Broder’s other mistake

BRODER’S OTHER MISTAKE…. Yesterday, Hilzoy explained very well why it’s a mistake for David Broder to assume he knows what Bush administration critics are thinking when it comes to taking torture seriously. Sure, Broder argues, those who support the rule of law have a “plausible-sounding rationale,” but he just knows that we’re really motivated by “an unworthy desire for vengeance.” As Hilzoy asked, “[W]ho died and made David Broder Sigmund Freud?”

But before we leave David Broder’s column behind, there was one other claim that warrants some attention.

The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places — the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department — by the proper officials.

How Broder reached this conclusion is unclear — he didn’t point to any evidence of a “deliberate, and internally well-debated” process — but based on what we’ve learned, this is shockingly wrong.

Consider this jaw-dropping report that ran in the New York Times on Wednesday (presumably before Broder’s deadline).

The program began with Central Intelligence Agency leaders in the grip of an alluring idea: They could get tough in terrorist interrogations without risking legal trouble by adopting a set of methods used on Americans during military training. How could that be torture?

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

These policies weren’t the result of a “deliberate” and “internally well-debated” process, they were thrown together, without any thought to the techniques’ history or even effectiveness. “Internally well-debated” makes it sound as if there a spirited discussion among administration officials. There wasn’t — as was too often the case in the Bush administration, decisions were made without dissenting voices.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective.

A former C.I.A. official told the NYT the process was “a perfect storm of ignorance and enthusiasm.”

If Broder thinks this in any way resembles a “deliberate, and internally well-debated” process, he would do well to reference a dictionary.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.