Saturday, June 20, 2009

For tortured detainees, U.S. considered life sentences on boats

"Enhanced," "robust," and "special," words once used for vegetables, acquired entirely new dimensions during the White House years of George W. Bush.

Jane Mayer's The Dark Side describes how torture in its various gradations became U.S. policy. Subtitled The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals, Mayer's book galvanized the debate on the rights of "detainees" -- i.e., prisoners without any legal recourse -- and sold 135,000 copies. The paperback has now been published by Anchor Books.

I spoke with Mayer, an investigative reporter for the New Yorker magazine, over a breakfast of coffee and granola in the busy restaurant of her midtown Manhattan hotel.

Lundborg: Where do we stand now?

Mayer: We have a president who understands the Constitution, which is a huge improvement. But it's not done yet.

What's disconcerting to me is (former American vice-president Dick) Cheney coming out every few hours like the bird in a cuckoo clock on this. You're talking about whether or not to go back to the Stone Age in terms of justice as if it were just another issue.

Lundborg: Does Cheney have a plan?

Mayer: He's setting down a marker politically, so if there's another attack, the Republicans can blame the Democrats and say, "We told you so!"

He's also fighting for his legacy as it becomes more obvious to the world that he was the engine behind the torture program. And his daughter has said he's out there because he's concerned he's facing a legal liability.

Lundborg: How much of the story remains to be told?

Mayer: There have been people who've been killed, who've disappeared. My effort in the book was to hold people accountable and connect the dots between the decisions in Washington and the effects around the world.

There are a lot of dots unconnected still. The CIA says it was made to do these things. The White House says the CIA led the way. Who's right? You can't tell yet.

Lundborg: When people made the decision to torture, what did they think was going to happen?

Mayer: People at the CIA said the problem was always the disposal plan. They wanted to get the intelligence but they never considered what to do with these people afterwards. You've violated all their rights so it's really hard to put them on trial. At one point, they even talked about putting them all on boats that would perpetually circumnavigate the globe.

Lundborg: President Obama is trying hard not to open this particular can of worms. Will that work?

Mayer: I've been told by experts that you can't sweep this stuff under the rug.

Lundborg: Bush administration officials say they didn't break any laws since they had lawyers who signed off on everything.

Mayer: The Justice Department is about to release a report that's going to be harsh on those lawyers. When you start questioning their legal judgment in giving out these home-free cards, then the underpinnings of the whole program start to get shaky.

Lundborg: Is it really that easy for the government to disguise torture by Orwellian euphemisms?

Mayer: It certainly helps. It gives comfort to the people who are doing it, so they can kid themselves. These phony words meant we had no proper debate about this.

Nobody ever said to America after 9/11, "Do you think we should start torturing people?" They just did it and called it something else.

Lundborg: There's nothing you can do in a democracy if a president is easily manipulated, is there?

Mayer: It makes the argument for why we need a robust press. It was really the press and a handful of lawyers who filed cases who turned this around. There was great reporting done on this subject, even though the reporters were up against big peril.

Lundborg: Did you ever worry about yourself while writing the book?

Mayer: No, since I have a great platform and fantastic lawyers. But they did come after my sources. People were investigated for leaks of classified material who did not leak classified material. They were accused of espionage just because they had helped reporters get this story out. Nobody was prosecuted, but it tied them up for years with lawyers. It made people afraid to talk to the press. This was really dangerous: They used the Justice Department to bully sources.

Lundborg: Has anyone contradicted your account?

Mayer: Everything that has come out since has shown this book is even more right that I could have hoped.

Source article was found here.

P.S. We can't let people see what we did to these people. It would make us look bad.

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