The CFR Debates Torture, Part 1


issing from the ongoing public
debate over war and the torture and abuse of detainees by the CIA
and U.S. military is the extent to which the debaters on both sides
are all members of only one very influential ruling class organization,
the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). Their ongoing discussion
reflects this organization’s ability to frame public debate
and the passage of laws. The debate also highlights the divisions
within the CFR and the larger U.S. ruling class over imperial strategy
and tactics as the U.S. tries to subdue Iraqi resistance and maintain
control of its neoliberal empire. 

The New York-based CFR is the oldest, largest, and most powerful
of U.S. ruling class think tanks. It is much more than a think tank,
however, since it is also an organization with over 4,200 members,
each one prominent in a key sector of U.S. life. The CFR also publishes

Foreign Affairs

magazine, which, according to a recent survey,
is the nation’s “most influential” media outlet,
ahead of all other newspapers, magazines, and broadcast media. 

The largest single group in the CFR is the corporate business community,
which makes up 31 percent of the CFR membership, with the academic
community in second place with 25 percent. The balance of CFR members
are employed in the nonprofit sector, government, law, and journalism.
The business community is also the source of most of CFR’s
financial support, with hundreds of top U.S. corporations giving
them from $15,000 to $50,000 every year. Among corporations who
gave at least $25,000 during the 2004-2005 year were Exxon Mobil,
ConocoPhillips, BP plc, Amerada Hess, Chevron, Halliburton-KBR,
Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Shell Oil, Kuwait Petroleum,
Schlumberger Limited, and Aramco Services. 

In terms of membership, the densest network of corporate ties to
CFR are from the New York multinational corporate community. The
CFR has also always had a close relationship with key federal government
departments. Noteworthy for the purposes of an understanding of
torture and abuse by the U.S. government is the close long-term
ties between CFR and the CIA, along with extensive ties to the U.S.
military. The CFR has had at least 14 CIA directors among its members,
along with many other top CIA and intelligence leaders. A review
of CFR membership lists finds that at least 20 current U.S. generals
and admirals are also members of the Council. 

Viewed in ideological terms, there are four key groups among the
CFR membership. The small “left” side of the political
spectrum is made up mainly of liberal Democrats, along with a few
scholars and activists. These include people like civil rights leader
Jessie Jackson,


magazine editor Katrina vanden Heuvel,
Richard J. Barnet of the Institute for Policy Studies, ACLU President
Nadine Strossen, former Senator George S. McGovern, U.S. head of
Amnesty International William Schulz, author/activist Daniel Ellsberg,
and Princeton University Professor Richard A. Falk. 

Moving to the right is what could be called “middle of the
road” imperialists. These are people who play important roles
in both the Democratic Party and the CFR, people like former Presidents
Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton; current and former Senators John
Kerry, Christopher J. Dodd, Joseph I. Lieberman, Bob Graham, Sam
Nunn, Gary Hart, John D. Rockefeller, Evan Bayh, and Diane Feinstein;
AFL-CIO head John J. Sweeney; Robert E. Rubin of Citicorp; international
businessperson George Soros; former Secretary of State Madeleine
K. Albright; Zbigniew Brzezinski of the Center for Strategic and
International Studies; Laura d’Andrea Tyson of Morgan Stanley
and the Brookings Institution; and many others.

Moving further to the right is another key membership group, best
labeled the conservative Republican imperialists. Much of the CFR’s
top leadership, past and present, fits into this category. Examples
include corporate leaders David Rockefeller, Peter G. Peterson,
Maurice R. Greenberg, and Carla A. Hills. Also part of this group
are current and former Senators Chuck Hagel, Bill Frist, John McCain,
John Warner, Olympia Snowe, Alfonse M. D’Amato, Warren Rudman,
and William S. Cohen, as well as former Presidents Gerald R. Ford
and George H.W. Bush (a former CFR member and director, but no longer
listed as a member), and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger,
Alexander M. Haig Jr., Colin L. Powell, and George P. Shultz. 

At the far right end of the CFR political spectrum is a large group
of so-called “neo-conservatives.” These are ultra-imperialists
whose extremist ideological/political approach includes unilateral
preventative war, disdain for human rights, use of enemies/scapegoats
as a unifying cause, obsession with national security, favoring
corporate control of society, racism, super-nationalism, extreme
militarism, disregard for the rule of law, suppression of labor
unions, promotion of fraudulent elections, and rampant cronyism/corruption.
Council members who fit into this category include Vice President
Dick Cheney and his former chief assistant I. Lewis Libby; former
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz; former Undersecretary
of Defense Douglas J. Feith; former Defense Policy Board chair Richard
Perle; former Congresspeople Vin Weber and Newton L. Gingrich; State
Department officials Elliott Abrams and John Bolton; right-wing
organizer Grover G. Norquist; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice;
author Norman Podhoretz; and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.
All of these, except Rice, Feith, Perle, Bolton, Gingrich and Norquist,
are also founding members of the super-imperialist group Project
for a New American Century. 

Given its right leaning, but politically divided membership, an
ongoing central goal of the CFR is to develop a bipartisan consensus
on the key foreign policy issues of the day, especially bringing
together the rightwing and middle sectors of the U.S. political
spectrum. It also deals with questions of the balance of power between
states and the key role of certain “linchpin” nations
in that balance. Geopolitical economics has been the CFR’s
dominant worldview at least since World War II. 

The U.S. War in Iraq 


raq, with its large proven
oil reserves and even larger potential, but as yet undeveloped reserves,
had been on the radar of the geopolitical economic planners of CFR
for many years. This attention came to a climax with two studies
in 2001. During that year the CFR co-sponsored an Independent Task
Force on Strategic Energy Policy Challenges for the 21st Century
with the James A. Baker III Institute of Public Policy at Rice University
in Texas. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III is a long-time
CFR member and is also personally and politically close to the Bush
family. Fifty-one task force members, many of them connected to
the oil industry, signed the report, which reached a consensus on
a number of questions. The first general conclusion was that “a
new era of energy scarcity” was upon the world, with “supply
constraints” now “…presenting fundamental obstacles
to continued economic growth and prosperity.” The primary cause
of this, in turn, was seen as “persistent under investment
juxtaposed with strong economic and oil demand growth.” This
applied especially to the Middle East-Persian Gulf region, where
the bulk of the world’s oil resources is concentrated, making
it the only place with meaningful spare capacity to solve a looming
and serious shortfall: “If political factors were to block
the development of new oil fields in the Middle East, the ramifications
for world oil markets could be quite severe.” At the same time,
United States energy independence is unattainable because it “faces
a steep decline rate in its domestic oil fields…” 

second conclusion was U.S. and world vulnerability to the actions
of Iraq, which the Task Force pointed out was now one of the world’s
key “swing” producers. In the words of the report: “The
resulting tight markets have increased U.S. and global vulnerability
to disruption and provided adversaries undue potential influence
over the price of oil. Iraq has become a key ‘swing’ producer,
posing a difficult situation for the U.S. government.” Furthermore,
Iraq’s policies were seen as one of three key “drivers”
(together with OPEC policy and the Arab-Israeli conflict) pushing
prices upward. Iraq turns its oil tap “on and off when it has
felt such action was in its strategic interest” and is trying
to “stir up anti-American sentiment inside and outside the
Middle East.” This in turn meant that “the United States
should conduct an immediate policy review toward Iraq, including
military, energy, economic, and political/diplomatic assessments.” 

Finally, the CFR/Baker Institute group concluded that the U.S. government
should create a permanent “interagency process to articulate
and promote energy security policy with overall economic, environmental
and foreign policy,” noting that “the Bush Administration
has moved rapidly in this direction through the creation of the
White House Energy Policy Development Group headed by Vice President
Dick Cheney.” 

Cheney had long seen the Persian Gulf region as the key to world
power. In 1990 he stated that whoever controlled this region of
the world was “in a position to dictate the future of worldwide
energy policy…[and would have] a stranglehold on our economy
and on that of most of the other nations of the world as well.”
The Cheney energy policy group followed up on the CFR/Baker Institute
study, including in their work consultation with representatives
of major oil companies such as ExxonMobil, Conoco, British Petroleum
America, Chevron, and Shell Oil. Cheney’s secretive group evidently
agreed with the CFR/Baker Institute that Iraqi oil was central to
the strategic energy needs of the U.S. 

While the complete documentary record of its work is classified
and unavailable, Freedom of Information requests and a court case
did result in the release of some edited documents from the Cheney
energy policy group. One of these was a map of Iraq showing lease
areas where oil drilling was planned. Another consisted of a list
of 40 oil companies from 30 nations who were slated to get permission
to drill for oil in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The problem for
the U.S. and Britain was that their oil companies were absent from
this list of those who were to get concessions, and Iraq was second
only to Saudi Arabia in proven oil reserves, with the possibility
of much more petroleum in the largely unexplored western part of
the country. The U.S. and UK would thus be frozen out of what was
clearly one of the greatest material prizes in world history. 

the 9/11 attacks, Bush and other Administration leaders were mainly
interested in finding a way to blame Saddam and conquer Iraq, as
then Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill and others later
reported. During 2002 the CFR contributed to the push toward war
by publishing a book called

Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading

by CFR Senior Fellow Kenneth Pollack. At about the same
time, a

Washington Post

article (September 15, 2002) summed
up much about the war’s origins in a single sentence: “A
U.S.-led ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein could open a bonanza
for U.S. oil companies long banished from Iraq, scuttling oil deals
between Baghdad and Russia, France and other countries, and reshuffling
world petroleum markets, according to industry officials and the
Iraqi opposition.” Such a “reshuffling” through a
U.S. opening of the Iraqi oil spigot would give Washington enormous
leverage over the world oil market, driving down prices and perhaps
even destroying OPEC through overcapacity and price wars. Control
of Iraq would also give the U.S. immense power over the larger Middle
East and the oil that China, Europe, and Japan depend on for their
long term survival as industrial powers. 

In 2003, a few months after taking over Iraq, Bush issued Presidential
Executive Order 13303, which attempted to provide legal cover for
U.S. corporations to loot Iraqi oil without consequences. This order
states that the possibility of future legal claims on Iraq’s
oil wealth is “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national
security and foreign policy of the United States,” adding that
“any judicial process is prohibited, and shall be deemed null
and void” with regard to any commercial operation conducted
by U.S. corporations involved in the Iraqi oil industry. Thomas
Devine, legal director of the Governmental Accountability Project,
condemned Bush’s directive, arguing that it “cancels the
concept of corporate accountability and abandons the rule of law”
and is “a license for corporations to loot Iraq and its citizens.”
Also during 2003, and within a few months of his installation as
the U.S. dictator of Iraq, CFR member L. Paul Bremer III issued
his infamous Order 39, which privatized 200 Iraqi state companies
and decreed that foreign firms can retain 100 percent ownership
of Iraqi banks, mines, and factories and allowed these firms to
send 100 percent of their profits out of Iraq. Bremer said his goal,
irrespective of the wishes of the Iraqi people, was to change a
“centrally planned economy to a market economy.” 

Bush declared in a 2005 address to the CFR, “Iraq’s a
nation with the potential for tremendous prosperity…they have
among the largest oil resources in the world,” adding that
“liberating” and “reconstructing” Iraq would
serve as a starting point for establishing a “U.S.-Middle East
free-trade area” including 22 nations and based on the “free
market system.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld underscored that
the U.S. occupying authority would adopt policies that “favor
market systems” conducive to foreign investment, control, and
exploitation, again irrespective of the needs of the Iraqi people.
First, due to the high unemployment created by the switch to a “free
market” system (estimates of unemployment and underemployment
range from 26 percent to over 70 percent), the people of Iraq now
have trouble getting enough food. Second, CNN reported in May 2005
that there was “widespread poverty” in Iraq and 43 percent
of Iraqi children aged 6 months to 5 years “…suffer from
some form of malnutrition.” Third, common crime of all kinds
is rampant in Iraq, making the country insecure for everyone, but
especially for women and children. 

Working  the “Dark Side” 


n February 15, 2002 Vice
President Dick Cheney traveled to New York to speak at the opening
of CFR’s new Geoeconomic Center. Cheney argued that terror
cells existed in 60 nations and vast military spending and actions
would be required to defeat them. Cheney also pointed out the importance
of a “multifaceted approach” to the problem: “…some
of it will be visible and public, as when we went into Afghanistan
to take out the Taliban, other aspects of it may never see the light
of day, probably shouldn’t. You’re clearly going to have
to deal in the shadows…” Using slightly different words,
Cheney stated a few months earlier that in dealing with terrorism,
“We have to work…the dark side.” 

Cheney’s references to dealing “in the shadows” and
working the “dark side” reflected the fact that less than
a week after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush gave the CIA wide
ranging authorization to kill, capture, kidnap, imprison, interrogate,
and torture suspected Al-Qaeda members in secret “black site”
prisons around the world. Bush also authorized “extraordinary
rendition,” the kidnapping and transportation of suspects to
countries with records of using torture. The CIA, under the leadership
of CFR member George Tenet, implemented the use of black sites,
extraordinary rendition, interrogation, and torture of detainees
at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in Afghanistan,
and other locations. Because these actions lacked due process and
kidnapping and torture were involved, they were illegal under U.S.
and international law, as well as the laws of some cooperating nations.
Lawyers on Cheney’s staff and from the Justice Department were
therefore given the task of redefining the law. After much effort
they bent the accepted legal definition of torture and “cruel
and inhumane or degrading treatment” to include only those
interrogation techniques that deliberately resulted in severe harm
to a bodily organ or death. This definition allowed massive torture
and was very different than that accepted by other legal experts
and the United Nations. These government lawyers also decided that
the Geneva Conventions governing treatment of all detainees during
any conflict—which was part of U.S. law by treaty—did
not apply to Al-Qaeda, the Taliban in Afghanistan, or to non-Iraqi
detainees in Iraq. 

Two of the top Justice Department lawyers working on these issues
were CFR members John C. Yoo, now a professor of law at the University
of California’s Boalt Hall law school, and Jack L. Goldsmith
III, now a professor at Harvard Law School. Goldsmith reportedly
worked on the inapplicability of the Geneva Conventions and Yoo
wrote the legal opinion that redefined the law to justify what was,
in reality, torture. During the same period, Yoo wrote the “classified
legal opinion” justifying unchecked presidential power to engage
in domestic spying without a court order, which amounted to executive
authorization of criminal activity. 

Defenders of torture, such as Yoo and neo-fascist/neo-conservative
commentator Max Boot, a CFR senior fellow who writes for the

Angeles Times

, have excused torture with various arguments.
Boot, in a January 2005

LA Times

article entitled “Necessary
Roughness,” denied that extensive abuse occurred, arguing that
it was limited to “a few renegade guards at one prison,”
and then defended the use of torture like waterboarding when he
wrote, “legions of critics are condemning one of the successful
steps taken to prevent another 9/11—the aggressive interrogation
of captured terrorists.” 

An Epidemic of Torture and Abuse 


n a recent comparison of
the Vietnam and Iraq wars, James Lindsey, CFR’s vice president
and director of studies, captured the essence of why the U.S. ruling
class wants to stay in Iraq: “It was always hard to sustain
the argument that if the United States withdrew from Vietnam there
would be immense geopolitical consequences. As we look at Iraq,
its a very different issue. It’s a country in one of the volatile
parts of the world, which has a very precious resource that modern
economies rely on, namely oil…” CFR President Richard N.
Haass added that in invading Iraq, U.S. leaders wanted to send a
message to the world that “geopolitical momentum” was
moving in their favor. The problem is that, as shown in both polls
and actions, the vast majority of the Iraqi people do not want the
U.S. occupying their country. A recent

Washington Post

put the figure wanting U.S. troops out at over 80 percent. Since
ruling by consent appears to be impossible, ruling by fear, intimidation,
and punishment is the only route open to the U.S. The by-now routine
epidemic of violence, torture, and abuse perpetrated by Washington
on the people of Iraq develops out of the logic of this situation.
Added to it is the anger of U.S. troops at having to be in Iraq
and having friends killed or injured. Ignored is the fact that the
International Red Cross has estimated that 70 to 90 percent of the
tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been detained by the U.S. have
been arrested by mistake and are completely innocent. The total
detained may be as high as 75,000. As of November 1, 2005 almost
14,000 were still being held illegally, without any due process.
Despite their innocence, many are nevertheless abused, tortured,
and even murdered by the CIA and U.S. soldiers, fueling the resistance.

abuse, torture, and murder at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
(“Gitmo”) have been most reported on, but what is most
revealing about both locations and the “Salt Pit” U.S.
torture center in Afghanistan is the central role of the CIA in
all three places. Major General George R. Fay’s investigative
report on Abu Ghraib pointed out that the CIA was actually in charge
of interrogation/torture at that facility and that they “poisoned
the atmosphere” there. The “Salt Pit” was a CIA-run
camp and the CIA was also very active at Gitmo. Some of their techniques
caused deaths, with over 100 detainees dying in U.S. custody over
the past several years, most of them murdered by U.S. personnel.
Despite these homicides and over 400 criminal investigations of
misconduct, only a few low level U.S. soldiers have been tried,
convicted, and sentenced to prison terms. The CIA, while most responsible,
has been completely exempt from any independent investigations,
let alone any real accounting. The chilling fact is that the CIA
is entirely above the law. 

Many of these CIA torture techniques were codified much earlier
in a secret 1963 torture instruction book called

KUBARK Counterintelligence

. These torture techniques have been spread by
the CIA throughout the world over the past 40 years, resulting in
an epidemic of torture worldwide.  

A September 2005 Human Rights Watch report based on interviews with
active duty soldiers in the elite 82nd Airborne Division occupying
part of Iraq found that military commanders demanded that lower
ranking soldiers get intelligence from detainees, without giving
guidelines about what was allowed in terms of interrogation techniques.
The report found that the torture of detainees at the 82nd Airborne’s
base in Iraq (called FOB Mercury) took place almost daily from September
2003 to April 2004. It concluded that, since no full scale investigation
had taken place and no one had been punished, such torture was probably
still continuing today. Detainees captured by the 82nd were held
in tents separated from the rest of the base by concertina wire
for several days prior to being released or sent to Abu Ghraib.
In these tents detainees were tortured to get information under
the direction of officers from the military intelligence unit. 

A summary of the Human Rights Watch report, based on U.S. soldiers’
own testimony, stated that techniques used included: “severe
beatings (in one observed incident, a soldier reportedly broke a
detainee’s leg with a baseball bat), blows and kicks to the
face, chest, abdomen, and extremities, and repeated kicks to various
parts of the detainees’ body; the application of chemical substances
to exposed skin and eyes; forced stress positions…sometimes to
the point of unconsciousness; sleep deprivation; subjecting detainees
to extremes of hot and cold; the stacking of detainees into human
pyramids; and, the withholding of food (beyond crackers) and water.”
The torture of detainees became so widespread and accepted that
it became a means of “stress relief” for soldiers who
were welcomed to the tents to beat up or otherwise abuse detainees.
If a detainee suffered a broken bone from such beatings, then an
army physician’s assistant was called in to cover up the beating
and agree that the detainee was injured during capture. Military
intelligence officers approved of the beatings because they believed
that it demoralized the detainees, making it easier to get intelligence
from them. Officers and soldiers of the 82nd who wished to behave
honorably and tried to report what was happening to superior officers
to stop these outrages were told to keep their mouths shut and not
risk their careers.  

Since investigations about the behavior of other important U.S.
military units in Iraq have not been conducted, we do not know if
other divisions and units are also guilty of similar torture and
abuse of detainees, but it would be surprising if this were not
the case, since this problem is epidemic.


H. Shoup has taught U.S. history at several universities and written
three books, including:

Imperial Brain Trust: the Council
on Foreign Relations and

U.S. Foreign Policy

(with William Minter), first published by Monthly Review Press in
1977, reprinted by iUniverse in 2004. Part II of this article will
appear in April.