When you’re a former Bush administration official whose public personage has been tainted by legal memos authorizing torture, but an internal investigation recently cleared you of everything but “poor judgment” — where do you go to tell your side of the story to the public?
Fox News, of course. And that’s exactly what former Bush administration attorney John Yoo did on Tuesday. The network was all too eager to allow him time to offer an unchallenged justification for the cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners carried out at his recommendation.
One of the first items Yoo tackled: why simulated drowning is not torture.
“Waterboarding is not something that was cooked up in Cheney’s office or something like that,” he said. “Waterboarding is something that we had a lot of information on. Twenty thousand American soldiers and officers had undergone it and did not suffer any lasting pain, harm or suffering. So, when we looked at the statute that congress wrote and we looked at that evidence, we in the Justice Department and a lot of other lawyers too said that we don’t think it amounts to torture because we would not be doing it to our own soldiers otherwise.”
Waterboarding, which is indeed part of the military’s Survival, Evade, Resist and Escape (SERE) training, is in fact torture. The United States prosecuted Japanese soldiers for doing it during World War II. It is a violation of domestic and international law that was carried out on a very mistaken legal premise that permitted the Bush administration nearly unchecked power to detain and abuse prisoners as it saw fit.
After President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees, three men in particular were waterboarded over 260 times.
That Yoo would cite the military’s SERE training is not much of an excuse. Waterboarding, as carried out on terror war prisoners, is as real as possible. It is not a game or a program or a one time experience for prisoners.
Yet, Media Matters cites a May, 2005 OlC memo in which Steven Bradbury wrote that U.S. soldiers are “obviously in a very different situation from detainees undergoing interrogation; SERE trainees know it is part of a training program, not a real-life interrogation regime, they presumably know it will last only a short time, and they presumably have assurances that they will not be significantly harmed by the training.”
Among other items approved for use against detainees, Bush administration attorneys also allowed slapping, choking, humiliation, prolonged diapering, the use of insects, sleep deprivation, loud or white noise, the use of dogs and other so-called “harsh interrogation techniques.”
In authorizing these tactics, Yoo and DoJ counterpart Jay Bybee allegedly “worked with officials in the White House and at the CIA,” according to The Washington Post.
Yet in spite of a significant number of missing e-mails, both Yoo and Bybee were excused from possible criminal liability for their opinions.
During his Fox News appearance, he also suggested that without the military tribunal system and the so-called “enhanced interrogations,” the United States would be unable to obtain intelligence from prisoners.
The claim is interesting, considering the recent revelation that alleged Christmas Day bomb plotter Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is “cooperating” with authorities. Abdulmutallab was mirandized and treated as a criminal, much like the Bush administration’s handling of shoe bomber Richard Reed.
This video was broadcast by Fox News on March 2, 2010.