September 28, 2008
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently became the first Bush administration official to admit that high-level discussions of the use of torture had taken place in 2002 and 2003.
According to a written statement provided to the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month and released on Wednesday by committee chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), officials were told that waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation measures” routinely used in a survival training program for US soldiers would not cause “significant” harm if used on prisoners.
Rice’s statement is the first acknowledgment of those meetings by any of the officials involved. Rice did not name the other officials who were present, but reports last spring based on anonymous sources mentioned Vice President Dick Cheney, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow called the release of Rice’s statement “a soul of the nation story,” noting that torture violates the Geneva Conventions and is a criminal act under the US War Crimes Act of 1996. She emphasized that “we just can’t get this issue behind us,” even with the Bush administration on its way out of office, because “issues like this, like torture, still define who we are as a country. It’s still unfinished business.”
Maddow was then joined by Alex Gibney, the director of the Oscar-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, an examination of the US use of torture against suspected terrorists.
Gibney agreed that “I don’t think it’s over at all. … What’s not over is how we reckon with the past. We can’t go forward and capture our kind of moral reputation if we don’t reckon with the past and what we’ve done.”
“Should policy-makers be prosecuted?” Maddow asked. “Could they be?”
“They could be if politicians had the will to do so,” Gibney replied. “I think, at the very least, a truth commission with subpoena power would be something valuable. … This is not a case of a few bad apples. This is a rotten barrel. And the rotten barrel is the civilian administration.”
Gibney explained that in the course of making his film, “I had to interview a number of the guards and interrogators. … I didn’t come into it with much sympathy for them. I ended up having a great deal of sympathy for them. They were scapegoats for a policy that was coming on down from on high.”
Gibney said he has also wondered why torture keeps being used when it is known to produce unreliable information. “I fear that the answer is because they were always getting back the information that they wanted to hear,” he concluded. “And that is what torture delivers.”