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Context of 'February 23, 2006: ACLU Releases Documents Proving Senior Pentagon Officials Authorized Harsh Interrogation Tactics'

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John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice, 6/9/2002 pdf file; Newsweek, 5/21/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 146] The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” [Newsweek, 5/21/2004] Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181]
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002]
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, John C. Yoo, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Alberto Mora, US Department of State, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Rumsfeld’s handwritten note at the bottom of the memo he signs: “However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”Rumsfeld’s handwritten note at the bottom of the memo he signs: “However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” [Source: HBO]Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approves General Counsel William J. Haynes’ recommendations for interrogations methods (see November 27, 2002) and signs the action memo. [Associated Press, 6/23/2004] He adds in handwriting: “However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” In signing the memo, Rumsfeld adds for use at Guantanamo Bay 16 more aggressive interrogation procedures to the 17 methods that have long been approved as part of standard US military practice. [New York Times, 8/25/2004] The additional methods, like interrogation sessions of up to 20 hours at a time and the enforced shaving of heads and beards, are otherwise prohibited under US military doctrine. [MSNBC, 6/23/2004]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, has learned that possibly illegal interrogation techniques are being used against Guantanamo Bay detainees (see December 17-18, 2002). After getting the authorization of Gordon England, the secretary of the Navy, Mora meets with the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, in Haynes’s Pentagon office.
Meeting with Pentagon Counsel - In 2006, Mora will recall telling Haynes in the meeting that whatever its intent, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to allow extreme interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002) is “torture.” Haynes replies, “No, it isn’t.” Mora asks Haynes to reconsider his opinions. For example, what does “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli” mean? Detention in a completely dark cell? For how long? Until he goes blind? And what does the phrase “exploitation of phobias” entail? Could it mean holding a detainee in a coffin? Threatening him with dogs, or rats? Can an interrogator drive a detainee insane? Mora notes that at the bottom of Rumsfeld’s memo, he asks why a detainee can be forced to stand for no longer than four hours a day when he himself often stands “for 8-10 hours a day.” While Rumsfeld may have intended to be humorous, Mora notes that Rumsfeld’s comment could be used as a defense argument in future terrorist trials. (In 2006, Lawrence Wilkerson will say of Rumsfeld’s comment: “It said, ‘Carte blanche, guys.’ That’s what started them down the slope. You’ll have My Lais then. Once you pull this thread, the whole fabric unravels.”) Mora leaves the office hoping that Haynes will come around to his point of view and convince Rumsfeld to withdraw the memo. He will be sharply disappointed (see July 7, 2004). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006] He later calls the interrogation practices “unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 179]
Haynes Close to Cheney's Office - Mora may not be aware that in meeting with Haynes, he is also in effect engaging the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Haynes is a protege of Cheney’s neoconservative chief of staff, David Addington. Haynes worked as Addington’s special assistant when Addington served under then-Defense Secretary Cheney in 1989, and Addington promoted Haynes to the office of general counsel of the Army. When George W. Bush took office in 2001, Haynes was awarded the position of the Pentagon’s general counsel. Addington has played key roles in almost all of the administration’s legal arguments in favor of extreme interrogation techniques and detainee policies. One former government lawyer will describe Addington as “the Octopus” because his hands seem to reach into every legal issue. Many of Haynes’s colleagues know that information moves rapidly between Haynes’s and Cheney’s offices. While not a hardline neoconservative like Addington and many other Cheney staffers, Haynes is, as one former Pentagon colleague will call him, “pliant” to serving the agenda of the vice president. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Alberto Mora, Gordon England, David S. Addington, William J. Haynes, Lawrence Wilkerson, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, meets for a second time with Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, who he had tried unsuccessfully to convince to join him in opposing the use of extreme interrogation methods at Guantanamo (see December 20, 2002). Mora will write in a June 2004 memo (see July 7, 2004) that when he tells Haynes how disappointed he is that nothing has been done to stop abuse at Guantanamo, Haynes retorts that “US officials believed the techniques were necessary to obtain information,” and that the interrogations might prevent future attacks against the US and save American lives. Mora acknowledges that he can imagine any number of “ticking bomb” scenarios where it might be the proper, if not the legal, thing to torture suspects. But, he asks, how many lives must be saved to justify torture? Hundreds? Thousands? Where do we draw the line? Shouldn’t there be a public debate on the issue? Mora is doubtful that anyone at Guantanamo would be involved in such a scenario, since almost all of the Guantanamo detainees have been in custody for over a year. He also warns Haynes that the legal opinions the administration is using will probably not stand up in court. If that is the case, then US officials could face criminal charges. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could find himself in court; the presidency itself could be damaged. “Protect your client!” he says. When Haynes relates Mora’s concerns to Rumsfeld, according to a former administration official, Rumsfeld responds with jokes about how gentle the interrogation techniques are. “Torture?” he asks rhetorically. “That’s not torture!” He himself stands for up to ten hours a day, he says, and prisoners are not allowed to stand for over four. The official will recall, “His attitude was, ‘What’s the big deal?’” Mora continues to push his arguments, but, as a former Pentagon colleague will recall: “people were beginning to roll their eyes. It was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve already heard this.’” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Alberto Mora, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, is angered at the lack of response to his attempts to persuade the Pentagon to stop abusing prisoners at Guantanamo and is particularly frustrated with the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes (see December 20, 2002 and January 9, 2003 and After). Mora decides to take a step that he knows will antagonize Haynes, who always warns subordinates never to put anything controversial in writing or in e-mail messages. Mora delivers an unsigned draft memo of his objections to Haynes, and tells him that he intends to “sign it out” that afternoon—thereby making it an official document—unless the harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo stop. Mora’s memo describes the interrogations at Guantanamo as “at a minimum cruel and unusual treatment, and, at worst, torture.”
'Working Group to Be Created - Haynes calls Mora later that day with good news: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is suspending his authorization of the disputed interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002) and is appointing a “working group” of lawyers from all branches of the armed forces to develop new interrogation guidelines. Mora will be a part of that working group. An elated Mora begins working with the group of lawyers to discuss the constitutionality and effectiveness of various interrogation techniques. In 2006, he will say that he felt “no one would ever learn about the best thing I’d ever done in my life.”
Mora Outmaneuvered - But Haynes has outmaneuvered Mora. A week later, Mora sees a lengthy classified document that negates every argument he has made. Haynes has already solicited a second, overarching opinion from John Yoo, a lawyer at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, that supersedes Mora’s working group (see January 9, 2002). Mora is astonished (see January 23-Late January, 2003). He will later learn that the working group’s report will be forced to comply with Yoo’s legal reasoning. In fact, the group’s final report is never completed—though the draft report, which follows Yoo’s memo, is signed by Rumsfeld without Mora’s knowledge. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006] Mora later says that while Yoo’s memo displays a “seeming sophistication,” it is “profoundly in error,” contradicting both domestic law and international treaties. Mora and the other “dissident” members of the working group are led to believe that the report has been abandoned. [Savage, 2007, pp. 181] He will learn about Rumsfeld’s signature on the draft report while watching C-SPAN in mid-2004. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 189]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Alberto Mora, John C. Yoo, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Donald Rumsfeld, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, is shocked when he reads a legal opinion drafted by John Yoo, of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, about techniques that can be used in prisoner interrogations (see January 9, 2002). Mora has been fighting the use of questionable techniques and was part of a working group that was reviewing them (see January 15-22, 2003). The opinion was sought by Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes and not only counters every legal and moral argument Mora has brought to bear, but supersedes the working group. Only one copy of the opinion exists, kept in the office of the Air Force’s general counsel, Mary Walker, the head of the working group.
'Catastrophically Poor Legal Reasoning' - Mora reads it in Walker’s office with mounting horror. The opinion says nothing about prohibiting cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of detainees; in fact, it defends such tactics. While sophisticated, it displays “catastrophically poor legal reasoning,” he will later recall. Mora believes that it approaches the level of the notorious Supreme Court decision in Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision that upheld the government’s detention of innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II. Mora is not aware that Yoo, like Haynes, is a member of an informal but extremely powerful “inner circle” dominated by David Addington, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. In fact, Yoo and Haynes are regular racquetball partners. Like Addington and Cheney, Yoo believes in virtually unrestricted executive powers during a time of war. Yoo wrote that almost any interrogation methods used against terror suspects is legally permissible, an argument that shocks Mora.
Mora's Response - In his June 2004 memo on the subject (see July 7, 2004), Mora will write, “The memo espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the President’s Commander-in-Chief authority.” Yoo’s reasoning is “profoundly in error,” Mora concludes, and is “clearly at variance with applicable law.” In 2006, Mora will add, “If everything is permissible, and almost nothing is prohibited, it makes a mockery of the law.” He writes to Walker shortly thereafter, saying that not only is Yoo’s opinion “fundamentally in error” but “dangerous,” because it has the weight of law and can only be reversed by the Attorney General or the President. Walker writes back that she disagrees, and she believes Haynes does as well. Two weeks later, Mora will discuss the memo with Yoo (see February 6, 2003). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, David S. Addington, Alberto Mora, John C. Yoo, Mary L. Walker, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

An FBI memo released to the American Civil Liberties Union in 2006 (ACLU—see February 23, 2006) documents escalating tensions between FBI and Defense Department personnel stationed at Guantanamo. According to the memo, beginning in late 2002, Defense Department interrogators received encouragement from their superiors to “use aggressive interrogation tactics” that FBI agents believed were “of questionable effectiveness and subject to uncertain interpretation based on law and regulation.” The memo names Major General Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, as supporting interrogation methods FBI agents believe “could easily result in the elicitation of unreliable and legally inadmissible information.” FBI personnel took their concerns to senior Pentagon officials, but were ignored. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Geoffrey D. Miller

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The FBI’s on-scene commander in Baghdad sends an e-mail to senior FBI officials at FBI headquarters in Washington, discussing the allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. The e-mail advises the senior officials not to investigate the allegations. “We need to maintain good will and relations with those operating the prison,” it reads. “Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

An internal FBI e-mail shows that abusive interrogation methods at Guantanamo are endorsed by senior Defense Department (DoD) officials. The e-mail states that “hooding prisoners, threats of violence, and techniques meant to humiliate detainees” have been “approved at high levels w/in DoD.” Another FBI e-mail states that some aggressive interrogation methods considered abusive by some FBI agents were “approved by the deputy secretary of defense,” Paul Wolfowitz. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents showing that senior Pentagon officials approved harsh interrogation techniques that FBI agents termed abusive, ineffective, and unlawful. “We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law,” according to ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable.” One document shows that FBI personnel at Guantanamo questioned harsh methods being used by military interrogators (see May 30, 2003). Another shows that senior Pentagon officials approved interrogation methods considered abusive by FBI agents (see May 5, 2004). The ACLU says that, combined with a memo from Navy general counsel Alberto Mora (see January 15-22, 2003), evidence “show[s] conclusively that Pentagon officials at the highest levels authorized the abuse of prisoners and persisted in their endorsement of unlawful interrogation methods even after FBI and Navy personnel objected to those methods orally and in writing.” The documents released by the ACLU also show that interrogators from the Department of Homeland Security identified themselves as FBI agents while using harsh methods against detainees. One FBI memo observed, “The next time a real agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.” The documents also show that while FBI agents expressed concern about the harsh interrogation methods being employed by military and other interrogators, the FBI itself did little to counter such tactics (see January 24, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, Alberto Mora, American Civil Liberties Union, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jameel Jaffer, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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