Report: Highest US Officials Responsible for Use of Torture (Plus Daily Show Video)

The political reality of the United States in the world is that of blowback. Blowback is a term of art in the intelligence community for what happens when a covert operation goes bad and comes back to bite you on the ass. The US spent the 1980s encouraging Muslim radicals to engage in ‘freedom fighting’ against the leftist government of Afghanistan, and that policy certainly is implicated in the creation of al-Qaeda. We have been suffering with lack of security ever since. And what would have happened if Washington had just left the Communist government in place? Wouldn’t it have gone the same way as the former Communist regime of Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan? Which of you feels threatened by those former Soviet Socialist Republics?

The policy of deliberate deployment of torture by US officials, in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib (Iraq) and Bagram (Afghanistan), as well as black sites in Poland and elsewhere, during the past decade, has spawned a whole new wave of blowback.

The US is not responsible for terrorism against it, and the terrorists are horrible human beings. But let’s just say that a more responsible US foreign policy would make less trouble for the rest of us.

A bipartisan panel found, while the attention of the US public was elsewhere, that there is indisputable proof that the highest US officials of the Bush administration are implicated in torture, that torture was deployed systematically, and that there is no evidence that it ever yielded any useful intelligence about terrorist plots against the US. The Panel argues that the Guantanamo prison must be closed (many of the inmates now there have never been charged or tried and many have been cleared for release, but are not being released. Many are on debilitating hunger strikes that the US media barely cover.)

Jon Stewart, as usual, covers the story most trenchantly:

35 Responses

  1. Easy to spot the disasters of the past. How about the present mistakes?

    Like supporting the overthrow of a secular Syrian government by an opposition which includes Al-Queda and hoping for the best a free and democratic government emerges out of the bloodbath?

    • I’m pretty sure that the Emirates and the other Gulf states that are supporting the overthrow of the Syrian government by an opposition that includes al Qaeda aren’t hoping that a democratic government emerges.

      That’s obviously who you were talking about, since those are the only countries doing that.

      A little light reading: link to

      • “aren’t hoping that a democratic government emerges.” Same is true of our Great US government.

        • ““aren’t hoping that a democratic government emerges.” Same is true of our Great US government.”

          That is a categorical statement that could only be made by either someone with very strong evidence to back it up or, lacking such evidence, a fool. Please provide your evidence.

        • Hard words from someone who sometimes gets unconnected from facts, makes broad statements, and then walks away. And also detonates a fair number of “drive-by impeachment” attempts, and is pretty good at chiming in just before the comment window closes. Especially hard, coming from a guy who claims to have “been in Chile” when Allende was couped and killed, and to know first-hand that ‘the US was not involved in that.’

          Tell you what: Show me your examples of where Our Government has done anything in the way of encouraging or supporting what most of us think of as “democratic government” anywhere in the world. Iraq? Notagainistan? Nicaragua, Honduras, Chile, Cuba, Costa Rica, Angola, Zaire? Vietnam? Korea? There’s a whole alphabet of “little bitty countries” out there covered by a very large set of documentation and literature that pretty clearly establishes a pattern of conduct of the type my Evidence prof in law school would have been very happy to use as an example in litigation to prove present and future conduct as well.

          Any proof you got that suddenly our State Security and Policy and Diplomatic apparatuses are changing their spots and going on a Democracy Now! kick? Fer Chrissakes, The Government does not even ‘promote Democracy’ right here at home. Here’s what The US Govt tells people in Hong Kong and Macau:

          link to

          Here’s a cut from the CIA World Yearbook for those wanting to argue over terms, starting with the definition of the US government as a “representative republic:”

          link to

          “We” really could come a lot closer to the nominal ideal, that is all misty in our fellow citizens’ baffled minds, the one that was taught by the Beards, link to, for example, Shining City on a Hill, Give Us Your Emigrants Yearning to be Free, and all, which is pretty much what was in the McGuffey Readers that graced a lot of schools back when. But hey, ECHELON and DHS and Drones and NDAA and on and on and on…

          Besides, if as you so often hint, you were somehow part of the State Security apparatus, you know that democratically elected leaderships are so very much harder to “deal with” than, oh, Presidents for Life, and Supreme Rulers, and stuff…

        • Same is true of our Great US government.

          Riiiiiiiiight, just look at how terrible our relations are with the Libyan government, and how hostile Obama was to the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government when he worked with them to stop the Israeli attack on Gaza.

          Narrative Uber Alles!

        • Nice diversionary tactic to avoid having to admit you have no evidence that the US government does not want a democratic government in Syria, Mr. McPhee. It took you six paragraphs of obfuscatory prose to circle around a vacant center that, by its very lack of substance, speaks for itself.

        • Show me your examples of where Our Government has done anything in the way of encouraging or supporting what most of us think of as “democratic government” anywhere in the world.

          The MacArthur constitution in Japan? The post-war German and Italian governments? Libya? Throwing Mubarak over the side?

  2. “The US spent the 1980s encouraging Muslim radicals to engage in ‘freedom fighting’ against the leftist government of Afghanistan…”

    I agree that US support of the Mujahideen in the 1980s resulted in the blowback of Al-Qaeda and anti-US, anti-Western militant Islamic movements. This is a perfect example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    Nevertheless, it is a bit disingenuous to state that we armed the Muslim radicals to fight against the “leftist government of Afghanistan.” The Soviet Union had mounted a full-scale invasion of Afghanistan and had poured troops and air power into the country. This occurred at a time when the Cold War was still a reality, and the Soviet Union, under Brezhnev, was viewed, correctly, as a threat. We armed the Mujahideen to fight against the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The leftist government itself was a minor consideration at the time.

    • Bill, you must know that the US actions, according to Brzezinski who carried them out, predated the USSR “invasion”(on the invitation of the Afghan government); the USSR was not a threat to the USA- it was the Cold War rhetoric. It was also not the only place “radical Muslims” were invited to fight on “our side”. Check out Bosnia and its neighbours.

      • “the USSR was not a threat to the USA- it was the Cold War rhetoric.”

        If you think the USSR was not a threat to US interests and that of other countries during the Cold War, Rosemerry, you must have been missing in action, or had your head in the sand, from the years 1945 to 1989. The Soviets cutting off access to Berlin in 1948, necessitating the Berlin airlift; the USSR and East Germany building the Berlin wall in 1961 to prevent the transit of East Germans to West Germany; the four hundred Soviet SS-20 medium range missiles targeting West Germany when the NATO allies had none, until 1983, when the West installed Intermediate Range and cruise missiles in Western Europe; the USSR installation of ballistic missiles in Cuba, leading to the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962; and, yes, the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, beginning in December 1979. And don’t forget the “Brezhnev Doctrine,” Rosemerry: the Soviets claimed the right to undermine Western, Capitalist countries, but the West had no right to undermine Socialist countries. The Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 to put down the Hungarian revolution, and the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 to put down the Prague Spring.

        I suggest that you read up on post-World War II history before you glibly state that, “the USSR was not a threat to the USA- it was the Cold War rhetoric.” You might learn something.

        • The threat to the United States from the USSR was always overrated. Attacking Czechoslovakia and Hungary was a hell of a different proposition from attacking the US. There was a lot of talking out of both sides of Uncle Sam’s mouth. First our resident propagandists made a point out of how inefficient the communist economy was (true) but somehow it managed to build a military system that could dominate the world (not true) despite having just lost millions of military-age men and women during WW2. I can’t recall the title of the book I read, written by a reliable source, some years ago, but it shot holes in the Reagan propaganda about the threat of the Soviet Navy to justify a 600-ship fleet for the US Navy. One point the book made was that US Navy personnel with access to the Soviet fleet questioned whether their ships were sufficiently seaworthy to go to sea, never mind engage in a battle. If a war had broken out between the USSR and the West, the Soviets could have caused considerable destruction in the West but not enough to avoid losing the war.

        • “The threat to the United States from the USSR was always overrated. Attacking Czechoslovakia and Hungary was a hell of a different proposition from attacking the US.”

          That attacking Hungary and Czechoslovakia was “a hell of a different proposition from attacking the US” is self-evident. I use it to illustrate the Brezhnev Doctrine in practice. The USSR could put down revolts within its own satellites, as well as undermine Western societies and allies, but the West was not supposed to interfere with Socialist countries.

          While certain aspects of the Soviet threat were exaggerated, such as the nonexistent “missile gap” when Kennedy took office, the overall Soviet threat to the US, as well as to US and Western interests, was very real indeed. The Warsaw Pact had many times more conventional forces arrayed against our NATO allies than we had. That is the reason we never accepted the “No first use” of nuclear weapons so many wanted us to do. We had to maintain that nuclear edge, since we did not have a conventional edge. Revisionist history regarding the Cold War does not do justice to the real threat the USSR represented.

      • “It was also not the only place “radical Muslims” were invited to fight on “our side”. Check out Bosnia and its neighbours.”

        Rosemerry, are you suggesting that Slobodan Milosevic and his Serbian thugs should have been allowed to commit the genocide of Srebenica and the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo without the US and European/NATO intervention to stop him? Are you aligning yourself with the likes of Milosevic?! And here all along I thought of you as a liberal proponent of human rights. It appears that you will align yourself with anyone, as long as he is anti-American.

        • Bill,

          I don’t think you have to sympathize with the other side to recognize the danger in aligning yourself with bad guys.

          I trust you won’t accuse me of being a Nazi sympathizer if I suggest that our support for the Soviet Union in World War Two produced some less-than-ideal outcomes. Heck, I don’t even have to believe that our alliance was the wrong thing to do in order to make that claim. Sometimes, even the most necessary action can come back to haunt you.

        • There are times in the field of conflict when the choice is between two alternatives that are less than ideal. Our alliance with the Soviet Union in World War II was correct, as Nazi Germany represented the greater threat at the time. And the defeat of Nazi Germany could not have been accomplished without the Soviet Union and the Eastern Front.

          My response to the previous comment was based on her statement in quotes, referring to “our side,” suggesting, yet again, that the US blundered. That Bosnia and Kosovo are relatively calm, and have been since the US and NATO interventions, with little resulting “blowback,” speaks well for the interventions. It appeared that the poster of the comment’s sarcastic reference to “our side” suggested that we should have left well enough alone regarding the Muslims, and allowed Milosevic to continue his reign of terror.

  3. ‘I’m going to say this again: I did not have torture with that man…’ link to

    ‘If mistakes were made, I would have to accept the responsibility for them.’ link to

    There’s a special card in the little stack that imports the Randomness into the Great Game, that’s labeled “The Fog Of Forgetfulness And Believable Bullshit.” It’s almost as potent as the “Get Out Of Jail Free or Collect A Presidential Pardon Or Benefit From Prosecutorial Discretion or Incompetence” card. Plus, on the flip side is the “Collect $200,000 Per Post-Government-Position Speaking Engagement” entitlement.

  4. I know this isn’t your main point, but: And what would have happened if Washington had just left the Communist government in place? Wouldn’t it have gone the same way as the former Communist regime of Tajikistan or Kyrgyzstan?

    But without their defeat in Afghanistan, would the Soviet Union have fallen, or fallen when it did?

    Historical counter-factuals are hard, because you don’t know how changing one detail would affect others.

    • The Soviet collapse had nothing to do with Afghanistan. Defense spending was flat in the previous decade.

      • “Defense spending was flat in the previous decade” is a great argument against the theory that the arms race bankrupted the Soviet government, but it doesn’t have very much to do with Afghanistan.

        The theory that the Afghan defeat caused, or sped up, the collapse depends more upon the collapse of public morale and support for the government.

        • The Sovietologists I respect insist that it was internal and had to do with the way the system wasn’t working for people any more.

        • Sure, Professor, but look at the American experience with Vietnam.

          An overseas military debacle goes a long way towards undermining public confidence in the system overall.

    • It’s so hard to know what are “counter-factuals” and what are “counter-counter-counter-factuals” and what are just made-up stuff. I believe it’s pretty well established that the US military and its Bright Fellas at the RAND Institute heavily oversold the “threats” posed by the Soviet Union as part of “muscular” and “vigorous” behaviors that benefitted them personally and scared the hell out of the rest of us, later to be resurrected under the “neocon” heading. Here’s a bit of interesting text, with link, subject to the usual caviling:

      Reached through sober analysis, Stern’s conclusion that “John F. Kennedy and his administration, without question, bore a substantial share of the responsibility for the onset of the Cuban missile crisis” would have shocked the American people in 1962, for the simple reason that Kennedy’s administration had misled them about the military imbalance between the superpowers and had concealed its campaign of threats, assassination plots, and sabotage designed to overthrow the government in Cuba—an effort well known to Soviet and Cuban officials.

      In the 1960 presidential election, Kennedy had cynically attacked Richard Nixon from the right, claiming that the Eisenhower-Nixon administration had allowed a dangerous “missile gap” to grow in the U.S.S.R.’s favor. But in fact, just as Eisenhower and Nixon had suggested—and just as the classified briefings that Kennedy received as a presidential candidate indicated—the missile gap, and the nuclear balance generally, was overwhelmingly to America’s advantage. At the time of the missile crisis, the Soviets had 36 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 138 long-range bombers with 392 nuclear warheads, and 72 submarine-launched ballistic-missile warheads (SLBMs). These forces were arrayed against a vastly more powerful U.S. nuclear arsenal of 203 ICBMs, 1,306 long-range bombers with 3,104 nuclear warheads, and 144 SLBMs—all told, about nine times as many nuclear weapons as the U.S.S.R. Nikita Khrushchev was acutely aware of America’s huge advantage not just in the number of weapons but in their quality and deployment as well.
      Kennedy and his civilian advisers understood that the missiles in Cuba did not alter the strategic nuclear balance.

      Moreover, despite America’s overwhelming nuclear preponderance, JFK, in keeping with his avowed aim to pursue a foreign policy characterized by “vigor,” had ordered the largest peacetime expansion of America’s military power, and specifically the colossal growth of its strategic nuclear forces. This included deploying, beginning in 1961, intermediate-range “Jupiter” nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey—adjacent to the Soviet Union. From there, the missiles could reach all of the western U.S.S.R., including Moscow and Leningrad (and that doesn’t count the nuclear-armed “Thor” missiles that the U.S. already had aimed at the Soviet Union from bases in Britain).

      link to There’s a whole lot more in the linked article.

      Our generals and admirals knew that the Mighty Warsaw Pact Armies were staffed by demoralilzed troops who were not allowed to have maps, for fear they would defect. The “bomber gap” was a deadly and expensive fraud: link to The “missile gap.” link to…-a0111695835 And the insane idiot fraud of the “window of vulnerability.” And they lied about this crap right into the face of a gullible public and complicit Congress.

      The Soviet Union was built on a corrupt system of patronage and theft that was patently unsustainable, to the point of that old joke supposedly told by “Soviet” workers: “They pretend to pay us, so we pretend to work.” Human ingenuity produced a huge parallel economy that kept things going. Much the same thing is so aptly descriptive of our own Kulturny; we sure have our Party and our Politburo. And leaving the weasels in charge of “policy” and “procurement” and “deployment” and more generally “government” sure seems to be “spending us into oblivion” more accurately and truly than the myth about how Reagan supposedly decimated and crushed the Reds by all that US first-strike “defense” spending…. And now we have our “wars of choice,” at all scales, all over the planet. And we can’t even steal the oil and ores effectively, so as to make conquest an even slightly sensible goal.

      “Stupid is as stupid does.”

      • Dont forget the debate during ‘detente’ when the US tried to confuse the issue by putting multiple warheads on one ICBM and claimed parity with Soviet’s single warhead ballistic missiles. Are the missiles deployed to Turkey in 1961 the ones the US took out as part of the Cuban missile crisis settlement?

  5. ” And what would have happened if Washington had just left the Communist government in place?”

    And what would have happened if George Washington et al had not started the Revolutionary War? The United States might have become independent like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other parts of the British empire without starting a national tradition of going to war to achieve ends.

    And the slaves might have been freed a generation earlier.

  6. The US spent the 1980s encouraging Muslim radicals to engage in ‘freedom fighting’ against the leftist government of Afghanistan, and that policy certainly is implicated in the creation of al-Qaeda.

    You seem to be choosing your words pretty carefully here, to produce the impression that the U.S. was supporting bin Laden’s organization during the war, without actually making that false claim directly.

    In actuality, bin Laden did not take American money or work with Americans. He set up his organization to be an alternative for those who wanted to fight against the Soviets without working with Americans – first the fundraising organization, and later a fighting force.

    It always struck me as funny that people thought bin Laden was receiving funds from the US, when he was famous for raising and distributing funds on his own, from his rich Saudi friends.

    • Yeah, the connection isn’t direct. But the US did pressure Turki al-Faisal, Saudi minister of intelligence, to find people who would help with the effort, and he asked Bin Laden to do fundraising and there you go…

      • Now, the Taliban, on the other hand: the US absolutely funded and trained people who went on to lead and fight for the Taliban. The connection there is very direct.

  7. “As Paul Jay of the Real News (and before him, the French publication Le Nouvel Observateur) discovered, the Carter administration made the decision to intervene in an Afghan civil war fully six months before the Soviet invasion. In a July 1979 “finding” the White House authorized U.S. military and intelligence agencies to supply the anti-communist mujahideen fighters with money and supplies.

    The “finding” was the beginning of “Operation Cyclone,” a clandestine plan aimed at luring the Soviets into invading Afghanistan. From a relatively modest $23 million down payment, Cyclone turned into a multi-billion behemoth—the most expensive intelligence operation in U.S. history—and one that eventually forced the Soviets to withdraw.”

    The complete article is at link to

    Zbigniew Brzezinski was a lead player in the Afghanistan misadventure

    • Afghanistan had a series of Marxist leaders that were committing mass murder in the late 1970s in order to suppress political dissent starting with Nur Muhammad Taraki and later Hafizullah Amin. The death toll was in the tens of thousands at the hands of Soviet puppets.

      Hafizullah Amin was a Columbia University-educated former schoolteacher who was executed by Soviet agents at the time that the USSR invaded in December of 1979.

      On one hand, the Soviet Union were arming and training Balochi rebels in western Pakistan in the late 1970s in order to create a civil war within Pakistan with the intent of obtaining an eventual much-needed naval base on the Indian Ocean. Stemming this strategy was in the interest of the U.S.

      On the second hand, the Afghan rebels had high morale and adept fighters but were badly in need of weaponry to fight the Afghan army. This need became more acute after the Red Army rolled into Afghanistan that late December in 1979 pursuant to the vaunted Brezhnev Doctrine. The CIA supplied the rebels with automaic rifles, anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to combat the Red Army.

      It was the Reagan administration that ramped up the aid to the rebels that led to the collapse of the Marxist government of Dr. Najibullah in 1992. The rebels that took power in post-Marxist Afghanistan eventually became the Northern Alliance after the Taliban assumed power in the late 1990s. It was this Northen Alliance, which included the charismatic leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, (who was assassinated two days before 9/11) that was responsible for forcing the Taliban out of power with the help of the U.S. Armed Forces.

  8. The US’s torture regime should have been expected to lead to retail terrorism. In addition to our common sense and the findings of evolutionary psychology, it is well documented that revenge is an important cause of terrorism. “The University of Toronto sociologist Robert Brym carefully studied all 138 suicide bombings between September 2000 and mid-July 2005 [in Israel]. He concluded that in the vast majority of cases the suicide bombers themselves—whatever their ideological predispositions, or the groups that claimed responsibility—had lost a friend or close relative to Israeli fire. They acted, he wrote, ‘out of revenge’.” link to

  9. True to Professor Cole’s statement in the first paragraph of his article above, I still vividly recall, as a layman arguing with a friend out of curiosity in 1988, thinking to myself of the consequences of thousands of so-called the Arab Afghan Jihadists enticed by the CIA, the Regan Government and the Largess of the Saudi Royalty to volunteer to fight the infidel Soviets what could happen afterwards to these volunteer Arabs fighting in Afghanistan, many thousands of war trained Arab Afghans, when the Afghan war is over and they return to their original Arab countries? Those returnee Arab Afghans ultimately formed the nucleus of what later became known as “Al-Qaeda,” what started originally as the brainchild of the CIA, the Regan Administration and the subservient Saudi authorities brandishing Islam to entice theses volunteers to engage in the fight against the Soviet soldiers under the banner of Jihad. My fears as a layman, unfortunately, proved true. One then puts the question, who was the ultimate culprits?

    Rajai Masri

  10. Dear Professor Cole

    I raised an eyebrow at this sentence. “The US is not responsible for terrorism against it, and the terrorists are horrible human beings.”

    Without being an apologist for the worst, I would draw your attention to Yeats poem Easter 1916 and his commenatry on the ordinaryness of the rebels.

    “I have met them at close of day
    Coming with vivid faces
    From counter or desk among grey
    Eighteenth-century houses. ”

    I was at school with the grandsons of the only one of the leaders of the rebellion who wasn’t shot for his pains. Terrible person? He went on to be President three times.

    One can think of members of the Stern Gang and Irgun Zwei Levi who went on to become Prime Ministers having perpetrated atrocities.

    Mr McGuiness who is Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and was a candidate for President of Ireland was Brigade Commander of the Derry Brigade of the IRA.

    Terroist is an awfully broadbrush word, and certainly not one that can be used to draw conclusions about their quality as human beings.

  11. “Show me your examples of where Our Government has done anything in the way of encouraging or supporting what most of us think of as “democratic government” anywhere in the world.”

    “The MacArthur constitution in Japan? The post-war German and Italian governments? Libya? Throwing Mubarak over the side?”

    A case can be made for Japan, Germany and Italy, but Libya? I don’t think so. Like Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi had become more trouble than he was worth. Last time I checked Libya didn’t look like much of a success. In the case of Japan, Germany and Italy, that was another era that changed with the installation of a series of dictators in South Korea and the overthrow of the democratically-elected Prime Minister Mossadeqh or Iran in 1953 and installation of the very cruel peacock Shah. (Whom do the Israeli lobby and Netanyahu have in mind for the US to replace the current Iranian leadership?) Egypt? The people there had gained too much momentum for the Obama administration to save him which is what they would have preferred, but with the writing on the wall they tried to have their torture contractor General Suleiman step in as a replacement. Iraq? Is that an example of democracy created by the United States in accordance with a purported reason for going to war there? How about the overthrow of the democratically-elected president of the Honduras that was approved of by Obama and Hillary? I had better quit there if I’m not to spend all afternoon listing the litany of dictators installed and supported by the United States.

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