Torture Memo Backlash

COOPER: Well, backlash tonight: new pushback to President Obama's release of legal memos from the Bush Justice Department. In almost clinical and often legally hair-splitting detail, they layout practices like water boarding, how to do it, how long U.S. officials could do it and what else they could do instead of or in addition to it, and yet still according to the lawyers fall within legal good graces.

Now, some of the other tactics approved include, depriving someone of asleep for days on end, also putting a prisoner in a tiny box and terrorizing him with insects. That's a variation by the way of how Winston Smith was torturing in George Orwell's "1984" they used rats though.

Those who wanted to keep the memo secret have a variety of reasons.

Tom Foreman has got their arguments and the other side so you can make up your own mind. That in the "Raw Politics."


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The release of the details on how top terror suspects were pressured by interrogators and which techniques are now forbidden is provoking sharp reactions from some in the intelligence community.

In "The Wall Street Journal," former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey say, "Fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of Al Qaeda came from those interrogations. Terrorists are now aware of the absolute limit of what the U.S. government could do to extract information from them."

President Bush's Homeland Security Adviser, now CNN consultant, Fran Townsend.

FRAN TOWNSEND, FORMER PRESIDENT BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: To release them and to subject these people, these career professionals, to sort of public humiliation in a program and then the potential of a congressional investigation really will make our intelligence community risk averse. FOREMAN: But longstanding critics of tactics described in the memos, water boarding to create the sensation of drowning, sleep deprivation for up to 11 straight days, locking prisoners in cramped spaces, disagree.

Retired Army General James Cullen, now a human rights activist.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES P. CULLEN, HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST: I think that argument is really a lot of nonsense. Our enemies already know what the techniques are, because we have carried out these techniques on the enemy.


FOREMAN: Just last month, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee laid the groundwork for rolling out the memo.

LEAHY: In order to restore our moral leadership, we must acknowledge what was done in our name.

FOREMAN: And even some who say intelligence work will suffer agree. David Rivkin served in the Bush administration and is now with the Counsel on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan research group.

DAVID RIVKIN, BAKER HOSTETLER LAW FIRM: Enough criticism has been launched against the use of these techniques combined with a lot of misinformation about how they actually worked. Frankly continuing to use them was not a viable option.

FOREMAN: Still, the debate rages. Some saying, the President just went too far in exposing our intelligence-gathering techniques and others saying until someone is prosecuted, he did not go far enough.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: One other point to consider, whether or not the enemy knew that the U.S. used these tactics. They date back to the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, so there's nothing novel about them. President Obama says they won't be used anymore.

Let's talk more about this. Senior political analyst, David Gergen joins us now and Mark Danner, an author of Torture and Truth and contributor to The New York Review of Books.

Mark, in terms of what we now know about what went on over the last eight or so years under the Bush administration, there had been a lot of thought earlier that this was just the act of several kind of rogue officers or untrained people. That clearly is not the case, right?

MARK DANNER, AUTHOR, "TORTURE AND TRUTH": I think it's been clear for several years that this was the policy of the U.S. government. In the wake of Abu Ghraib in the spring of 2004, an enormous rush of memos came into public possession from the Department of Defense, Department of Justice and others that showed these things were contemplated at the highest levels of government and approved in the Department of Justice.

COOPER: And Mark is there any evidence that these methods actually worked? I mean, Dick Cheney says, without a doubt, they stopped attacks on the United States.

Other than him and a handful of other people, is there any actual evidence?

DANNER: I'd say the answer to that is no. There's no actual evidence in the public realm that they actually worked. We hear repeatedly officials who are associated with these techniques from the former vice President on down, making extravagant claims that they protected the country.

But when you ask them for evidence, they say, "I'm sorry, that's at a high level of classification." This allows them to argue repeatedly that these things were necessary. And further, that President Obama, in renouncing these techniques, has left the country vulnerable.

So this is very much a current political debate. It's not simply about what was done and what we've now renounced. It's about keeping the country safe right now. It's at the heart of our politics of national security.

COOPER: David, an op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal by a former CIA Director, Michael Hayden, and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey said, that the release of the opinions was quote, "unsound" and quote, "Its effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of incrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past and that we came sorely to regret on September 11th 2001."

Do you buy that?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I don't and I don't think there's any evidence to support that. But Anderson, I want to say a couple of things. This was a very, very set of close calls for President Obama.

David Axelrod today said the President, is in the White House, a political adviser to the President, said it took President Obama about a month to sort this out. And he clearly had conflicting views.

So I think these are close calls. I think he felt, all evidence supports the idea, that he felt it was more important to publish than to not publish to help clear the United States' name, to help restore America's respect within the world.

At the same time, he made a very, very calibrated decision; we're not going to prosecute those people in the CIA who undertook this. And I think he showed some respect for the argument that Mr. Hayden and Mr. Mukasey made today in The Wall Street Journal.

That, in fact, there may have been some benefit to the United States from these interrogation techniques. And very importantly, when we sort of take this broad brush and sort of paint this as sort of villainous, that, in fact, the number of people who were interrogated with these harsh and, I think, torturous techniques was fairly limited.

It was of the thousands of people who were captured it was about some 30 or 35 whom these techniques were used. And they make the argument -- and I don't know why we should question them -- that about half of what we know about Al Qaeda came out of those interrogation techniques.

COOPER: Well, Mark, let me ask you about that. Because I think I've read a figure about 65,000 people were rounded up at one time or another in Iraq or in Afghanistan.

It seems that in the light of day, a lot of the people who were rounded up were just kind of -- there wasn't much investigation done. They were handed over by Northern Alliance troops or others in the case in Afghanistan. And a bunch of people ended up getting killed in U.S. custody.

Do we know how many people died in U.S. custody? I've read reports of more than 100 or about 100 or maybe about a quarter of those were being investigated as actual homicides.

DANNER: I think the rough figure is slightly more than 100 and 30, 29 or 30 were actually investigated as homicides. I think you're quite right, that the interrogation -- the general interrogation program after 9/11 was a complete disaster.

And it worked against what was supposed to be its ultimate goal, which is finding intelligence that would help protect the country.

I have to take strong issue with what David Gergen said a moment ago, that President Obama, in making public these documents, in some way nodded toward the argument that these techniques were helpful to national security.

I should point out that on his first full day in office he signed executive orders renouncing in the strongest terms the use of these techniques. He closed the black sites. He declared that he would close Guantanamo.

This is very odd behavior for a newly-elected President who is trying to protect the country and who believes that torture, according to David Gergen, is useful. He clearly doesn't believe that.

I understand that there were politics within the administration. Obviously the CIA now is his CIA. He can't go around denouncing it. Nonetheless, he made these memos public, and these memos confirm, in minute terms, what the International Committee of the Red Cross report told us when it was made public a couple of weeks ago.

American citizens can look at the memos. They can look at the ICRC report on the New York Review Web site. They can see for themselves what was done. This in effect, these memos came out of the Justice Department. They confirm, in detail, what exactly was done, the torture that was applied.

And I have to make one other point. David Gergen and I are both old enough to remember the Church Committee. What we have here is a haunting, in a sense, from the Church Committee. The Church Committee made deniability impossible. It made it necessary for the President actually to sign findings for covert action.

When President Bush came to the CIA after 9/11 and said we want to use these harsh techniques, the CIA, remembering the Church Committee of the '70s, said you know what? If you want us to do this, you're going to have to make it legal. We need a document that will show us it's legal.

And we are now at that point. We're looking at legal documents that purport to make what is plainly illegal legal. And they make -- supposedly make legal activities carried out over years...


DANNER: ...that plainly were illegal. And this is the new deniability, and something has to be done about it, I'm afraid.

COOPER: We're out of time, but I wanted David, the chance to respond -- David?

GERGEN: Well, I just want to say briefly, I think Mark Danner made a useful correction. I think I went too far in saying that somehow President Obama directly approved or said that yes, this was useful.

I do think, though, that when the former director of the CIA and the former head of the FBI say we got some helpful information out of this, it -- it underscores Obama's -- President Obama's restraint and how he has treated this. He's been very careful about it, and very importantly, he said we're not going to prosecute people who are going to -- who acted in the CIA according to these rules.

And I also think, Anderson, there's a temptation here to sort of lump Abu Ghraib, which was clear violations of the rules by a lot of other people with these more limited CIA techniques.

I just think that the conversations in this area have gotten so broad brush that it sort of paints a sort of villainous picture of the agency which I don't think -- I don't think is really fair to a lot of the people who were trying very hard, as Mark Danner himself said, to figure out what was legal in these very, very difficult circumstances.

DANNER: It's now -- I must say that what is described in these memos and in the Red Cross report is worse than Abu Ghraib because it was...

COOPER: And it does seem that there was movement between what happened in Bagram to then what happened at Abu Ghraib and also what happened at Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib. And they do seem to have some similarities, no?

DANNER: Absolutely.


DANNER: There's no question about that.


DANNER: We have a full record of it. People should read what was done.


DANNER: I think what was done in these reports as described was worse because high officials signed off on it.

COOPER: We've got to go. But Mark Danner has written extensively about this great article in The New York Review, books, you should read. David Gergen, thank you as well.

And also if you'd like to know more about Mark's take on what, if anything, the U.S. gained by these things like water boarding and the like, you can find it by going to

Mark Danner and David Gergen on "Anderson Cooper 360"

Return to the Speaking Page

© 2021 Mark Danner