Flashback: DOJ Official Undertook Waterboarding, Thought It Was Torture, And Got Fired

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

From ABC News:

A senior Justice Department official, charged with reworking the administration’s legal position on torture in 2004 became so concerned about the controversial interrogation technique of waterboarding that he decided to experience it firsthand, sources told ABC News.

Daniel Levin, then acting assistant attorney general, went to a military base near Washington and underwent the procedure to inform his analysis of different interrogation techniques.

After the experience, Levin told White House officials that even though he knew he wouldn’t die, he found the experience terrifying and thought that it clearly simulated drowning.

Having experienced it firsthand, he went and wrote a memo in December 2004 — which you can read in full (PDF format) here — although the first sentence says it all:

"Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms."

He was in the process of writing a second memo, seeking to impose "tighter controls on the specific interrogation techniques."  But he never finished it:

He was forced out of the Justice Department when Gonzales became attorney general.

He was replaced with Steven Bradbury, who was more than happy to give Gonzales the legal advice he wanted (i.e., that waterboard is teh awesome and like totally legal).

Marty Lederman, who used to work at the Office of Legal Counsel ("OLC") reacts:

I have been reluctant to say such things before now, but those stubborn facts keep adding up, and . . .it’s hard to resist the simple conclusion that Gonzales and others were engaged, not only in an effort to completely distort the proper function of OLC (see generally Jack Goldsmith’s book), but also in a conspiracy to violate the Torture Act and the War Crimes Act (which at the time prohibited such conduct). When responsible, thoughtful lawyers — loyal conservative, Republican lawyers, mind you — told them that what they had approved was unlawful, they got rid of the lawyers, and hired another willing to provide alternative advice that no one could have sincerely believed (and then rewarded the lawyer who was willing to sign his name to that advice).

I’m trying to avoid hyperbole, honest. But how is this not a huge scandal? [More heated remarks removed upon calmer reflection.]

UPDATE: More on waterboarding:

This is what it has come to:

The top legal adviser within the US state department, who counsels the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, on international law, has declined to rule out the use of the interrogation technique known as waterboarding even if it were applied by foreign intelligence services on US citizens.

Let’s be clear. Until the Bush Administration, there has been NO DOUBT WHATSOEVER that waterboarding was torture and a violation of American and international law. What is the issue now? The issue is the Bush Administration authorized waterboarding. The Bush Administration committed war crimes. So now, to try and save themselves from this fact, they will accept the torture of Americans. Truly the most disgraceful Administration in history.