Richard Armitage, who was second in command at the State Department during former President George W. Bush's first term, believes waterboarding is torture and says he would have resigned had he known the CIA was torturing suspects.
"I hope, had I known about it at the time I was serving, I would've had the courage to resign," Armitage says in an Al Jazeera English interview to be aired tomorrow. The statement makes him one of the highest ranking former Bush administration officials to label the former president's policy torture.
Last month, a leaked report written by the International Committee of the Red Cross stated that the Bush Administration's harsh interrogation techniques "constituted torture." The report strongly implies that CIA interrogators violated international law.
Armitage, who left the Bush administration with his boss Colin Powell after the 2004 presidential election, says that although he and other officials knew that Bush administration officials were departing from the Geneva Conventions, he did not have any knowledge of torture.
Asked why he didn't quit after learning the Geneva Conventions were being sidelined, Armitage says: "In hindsight maybe I should've," said Armitage. "But in those positions you see how many more battles you have. You maybe fool yourself. You say how much worse would X, Y, or Z be if I weren't here trying to do it?"
Left unmentioned was that Armitage's resignation came a year after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke out in December of 2003. Along with pictures showing Iraqi prisoners naked and in humiliating sexual positions and having dogs sicced on them, some showed a detainee who had been stored after ice, after allegedly dying during an interrogation.
In January, the United Nations' special torture rapporteur called on the U.S. to pursue former president George W. Bush and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture and bad treatment of Guantanamo prisoners. "Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation" to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said.
But Armitage believes otherwise, telling Al Jazeera that like President Barack Obama he wants to look forward. "I prefer the formulation used by our president, where he says he's much more interested in the reconciliations and correction of these problems," he said. "He's wants to be a forward-looking man. And that's where I am."
In a briefing filed last week, the Obama administration extended many of the same arguments made by Bush attorneys – that top government officials have qualified immunity from prosecution and that Guantanamo detainees do not have constitutional rights to due process.
While Armitage doesn't comment on that development in the video of the interview available Wednesday night, he does single out U.S. legislators for being silent during the Bush years and afraid now to formally investigate Bush administration policies and actions.
"I don't think members of the senate particularly want to look into these things," Armitage said. "They might have to look at themselves in the mirror... Where were they? Where were they? They weren't doing their job, they were AWOL – absent without leave."
The following video will be broadcast on Al Jazeera English on Thursday, April 16th, 2009.
With wire reports.
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