The same memo Bush used to wall himself off from the details of CIA torture is keeping Obama’s drone war alive.

By Marcy Wheeler
December 12, 2014

On the second day of Barack Obama’s presidency, he prohibited most forms of physical torture. On the third, a CIA drone strike he authorized killed up to 11 civilians.

Those two data points explain one of the most remarkable aspects of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summary of its report on torture and also likely point to what should be the report’s larger lesson: the purported absence of presidential leadership behind either the torture or the drone programs.

The 525-page executive summary of the Senate’s report, which was released to the public on Tuesday, Dec. 9, provides the most comprehensive description of the torture conducted as part of the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation program in support of the war on terror. (The full 6,000-page report will remain classified for decades.) The summary portrays brutal torture that was also largely counterproductive for intelligence-gathering purposes. It depicts a program so badly managed that the CIA lost count of detainees and on more than one occasion detained and tortured the wrong suspect.

But the most disturbing part of the report might not be the gruesome abuses or the gross incompetence. At least we can hope those are in the past. The biggest problem for the future that the report reveals consists of claims about the ignorance of President George W. Bush (and to a much lesser extent, Vice President Dick Cheney) about key parts of the program.

The report doesn’t describe events in which the White House is known to have been — or almost certainly was — involved in. The report states, for example, that Thailand (which the report refers to as “Detention Site Green” to obscure a widely known fact) “was the last location of a CIA detention facility known to the president or the vice president.” The report also states that the CIA first briefed Bush on interrogation techniques on April 8, 2006. “[T]he president expressed concern,” the report helpfully explains, “about the ‘image of a detainee, chained to the ceiling, clothed in a diaper, and forced to go to the bathroom on himself.’”

In other words, the report leaves the impression that Bush remained ignorant of the goriest details of the torture his administration conducted — for almost two full years after pictures from Abu Ghraib showed abuses just as graphic.

But there are places where the White House’s involvement should be included. For example, when the report discusses how John Yoo, then in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, adopted a “necessity defense” in the 2001 memos finding the torture legal, it says nothing about the role David Addington, Cheney’s counsel, played in the process. That is despite the fact that Addington testified to Congress in 2008 that he helped to put the language about the necessity defense back into the memos. The Senate’s report thus leaves out one event in which Cheney’s office is known to have been involved.

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