[News] Ugly Questions for General Myers

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu May 14 10:59:22 EDT 2009


May 14, 2009

See No Evil

Ugly Questions for General Myers


Tuesday evening offered an unusual opportunity to 
question the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs 
of Staff (2001-2005), Air Force Gen. Richard 
Myers, at an alumni club dinner. He was eager to 
talk about his just-published memoir, 
on the Horizon (and I was able to scan through a 
copy during the cocktail hour).

Myers’s presentation, like his book, was thin 
gruel. After his brief talk, he seemed intent on 
filibustering during a meandering Q & A session. 
He finally called on me since no other hands were 
up. Some were yawning, but it was too early to simply leave.

I introduced myself as a former Army intelligence 
officer and CIA analyst with combined service of 
almost 30 years. I thanked him for his stated 
opposition to interrogation techniques that go 
beyond “our interrogation manual”; and his 
conviction that “the Geneva Conventions were a 
fundamental part of our military culture”­both 
viewpoints emphasized in his book.

I then noted that the recently published Senate 
Armed Services Committee report, “Inquiry Into 
the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody,” 
sowed some doubt regarding the strength of his convictions.

Why, I asked, did Gen. Myers choose to go along 
in Dec. 2002 when then-Defense Secretary Donald 
Rumsfeld authorized harsh interrogation 
techniques and, earlier, in Feb. 2002, when 
President George W. Bush himself issued an 
executive order arbitrarily denying Geneva 
protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees?

I referred Gen. Myers to the Senate committee’s 
finding that he had nipped in the bud an in-depth 
legal review of interrogation techniques, when 
all interested parties were eager for an 
authoritative ruling on their lawfulness. (The 
following account borrows heavily from the Senate committee report.)

Background: The summer of 2002 brought to 
interrogators at Guantanamo fresh guidance, plus 
new techniques adopted from the Korean War 
practices of Chinese Communist interrogators who 
had extracted false confessions from captured American troops.

On Aug. 1, 2002 a memo signed by the head of the 
Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Jay 
Bybee, 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."

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 William “Jim” Haynes II (Department of 
Defense), John Rizzo (CIA), and David Addington 
(counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney), visited Guantanamo for consultations.

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, also arrived and 
gathered the Guantanamo staff together on Oct. 2, 
2002, to resolve any lingering questions 
regarding unfamiliar aggressive interrogation techniques, like waterboarding.

Fredman stressed, “The language of the 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.”

Needed: 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 waterboarding.

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 
 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.”

Ends Justify Means?

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 (now Rear Admiral) 
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 question and to begin discussing 
the legal issues to see if her office could do 
its own independent legal analysis.

See No Evil

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 [Pentagon General Counsel] 
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 “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.

Asking Myers

I asked Gen. Myers why he stopped the in-depth 
legal review. He bobbed and weaved, contending 
first that some of the Senate report was wrong.

“But you did stop the review, that is a matter of record. Why?” I asked again.

“I stopped the broad review,” Myers replied, “but 
I asked Dalton to do her personal review and keep me advised.”

(Myers had a memory lapse when Senate committee 
members asked him about stopping the review.)

I asked again why he stopped the review, but was 
shouted down by an audience not used to having 
plain folks ask direct questions of very senior officials, past or present.

I Confess: Rumsfeld Made Me Do It

Haynes told the Senate committee that “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, 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?”

As the shouting by my distinguished colleagues 
died down, I too remained standing, reminding 
myself that I had wanted to say a word about the 
Geneva Conventions, “for which you, Gen. Myers, 
express such strong support in your book.”

I waved a copy of the smoking-gun, two-page 
executive memorandum signed by George W. Bush on 
Feb. 7, 2002. That’s the one in which the 
President arbitrarily declared that Common 
Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions did not apply 
to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees, and then threw 
in obfuscatory language from lawyers Addington 
and Alberto Gonzales that such detainees would 
nonetheless be treated “humanely and, to the 
extent appropriate and consistent with military 
necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.”

I then made reference to “Conclusion 1” of the Senate committee report:

“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 waterboarding, nudity, and 
stress positions 
 were authorized for use in 
interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”

“Gen. Myers,” I asked, “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?”

“Please just read my book,” Myers said. I told 
him I already had, and proceeded to read aloud a 
couple of sentences from my copy:

“You write that you told Douglas Feith, ‘I feel 
very strongly about this. And if Rumsfeld doesn’t 
defend the Geneva Conventions, I’ll contradict him in front of the President.’

“You go on to explain very clearly, ‘I was 
legally obligated to provide the President my 
best military advice ­ not the best advice as 
approved by the Secretary of Defense.’

“So, again, what did you do after you read the 
President’s executive order of Feb. 7, 2002?”

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

In this connection, Myers included this curious passage in his book:

“By relying so heavily on just the lawyers, the 
President did not get the broader advice on these 
matters that he needed to fully consider the 
consequences of his actions. I thought it was 
critical that the nation’s leadership convey the 
right message to those engaged in the War on Terror.

“Showing respect for the Geneva Conventions was 
important to all of us in uniform. This episode 
epitomized the Secretary’s and the Chairman’s 
different statutory responsibilities to the 
President and the nation. The fact that the 
President appeared to change his previous 
decision showed that the system, however, imperfect, had worked.”

Enter Douglas Feith

Interestingly, Myers writes, “Douglas Feith 
supported my views strongly 
 noting that the 
United States had no choice but to apply the 
Geneva Conventions, because, like all treaties in 
force for the country, they bore the same weight as a federal statute.”

Myers goes on to corroborate what British 
lawyer/author Philippe Sands writes in The 
Torture Team about the apparent twinning of Feith 
and Myers on this issue. Sands says Feith 
portrayed himself and Myers as of one mind on Geneva.

Just before the President issued his Feb. 7, 2002 
executive order, Feith developed this novel line 
of reasoning: The Geneva Conventions are very 
important. The best way to defend them is by 
honoring their “incentive system,” which rewards 
soldiers who fight openly and in uniform with all 
kinds of protections if captured.

In his book, Myers notes approvingly that this is 
indeed the line Feith took with the President at 
an NSC meeting on Feb. 4, 2002, to which Feith 
had been invited, three days before President 
Bush signed the order that has now become a smoking gun.

According to Feith, the all-important corollary 
is to take care not to “promiscuously hand out 
POW status to fighters who don’t obey the rules.” 
“In other words, the best way to protect the 
Geneva Conventions is to gut them,” as Dahlia 
Lithwick of Slate put it in a commentary last July.

I suppose it could even be the case that this 
seemed persuasive to President Bush, as well. 
Which would mean that Doug Feith has at least two 
contenders for the unenviable sobriquet with 
which Gen. Tommy Franks tagged him ­ “the f---ing 
stupidest guy on the face of the earth.”

It is not really funny, of course.

Myers “Hoodwinked?”

While researching his book, Sands, a very astute 
observer, emerged from a three-hour session with 
Myers convinced that Myers did not understand the 
implications of what was being done and was 
“confused” about the decisions that were taken.

Sands writes that when he described the 
interrogation techniques introduced and stressed 
that they were not in the manual but rather 
breached U.S. military guidelines, Myers became 
increasingly hesitant and troubled. Author Sands 
concludes that Myers was “hoodwinked;” that 
“Haynes and Rumsfeld had been able to run rings around him.”

There is no doubt something to that. And the 
apparent absence of Myers from the infamous 
torture boutiques in the White House Situation 
Room, aimed at discerning which particular 
techniques might be most appropriate for which 
“high-value” detainees, tends to support an out-of-the-loop defense for Myers.

I imagine it should not be all that surprising, 
given the way general officers are promoted these 
days, that Myers’ vacuousness­cum 
deference-boarding-on-servility­could land him at 
the pinnacle of our entire military 
establishment. Certainly, nothing he said or did 
Tuesday evening would contradict Sands’ assessment regarding naïveté.

Myers still writes that he found Rumsfeld to be 
“an insightful and incisive leader.” The general 
seems to have been putty in Rumsfeld’s hands ­ 
one reason he was promoted, no doubt.

My best guess is that it is a combination of 
dullness, cowardice and careerism that accounts 
for Myers’ behavior ­ then and now. And, with 
those attributes and propensities firmly in 
place, falling in with bad companions, as Richard 
Myers did, can really do you in.

As we said our good-byes Tuesday evening, one of 
my alumni colleagues lamented my “ugly” behavior, 
although it was no more ugly than it was on May 
4, 2006, during my four-minute debate with Donald 
Rumsfeld in Atlanta. (Sadly, my encounter with 
Myers was not broadcast live on TV.)

A Plaudit From the Press

In attendance was a reporter from the Washington 
Post, but his note-taking was confined to 
computing whether he should take the Post’s 
buyout, or try to hang around for the newspaper’s 
inevitable funeral in a couple of years. (So 
don’t bother looking for a print story on the 
Myers event.) As we departed, the Post-man gave 
me what he seemed to think was the ultimate 
compliment ­ I should have been a journalist, he said.

I told him thanks just the same ­ that my 
experience has been that, unless they promise not 
to ask “ugly” questions and keep that promise, 
journalists of the Fawning Corporate Media (FCM) 
are not permitted to stay around long enough to 
qualify for a meager 401k ­ much less an eventual buyout.

At least I was consistent, retaining with such 
groups an unblemished 
record, originally set three years ago when I had 
a chance to ask an “ugly” question or two of Donald Rumsfeld.

Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst 
for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering 
Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for 
Sanity. He is a contributor to 
Crusades: Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, 
edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. 
Clair (Verso). He can be reached at: 
<mailto:rrmcgovern at aol.com>rrmcgovern at aol.com

The original version of this article appeared at Consortiumnews.com.

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