Bird-Dogging Torturers in NYC

Exclusive: As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 nears, many ex-Bush administration officials who approved torture in the “war on terror” and botched wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are back in the spotlight taking bows from appreciative audiences in tightly controlled settings. But Ray McGovern was part of a different reaction in New York City.

Ray McGovern

Back in my native New York on Thursday, I was bolstered by a scene of what I call the real New Yorkers (along with tourists and honking cab drivers) joining in a protest of the adulation bestowed on torture lawyer John Yoo at the swank University Club off Fifth Avenue.

The hoi aristoi arrived at the club quite decked out in silk ties and pricey shoes to honor Yoo, the Bush administration lawyer who drafted some of the most objectionable rationalizations for torturing detainees in the “war on terror.” (He is now a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley.)

My chatting with the hoi polloi on the street, who were supporting the protest, brought a welcome reminder that the self-important “meritocracy” of the University Club “the suits and the shoes” as we call them hardly represent New York City.

That realization also generated some helpful adrenalin for later, when I traveled over to the 92nd Street Y for a panel discussion on “9/11 a Decade Later: Lessons Learned and Future Challenges,” featuring former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and George W. Bush’s press spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The event, sponsored by the Jewish Policy Center, was moderated by neoconservative talk show host Michael Medved.

I found myself in the banal belly of the beast. To say I felt out of place would be an understatement.  My discomfort grew as Medved’s introductory remarks amounted to a rant about radical, fundamentalist, Islamist terrorists.

But those weren’t the only enemies to be feared. The event’s “ushers” threw out some folks because they were on the Jewish Policy Center’s equivalent of a “no-fly list.” They were preemptively and roughly removed before the event even got started.

I wore a new “Veterans for Peace” T-shirt (since the blood drawn when I protested at Hillary Clinton’s speech last February would not wash out of the old one). Standing in front in silent witness against Rumsfeld and his apologists on the panel got me unceremoniously thrown out after a mere two minutes. 

In coming to the Rumsfeld/Mukasey/Fleischer/Medved whitewash of the incompetence before 9/11 and then the aggressive wars and torture afterwards, I did not expect to be able to resume the four-minute impromptu debate I had lucked into with Rumsfeld on live TV on May 4, 2006, in Atlanta.

However, this discussion turned out to be so boring, with an occasional dash of disingenuousness thrown in about how “they hate our democracy,” that it was almost a relief not to have to sit, or stand, through it waiting for the off-chance to argue with Rumsfeld again.

A sympathetic policeman, when ordered to remove a young woman who stood up in protest later, commented sotto voce, “I just don’t understand how you could have sat there for as long as you did!”

No Q&A This Time

It also was no surprise that no one was permitted to come to the mike and ask a question. This time questions had to be written on index cards and thoroughly vetted before being given to the speakers. Still less of a surprise was it that the question I dutifully wrote on my index card did not make the cut. I wrote:

“Mr. Rumsfeld, why did you in November 2002 tell Joint Chiefs Chairman Richard Myers to abort the armed service-and-intelligence-wide inquiry he had ordered his chief legal counsel, Navy Captain Jane Dalton to commission into methods of interrogation to which the judge advocates general of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force had strongly objected?”

Background: After over a year of study, the Senate Armed Services Committee issued on Dec. 11, 2008, a unanimous report (“Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody”), exposing in sordid detail the circumstances surrounding Rumsfeld’s order to quash an inquiry into the legality of torture methods. (Much of the detail adduced below comes from the Senate report.)

The Senate Committee found that Rumsfeld in November 2002 had nipped in the bud an in-depth legal review of interrogation techniques at precisely at the time when all interested parties were eager for an authoritative ruling as to their lawfulness. 

Rumsfeld’s order was conveyed to Myers by William “Jim” Haynes II, then the Defense Department counsel, who told Myers to cease and desist. Assured of Navy Capt. Dalton’s cooperation (she was later promoted to Admiral) and relying on the uniformed JAGs not to break discipline by speaking out, Rumsfeld was able to stop the inquiry cold.

The summer of 2002 had brought to interrogators at Guantanamo new techniques adopted from the Korean War practices of Chinese Communist interrogators who extracted false confessions from captured American soldiers.

On Aug. 1, a memo signed by the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee (who was then John Yoo’s boss and is now a federal judge), stated that for an act to qualify as “torture”:

–“Physical pain must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.

–“Purely mental pain or suffering must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.”

In other words, Bybee was loosening the definition of torture to permit a wide range of abuses that the United States had previously regarded as torture, especially when inflicted on Americans.

During the week of Sept. 16, 2002, a group of interrogators from Guantanamo flew to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for training in the use of these SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, & Escape) techniques, which were originally designed to help downed pilots withstand the regimen of torture employed by China.

Now, SERE techniques were being “reverse engineered” and placed in the toolkit of U.S. military and CIA interrogators.

As soon as the Guantanamo interrogators returned from Fort Bragg, senior administration lawyers, including the Pentagon’s Haynes, John Rizzo (CIA), and David Addington (counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney), visited Guantanamo to underscore that the top administration lawyers were all on board.

And, just to make quite sure there was no doubt about the new license given to interrogators, Jonathan Fredman, chief counsel to CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, arrived and gathered the Guantanamo staff together on Oct. 2, 2002, to resolve any lingering questions regarding unfamiliar aggressive interrogation techniques, like the sensation of drowning induced by water-boarding.

Fredman stressed that “the language of the [torture] statutes is written vaguely.” He repeated Bybee’s Aug. 1 guidance and summed up the legalities in this way: “It is basically subject to perception. If the detainee dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

More Authoritative Guidance

Small wonder that on Oct. 11, 2002, Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander at Guantanamo, saw fit to double check with his superior, SOUTHCOM commander Gen. James Hill and request formal authorization to use aggressive interrogation techniques, including water-boarding. 

On Oct. 25, 2002, Hill forwarded the request to Gen. Myers and Secretary Rumsfeld, commenting that, while lawyers were saying the techniques could be used, “I want a legal review of it, and I want you to tell me that, policy-wise, it’s the right way to do business.”

Hill later told the Army Inspector General that he (Hill) thought the request “was important enough that there ought to be a high-level look at it [there] ought to be a major policy discussion of this and everybody ought to be involved.” Gen. Myers, in turn, solicited the views of the military services on the Dunlavey/Hill request.

The Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force all expressed serious concerns about the legality of the techniques and called for a comprehensive legal review. The Marine Corps, for example, wrote, “Several of the techniques arguably violate federal law, and would expose our service members to possible prosecution.”

The Defense Department’s Criminal Investigative Task Force (CITF) at Guantanamo joined the services in expressing grave misgivings. Reflecting the tenor of the four services’ concerns, CITF’s chief legal advisor wrote that the “legality of applying certain techniques” for which authorization was requested was “questionable.”

He added that he could not “advocate any action, interrogation or otherwise, that is predicated upon the principle that all is well if the ends justify the means and others are not aware of how we conduct our business.”

Myers’s Legal Counsel, Captain Jane Dalton, had her own concerns (and has testified that she made Gen. Myers aware of them), together with those expressed in writing by the Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. Dalton directed her staff to initiate a thorough legal and policy review of the proposed techniques.

The review got off to a quick start. As a first step, Dalton ordered a secure video teleconference including Guantanamo, SOUTHCOM, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the Army’s intelligence school at Fort Huachuca.  Dalton said she wanted to find out more information about the techniques in the request and to begin discussing the legal issues to see if her office could do its own independent legal analysis.

Under oath before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Captain Dalton testified that, after she and her staff had begun their analysis, Gen. Myers directed her in November 2002 to stop the review.

She explained that Myers returned from a meeting and “advised me that Mr. Haynes wanted me to cancel the video teleconference and to stop the review” because of concerns that “people were going to see” the Guantanamo request and the military services’ analysis of it. Haynes (i.e., Rumsfeld) “wanted to keep it much more close-hold,” Dalton said.

Dalton ordered her staff to stop the legal analysis. She testified that this was the only time that she had ever been asked to stop analyzing a request that came to her for review.

Haynes told the Senate committee, “There was a sense by DoD leadership that this decision was taking too long.”

On Nov. 27, 2002, shortly after Haynes told Myers to order Dalton to stop her review and despite the serious legal concerns of the military services Haynes sent Rumsfeld a one-page memo recommending that he approve all but three of the 18 techniques in the request from Guantanamo.

Techniques like stress positions, forced nudity, exploitation of phobias (like fear of dogs), deprivation of light, and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval.

On Dec. 2, 2002, Rumsfeld signed Haynes’s recommendation, adding a handwritten note referring to the use of stress positions: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day.  Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”

In Line with the President

Rumsfeld’s approval of these techniques, over the objections of the top legal counsels of all of the armed services, was in line with the “smoking gun” two-page executive memorandum signed by George W. Bush on Feb. 7, 2002. The Senate Committee found that Bush’s memo “opened the door” to subsequent abuse in interrogations.

In his memo, the President tried his best to square a circle. He declared that Geneva did not apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees, but that they would nonetheless be treated “humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.”

“Conclusion 1” of the Senate committee report stated:

“On Feb. 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees. 

“Following the President’s determination, techniques such as water boarding, nudity, and stress positions were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”

Much later, when Gen. Myers came to Washington to peddle his memoir, I had a chance to quiz him personally and in public on May 12, 2009.  [See’s “Impertinent Questions for Gen. Myers.”]

“Gen. Myers,” I began, “you were one of eight addressees for the President’s directive of Feb. 7, 2002. What did you do when you learned of the President’s decision to ignore Geneva?”

Myers said he had fought the good fight before the President’s decision. The sense was, if the President wanted to dismiss Geneva, what was a mere general to do?

And yet, in his book Myers claims, “Showing respect for the Geneva Conventions was important to all of us in uniform.”  Right. Myers was well chosen by Rumsfeld as a good-looking blue suit not likely to stand on principle.  None of the suits summoned the courage to speak out.

On Thursday evening, what Rumsfeld, Mukasey, Fleischer, and Medved seemed to be saying, in effect, was, “Principle. C’mon! Haven’t you heard? 9/11 changed everything.”

I can say that in preparation for attending the session, I subjected myself to a different sort of torture, reading Rumsfeld’s banal memoir on the train to New York. In case you were wondering, he apparently forgot to include in his book any mention of the Senate Armed Services Committee report on torture.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington, DC. He was an Army Infantry/Intelligence officer during the Sixties, and then served for 27 years as a CIA analyst. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

20 comments for “Bird-Dogging Torturers in NYC

  1. McNamara
    September 16, 2011 at 20:58

    Joseph Mitchener is absolutely right. Every time one of my Italian relatives tries to remind me that, “At least Mussolini made the trains run on time”, I offer them a copy of Dennis Mack Smith’s book. As he points out, Mussolini was an incompetent buffoon, (Buffone, in Italian), and all of the beneficial programs he took credit for were initiated by Socialists before he came into power. So now, we have Rick Perry and his minions who will repeat the same strategy. The problem is, they may attack Social Security instead of the Mafia. If Mussolini accomplished anything, it was the “Codice Rocco”, which amounted to mandatory sentencing for tax evaders. Anybody who couldn’t prove how they, “Got so rich”, was a target. His favorite line was, Sanno capire solo le mazzelle”, or, “They only understand a billy-stick”. Beating people half to death with clubs was Mussolini’s favorite pass-time, and his supporters did it on a regular basis.

  2. September 15, 2011 at 08:57

    When asked to define”Fascism” Mussolini said, “Fascism is merely a ‘corporate’ state.” A state . . run like a corporation. The rich (the shareholders) select a board (our congressmen) which then selects a president. The president then directs the corporation (the state) through a hierarchy of subordinates. Thus my rhyme: Who would have thought/ that fascist scum/ our fathers fought/ we’d become?

  3. tedbohne
    September 12, 2011 at 11:19

    it’s interesting to hear all these mea culpas about what americans “don’t do.” the US committed terrorist acts in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and etc. This country is the leading purveyor of terrorism on earth followed closely by Israel. So far NO EVIDENCE SUPPORTING AN ATTACK BY OSAMA BIN LADEN OR TWENTY HIJACKERS exists ANYWHERE. you have the words of established liars such as George bush and his dick, Cheney and the rest of the Bush Family Cartel. for Krissakes, stop this odoriferous belching of useless platitudes, and outright lies.

  4. September 11, 2011 at 10:10

    Pity, Mr McGovern, that you found it necessary to repeat the frequently published statement about «Korean War practices of Chinese Communist interrogators», which never detail just wherein these practices consist. As in the case of the so-called «Chinese water torture», said to have been devised by the 15th century Italian lawyer Hippolytus de Marsiliis and which had nothing to do with China, the attribution of the «practices» you mention to the Chinese seems to have no purpose other than making readers feel that they are really very, very bad indeed – as if they required any intensification – and that the ultimate responsibility lies not with the torturers and with those who order /permitted them to torture, but with those dastardly Chinese – if they hadn’t devised these paractices, then «our boys» (and girls) would never have come up with them on their own. Dodgy reasoning – waterboarding, for example, dates at least back to the early days of the Spanish Inquisition – and anyone familiar with the history of DARPA contracts knows that in addition to funding research on ever more effective ways to kill people, the agency has funded investigations into interrogation methods. Please do keep on bird-dogging such torturers and enablers of torture as Messrs, Yoo, Rumsfeld, and Fleischer, but please live the Chinese out of it – they are not relevant here….


    • roednielsen
      September 11, 2011 at 10:48

      Actually, Mr McGovern is correct in his mention of “Chinese interrogators” (and the only reference to “Chinese water torture” was made by Mr Day – not by Mr McGovern).

      It is well known and documented that Chinese interrogators worked diligently to extract false confessions from prisoners during Korean War. Interrogation methods used at Guantánamo by Rumsfeld and his minions were derived from a study of the Chinese methods used in Korea. The Bush administrations major “enhancement” to the Chinese methods consisted of a professed belief, that “true confessions”, as opposed to false ones, could be obtained by such illegal means.

      I do think, we could more effectively sever the Chinese connection by referring to these methods as “the Rumsfeld Cure”. The “Rumsfeld Cure” sounds more scientific. Any better ideas?

  5. roednielsen
    September 10, 2011 at 16:26

    For some reason, as I read about Gen. Myers, I remembered the “Saturday Night Massacre”, when Archibald Cox was fired.

    Archibald Cox was the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate incident. Eventually, his investigations caused Nixon to order his Attorney General, Elliot Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson resigned rather than complying with the President’s order. Next, the Deputy Attorney General, William Ruckelshaus was ordered to fire Cox. Ruckelshaus also took the honorable approach and resigned. Third man in the DOJ was Robert Bork, who complied with Nixon’s request and fired Cox.

    As a result, the nation gained two heroes and one scoundrel. Two out of three is not a bad ratio. Unfortunately, Bush encountered only scoundrels. Imagine what Myers reputation would have been today, had he chosen an honorable plan of action?

    • John Lewis
      September 10, 2011 at 19:08

      You hit the nail right. Should Myers given his resignation, he would have lost his job but an immense respect from the entire population and this is a lot more important than a general’s job… One can love his country but doesn’t have to stand for the parasites that happen to govern it…

  6. rosemerry
    September 10, 2011 at 15:57

    Immediate blame for 9/11 was laid on AlQaida, and from then on anyone even vaguely related to Islam was fair game. How can larry, or others, often so-called Christians, think that is right? Read Noor Elashi’s accounts of her US father facing 65 years prison for “support of terrorism” because of humanitarian (real!!) aid to Palestinians,including a group later placed on the US terror list.

    Ray, I am grateful for your contributions to knowledge, and pleased to hear from “doc” as well.

  7. larry
    September 10, 2011 at 08:26

    Has eveyone forgotten the terrorist do not represent a country? They do not deserve nor should they get the same protections.

    • Bill
      September 10, 2011 at 15:18

      Since when are human rights based on national borders?
      Thanking you sincerely for your activism, Mr. McGovern. These traitors should be bird-dogged wherever they go.

    • Howard Bleicher
      September 10, 2011 at 15:55

      If it is significant and somehow meaningful, to you, that since terrorists do not represent a country and therefore human morality can be set aside in their treatment, then Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Yoo, who definitely do represent a country, have in their criminal, inhuman torturing, represented all individual Americans, including you and me! One of the glaring drawbacks of a representative government.

      Along with the torture, this country has soullessly murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children. They, we, have destroyed the infrastructure of two sovereign nations, forced millions of families to relocate, caused the death of thousands of lied to American military and to this day are continuing to bomb at least three other sovereign nations.
      We have become a country without a soul and the harbinger of a willful murdering plague on this planet.

      Pardon me for the longish sentences, but it is difficult to singularly list the nefarious acts of the good old USA.

    • September 10, 2011 at 16:03

      Well Said, Larry…. Therefore NO COUNTRY Should EVER be Occupied nor Attacked in response to a terrorist attack. Bravo! Thank You!

    • Mr Sokitumi
      September 11, 2011 at 23:50

      Na they just get a job raiding libya for its gold and a nice little country and a few oil wells )o,,, And dont even get me started last year we make the largest weapons deal selling american weapons to Saudi Arabia who happens to be the home of most of the so called terrorists )o,,,9/11 Truth Beware of the false flag oil nazis of the New World Order,,,o(

      • Mr Sokitumi
        September 11, 2011 at 23:52

        BTW that was the largest known weapons deal in world history)o,,,

  8. McNamara
    September 9, 2011 at 19:42

    An Ex-Navy “Doc” on torture:

    I was a “Green Side” Navy Officer. Before we slumped into these despicable outrages against humanity, I did two tours with The Marines, our premier fighting force. Back in those days, if you wanted to make a career of the Navy, you had to get a, “Warfare Specialty”. I love my country, and the quickest way I could get that was to earn the, “Fleet Marine Force” ribbon. Basically, you just had to be willing to crawl around in the mud, shit in the woods, march fifteen miles wearing “full battle rattle” in less than six hours, pass The Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test, qualify with your weapon (In my case, a .45), and pass a written test based on a little book called, “The Basic Knowledge”.

    One of the tenets of that little book was, “Americans don’t mistreat prisoners”. I remember what was said about this philosophy. If you had ten prisoners and fifteen, “Meals Ready to Eat”, then the prisoners each got a meal, and the guards had to share the five that were left. If you had a tent that would sleep ten people, and you had ten prisoners, and it was raining, then the prisoners slept in the tent and the guards slept outside in their ponchos.

    When we finished the program, our certificates were awarded to us by a Marine Corps General. He invited us to stand at ease, and then sit and relax. He proceeded to speak, recited poetry, quoted Shakespeare, and mesmerized us with anecdotes about the fundamental truths of our American Heritage. What shocked me was the realization that no university professor had ever captivated my attention or inspired my sense of duty with such a self-evident depiction of righteousness, morality or justice.

    When the atrocities of 9/11 occurred, I can’t honestly say I could have resisted the temptation to seek retribution. I was born in New York. I could have easily fallen into the temptation to seek revenge. But revenge is not what I was taught by our military. Based on my military training, I don’t know how we slipped so easily into this moral quagmire.

    Ray, Godspeed.

    • ray
      September 10, 2011 at 02:36

      Your comments much appreciated, doc. sincere thanks. let’s stay in touch. I had similar experiences at Fort Benning and Fort Holabird in the Sixties.

      best, ray

      • McNamara
        September 11, 2011 at 03:56


        I still wonder, how do you remain so calm? I hope I can do justice, maybe only phonetically, to the wisdom of some of my ethnic relatives: “La calma e la virtu dei forti.” It means, “Calmness, (or, self control), is the virtue of the strong.” I have never mastered that skill. That is why some of my ethnic relatives went to such lengths to insure that I was aware of the concept.

        How far does it have to go before you say something? I’m not sure that, “Biting one’s tongue” is actually a sign of strength. My children are their nieces, nephews and grandchildren. I understand why they say that. I am afraid. But if it keeps going like this, what will be left of America for my children?


    • Nick Lento
      September 10, 2011 at 20:20

      “Doc” Your story exemplifies all that was/is good about America…I pray that that kind of courage, intelligence, patriotism and common human decency is still to be found in our armed forces and in our elected/appointed officials/leaders.

      The day that stories like your and the policies/values they represent can no longer be found is the day America will have lost its soul. Thanks to folks like Ray I remain hopeful that someday we *shall* overcome and morality and justice shall become the prevalent rule in US domestic and foreign policy.

    • Armando A. Gomez
      September 16, 2011 at 03:16

      But revenge is not what I was taught by our military. Based on my military training, I don’t know how we slipped so easily into this moral quagmire.

      But what is not taught (up to the last minute), Doc, is that a veteran should hit back—-hard. If you study your history—-the true history of this nation—-you’ll understand your confusion more easily. Since the Vietnam War, and further back, atrocities and torture where common place of occurrences. Death and pain coincided like human breath. From the Central American bloodbath in the 1980s to the Iraq War, the innocents were the first to get, families, women and children. To the US military, when its demanded, veterans, such as you, were obligated to follow orders to shoot, kill, or torture without question; for the sake of our nation. For example: the US used white phosphorus in a town in Iraq. It burnt and killed hundreds, regardless of age and sex. It’s a weapon banned by the UN—with the cooperation of the US. Yet, we still used it. In Israel’s “war” with Gaza in 2008, white phosphorus was also use on women and children—-and the US stood by and did nothing. And it was the US who sold the white phosphorus to Israel. Mass killing and torture has been around for generations, yet we’re are lied to everyday that America don’t stoop to such bestiality. This lie existed forever and you have become a victim of it, as among thousands of veterans. The mainstream media lied, our history lied, older veterans (through omission) lied. Anyone, who is over 50 years older who hasn’t mention these atrocities to you, lied to you. It is the very essence of why try its best to inform and educate the general public about the miss-steps of power and the consequences and tragedy it leaves in its wake.
      Armando Gomez

      • McNamara
        September 16, 2011 at 20:22

        Armando, thanks for your reply. I am an old guy too, and I wish I wasn’t too tired to respond more intelligently. Actually, I am surprised my comments got any responses at all. My father and all four of my uncles were WWII and Korea Veterans. None of them were angels, (well, maybe a few of them are now, because they are all dead), but I can’t imagine any of them thinking that any of this makes any sense. We are only on this Earth for a short time, and our legacy should be that our children don’t suffer what we suffered. All of this has gone before, and we haven’t learned our lessons. We are not just repeating the mistakes,and we seem to be celebrating and glorifying them. Godspeed-

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