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April 4, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Torture.
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Wednesday, Apr 4, 2012 11:45 AM 11:54:33 EST, www.salon.com

Thought to have been lost, a document advising the Bush administration against torture has resurfaced

By Jordan Michael Smith

George W. Bush in 2006

George W. Bush in 2006  (Credit: AP/Ron Edmonds)

In February of 2006, Philip Zelikow, Counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, authored a memo opposing the Bush administration’s torture practices (though he employed the infamous obfuscation of “enhanced interrogation techniques”). The White House tried to collect and destroy all copies of the memo, but one survived in the State Department’s bowels and was declassified yesterday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the National Security Archive.

The memo argues that the Convention Against Torture, and the Constitution’s prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, do indeed apply to the CIA’s use of “waterboard[ing], walling, dousing, stress positions, and cramped confinement.” Zelikow further wrote in the memo that “we are unaware of any precedent in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here, even when the prisoners were presumed to be unlawful combatants.” According to the memo, the techniques are legally prohibited, even if there is a compelling state interest to justify them, since they should be considered cruel and unusual punishment and “shock the conscience.”

Chillingly, the memo notes that “corrective techniques, such as slaps,” may be legally sustained, as might be “[C]ontrol conditions, such as nudity, sleep deprivation, and liquid diets…depending on the circumstances and details of how these techniques are used.” However much distress Zelikow’s memo caused the White House, it was not an ACLU briefing paper.

“I’m pleased the memo is now part of the historical record and available for study,” Zelikow wrote Salon in an email. The White House had determined that the memo — which was not binding since Zelikow’s was a bureaucratic position without legal authority — was too dangerous to exist. “I later heard the memo was not considered appropriate for further discussion and that copies of my memo should be collected and destroyed,” he said in a May 2009 Congressional hearing.

At that hearing, before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts, Zelikow said he had “no view on whether former officials should be prosecuted,” a decision he thinks should be left to “institutions.” However, he did call for a thorough inquiry and a public report examining how the U.S. came to employ torture.

Of course, no such inquiry was ever launched. The Obama administration declined to revisit the U.S. employment of torture, with the president saying he didn’t want to “look back.” Zelikow believes this was a mistake. “I still believe an inquiry would be useful, though less so as time passes and more information becomes available, especially after the 9/11 trials conclude, hopefully this year,” he says in an email.

During his Congressional testimony, Zelikow declined to say whether Department of Justice lawyers acted improperly or immorally, conceding only that their opinions were “unsound, even unreasonable.” But in a 2007 lecture in Houston, he had no problem saying “the cool, carefully considered, methodical, prolonged, and repeated subjection of captives to physical torment, and the accompanying psychological terror, is immoral.”

The importance of the memo lies in its revelation that there was real, serious debate inside the Bush administration about how to interrogate captured terrorist suspects. The members of the White House declined to enter that debate — indeed, they did their best to squash it. The destruction of Zelikow’s carefully reasoned memo suggests the White House did not want any record of alternative views even existing, lest they be considered reasonable or people get the idea that the torture policies were thought controversial even by members of the administration.

Jordan Michael Smith writes about U.S. foreign policy for Salon. He has written for the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post.  More Jordan Michael Smith

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Waterboarding for dummies March 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Torture.
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 (Roger’s note: in case you were wondering just how low into barbarism the United States government has sunk.)

Tuesday, Mar 9, 2010 07:01 EST

Internal CIA documents reveal a meticulous protocol that was far more brutal than Dick Cheney’s “dunk in the water”

By Mark Benjamin
Salon/AP

Self-proclaimed waterboarding fan Dick Cheney called it a no-brainer in a 2006 radio interview: Terror suspects should get a “a dunk in the water.” But recently released internal documents reveal the controversial “enhanced interrogation” practice was far more brutal on detainees than Cheney’s description sounds, and was administered with meticulous cruelty.

Interrogators pumped detainees full of so much water that the CIA turned to a special saline solution to minimize the risk of death, the documents show. The agency used a gurney “specially designed” to tilt backwards at a perfect angle to maximize the water entering the prisoner’s nose and mouth, intensifying the sense of choking – and to be lifted upright quickly in the event that a prisoner stopped breathing.

The documents also lay out, in chilling detail, exactly what should occur in each two-hour waterboarding “session.” Interrogators were instructed to start pouring water right after a detainee exhaled, to ensure he inhaled water, not air, in his next breath. They could use their hands to “dam the runoff” and prevent water from spilling out of a detainee’s mouth. They were allowed six separate 40-second “applications” of liquid in each two-hour session – and could dump water over a detainee’s nose and mouth for a total of 12 minutes a day. Finally, to keep detainees alive even if they inhaled their own vomit during a session – a not-uncommon side effect of waterboarding – the prisoners were kept on a liquid diet. The agency recommended Ensure Plus.

“This is revolting and it is deeply disturbing,” said Dr. Scott Allen, co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at Brown University who has reviewed all of the documents for Physicians for Human Rights. “The so-called science here is a total departure from any ethics or any legitimate purpose. They are saying, ‘This is how risky and harmful the procedure is, but we are still going to do it.’ It just sounds like lunacy,” he said. “This fine-tuning of torture is unethical, incompetent and a disgrace to medicine.”

These torture guidelines were contained in a ream of internal government documents made public over the past year, including a legal review of Bush-era CIA interrogations by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility released late last month.

Though public, the hundreds of pages of documents authorizing or later reviewing the agency’s “enhanced interrogation program” haven’t been mined for waterboarding details until now. While Bush-Cheney officials defended the legality and safety of waterboarding by noting the practice has been used to train U.S. service members to resist torture, the documents show that the agency’s methods went far beyond anything ever done to a soldier during training. U.S. soldiers, for example, were generally waterboarded with a cloth over their face one time, never more than twice, for about 20 seconds, the CIA admits in its own documents.

These memos show the CIA went much further than that with terror suspects, using huge and dangerous quantities of liquid over long periods of time. The CIA’s waterboarding was “different” from training for elite soldiers, according to the Justice Department document released last month. “The difference was in the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed,” the document notes. In soldier training, “The interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth (on a soldier’s face) in a controlled manner,” DOJ wrote. “By contrast, the agency interrogator … continuously applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose.”

One of the more interesting revelations in the documents is the use of a saline solution in waterboarding. Why? Because the CIA forced such massive quantities of water into the mouths and noses of detainees, prisoners inevitably swallowed huge amounts of liquid – enough to conceivably kill them from hyponatremia, a rare but deadly condition in which ingesting enormous quantities of water results in a dangerously low concentration of sodium in the blood. Generally a concern only for marathon runners , who on extremely rare occasions drink that much water, hyponatremia could set in during a prolonged waterboarding session. A waterlogged, sodium-deprived prisoner might become confused and lethargic, slip into convulsions, enter a coma and die.

Therefore, “based on advice of medical personnel,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury wrote in a May 10, 2005, memo authorizing continued use of waterboarding, “the CIA requires that saline solution be used instead of plain water to reduce the possibility of hyponatremia.”

The agency used so much water there was also another risk: pneumonia resulting from detainees inhaling the fluid forced into their mouths and noses. Saline, the CIA argued, might reduce the risk of pneumonia when this occurred.

“The detainee might aspirate some of the water, and the resulting water in the lungs might lead to pneumonia,” Bradbury noted in the same memo. “To mitigate this risk, a potable saline solution is used in the procedure.”

That particular Bradbury memo laid out a precise and disturbing protocol for what went on in each waterboarding session. The CIA used a “specially designed” gurney for waterboarding, Bradbury wrote. After immobilizing a prisoner by strapping him down, interrogators then tilted the gurney to a 10-15 degree downward angle, with the detainee’s head at the lower end. They put a black cloth over his face and poured water, or saline, from a height of 6 to 18 inches, documents show. The slant of the gurney helped drive the water more directly into the prisoner’s nose and mouth. But the gurney could also be tilted upright quickly, in the event the prisoner stopped breathing.

Detainees would be strapped to the gurney for a two-hour “session.” During that session, the continuous flow of water onto a detainee’s face was not supposed to exceed 40 seconds during each pour. Interrogators could perform six separate 40-second pours during each session, for a total of four minutes of pouring. Detainees could be subjected to two of those two-hour sessions during a 24-hour period, which adds up to eight minutes of pouring. But the CIA’s guidelines say interrogators could pour water over the nose and mouth of a detainee for 12 minutes total during each 24-hour period. The documents do not explain the extra four minutes to get to 12.

Interrogators were instructed to pour the water when a detainee had just exhaled so that he would inhale during the pour. An interrogator was also allowed to force the water down a detainee’s mouth and nose using his hands. “The interrogator may cup his hands around the detainee’s nose and mouth to dam the runoff,” the Bradbury memo notes. “In which case it would not be possible for the detainee to breathe during the application of the water.”

“We understand that water may enter – and accumulate in – the detainee’s mouth and nasal cavity, preventing him from breathing,” the memo admits.

Should a prisoner stop breathing during the procedure, the documents instructed interrogators to rapidly tilt the gurney to an upright position to help expel the saline. “If the detainee is not breathing freely after the cloth is removed from his face, he is immediately moved to a vertical position in order to clear the water from his mouth, nose, and nasopharynx,” Bradbury wrote. “The gurney used for administering this technique is specially designed so that this can be accomplished very quickly if necessary.”

Documents drafted by CIA medical officials in 2003, about a year after the agency started using the waterboard, describe more aggressive procedures to get the water out and the subject breathing. “An unresponsive subject should be righted immediately,” the CIA Office of Medical Services ordered in its Sept. 4, 2003, medical guidelines for interrogations. “The interrogator should then deliver a sub-xyphoid thrust to expel the water.” (That’s a blow below the sternum, similar to the thrust delivered to a chocking victim in the Heimlich maneuver.)

But even those steps might not force the prisoner to resume breathing. Waterboarding, according to the Bradbury memo, could produce “spasms of the larynx” that might keep a prisoner from breathing “even when the application of water is stopped and the detainee is returned to an upright position.” In such cases, Bradbury wrote, “a qualified physician would immediately intervene to address the problem and, if necessary, the intervening physician would perform a tracheotomy.” The agency required that “necessary emergency medical equipment” be kept readily available for that procedure. The documents do not say if doctors ever performed a tracheotomy on a prisoner.

The doctors were also present to monitor the detainee “to ensure that he does not develop respiratory distress.” A leaked 2007 report from the International Committee of the Red Cross says that meant the detainee’s finger was fixed with a pulse oxymeter, a device that measures the oxygen saturation level in the blood during the procedure. Doctors like Allen say this would allow interrogators to push a detainee close to death – but help them from crossing the line. “It is measuring in real time the oxygen content in the blood second by second,” Allen explained about the pulse oxymeter. “It basically allows them to push these prisoners more to the edge. With that, you can keep going. This is calibration of harm by health professionals.”

One of the weirdest details in the documents is the revelation that the agency placed detainees on liquid diets prior to the use of waterboarding. That’s because during waterboarding, “a detainee might vomit and then aspirate the emesis,” Bradbury wrote. In other words, breathe in his own vomit. The CIA recommended the use of Ensure Plus for the liquid diet.

Plowing through hundreds of pages of these documents is an unsettling experience. On one level, the detailed instructions can be seen as helping to carry out kinder, gentler waterboarding, with so much care and attention given to making sure detainees didn’t stop breathing, get pneumonia, breathe in their own vomit or die. But of course dead detainees tell no tales, so the CIA needed to keep many of its prisoners alive. It should be noted, though, that six human rights groups in 2007 released a report showing that 39 people who appeared to have gone into the CIA’s secret prison network haven’t shown up since. The careful attention to detail in the documents was also used to provide legal cover for the harsh and probably illegal interrogation tactics.

As brutal as the waterboarding process was, the memos also reveal that the Bush-era Justice Department authorized the CIA to use it in combination with other forms of torture. Specifically, a detainee could be kept awake for more than seven days straight by shackling his hands in a standing position to a bolt in the ceiling so he could never sit down. The agency diapered and hand-fed its detainees during this period before putting them on the waterboard. Another memo from Bradbury, also from 2005, says that in between waterboarding sessions, a detainee could be physically slammed into a wall, crammed into a small box, placed in “stress positions” to increase discomfort and doused with cold water, among other things.

The CIA’s waterboarding regimen was so excruciating, the memos show, that agency officials found themselves grappling with an unexpected development: detainees simply gave up and tried to let themselves drown. “In our limited experience, extensive sustained use of the waterboard can introduce new risks,” the CIA’s Office of Medical Services wrote in its 2003 memo. “Most seriously, for reasons of physical fatigue or psychological resignation, the subject may simply give up, allowing excessive filling of the airways and loss of consciousness.”

The agency’s medical guidelines say that after a case of “psychological resignation” by a detainee on the waterboard, an interrogator had to get approval from a CIA doctor before doing it again.

The memo also contains a last, little-noticed paragraph that may be the most disturbing of all. It seems to say that the detainees subjected to waterboarding were also guinea pigs. The language is eerily reminiscent of the very reasons the Nuremberg Code was written in the first place. That paragraph reads as follows:

“NOTE: In order to best inform future medical judgments and recommendations, it is important that every application of the waterboard be thoroughly documented: how long each application (and the entire procedure) lasted, how much water was used in the process (realizing that much splashes off), how exactly the water was applied, if a seal was achieved, if the naso- or oropharynx was filled, what sort of volume was expelled, how long was the break between applications, and how the subject looked between each treatment.”

DOJ Report on Torture Memo: Yoo Said Bush Could Order Civilians “Exterminated” February 20, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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(Roger’s note: Harry Truman famously said, “The buck stops here.”  This is a rare admission of accountability coming from government.  The entire cover up of the notorious and illegal Cheney/Bush torture program, including the conviction of the likes of Lynndie England at Abu Ghraib and focusing on “rogue” CIA agents, is a typical government maneuver to shirk ultimate responsibility.  Many of us thought the OPR report might finally give some satisfaction at a higher level, but the buck has been passed from President Obama to Attorney General Holder to Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who has put a kibosh on the findings that would have led to sanctions against Yoo and Bybee.

 

[Oct.9, 2009: Yoo and Bybee submit their responses to final report to Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis, who is tasked with reviewing OPR’s conclusions.                                                                                                                    http://www.mainjustice.com/2010/02/19/a-timeline-of-the-opr-report/ ]

My question is: who “tasked” David Margolis to whitewash the OPR report’s conclusions?  Call my cynical, but could it have been Holder who was told by Obama to find a reliable subaltern to do the dirty deed?

I would also point out that the jurists who provoided the legal framework for Hitler’s halocaust were subject to accountability by the Nuremberg Tribunal along with the high level government officials who carried out the genocide.  We can be thankful that the likes of Obama and Holder were not calling the shots then, which would have resulted in some low level “rogue Nazis” convicted and punished for the extinction of millions of Jews, Gypsies, Gays, communitsts, etc. while Hess, Goring, Bormann and the rest of the Hitler A Team got off scott free.)

 

Friday 19 February 2010

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report

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(Image: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: amarine88, Bebopsmile, dog ma)

For background on Jason Leopold’s extensive work on the Yoo/Bybee torture memo report please see here, here, here, and here. Leopold will also be writing a through analysis of the voluminous report this weekend.

A long-awaited report into the legal memos former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee prepared for the Bush administration on torture was released Friday afternoon and concluded that the men violated “professional standards” and should be referred to state bar associations where a further review of their legal work could have led to the revocation of their law licenses. 

But career prosecutor David Margolis, who reviewed the final version of the report, changed the disciplinary recommendations to “exercised poor judgment.” [There are three versions of the report, all of which can be found here.]

That means Yoo and Bybee will not be punished for having fixed the law around Bush administration policy that allowed the CIA to subject suspected terrorists to torture techniques, such as waterboarding, beatings, and sleep deprivation, as the report notes.

Yoo is a law professor at UC Berkeley and Bybee is a 9th Circuit Appeals Court judge. Former Justice Department official Steven Bradbury also authored several torture memos and was criticized in the OPR report. Investigators said they had “serious concerns about his analysis.” But the report did not charge him with ethical violations.

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft and Michael Chertoff, who was head of the Justice Department’s criminal division at the time the torture memos were prepared, were also criticized for not conducting a critical legal analysis of the memos, though neither was charged with misconduct. Ashcroft refused to cooperate with the investigation.

According to a January 5 memo Margolis sent to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) issued a final report on July 29, 2009 and “concluded that former Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee engaged in professional misconduct by failing to provide ‘thorough, candid, and objective’ analysis in memoranda regarding the interrogation of detained terrorist suspects.”

Yoo specifically was found to have “committed intentional professional misconduct when he violated his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice.”

Bybee was found to have “committed professional misconduct when he acted in reckless disregard of his duty to exercise independent legal judgment and render thorough, objective, and candid legal advice.”

The report says that Yoo believed that George W. Bush’s Commander-in-Chief powers gave him the authority to unilaterally order the mass murder of civilians.

In the final version of the report, an OPR investigator questioned Yoo about what he referred to as the “bad things opinion,” where Yoo discussed what the president could do during wartime.

“What about ordering a village of resistants to be massacred?” an OPR investigator asked Yoo. “Is that a power that the president could legally—”

“Yeah,” Yoo said.

“To order a village of civilians to be [exterminated]?” the questioner replied.

“Sure,” Yoo said.

But Margolis, who suggested Yoo and Bybee’s flawed legal work was due to efforts to prevent another 9/11, said he was “unpersuaded” by OPR’s “misconduct” conclusins and declined to endorse its findings.

An earlier version of the report rejected that line of reasoning.

“Situations of great stress, danger and fear do not relieve department attorneys of their duty to provide thorough, objective and candid legal advice, even if that advice is not what the client wants to hear,” says the earlier draft of the report from OPR head Mary Patrice Brown. Her report, like the original draft, was sharply critical of the legal work that went into the torture memos and found that it lacked “thoroughness, objectivity and candor.”

“OPR’s own framework defines ‘professional misconduct’ such that a finding of misconduct depends on application of a known, unambiguous obligation or standard to the attorney’s conduct,” Margolis wrote in the 69-page memo. “I am unpersuaded that OPR has identified such a standard. For this reason…I cannot adpot OPR’s findings of misconduct, and I will not authorize OPR to refer its findings to the state bar disciplinary authorities in the jurisdictions where Yoo and Bybee are licensed.”

Despite dozens of cases highlighted in the report that showed Yoo twisted the law in order to advance the Bush administration’s torture policy, Margolis said he did “not believe the evidence establishes [that Yoo] set about to knowingly provide inaccurate legal advice to his client or that he acted with conscious indifference to the consequences of his actions.”

“While I have declined to adopt OPR’s findings of misconduct, I fear that John Yoo’s loyalty to his own ideology and convictions clouded his view of his obligation to his client and led him to author opinions that reflected his own extreme, albeit sincerely held, view of executive power while speaking for an institutional client,” Margolis added. 

Margolis concluded his review, stating that “these memos contained some significant flaws.

“But as all that glitters is not gold, all flaws do not constitute professional misconduct,” he wrote. “The bar associations in the District of Columbia or Pennsylvania can choose to take up this matter, but the Department will make no referral.”

Margolis described himself in the memo as a “Department of Justice official who [beginning in the 1990s] has resolved challenges to negative OPR findings against former Department attorneys, most often in the context of proposed bar referrals.”

Yoo’s attorney, Miguel Estrada, said in an October 9, 2009 rebuttal to the final version of the report that “this perversion of the professional rules and myopic pursuit of Professor Yoo and Judge Bybee, can be explained only by a desire to settle a score over Bush administration policies in the war on terror.”

“But policy disputes are for the ballot box, not for the bar,” Estrada said. “Professor Yoo and Judge Bybee did nothing more than provide a good-faith assessment of the legality of a program deemed vital to our national security.”

Estrada claims that Yoo and Bybee were well aware of what the “CIA wanted” in the areas of subjecting detainees to brutal torture techniques.

“Of course the attorneys at OLC knew what the CIA wanted, since they knew the agency was attempting to get information to thwart further terrorist attacks, and indeed OLC obviously was being asked to opine on specific interrogation techniques that it knew the CIA wished to use if it legally could do so,” he said. 

OPR investigators noted that during the course of their four-and-a-half year probe, they were unable to obtain all of the evidence they needed. For example, they said that “most” of Yoo’s emails they sought during the critical time period the memos were drafted prior to August 2002 “had been deleted and were not recoverable.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, whose office released the report, said he will hold a hearing to discuss the findings “shortly.”

In a statement accompanying the report, Conyers said the report makes clear that the torture memos “were legally flawed and fundamentally unsound.”

“Even worse,” Conyers said. “It reveals that the memos were not the independent product of the Department of Justice, but were shaped by top officials of the Bush White House. It is nothing short of a travesty that prisoners in US custody were abused and mistreated based on legal work as shoddy as this.”

Senate Judicary Chairman Patrick Leahy also condemned the findings and announced that he will hold a hearing on the report’s findings next Friday. In a statement, Leahy said the report “is a condemnation of the legal memoranda drafted by key architects of the Bush administration’s legal policy, including Jay Bybee and John Yoo, on the treatment of detainees.”

“The deeply flawed legal opinions proffered by these former OLC officials created a ‘golden shield’ that sought to protect from scrutiny and prosecution the Bush administration’s torture of detainees in US custody. In drafting and signing these unsound legal analyses, OLC attorneys sanctioned torture, contrary to our domestic anti-torture laws, our international treaty obligations and the fundamental values of this country,” Leahy added. “I have serious concerns about the role each of these government lawyers played in the development of these policies. I have said before that if the Judiciary Committee, and the Senate, knew of Judge Bybee’s role in creating these policies, he would have never been confirmed to a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. The right thing to do would be for him to resign from this lifetime appointment.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents several detainees at Guantanamo and others who were tortured by military and CIA interrogators, called for Bybee to be impeached and for Holder to order a criminal probe headed by a special prosecutor.

In a statement, CCR said the report makes it “makes it abundantly clear that the decisions about the torture program took place at the highest level, and the damning description of the program further show that the torture memos were written to order by the lawyers from the Office of Legal Counsel who played a key role in creating the program.”

“Ultimately Jay Bybee must be impeached, tried and removed from his seat as a federal judge on the 9th Circuit, but he should have the decency to resign immediately,” CCR aaid. “We call on Attorney General Eric Holder to order these men criminally investigated by an independent special prosecutor who is allowed to follow the facts where they lead, all the way up the chain of command.”

Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, which is largely responsible for bringing to light many of the revelations about the torture program described in the report, said, “The OPR report confirms the central role that the Office of Legal Counsel played in developing the Bush administration’s torture program, and it underscores once again that the decision to endorse torture was made by the Bush administration’s most senior officials.”

“It also makes clear that the investigation initiated by the Justice Department last year, which focuses on ‘rogue’ interrogators, is too narrow,” Jaffer added. “Interrogators should be held accountable where they violated the law, but the core problem was not one of rogue interrogators but one of senior government officials who knowingly authorized the gravest crimes. The Justice Department should immediately expand its investigation to encompass not just the interrogators who used torture but the senior Bush administration officials who authorized and facilitated it.”

Jason Leopold is the Deputy Managing Editor at Truthout. He is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller, News Junkie, a memoir. Visit newsjunkiebook.com for a preview. 

Is the White House Pressuring DOJ to Delay Torture Report Until Health Care Bill Passes? January 27, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Tuesday 26 January 2010

by: Jason Leopold, t r u t h o u t | Report

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(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: U.S. Military – 1, 2)

Did the Obama administration pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) to suppress a long-awaited report from one of the agency’s watchdogs on issues revolving around torture until Congress passes a health care bill?

That’s what senior aides to two Democratic lawmakers who have been closely tracking the report have alleged in interviews conducted over the past month.

The report, prepared by the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), examined the legal work former Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorneys John Yoo, Jay Bybee and Steven Bradbury performed for the Bush administration after 9/11 and is said to have reached damning conclusions.

It was supposed to be released last November, according to testimony Attorney General Eric Holder gave to Congress, after a career prosecutor completed a review, which Holder said at the time was in its “final stages.”

But the aides said in December, a couple of weeks after Holder testified, they participated in an informal meeting about the possibility of holding hearings when the report was released. During the discussion, someone raised questions about why the report was not yet released as Holder had promised.

The aides said that a senator, whose name they would not reveal, then disclosed that he was told by senior White House officials that if the report were released as planned it would have hurt the administration’s efforts to get a health care bill passed and impact the possibility of trying to win Republican support for the legislation, which never came to pass.

So, in early December, the senator claimed, according to the account given by the aides, the administration told the DOJ to delay releasing it.

Spokesmen for Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse and Dick Durbin, who have been instrumental in pushing for the report’s release, said they did not know why it has not yet surfaced nor were they aware of any claims that the report has been delayed until a health care bill passes.

In an interview early this month, Tracy Schmaler, a DOJ spokeswoman, disputed claims that the White House was pressuring the agency to withhold the report in lieu of a health care bill.

“That is absolutely untrue,” Schmaler said. “One thing has nothing to do with another.”

During our interview, Schmaler said the review “process is ongoing and we hope to have [the report] complete and released soon.”

Two DOJ officials familiar with details of the report said a delay in releasing it in the time frame Holder had promised was due, in part, to the fact that the career prosecutor charged with reviewing the final version was hospitalized in December for pneumonia.

However, they noted that that the prosecutor’s illness doesn’t account for why the report has still not been released, which they claim is due to “politics.” These sources requested anonymity because the details surrounding the report remain secret.

The possibility that politics may be the reason the report remains under wraps was not lost on the ACLU, which filed a lawsuit Friday in hopes of compelling the DOJ to immediately release the report.

In an interview, ACLU lawyer Alex Abdo, who, along with other attorneys at the civil rights organization, has successfully pried loose previously withheld documents related to the Bush administration’s torture policies, said “it’s possible political reasons might be holding up the release of the report.”

“It’s long overdue and this is an unacceptable delay,” Abdo said. “We haven’t seen any progress or received any public explanation.”

The group first filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on December 4, 2009, when it became clear that the report was not going to be released in the time frame Holder promised that it would be. Abdo said the ACLU never received a response to its FOIA request. So, the organization filed another one last week. Earlier this month, a coalition of attorneys, journalists and activists also filed a FOIA request with the DOJ to obtain a copy of the report and other documents.

Abdo noted that when the report is finally released, “we will almost certainly see redactions [and the FOIA lawsuit will] serve as a placeholder to lodge challenges to excessive redactions in the report.”

In response to the ACLU’s complaint, Schmaler said that Holder has already stated “the department would make [the report] available as much as possible when it’s done.”

She added that there is “no delay” in releasing the report and, as she noted in a previous interview, she pointed to OPR “post investigation” guidelines, which details the process that takes place during the course of such internal investigations.

The OPR report was completed more than a year ago. It was revised after former Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his deputy, Mark Filip, insisted that Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury be given an opportunity to respond to its conclusions.

In his testimony last November, Holder said the report had not been released sooner due to “the amount of time we gave to the lawyers who represented the people who are the subject of the report an opportunity to respond. And then [OPR] had to react to those responses.”

Last month, several legal sources knowledgeable about the review process said Yoo filed additional responses to the report’s findings via his attorney, Miguel Estrada.

Estrada told Truthout he was bound by a confidentiality agreement he entered into with the DOJ and could not comment on the claims that he submitted another set of responses on behalf of Yoo.

Schmaler said she could not comment on the veracity of those claims.

According to the two DOJ officials, an original draft of the report had already concluded that when writing the August 2002 torture memo, Yoo failed to cite the key precedent relating to a president’s war powers, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, a 1952 Supreme Court case that addressed President Harry Truman’s order to seize steel mills that had been shut down in a labor dispute during the Korean War.

Truman said the strike threatened national defense and thus justified his actions under his Article II powers in the Constitution.

But the Supreme Court overturned Truman’s order, saying, “the President’s power, if any, to issue the order must stem either from an act of Congress or from the Constitution itself.” Since Congress hadn’t delegated such authority to Truman, the Supreme Court ruled that Truman’s actions were unconstitutional, with an influential concurring opinion written by Justice Robert Jackson.

Yoo’s memoranda concluded that the laws governing torture violated President Bush’s commander-in-chief powers under the Constitution because it prevented him “from gaining the intelligence he believes necessary to prevent attacks upon the United States.”

Yoo’s lengthy response to the OPR expanded upon a defense he first cited in his 2006 book, “War by Other Means,” in explaining why he didn’t cite Youngstown.

Yoo wrote: “we didn’t cite [Justice Robert] Jackson’s individual views in Youngstown because earlier OLC opinions, reaching across several administrations, had concluded that it had no application to the president’s conduct of foreign affairs and national security.

“Youngstown reached the outcome it did because the Constitution clearly gives Congress, not the President, the exclusive power to make law concerning labor disputes. It does not address the scope of Commander-in-Chief power involving military strategy or intelligence tactics in war …

“Far from inventing some novel interpretation of the Constitution, [Office of Legal Counsel, where Yoo, Bybee and Bradbury worked] was really doing little more than following in the footsteps of the Clinton Justice Department and all prior Justice Departments.”

It’s unknown whether Yoo made a convincing argument to OPR in defending his reasons for not citing the landmark ruling.

But a July 10, 2009, report by the inspectors general of the CIA, National Security Agency, DOJ and Defense Department into the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which were based on legal opinions written by Yoo, also took Yoo to task for failing to cite Youngstown.

Yoo “omitted any discussion of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, a leading case on the distribution of government powers between the Executive and Legislative Branches,” the report said.

“Justice [Robert] Jackson’s analysis of President Truman’s Article II Commander-in-Chief authority during wartime in the Youngstown case was an important factor in OLC’s subsequent reevaluation of Yoo’s opinions,” the report said.

Ironically, as Congress continues to try and pass a health care bill that Democrats say wil expand insurance benefits to millions of Americans, the issue also plays a particularly important role in the OPR report.

The early draft of the OPR report concluded, legal sources said, that Yoo misinterpreted an obscure 2000 health benefits statute and wrongly applied it to August 2002 and March 2003 interrogation opinions he wrote, according to the DOJ officials.

Again, expanding upon a defense that first appeared in his book, Yoo placed some of the responsibility on Congress for forcing him to rely upon the statute to narrow the definition of torture in a way that permitted techniques such as waterboarding.

In passing an anti-torture law, Congress only prohibited “severe physical or mental pain or suffering,” Yoo wrote. “The ban on torture does not prohibit any pain or suffering whether physical or mental, only severe acts. Congress did not define severe … OLC interpreted ‘severe’ as a level of pain ‘equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions. [Emphasis added.]

“OLC’s first 2002 definition did not make up this definition out of thin air. It applied a standard technique used to interpret ambiguous phrases in law. When Congress does not define its terms, courts commonly look in the United States Code for the use of similar language. The only other place where similar words appear is in a law defining health benefits for emergency medical conditions, which are defined as severe symptoms, including ‘severe pain’ where an individual’s health is placed ‘in serious jeopardy,’ ‘serious impairment to bodily functions,’ or ‘serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part.'”

Jack Goldsmith, who succeeded Bybee at the OLC in October 2003 after Bybee was confirmed as an appeals court judge on the Ninth Circuit, wrote in his book, “The Terror Presidency,” that Yoo’s torture memo “was legally flawed” and sloppily written and he was harshly critical of Yoo’s use of a medical benefits statute to define torture.

“That statute defined an ’emergency medical condition’ that warranted certain health benefits as a condition ‘manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain)’ such that the absence of immediate medical care might reasonably be thought to result in death, organ failure, or impairment of bodily function,” Goldsmith wrote.

“The health benefits statute’s use of ‘severe pain’ had no relationship whatsoever to the torture statute. And even if it did, the health benefit statute did not define ‘severe pain.’ Rather it used the term ‘severe pain’ as a sign of an emergency medical condition that, if not treated, might cause organ failure and the like…. OLC’s clumsily definitional arbitrage didn’t seem even in the ballpark.”

Goldsmith rescinded the torture memo in mid-2004 and resigned shortly thereafter. His questions as to whether Yoo and Bybee provided the White House with sound legal advice sparked the OPR investigation.

Release of the ‘Holy Grail’ of Torture Reports Delayed Again July 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Published on Thursday, July 2, 2009 by Huffington Post by Andy Worthington

Today was supposed to be the day that the Justice Department — after two delays — released an unclassified version of the CIA Inspector General’s 2004 Report into the interrogations of “high-value detainees” in the “War on Terror,” which Democrat Congressional staffers described as the “holy grail,” according to Greg Sargent of the Plum Line, writing in May, “because it is expected to detail torture in unprecedented detail and to cast doubt on the claim that torture works.”

Sargent was following up on an article in the Washington Post, “Hill Panel Reviewing CIA Tactics,” which described how Senate Intelligence Committee investigators were interviewing those involved in the interrogations, “examining hundreds of CIA e-mails and reviewing a classified 2005 study by the agency’s lawyers of dozens of interrogation videotapes” (which were later destroyed), and also examining the CIA Inspector General’s Report.

The Post explained that “government officials familiar with the CIA’s early interrogations” said that the “top secret” CIA report, “based on more than 100 interviews, a review of the videotapes and 38,000 pages of documents,” contained “the most powerful evidence of apparent excesses,” and added that the officials indicated that, although the report remained “closely held,” White House officials had told political allies that they intended to “declassify it for public release when the debate quiets over last month’s release of the Justice Department’s interrogation memos.” These four memos, issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, and released in April, provided a companion piece to the notorious “torture memo” of August 2002 (leaked in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal), and, notoriously, involved lawyers in one of the DoJ’s most prestigious departments — charged with interpreting the law as it applies to the Executive branch — seeking to rewrite the rules on torture so that it could be used in the CIA’s “high-value detainee” program.

According to the Post, officials familiar with the contents of the report said that it “concluded that some of the techniques appeared to violate the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, ratified by the United States in 1994.” The Post also added that, according to excerpts included in the OLC memos, the report “concluded that interrogators initially used harsh techniques against some detainees who were not withholding information.”

This was a fair précis of the “excerpts” from the report that were included as footnotes in the three memos from May 2005, written by the OLC’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Steven G. Bradbury, but as I explained in an article at the time, when analyzed in the context of the memos, the “excerpts” were even more alarming.

To establish the context, the footnotes followed Bradbury’s lame attempts to explain why it was “necessary to use the waterboard ‘at least 83 times during August 2002,'” on Abu Zubaydah, and “183 times during March 2003” on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. This apparently involved an appraisal that “other … methods are unlikely to elicit this information within the perceived time limit for preventing [an] attack” (in other words, the fictional ticking time-bomb scenario), but I was obliged to conclude that these “mind-boggling figures” seemed to reveal “not that each horrific round of near-drowning and panic, repeated over and over again, defused a single ticking time-bomb, but, instead, that it became a macabre compulsion on the part of the torturers, which led only to the countless false alarms reported by CIA and FBI officials who spoke to David Rose for Vanity Fair last December.”

What amazed me, however, was that, while filling his memos with largely implausible justifications for the use of torture, Bradbury cited from the Inspector General’s Report, even though it was so clearly critical of the manner in which interrogations had been conducted. These are the key passages from my article at the time:

One sign that this was indeed the case [in other words, that the CIA overreacted] comes in a disturbing footnote, in which Bradbury noted, “This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report, the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information … on at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information [passage redacted]. At the direction of CIA headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah [passage redacted].”

Furthermore, as another revealing footnote makes clear, the IG Report also noted that, “in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated,” and also that it was “used in a different manner” than the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in SERE training [the torture techniques taught in US military schools to enable US personnel to resist interrogation, which were reverse engineered for use in the “War on Terror”]. As the report explained, “The difference was in the manner in which the detainees’ breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator … applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychiatrist / interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real’ and is more poignant and convincing.”

In addition, the IG Report noted that the OMS, the CIA’s Office of Medical Services, contended that “the experience of the SERE psychologist / interrogators on the waterboard was probably misrepresented at the time, as the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent Agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant.” Chillingly, the report continued, “Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.”

I’m not surprised that the release of the report — delayed for a week from June 19, at the CIA’s request, and again from June 26 to July 1 — has been delayed again, as it clearly contains information that is vital to those of who believe that President Obama cannot “restore America’s moral stature in the world” (as he pledged in November) without holding to account those who authorized the use of torture by US personnel. However, every delay only increases the fear that, on arrival, the report will be barely less comprehensively redacted than the laughably censored version that was released to the ACLU in May 2008 (PDF).

In order to keep the debate about torture alive, I therefore recommend a visit to the ACLU’s “Accountability for Torture” project, which has been running for the last few weeks, and which states, “We can’t sweep the abuses of the last eight years under the rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral imperative.” I also recommend a number of articles from the last few days, as part of what blogger and psychologist Jeff Kaye has described as “a mini-blog storm on behalf of the ACLU’s Accountability Project,” looking at how the Bush administration’s torture program was not just reserved for the waterboarding of three “high-value detainees” in the custody of the CIA, but was a poisonous virus that also infected the US military, and that led to over a hundred deaths in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.

First up is Glenn Greenwald’s article for his blog at Salon, “The suppressed fact: Deaths by US torture,” in which he states, “Those arguing against investigations and prosecutions — that we “Look to the Future, not the Past” — are literally advocating that numerous people get away with murder.” Then there are articles by Marcy Wheeler, bmaz and Jeff Kaye at Firedoglake, by Digby, and by drational and mcjoan at Daily Kos, and there’s also my article, “When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan,” which draws largely on passages in my book The Guantánamo Files, but also on testimony by former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, and researcher John Sifton, and which, I believe, exposes three murders at the US prison at Bagram airbase that have never been investigated.

© 2009 Huffington Post

Andy Worthington is a journalist and historian, based in London. He is the author of The Guantánamo Files, the first book to tell the stories of all the detainees in America’s illegal prison. For more information, visit his blog here.

A Cheney Cover-Up? May 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Torture.
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Someone in the White House tried to deep-six Philip Zelikow’s anti-torture memo. Welcome to the latest Bush-era whodunit.

by Nick Baumann & David Corn

Who in the George W. Bush White House tried to shred a memo challenging the use of torture?

On April 21, Philip Zelikow, who was counselor to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during the Bush administration, revealed on Foreign Policy‘s “Shadow Government” blog that he wrote a memo in 2005 disputing the conclusions of Bush Justice Department lawyers that torture was legal. The existence of such a memo was a surprise. But Zelikow also disclosed that the “White House attempted to collect and destroy all copies of my memo.”

This story is not over. Zelikow tells Mother Jones that he doesn’t know for sure who in the White House ordered the suppression of his memo, but he says that his “supposition at the time” was that the office of Vice President Dick Cheney was behind the cover-up. In an email exchange with Mother Jones, Zelikow notes that Cheney’s office did not have the authority to request that his memo be deep-sixed: “They didn’t run the interagency process. Such a request would more likely have come from the White House Counsel’s office or from NSC staff.” But that request did not reach him in written form. “It was conveyed to me, and I ignored it,” Zelikow recalls. But he suspected that Team Cheney was probably behind it.

Zelikow, who is scheduled to testify before a Senate judiciary subcommittee on Tuesday Wednesday, also notes that his memo was not the only one raising questions about the administration’s legal rationale supporting so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques”: “There were a number of papers, mainly arguing for alternative legal frameworks.” But his memo, he adds, was “a more direct assault on [the Bush Justice Department’s] own interpretation of American law.”

(UPDATE: The Senate judiciary subcommittee just formally announced the testimony, which will be on Wednesday, not Tuesday, as earlier reports had indicated.)

Congressional Democrats are already seeking any surviving copies of Zelikow’s memo. They might now also want to request these other papers. (No such documents have been declassified or released so far.)

Cheney’s office was reportedly the hub of the Bush administration’s torture program. And Neil Kinkopf, a law professor at Georgia State University, who served in the Clinton administration’s Office of Legal Counsel, notes, “People in the White House—Dick Cheney for example; David Addington, his legal adviser—didn’t want the existence of dissent to be known. It’s not hard to imagine David Addington playing very hardball internal politics and not only wanting to prevail over the view of Zelikow but to annihilate it. It would be perfectly consistent with how he operated.”

Zelikow, who ran the 9/11 Commission before joining the State Department, wrote in his original blog post that he believed the administration had failed to erase the evidence of his dissent: “I expect that one or two [copies of the memo] are still at least in the State Department’s archives.” And four top congressional Democrats on Monday wrote Secretary of State Hillary Clinton [PDF] and Adrienne Thomas, the acting national archivist [PDF], requesting surviving copies of the Zelikow memo.

In their letter to Clinton, the Democrats—Reps. John Conyers, Howard Berman, Jerry Nadler, and Bill Delahunt—ask for a search of the archives that Zelikow believes may contain his memo. But the Dems’ letter to the archivist requests more. In that letter, Conyers and the others request the Zelikow memo along with “[c]opies of any ‘documentary materials'” that “mention or refer to” the Zelikow memorandum or “are related to or reflect any effort by an official of the Bush Administration to collect, destroy, or impede the preservation or retention of this memorandum.” In other words, they are looking for evidence of who attempted to bury Zelikow’s opposing view.

This could even have legal implications. Federal law—including the Presidential Records Act—requires that the White House adhere to strict record-keeping standards. If a White House official tried to disappear an inconvenient memo, he or she might have committed a crime. Concerning the Presidential Records Act, the Bush administration never was a stickler. If millions of emails can disappear, what’s one memo?

The Dems want to get Zelikow’s allegations of a cover-up on the record and under oath, and they will. In his email to Mother Jones, Zelikow says that when he testifies next week he plans to “go through a brief chronology of the various arguments for changing the administration position.” But since Zelikow doesn’t appear to know who attempted to smother his memo, congressional Democrats may have to do some legwork—which could include questioning various Bush White House officials—to solve this latest Bush-era mystery.

Nick Baumann and David Corn are staff correspondents for Mother Jones.

Torturing Judge Bybee: Make Him Eat His Own Words April 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Dave Lindorff

If the day comes that Congress finally does its duty and begins an impeachment effort against 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Judge Jay Bybee, the former Bush assistant attorney general who in 2002 authored a key memo justifying the use of torture against captives in the Afghanistan invasion and the so-called “War on Terror,” it would be fitting punishment to watch him squirm as his own words as a judge were played back to him.

It was as an Appeals Court Judge Bybee, sitting on a case being heard in 2006 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, that he wrote the following words:

“The only thing we have to enforce our judgements is the power of our words. When these words lose their ordinary meaning-when they become so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean-we cede our own right to be taken seriously.” (Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1309 v. Laidlaw Transit Services, Inc.).

Yet causing words to become “so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean” was precisely the goal of the 48-page memo, just released by the Obama Administration, which Bybee wrote for the Bush/Cheney White House authorizing the use of what any ordinary person, and indeed the US Criminal Code, would define as torture against captives held in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The actual Geneva Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, incorporated in 1996 by act of Congress as a part of the US Criminal Code, Title 18, Sections 2340-2340A, is quite unambiguous in its proscription. As Bybee notes in his memo, the Convention Against Torture defines torture as:

“…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Now we know that what US CIA agents, military interrogators, and even prison guards charged with “softening up” detainees, were doing to captives included repeated waterboardings (over 100 times in the case of some captives), slamming into walls while leashed to a neck restraint, enforced sleeplessness for as long as 11 days at a time, subjection to prolonged periods of extreme heat or cold, attacks by dogs, being locked in a box with biting insects, etc. ad nauseum.

Yet Bybee, in his capacity as counsel to the president in the office of the Attorney General, went to great creative lengths to make the words in that act “elastic” to the point that they “lose their ordinary meaning.”

For example, in his memo Bybee wrote:

“We…conclude that certain acts may be cruel, inhumane or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within Sec. 2340A’s proscription against torture.”

Then, because he saw that that term “severe” in the statute was problematic, Bybee went out of his way to try to make it mean something more extreme. He found a legal case involving a hospital that was being sued for refusing to admit an emergency medical patient, concluding that severe pain would have to be pain “equivalent to (sic) intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.”

Obviously, when someone says they have a “severe headache” or tells the doctor that they have a “severe pain” in their lower back, they aren’t talking about facing death, organ failure of impairment of bodily function. They are using the word in its “ordinary meaning” to communicate that they are hurting badly. But then Asst. Attorney General Bybee isn’t interested in what Judge Bybee called “the ordinary meaning” of words. He’s looking for weasel words. He’s trying to get words to be “elastic,” and to mean “the opposite of what they appear to mean.”

But Bybee also recognized in the event that Bush or his subordinates were someday to be hauled before a court and prosecuted for war crimes, he would need to offer them a second line of defense, so, ever the good mob attorney, the future appellate court judge offered up this beauty:

“To violate Section 2340A, the statute requires that severe pain and suffering must be inflicted with specific intent. In order for a defendant to have acted with specific intent, he must expressly intend to achieve the forbidden act.”

What this means, writes Bybee, is that, “If the defendant [the government torturer] acted knowing that severe pain or suffering was reasonably likely to result from his actions, but no more, he would have acted with only general intent” but not “specific intent” to cause pain.” Put another way, he writes, “As a theoretical matter therefore, knowledge alone that a particular result is certain to occur does not constitute specific intent.”

How’s that for elastic? Let’s imagine a killer who fires a gun at a victim, hitting him square between the eyes and killing him. He could offer up the Bybee Defense, arguing that when he pointed his gun towards the victim, at a range of 10 feet, he knew that death was “reasonably likely” to result from his actions, “but no more.” Using Bybee’s reasoning here, he should not be convicted, or even charged with first-degree murder, because he lacked “specific intent” to kill.

But Bybee, noting that a jury might not buy such a line of defense, offers up yet another rationale for torture not being torture. He writes, in the memo:

“Furthermore, a showing that an individual acted with a good faith belief that his conduct would not produce a result that the law prohibits negates specific intent.”

Call this the Faith-Based No Torture Defense. According to FBNTD, if you don’t believe you are torturing someone, you aren’t torturing them. Here Bybee turns to case law with, not a torture case, but rather the example of a defendant in a mail fraud trial, who successfully argued that if he had a good faith belief that the material he was mailing was truthful, he wasn’t guilty of mail fraud. But of course, torture isn’t mail fraud, and the evidence of the pain and suffering being inflicted at the hands of the torturer is right there before his eyes, whatever he may “believe.”

Let’s face it. This word-twisting judge, sitting in his black robes in a court that ranks just below the US Supreme Court in importance, is a disgrace not just to the US court system, not just to the legal profession, but to the English language.

He should not only be impeached and removed from his post by Congress; he should be disbarred by fellow members of his legal profession and then prosecuted as a war criminal by his former employer, the US Dept. of Justice, for his role in authorizing and promoting the use of torture by US military and intelligence agency personnel. If convicted, he should be sentenced to a long term in jail, and while confined should be forced to write 100 times a day on a blackboard:

“The only thing we have to enforce our judgements is the power of our words. When these words lose their ordinary meaning-when they become so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean-we cede our own right to be taken seriously.”

While Bybee himself may have never personally tortured anything but the English language, his eventual prosecution for war crimes could be facilitated by a little legal research he did in that same memo. For as Bybee noted in that memo, the USA PATRIOT Act, in addition to eviscerating much of the Bill of Rights, also amended Section 2340A of the US law prohibiting torture to include the offense of “conspiracy to commit torture”–and if Bybee’s memo doesn’t meet the definition of conspiracy, I don’t know what the word conspiracy means.

Hey, I never thought I’d find myself commending the PATRIOT Act, but here’s one little piece of it that we should not be trying to rescind.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Isn’t “Laying Blame for the Past” What we Used to Think of as “Justice”? April 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Howard A. Rodman

www.huffingtonpost.com, April 17, 2009

President Obama did something which should be commonplace but which, in this terrible time, is now thought of as optional for high officials, which is to say, he obeyed the law. The law in this case required him, in response to an ACLU lawsuit, to disclose the Torture Memos, prepared by the Office of Legal Counsel under the Bush administration. (It is a sad testimony that doing as the law requires is, in our political climate, an act of bravery.)

The Torture Memos show an attention to the detail of pain reminiscent of The 120 Days of Sodom. They reveal that at the highest level we were a government of sadists, supported by a covey of lawyers (Yoo, Bybee, Addington, Bradbury, Rizzo, Gonzaleslook at their faces, look at them) who felt their job was to come up with legal justifications for that sadism.

Yet even while the memos provide incontrovertible evidence of war crimes, President Obama ‘split the difference’ by stating that the torturers would not be held accountable for their actions. He said,

“This is a time for reflection, not retribution… nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.”

 

Imagine this last statement trotted out (for instance) by the Phil Spector defense. Would you take it seriously? Would you buy it? Or would you laugh hysterically and forward it to Paul Slansky?

Isn’t “laying blame for the past” exactly what our justice system was designed to do? Isn’t that the basis of every criminal case in every criminal court in the nation?

The idea that criminal acts must, indeed should, go unpunished, if–and only if–they are committed by the ruling class or government officials, is at the heart of what’s wrong with our republic. It is as appallingly true with respect to the looting of the economy as it is with respect to the war crimes these memos disclose. (Note to NPR: if Sylvia Poggioli were kidnapped off the streets of Rome, put in a coffin-sized container, deprived of sleep for eleven consecutive nights, had her head slammed against a wall, were made to feel as if she were drowning, would you say that she had been subjected to “harsh interrogation techniques”? Or might you use the word torture?)

The Bush Six to Be Indicted April 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, Human Rights, Torture.
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Spanish prosecutors will seek criminal charges against Alberto Gonzales and five high-ranking Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at Guantánamo.

by Scott Horton

Spanish prosecutors have decided to press forward with a criminal investigation targeting former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five top associates over their role in the torture of five Spanish citizens held at Guantánamo, several reliable sources close to the investigation have told The Daily Beast. Their decision is expected to be announced on Tuesday before the Spanish central criminal court, the Audencia Nacional, in Madrid. But the decision is likely to raise concerns with the human-rights community on other points: They will seek to have the case referred to a different judge.

 

[In this Jan. 6, 2005 file photo, then-Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales testifies during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)]In this Jan. 6, 2005 file photo, then-Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales testifies during his confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

The six defendants-in addition to Gonzales, Federal Appeals Court Judge and former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, University of California law professor and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, former Defense Department general counsel and current Chevron lawyer William J. Haynes II, Vice President Cheney’s former chief of staff David Addington, and former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith-are accused of having given the green light to the torture and mistreatment of prisoners held in U.S. detention in “the war on terror.” The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo. A group of human-rights lawyers originally filed a criminal complaint asking the court to look at the possibility of charges against the six American lawyers. Baltasar Garzón Real, the investigating judge, accepted the complaint and referred it to Spanish prosecutors for a view as to whether they would accept the case and press it forward. “The evidence provided was more than sufficient to justify a more comprehensive investigation,” one of the lawyers associated with the prosecution stated. 

But prosecutors will also ask that Judge Garzón, an internationally known figure due to his management of the case against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and other high-profile cases, step aside. The case originally came to Garzón because he presided over efforts to bring terrorism charges against the five Spaniards previously held at Guantánamo. Spanish prosecutors consider it “awkward” for the same judge to have both the case against former U.S. officials based on the possible torture of the five Spaniards at Guantánamo and the case against those very same Spaniards. A source close to the prosecution also noted that there was concern about the reaction to the case in some parts of the U.S. media, where it had been viewed, incorrectly, as a sort of personal frolic of Judge Garzón. Instead, the prosecutors will ask Garzón to transfer the case to Judge Ismail Moreno, who is currently handling an investigation into kidnapping charges surrounding the CIA’s use of facilities as a safe harbor in connection with the seizure of Khalid el-Masri, a German greengrocer who was seized and held at various CIA blacksites for about half a year as a result of mistaken identity. The decision on the transfer will be up to Judge Garzón in the first instance, and he is expected to make a quick ruling. If he denies the request, it may be appealed.

Judge Garzón’s name grabs headlines in Spain today less because of his involvement in the Gonzales torture case than because of his supervision of the Gürtel affair, in which leading figures of the conservative Partido Popular in Madrid and Valencia are now under investigation or indictment on suspicions of corruptly awarding public-works contracts. Garzón is also the nation’s leading counterterrorism judge, responsible for hundreds of investigations targeting Basque terrorist groups, as well as a major recent effort to identify and root out al Qaeda affiliates operating in the Spanish enclaves of North Africa.

Announcement of the prosecutor’s decision was delayed until after the Easter holiday in order not to interfere with a series of meetings between President Barack Obama and Spanish Prime Minister José Zapatero. However, contrary to a claim contained in an editorial on April 8 in the Wall Street Journal, the Obama State Department has been in steady contact with the Spanish government about the case. Shortly after the case was filed on March 17, chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza was invited to the U.S. embassy in Madrid to brief members of the embassy staff about the matter. A person in attendance at the meeting described the process as “correct and formal.” The Spanish prosecutors briefed the American diplomats on the status of the case, how it arose, the nature of the allegations raised against the former U.S. government officials. The Americans “were basically there just to collect information,” the source stated.The Spanish prosecutors advised the Americans that they would suspend their investigation if at any point the United States were to undertake an investigation of its own into these matters. They pressed to know whether any such investigation was pending. These inquiries met with no answer from the U.S. side.Spanish officials are highly conscious of the political context of the case and have measured the Obama administration’s low-key reaction attentively. Although Spain is a NATO ally that initially supported “the war on terror” under Bush with a commitment of troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, relations with the Bush administration deteriorated after Zapatero became prime minister and acted quickly to withdraw the Spanish contingent in Iraq. In the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican John McCain referred to Spain as a hostile state in comments that mystified Spaniards (it appears that McCain may have confused Spain with Venezuela and Zapatero with Hugo Chávez). Recently, the United States and Spain also wrangled over Spain’s decision to withdraw its troop commitment in Kosovo as well. Both Zapatero and Obama, however, have given a high priority to improving relations between the two long-standing allies. Spanish newspapers hailed the fact that Obama referred to Zapatero three times as “my good friend” during the recent European summit meetings, a sharp contrast with meetings at which former President Bush gave Zapatero a cold shoulder.

Both Washington and Madrid appear determined not to allow the pending criminal investigation to get in the way of improved relations, which both desire, particularly in regard to coordinated economic policy to confront the current financial crisis and a reshaped NATO mandate for action in Afghanistan. With the case now proceeding, that will be more of a challenge. The reaction on American editorial pages is divided-some questioning sharply why the Obama administration is not conducting an investigation, which is implicitly the question raised by the Spanish prosecutors. Publications loyal to the Bush team argue that the Spanish investigation is an “intrusion” into American affairs, even when those affairs involve the torture of five Spaniards on Cuba.

The Bush Six labored at length to create a legal black hole in which they could implement their policies safe from the scrutiny of American courts and the American media. Perhaps they achieved much of their objective, but the law of unintended consequences has kicked in. If U.S. courts and prosecutors will not address the matter because of a lack of jurisdiction, foreign courts appear only too happy to step in.

Scott Horton is a law professor and writer on legal and national-security affairs for Harper’s magazine and The American Lawyer, among other publications.

Spanish Judge Accuses Six Top Bush Officials of Torture March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Legal moves may force Obama’s government into starting a new inquiry into abuses at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib

by Julian Borger and Dale Fuchs

MADRID – Criminal proceedings have begun in Spain against six senior officials in the Bush administration for the use of torture against detainees in Guantánamo Bay. Baltasar Garzón, the counter-terrorism judge whose prosecution of General Augusto Pinochet led to his arrest in Britain in 1998, has referred the case to the chief prosecutor before deciding whether to proceed.

 

[A Spanish court has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, seen in this photo from Aug. 28, 2007, over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer in the case said. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)]A Spanish court has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, seen in this photo from Aug. 28, 2007, over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer in the case said. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The case is bound to threaten Spain’s relations with the new administration in Washington, but Gonzalo Boyé, one of the four lawyers who wrote the lawsuit, said the prosecutor would have little choice under Spanish law but to approve the prosecution. 

“The only route of escape the prosecutor might have is to ask whether there is ongoing process in the US against these people,” Boyé told the Observer. “This case will go ahead. It will be against the law not to go ahead.”

The officials named in the case include the most senior legal minds in the Bush administration. They are: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who were both senior justice department legal advisers.

Court documents say that, without their legal advice in a series of internal administration memos, “it would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guantánamo]”.

Boyé predicted that Garzón would issue subpoenas in the next two weeks, summoning the six former officials to present evidence: “If I were them, I would search for a good lawyer.”

If Garzón decided to go further and issued arrest warrants against the six, it would mean they would risk detention and extradition if they travelled outside the US. It would also present President Barack Obama with a serious dilemma. He would have either to open proceedings against the accused or tackle an extradition request from Spain.

Obama administration officials have confirmed that they believe torture was committed by American interrogators. The president has not ruled out a criminal inquiry, but has signalled he is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

“Obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices, and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” Obama said in January. “But my orientation’s going to be to move forward.”

Philippe Sands, whose book Torture Team first made the case against the Bush lawyers and which Boyé said was instrumental in formulating the Spanish case, said yesterday: “What this does is force the Obama administration to come to terms with the fact that torture has happened and to decide, sooner rather than later, whether it is going to criminally investigate. If it decides not to investigate, then inevitably the Garzón investigation, and no doubt many others, will be given the green light.”

Germany’s federal prosecutor was asked in November 2006 to pursue a case against Donald Rumsfeld, the former defence secretary, Gonzales and other officials for abuses committed in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But the prosecutor declined on the grounds that the issue should be investigated in the US.

Legal observers say the Spanish lawsuit has a better chance of ending in charges. The high court, on which Garzón sits, has more leeway than the German prosecutor to seek “universal jurisdiction”.

The lawsuit also points to a direct link with Spain, as six Spaniards were held at Guantánamo and are argued to have suffered directly from the Bush administration’s departure from international law. Unlike the German lawsuit, the Spanish case is aimed at second-tier figures, advisers to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, with the aim of being less politically explosive.

The lawsuit claimed the six former aides “participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention centre at Guantánamo”.

“All the accused are members of what they themselves called the ‘war council’,” court documents allege. “This group met almost weekly either in Gonzales’s or Haynes’s offices.”

In a now notorious legal opinion signed in August 2002, Yoo and Bybee argued that torture occurred only when pain was inflicted “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”.

Another key document cited in the Spanish case is a November 2002 “action memo” written by Haynes, in which he recommends that Rumsfeld give “blanket approval” to 15 forms of aggressive interrogation, including stress positions, isolation, hooding, 20-hour interrogations and nudity. Rumsfeld approved the document.

The 1984 UN Convention against Torture, signed and ratified by the US, requires states to investigate allegations of torture committed on their territory or by their nationals, or extradite them to stand trial elsewhere.

Last week, Britain’s attorney general, Lady Scotland, launched a criminal investigation into MI5 complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held in Guantánamo.

The Obama administration has so far avoided taking similar steps. But the possibility of US prosecutions was brought closer by a report by the Senate armed services committee at the end of last year, which found: “The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorised their use against detainees.”

None of the six former officials could be reached for comment yesterday. Meanwhile, Vijay Padmanabhan, a former state department lawyer, said the creation of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp was “one of the worst over-reactions of the Bush administration”.