
Today, we learn much more. For instance, we learn that, “[i]ntelligence and military officials under the Bush administration began preparing to conduct harsh interrogations long before they were granted legal approval to use such methods — and weeks before the CIA captured its first high-ranking terrorism suspect, Senate investigators have concluded.”
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer writes that, “[t]he Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel authorized harrowing tactics for interrogating [Al Qaeda suspect Abu] Zubaydah in the infamous “Bybee Torture Memo” of August 1, 2002, which Obama released publicly last week. So, presumably, whatever happened to Zubaydah after August is indemnified by the Obama invisibility cloak. But what about what happened to Zubaydah in the four months before?”
Mayer continues, “On April 16, 2002—a couple weeks after Zubaydah’s capture, and three and a half months before the Bybee memo—a military psychologist named Dr. Bruce Jessen was already circulating a blueprint for cruelly coercive interrogations based on torture methods used by Chinese Communist forces during the Korean War.”
Just two months later, but still a couple months before Bybee released his now infamous memo, an FBI special agent walked away from a Zubaydah interrogation session because he thought the techniques being used against him might have risen (or sunk?) to the level of torture.
The Post reports that, “[n]o substantive plots were disrupted as a result of information provided during Abu Zubaida’s interrogation, according to current and former counterterrorism officials.”
That didn’t give the Bush administration much pause. If anything, it made senior officials all the more eager to use the techniques to learn what they wanted to learn. McClatchy reports that, “for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were…demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq…(former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi” and these techniques were seen as the quickest way to make the connection.
We’ll scour the report all day for more revelations.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.