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Context of 'September 28, 2006: MCA Applies to Anyone Pentagon Designates ‘Enemy Combatant,’ Says Law Professor'

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Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, from Qatar but a legal US resident, arrives in the US with his wife and five children, reportedly to pursue a master’s degree in computer science at Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois. [Peoria Journal Star, 12/19/2001; New York Times, 6/21/2004] Al-Marri appears to have been sent to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). During his interrogation, KSM will identify al-Marri as “the point of contact for al-Qaeda operatives arriving in the US for September 11 follow-on operations.” He will describe al-Marri as “the perfect sleeper agent because he has studied in the United States, had no criminal record, and had a family with whom he could travel.” [Newsweek, 6/15/2003] However, there are doubts about the reliability of KSM’s interrogation, which is believed that have been obtained through the use of torture (see June 16, 2004). Al-Marri also lived in Illinois for part of 2000 under a different name. [New York Daily News, 1/11/2003] He is apparently related to Mohamed al-Khatani, who attempted to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see July 2002). [New York Times, 6/21/2004] In December 2001, al-Marri will be detained as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks (see December 12, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The US Congress adopts a joint resolution, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), that determines that “the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” Congress also states that the “grave acts of violence” committed on the US “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to [its] national security and foreign policy.” [US Congress, 9/14/2001] President Bush signs the resolution into law on September 18. [White House, 9/18/2001] The passage of the AUMF served another purpose: to extend presidential power. While the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff intended the AUMF to define the conflict in narrow terms, and authorize the US to move militarily against al-Qaeda and its confederates, and the Taliban, Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, had a larger goal. Attorney Scott Horton, who has written two major studies on interrogation of terrorism suspects for the New York City Bar Association, says in 2005 that Cheney and Addington “really wanted [the AUMF defined more broadly], because it provided the trigger for this radical redefinition of presidential power.” Addington helped draft a Justice Department opinion in late 2001, written by lawyer John Yoo (see Late September 2001), that asserted Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Taliban, Scott Horton, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, John C. Yoo, Al-Qaeda, Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF)

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

Yaser Esam Hamdi.Yaser Esam Hamdi. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi v. Donald Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rules 8-1 that, contrary to the government’s position, Hamdi (see December 2001), as a US citizen held inside the US, cannot be held indefinitely and incommunicado without an opportunity to challenge his detention. It rules he has the right to be given the opportunity to challenge the basis for his detention before an impartial court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes for the majority: “It would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” Hamdi, on the other hand, apart from military interrogations and “screening processes,” has received no process. Due process, according to a majority of the Court, “demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification [as enemy combatant].” A “citizen-detainee… must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker.” However, O’Connor writes, “an interrogation by one’s captor… hardly constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker.”
Conservative Dissent: President Has Inherent Power to Detain Citizens during War - Only Justice Clarence Thomas affirms the government’s opinion, writing, “This detention falls squarely within the federal government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision.” [Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al., 6/28/2004] Thomas adds: “The Founders intended that the president have primary responsibility—along with the necessary power—to protect the national security and to conduct the nation’s foreign relations. They did so principally because the structural advantages of a unitary executive are essential in these domains.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 105]
'A State of War Is Not a Blank Check for the President' - The authority to hold Hamdi and other such US citizens captured on enemy battlefields derives from Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001). Justice Antonin Scalia dissents from this portion of the majority ruling, saying that because Congress had not suspended habeas corpus, Hamdi should either be charged with a crime or released. The Court also finds that if Hamdi was indeed a missionary and not a terrorist, as both he and his father claim, then he must be freed. While the Court does not grant Hamdi the right to a full criminal trial, it grants him the right to a hearing before a “neutral decision-maker” to challenge his detention. O’Connor writes: “It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in these times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.… We have long made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”
Affirms President's Right to Hold US Citizens Indefinitely - Although the media presents the ruling as an unmitigated defeat for the Bush administration, it is actually far more mixed. The White House is fairly pleased with the decision, insamuch as Hamdi still has no access to civilian courts; the administration decides that Hamdi’s “neutral decision-maker” will be a panel of military officers. Hamdi will not have a lawyer, nor will he have the right to see the evidence against him if it is classified. This is enough to satisfy the Court’s ruling, the White House decides. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “[T]he administration’s legal team noted with quiet satisfaction that, so long as some kind of minimal hearing was involved, the Supreme Court had just signed off on giving presidents the wartime power to hold a US citizen without charges or a trial—forever.” The Justice Department says of the ruling that it is “pleased that the [Court] today upheld the authority of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces to detain enemy combatants, including US citizens.… This power, which was contested by lawyers representing individuals captured in the War on Terror, is one of the most essential authorities the US Constitution grants the president to defend America from our enemies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 193-194]

Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Donald Rumsfeld, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Clarence Thomas, Charlie Savage

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

The Bush administration relents in its opposition to the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which would ban torture of prisoners by US personnel (see July 24, 2005 and After and December 30, 2005). President Bush meets with the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, in a press conference to praise the bill. McCain says after the conference that the bill “is a done deal.” The bill still faces some opposition from Congressional Republicans such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who says he won’t vote for the bill unless it can be amended to ensure that the nation’s ability to gather intelligence is not diminished. Both the House and Senate have voted by veto-proof margins to accept the bill, which is actually an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. McCain says after the conference with Bush and Warner, “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are.” Bush says the ban “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.” McCain has been the target of months of vilification and opposition from the White House over the bill, which argued that the bill would limit Bush’s authority to protect the US from terrorist attacks, and that the bill is unnecessary because US officials do not torture. [CNN, 12/15/2005]
Loopholes - But the bill contains key loopholes that some experts believe significantly waters down the bill’s impact. Author Alfred McCoy, an expert on the CIA, notes that the bill as revised by White House officials does not give any real specifics. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will assert that the only restrictions on prisoner interrogations are the ban on “severe” psychological or physical pain, “the same linguistic legerdemain that had allowed the administration to start torturing back in 2002” (see August 1, 2002). Gonzales also implies that practices such as waterboarding are not prohibited. [TomDispatch (.com), 2/8/2006]
Legal Cover - A provision of the bill inserted after negotiation with White House officials says that CIA and military officials accused of torture can claim legal protection by arguing that they were simply following the orders of their superiors, or they have a reasonable belief that they are carrying out their superiors’ wishes. McCain dropped the original provision that all military personnel must follow the stringent guidelines for interrogation laid out in the Army Field Manual; the bill now follows the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain resisted pressure from the White House to include language that would afford interrogators accused of torture protection from civil or criminal lawsuits. [CNN, 12/15/2005; Associated Press, 12/15/2005]
Controversial Amendment - Perhaps even more troubling is an amendment to the bill that would essentially strip the judiciary’s ability to enforce the ban. The amendment, originally crafted by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and added to by Carl Levin (D-MI), denies Guantanamo detainees the right to bring legal action against US personnel who torture or abuse them—effectively denying them the fundamental legal right of habeas corpus. It also gives the Defense Department the implicit ability to consider evidence obtained through torture or inhumane treatment in assessing detainees’ status. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the DTA marks the first time in history that Congress would allow the use of evidence obtained through torture. HRW’s Tom Malinowski says, “With the McCain amendment, Congress has clearly said that anyone who authorizes or engages in cruel techniques like water boarding is violating the law. But the Graham-Levin amendment leaves Guantanamo detainees no legal recourse if they are, in fact, tortured or mistreated. The treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees will be shrouded in secrecy, placing detainees at risk for future abuse.… If the McCain law demonstrates to the world that the United States really opposes torture, the Graham-Levin amendment risks telling the world the opposite.” [Human Rights Watch, 12/16/2005] Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Judge Advocate General lawyer, agrees. In January 2006, he will write that the “recent compromise inclusion of an ‘obedience to orders’ defense… has effectively undermined the goal Senator John McCain fought so long to achieve. Instead of sending a clear message to US forces that cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees is never permissible, the compromise has validated President Bush’s belief that the necessities of war provide the ultimate ‘trump card’ to justify ‘whatever it takes’ in the war on terror.” [Jurist, 1/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Tom Malinowski, Lindsey Graham, US Department of Defense, Jon Kyl, Uniform Code of Military Justice, John McCain, John W. Warner, Geoffrey Corn, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Alfred McCoy, Carl Levin, Detainee Treatment Act, Central Intelligence Agency, Human Rights Watch, Duncan Hunter

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999.Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999. [Source: Pubic domain via the New York Times]In the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, the Supreme Court rules 5-3 to strike down the Bush administration’s plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions. Ruling in favor of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan (see November 8, 2004), the Court rules that the commissions are unauthorized by federal statutes and violate international law. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens says, “The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction.” The opinion throws out each of the administration’s arguments in favor of the commissions, including its assertion that Congress had stripped the Supreme Court of the jurisdiction to decide the case. One of the major flaws in the commissions, the Court rules, is that President Bush unilaterally established them without the authorization of Congress. [New York Times, 6/30/2006] During the oral arguments three months before, Hamdan’s lawyer, Neal Katyal, told the Court: “The whole point of this [proceeding] is to say we’re challenging the lawfulness of the tribunal [the military commissions] itself. This isn’t a challenge to some decision that a court makes. This is a challenge to the court itself, and that’s why it’s different than the ordinary criminal context that you’re positing.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 274-275]
Major Defeat for Bush Administration - Civil libertarian and human rights organizations consider the ruling a shattering defeat for the administration, particularly in its assertions of expansive, unfettered presidential authority. Bush says in light of the decision, he will work with Congress to “find a way forward” to implement the commissions. “The ruling destroys one of the key pillars of the Guantanamo system,” says Gerald Staberock, a director of the International Commission of Jurists. “Guantanamo was built on the idea that prisoners there have limited rights. There is no longer that legal black hole.” The ruling also says that prisoners held as “enemy combatants” must be afforded rights under the Geneva Conventions, specifically those requiring humane treatment for detainees and the right to free and open trials in the US legal system. While some form of military trials may be permissible, the ruling states that defendants must be given basic rights such as the ability to attend the trial and the right to see and challenge evidence submitted by the prosecution. Stevens writes that the historical origin of military commissions was in their use as a “tribunal of necessity” under wartime conditions. “Exigency lent the commission its legitimacy, but did not further justify the wholesale jettisoning of procedural protections.” [New York Times, 6/30/2006] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Five justices on the Supreme Court said Bush had broken the law.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 275]
Hardline Conservative Justices Dissent - Stevens is joined by Justices David Souter, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Anthony Kennedy issues a concurring opinion. Dissenting are Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Thomas, in a dissent signed by Scalia and Alito, calls the decision “untenable” and “dangerous.” Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the case because of his participation in a federal appeals court that ruled in favor of the administration (see November 8, 2004).
Not Charged for Three Years - Hamdan is a Guantanamo detainee from Yemen, captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in June 2002. He is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, in his function as driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. He was not charged with a crime—conspiracy—until mid-2004. [New York Times, 6/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Samuel Alito, US Supreme Court, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John G. Roberts, Jr, Al-Qaeda, Antonin Scalia, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, International Commission of Jurists, Gerald Staberock, Geneva Conventions, Clarence Thomas

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

Bush acknowledging the secret CIA prison network.Bush acknowledging the secret CIA prison network. [Source: Gerald Herbert / Associated Press]In a speech, President Bush acknowledges a network of secret CIA prisons and announces plans to try 14 top al-Qaeda terrorist suspects in military tribunals. [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2006]
Admits Existence of Detainees in CIA Custody - Bush tells his listeners: “In addition to the terrorists held at Guantanamo, a small number of suspected terrorist leaders and operatives captured during the war have been held and questioned outside the United States, in a separate program operated by the Central Intelligence Agency.… Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged.… We knew that Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) had more information that could save innocent lives, but he stopped talking.… As his questioning proceeded, it became clear that he had received training on how to resist interrogation. And so the CIA used an alternative set of procedures… The procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.… These procedures were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution, and our treaty obligations. The Department of Justice reviewed the authorized methods extensively and determined them to be lawful. I cannot describe the specific methods used—I think you understand why.” Bush then adds that Zubaida “began to provide information on key al-Qaeda operatives, including information that helped us find and capture more of those responsible for the attacks on September 11” (see June 2002). Another high-value detainee, 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), provided “many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans” (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003 and August 6, 2007). [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] The 14 prisoners will be put on trial as soon as Congress enacts the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which he is sending to Congress for its approval today. [Savage, 2007, pp. 308-309]
Political Reasons to Acknowledge CIA Prisons - The US government has never officially acknowledged the existence of the CIA prisons before, despite numerous media accounts about them. Bush’s speech comes less than two months before midterm Congressional elections and also comes as the White House is preparing new legislation to legalize the CIA’s detention program and shield US officials from prosecution for possible war crimes. Knight Ridder comments that the speech “appeared to be intended to give him more leverage in his negotiations with Congress over how to try suspected terrorists.… In addition to the potential political benefits, Bush had other reasons to make the program public. A Supreme Court ruling in June struck down the administration’s plan to bring terrorist suspects before military tribunals and called into question the legality of secret CIA detentions.” [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2006]
Sites Closed Down? - Other administration officials say the CIA prison network has been closed down, at least for the time being. (In fact, it will be reopened a short time later (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007).) Reportedly, “fewer than 100” suspects had ever been in CIA custody. It is not known who they were or what happened to all of them, but most of them reportedly were returned to their home countries for prosecution. Fourteen “high-value” suspects, including accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were transferred from the secret CIA prisons to the prison in Guantanamo, Cuba in the days just prior to Bush’s speech (see September 2-3, 2006).
Torture is 'against [US] Values' - Bush says: “I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world: The United States does not torture. It’s against our laws, and it’s against our values. I have not authorized it—and I will not authorize it.” However, he says the Geneva Conventions’ prohibition against “humiliating and degrading treatment” could potentially cause legal problems for CIA interrogators. Other administration officials say harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding were used in the CIA prisons. Such techniques are considered by many to be forms of torture. Bush claims that information gleaned from interrogations in the secret prisons helped thwart attacks on the US and provided valuable information about al-Qaeda operations around the world. [Knight Ridder, 9/6/2006; Washington Post, 9/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Military Commissions Act, Abu Zubaida, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

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

Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean is troubled by the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) currently under consideration in Congress. The MCA authorizes military tribunals instead of criminal court trials for suspected terrorists. Dean supported the idea of tribunals when they were first suggested in 2001, but, he writes: “[T]he devil… arrived later with the details. It never occurred to me (and most people) that Bush & Co. would design a system more befitting a totalitarian state than a democratic nation that once led the world by its good example.” After a previous tribunal procedure was struck down by the Supreme Court (see June 30, 2006), Bush sent another proposal to Congress in early September. Where the bill did not actively rewrite the Court’s findings, it ignored them altogether, Dean writes. Dean finds the law a stunning reversal of decades—centuries, in some instances—of US jurisprudence and international law, including its dismissal of Geneva protections, its retroactive protection for US officials who may have tortured detainees, and its dismissal of habeas corpus rights for detainees. Dean calls the proposed legislation “shameful,” and writes: “This proposal… is going to tell us a great deal about where we are as a nation, for as General [Colin] Powell said, ‘The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine [the Geneva Conventions] would add to those doubts.’ As will amending the war crimes law to absolve prior wrongs, denying detainees ‘a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples,’ and enacting a law that insults the Supreme Court.” [FindLaw, 9/22/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Bush administration (43), Military Commissions Act, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) is characterized by many as not applying to US citizens. Law professor Marty Lederman disagrees. Under the MCA, Lederman says, “if the Pentagon says you’re an unlawful enemy combatant—using whatever criteria they wish—then as far as Congress, and US law, is concerned, you are one, whether or not you have had any connection to ‘hostilities’ at all.” [Unclaimed Territory, 9/28/2006] Six months later, an administration lawyer will confirm that the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).

Entity Tags: Martin (“Marty”) Lederman, Military Commissions Act, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The newly passed Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006) gives the executive branch sweeping new powers sought by President Bush and Vice President Cheney since the 9/11 attacks, according to a New York Times analysis. Reporters Scott Shane and Adam Liptak write, “Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely, and interrogate them—albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment—beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners. Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy” (see June 30, 2006). The MCA “does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.” Additionally, it gives Bush and his designees the absolute, unchallenged power to define anyone they choose as an “enemy combatant,” thereby stripping them of any traditional US legal protections and placing them under the far harsher and restrictive rubric of the MCA. “Over all, the legislation reallocates power among the three branches of government, taking authority away from the judiciary and handing it to the president.” Law professor Bruce Ackerman notes, “The president walked away with a lot more than most people thought. [The MCA] further entrenches presidential power” and allows the administration to declare even an American citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention. “And it’s not only about these prisoners,” says Ackerman. “If Congress can strip courts of jurisdiction over cases because it fears their outcome, judicial independence is threatened.” [New York Times, 9/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Scott Shane, Adam Liptak, Bruce Ackerman, Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, Military Commissions Act, US Supreme Court, New York Times, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Joanne Mariner, an attorney with the civil liberties organization Human Rights Watch, calls the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) “exceedingly harmful” and a “grab-bag of unnecessary and abusive measures” that creates for detainees “a system of justice that is far inferior to that of the federal courts and courts-martial.” The bill does not directly address detention, Mariner writes, but does nothing to limit detention and, she believes, will be used by the administration to justify its current detention practices. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Joanne Mariner, Human Rights Watch, Military Commissions Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law.President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. [White House, 10/17/2006] The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. [CBS News, 10/19/2006] However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 319, 322]
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” [Washington Post, 10/19/2006] After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. [Savage, 2007, pp. 322]
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” [Consortium News, 10/19/2006]
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. [Jurist, 10/4/2006] Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. [Salon, 5/22/2007]
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. [FindLaw, 10/25/2006]
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. [Dean, 2007, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner, US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Military Commissions Act, John Dean, George W. Bush, Scott Horton, Geneva Conventions, Bruce Ackerman, Dennis Hastert, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Detainee Treatment Act, Arlen Specter, War Crimes Act, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Boehner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Keith Olbermann.Keith Olbermann. [Source: Spidered News.com]MSNBC political commentator Keith Olbermann says that the nation has passed a grim milestone with the passage of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006). By accepting this law, Olbermann says, the nation has accepted that to fight the terrorists, the US government must become “just a little bit like the terrorists.” But the ultimate threat to the nation is not terrorists, Olbermann says, it is George W. Bush himself. “We have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that ‘those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’” Speaking directly to President Bush, Olbermann continues: “But even within this history we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus (see March 28, 2007), that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow. You, sir, have now befouled that spring. You, sir, have now given us chaos and called it order. You, sir, have now imposed subjugation and called it freedom. For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons. And—again, Mr. Bush—all of them, wrong.” The MCA gives Bush a “blank check drawn against our freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ and ship them somewhere—anywhere—but may now, if he so decides, declare you an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ and ship you somewhere—anywhere” (see September 28, 2006). Habeas corpus is now “gone” for those in the prison camps, Olbermann says, and Geneva Conventions protections are “optional.” He concludes: “The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out. These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be ‘the beginning of the end of America.’” [MSNBC, 10/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Keith Olbermann, Military Commissions Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Exercising its new authority under the just-signed Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), the Bush administration notifies the US District Court in Washington that it no longer has jurisdiction to consider 196 habeas corpus petitions filed by Guantanamo detainees. Many of these petitions cover multiple detainees. According to the MCA, “no court, justice, or judge” can consider those petitions or other actions related to treatment or imprisonment filed by anyone designated as an enemy combatant, now or in the future. The MCA is already being challenged as unconstitutional by several lawyers representing Guantanamo detainees. The MCA goes directly against two recent Supreme Court cases, Rasul v. Bush (see June 28, 2004) and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which provide detainees with habeas corpus and other fundamental legal rights. Many Congressional members and legal experts say that the anti-habeas provisions of the MCA are unconstitutional. For instance, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) notes that the Constitution says the right of any prisoner to challenge detention “shall not be suspended” except in cases of “rebellion or invasion.” [Washington Post, 10/20/2006] Law professor Joseph Margulies, who is involved in the detainee cases, says the administration’s persistence on the issue “demonstrates how difficult it is for the courts to enforce [the clause] in the face of a resolute executive branch that is bound and determined to resist it.” Vincent Warren of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many of the detainees, expects the legal challenges to the law will eventually wind up before the Supreme Court. [Washington Post, 10/20/2006]

Entity Tags: Center for Constitutional Rights, Arlen Specter, Bush administration (43), Vincent Warren, Military Commissions Act, Joseph Margulies

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Justice Department argues in federal court that immigrants arrested in the US and labeled as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) can be indefinitely detained without access to the US justice system. The argument comes as part of the Justice Department’s attempt to dismiss a habeas corpus suit challenging the detention of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari citizen accused by the government of being an al-Qaeda agent (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007). The government argues that the MCA “removes federal court jurisdiction over pending and future habeas corpus actions and any other actions filed by or on behalf of detained aliens determined by the United States to be enemy combatants, such as petitioner-appellant al-Marri.… In plain terms, the MCA removes this Court’s jurisdiction (as well as the district court’s) over al-Marri’s habeas action. Accordingly, the Court should dismiss this appeal for lack of jurisdiction and remand the case to the district court with instructions to dismiss the petition for lack of jurisdiction.” This is the first time the Bush administration has argued in court that the MCA strips a detainee held within the US of habeas rights.
Defense Counterargument - Al-Marri’s lawyers say that because he is being held in a South Carolina detention facility, he has the right to challenge his detention in a civilian court like any other non-citizen held on criminal charges. The Justice Department says that enemy combatants have no such rights regardless of where they are being held. Jonathan Hafetz, one of al-Marri’s lawyers, says: “[T]he president has announced that he can sweep any of the millions of non-citizens off the streets of America and imprison them for life in a military jail without charge, court review, or due process. It is unprecedented, unlawful, and un-American.” [Jurist, 11/14/2006] The government has “never admitted that he has any rights, including the right not to be tortured,” Hafetz adds. “They’ve created a black hole where he has no rights.” [Progressive, 3/2007] The Bush administration is also challenging lawsuits filed by detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on similar grounds. [Jurist, 11/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, Bush administration (43), Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Jonathan Hafetz, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Civil libertarians, both conservative and liberal, join in filing a legal brief on behalf of suspected al-Qaeda sleeper agent Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001), whose lawyers are preparing to file a suit challenging his detention as an “enemy combatant” (see February 1, 2007). Liberal and progressive law school deans Harold Koh of Yale and Laurence Tribe of Harvard are joined by conservatives such as Steven Calabresi, a former Reagan White House lawyer and co-founder of the staunchly conservative Federalist Society, in a brief that argues an immigrant or a legal resident of the US has the right to seek his freedom in the US court system. Al-Marri is a Qatari citizen who attended Bradley University in Illinois. The brief argues that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) is unconstitutional. The brief “shows the phrases ‘conservative’ and ‘libertarian’ have less overlap than ever before,” says law professor Richard Epstein, a Federalist Society member who signed it, adding, “This administration has lost all libertarians on all counts.” Koh says: “This involves the executive branch changing the rules to avoid challenges to its own authority. Serious legal scholars, regardless of political bent, find what the government did inconsistent with any reasonable visions of the rule of law.” Epstein, who says Koh is “mad on many issues,” agrees, calling the al-Marri case “beyond the pale.” He says, “They figured out every constitutional protection you’d want and they removed them.” Lawyer Jonathan Hafetz, representing al-Marri, says the case brings up issues about what the framers of the Constitution intended—something libertarians and judicial conservatives often look to. [Associated Press, 12/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard Epstein, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Federalist Society, Harold Koh, Steven Calabresi, Jonathan Hafetz, Laurence Tribe

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Bush administration confirms that it believes US citizens can be designated as “enemy combatants” under the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The confirmation comes during the trial of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari and the only person on the American mainland being held as an enemy combatant. Al-Marri, currently held at the Charleston, South Carolina Naval brig, is a legal US resident accused of being a sleeper agent for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2001). He was arrested in December 2001, while living with his family and studying computer science at Bradley University in Illinois. Al-Marri is charged, not with any direct terrorist activities, but with credit card fraud and lying to federal agents. He is challenging his indefinite detention in federal court, and the government is using the MCA to argue that al-Marri has no status in the courts because of his designation as an enemy combatant. One of the appellate court judges, Roger Gregory, asks Justice Department lawyer David Salmons, “What would prevent you from plucking up anyone and saying, ‘You are an enemy combatant?’” Salmons responds that the government can do just that, without interference from the courts, and adds, “A citizen, no less than an alien, can be an enemy combatant.” Gregory and the second of the three appellate judges, Diana Gribbon Motz, seem uncomfortable with the law’s provisions that the US judiciary has no role in such designations. When Motz asks Salmons about the difference between nations making war and individuals committing acts of terrorism, Salmons retorts with a familiar, and long-disputed, argument that the US Congress gave the government the right to detain terrorist suspects without charge or recourse to the judiciary when it granted the administration the right to use military force against terrorists after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001).
Theoretically Declaring War on PETA - Motz is skeptical of the argument, and asks a series of hypothetical questions about just what organizations or individuals President Bush could designate as enemy combatants. Using the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) as an example, Motz asks, “Could the president declare war on PETA?” Salmons says the question is unrealistic, but refuses to say that Bush could not do so if he chose. The Bush administration is careful in its use of the enemy combatant designation, Salmons says, therefore, “The representative of PETA can sleep well at night.” [New York Times, 2/2/2007]
Ignoring Constitutional Concept of 'Inalienable Rights' - Author and investigative journalist Robert Parry notes that in the al-Marri case, the Bush administration is arguing against the concept of “inalienable,” or “unalienable,” rights as granted by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. According to the administration, as long as the US is embroiled in what it calls the “war on terror,” Bush can use his “plenary,” or unlimited, executive powers to essentially waive laws and ignore Constitutional rights if he so chooses. Parry writes that “since the ‘war on terror’ will go on indefinitely and since the ‘battlefield’ is everywhere, Bush is asserting the president’s right to do whatever he wants to whomever he wants wherever the person might be, virtually forever.” Parry concludes, “The Justice Department’s arguments in the [al-]Marri case underscore that Bush still sees himself as a modern-day version of the absolute monarch who gets to decide which rights and freedoms his subjects can enjoy and which ones will be denied.” [Consortium News, 2/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, Bush administration (43), Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Al-Qaeda, David Salmons, George W. Bush, Robert Parry, Roger Gregory, Diana Gribbon Motz, US Department of Justice, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Thom Hartmann.Thom Hartmann. [Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Author and talk show host Thom Hartmann issues a call for the repeal of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006). He frames his argument with a quote from the revered British Conservative Prime Minister, Winston Churchill: “The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.” The MCA is “the most conspicuous part of a series of laws which have fundamentally changed the nature of this nation, moving us from a democratic republic to a state under the rule of a ‘unitary’ president,” Hartmann writes. The MCA is an “attack on eight centuries of English law,” the foundation of US jurisprudence that goes back to 1215 and the Magna Carta. While the MCA’s supporters in and out of the administration give reassurances that the law only applies to non-citizens, Hartmann notes that two US citizens, Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, have already been stripped of their habeas corpus rights. Habeas corpus, Hartmann writes, is featured prominently in Article I of the US Constitution. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was flat wrong in saying that the Constitution provided “no express grant of habeas” (see January 17, 2007), Hartmann writes. “Our Constitution does not grant us rights, because ‘We’ already hold all rights. Instead, it defines the boundaries of our government, and identifies what privileges ‘We the People’ will grant to that government.” The authors of the Constitution “must be turning in their graves,” Hartmann writes, quoting the “most conservative” of those authors, Alexander Hamilton: “The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus… are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains.… [T]he practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny.” Hamilton’s colleague Thomas Jefferson said that laws such as habeas corpus make the US government “the strongest government on earth.” Now, Hartmann writes, the strength of that government is imperiled. [CommonDreams (.org), 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, Alberto R. Gonzales, Alexander Hamilton, Jose Padilla, Magna Carta, Military Commissions Act, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Hartmann

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

ACLU advertisement against the Military Commissions Act.ACLU advertisement against the Military Commissions Act. [Source: ACLU]The American Civil Liberties Union strongly objects to the stripping of habeas corpus rights contained within the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The ACLU observes, “Habeas corpus isn’t a fancy legal term. It’s the freedom from being thrown in prison illegally, with no help and no end in sight. No president should ever be given the power to call someone an enemy, wave his hand, and lock them away indefinitely. The Founders made the president subject to the rule of law. They rejected dungeons and chose due process.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 3/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Military Commissions Act, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal appeals court rules that “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri (see December 12, 2001 and February 1, 2007) must be released from military custody. “To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians,” writes Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, “even if the President calls them ‘enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution—and the country.” She adds, “We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007] Motz continues, “The president cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention.”
Military Commissons Act Does Not Apply - The Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) does not apply to al-Marri, the court rules. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007] Motz writes that the MCA does not apply to al-Marri and the court also rules that the government failed to prove its argument that the Authorization for Use of Military Force, enacted by Congress immediately after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), gives President Bush the power to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] Motz also notes that even though the government says the MCA applies to al-Marri’s case, it did not follow its own guidelines under that law. The MCA requires all such detainees to be granted a Combat Status Review Tribunal (CRST) determination; all Guantanamo-based detainees have been given such a procedure. Al-Marri has not. The government did not suggest the procedure for al-Marri until the day it filed its motion to dismiss al-Marri’s case. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007] The case, al-Marri v. Wright, was filed against Navy Commander S.L. Wright, who oversees the Charleston military prison that houses al-Marri. [Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Government Arguments Repudiated - The 2-1 decision of the US Court of Appeals in Richmond was written for the majority by Motz. Al-Marri is the only person held on the US mainland as an enemy combatant, and has been held in isolation for four years (see August 8, 2005). The government has alleged since 2002 that al-Marri was an al-Qaeda sleeper agent sent to the US to commit mass murder and disrupt the US banking system (see June 23, 2003). Motz writes that while al-Marri may well be guilty of serious crimes, the government cannot sidestep the US criminal justice system through military detention. The al-Marri ruling apparently does not apply to enemy combatants and other detainees held without charges or legal access at the facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The dissenting judge, Henry Hudson, writes that President Bush “had the authority to detain al-Marri as an enemy combatant or belligerent” because “he is the type of stealth warrior used by al-Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist acts against the United States.” Hudson is a Bush appointee. Motz and Judge Roger Gregory, the concurring judge, were appointed by former president Bill Clinton. Motz orders the Pentagon to issue a writ of habeas corpus for al-Marri “within a reasonable period of time.” The Pentagon may release him, hold him as a material witness, or charge him in the civilian court system. Al-Marri “can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and, if convicted, punished severely,” she writes, “But military detention of al-Marri must cease.” [New York Times, 6/11/2007; Bloomberg, 6/11/2007]
Democracy Vs. 'Police State' - Hafetz says: “We’re pleased the court saw through the government’s stunning position in this case. Had it not, the executive could effectively disappear people by picking up any immigrant in this country, locking them in a military jail, and holding the keys to the courthouse.… This is exactly what separates a country that is democratic and committed to the rule of law from a country that is a police state.” [Christian Science Monitor, 6/13/2007]
Justice Department to Challenge Decision - The Justice Department intends to challenge the decision (see June 11, 2007 and Late October-Early November, 2007). The case is expected to reach the Supreme Court, and may help define what authority the government has to indefinitely detain terror suspects and to strip detainees of their right to challenge the legality and conditions of their detention. [Associated Press, 6/11/2007] For the time being, al-Marri will remain in military custody in the Charleston naval brig. [Cincinnati Post, 6/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Diana Gribbon Motz, Combat Status Review Tribunal, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, US Department of Justice, Henry Hudson, US Supreme Court, Jonathan Hafetz, US Department of Defense, Military Commissions Act, George W. Bush, S.L. Wright

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

President Bush signs Executive Order 13440, which authorizes the CIA to continue using so-called “harsh” interrogation methods against anyone in US custody suspected of being a terrorist, or having knowledge of terrorist activities. The order relies on, and reaffirms, Bush’s classification of “al-Qaeda, Taliban, and associated forces” as “unlawful enemy combatants” who are not covered under the Geneva Conventions. The order also emphasizes that the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) “reaffirms and reinforces the authority of the president to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” The order does not include “murder, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, rape, sexual assault or abuse, taking of hostages, or performing of biological experiments… other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation, and cruel or inhuman treatment… any other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment prohibited” by law. It also precludes acts of extreme humiliation “that any reasonable person, considering the circumstances, would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, [or] threatening the individual with sexual mutilation, or using the individual as a human shield.” The order also excludes acts that denigrate a detainee’s religion or religious practices. [White House, 7/20/2007] The order does not apply to the Army, which has numerous interrogators operating at Guantanamo and other US detention facilities. [Social Science Research Network, 3/18/2008] CIA Director Michael Hayden says, “We can now focus on our vital work, confident that our mission and authorities are clearly defined.” Administration officials say that because of the order, suspects now in US custody can be moved immediately into the “enhanced interrogation” program. Civil libertarians and human rights advocates are much less enamored of the new order. Human Rights Watch official Tom Malinowski says, “All the order really does is to have the president say, ‘Everything in that other document that I’m not showing you is legal—trust me.’” [Washington Post, 7/21/2007] In January 2009, President Obama will withdraw the order. [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Tom Malinowski, Taliban, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Military Commissions Act, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Steven Bradbury, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a classified memo on what a new interpretation of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article 3 means for the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program.” The Bradbury memo, released after months of debate among Bush officials regarding the ramifications of the recent Supreme Court decision extending Geneva protections to enemy combatants in US custody (see June 30, 2006), new legislation following the Court’s decision (see October 17, 2006), and an executive order on interrogations (see July 20, 2007), spells out what interrogation practices the CIA can use. The memo’s existence will not become known until after the 2009 release of four Justice Department torture memos (see April 16, 2009). Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights will say upon learning of the memo, “The CIA still seems to want to get authority to interrogate people outside of what would be found to be a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the law.” Ratner will add that the memo raises questions about why the CIA felt it needed expanded authorities for interrogations. “What we don’t know is whether, after Hamdan, that 2007 memo modifies what the CIA is able to do in interrogation techniques,” he will say. “But what’s more interesting is why the CIA thinks it needs to use those interrogation techniques. Who are they interrogating in 2007? Who are they torturing in 2007? Is that they’re nervous about going beyond what OLC has said? These are secret-site people. Who are they? What happened to them?” [Washington Independent, 4/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Central Intelligence Agency, US Supreme Court, Michael Ratner, US Department of Justice, Steven Bradbury, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Justice Department’s Brian Benczkowski answers Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)‘s request for clarification of the terms “humane treatment” and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” as it applies to suspected terrorists in US custody. Benczkowski writes that the government uses the Military Commissions Act (MCA) (see October 17, 2006) and a recent executive order, Order #13440 (authorizing the continued use of harsh interrogation methods—see July 20, 2007) to determine how the US will comply with the Geneva Conventions. Benczkowski writes that Order 13440 and the Army Field Manual, among other guidelines, ensure that any interrogations carried out by US personnel comply with Geneva.
Geneva Does Not Clearly Define 'Humane Treatment' - He goes on to note that the term “humane treatment” is not directly defined by Geneva, but “rather provides content by enumerating the specific prohibitions that would contravene that standard.” Common Article 3, the statute in the Conventions that specifically addresses the treatment of prisoners, expressly prohibits “violence” including “murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.” It also prohibits “outrages upon personal dignity,” including “humiliating and degrading treatment.” Benczkowski writes that there is no accepted international standard as to what is defined as “humane treatment” and what is not, outside of the basic provisions of food, water, clothing, shelter, and protection from extremes of temperature. Given this standard, he writes, the Bush administration does ensure that “all detainees within the CIA program shall be treated humanely.”
Defined by Circumstances - He goes on to note that Geneva seems to grant some leeway for interpretation as to what complies with its standards, particularly in the area of “outrages upon personal dignity.” Citing a previous international tribunal, he writes, “To rise to the level of an outrage, the conduct must be ‘animated by contempt for the human dignity of another person’ and it must be so deplorable that the reasonable observer would recognize it as something that must be universally condemned.” None of the methods used by US interrogators contravenes any of these standards as the Justice Department interprets them, Benczkowski concludes. As for the question of “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” or as he abbreviates it, “CIDT,” Benczkowski writes that such treatment is prohibited by the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the US Constitution. However, circumstances determine what is and is not CIDT, he writes; even “in evaluating whether a homicide violates Common Article 3, it would be necessary to consider the circumstances surrounding the act.” The CIA interrogation program fully complies with Common Article 3, various statutes and Supreme Court decisions, and the Bill of Rights, Benczkowski asserts. [US Department of Justice, 9/27/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Brian A. Benczkowski, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Geneva Conventions, Ron Wyden, Military Commissions Act

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Air Force Colonel Morris Davis resigns his position as the lead counsel for the military commissions trials at Guantanamo after complaining that his authority in prosecutions is being usurped for political purposes (see October 19, 2007). In particular, Davis complains about interference by Air Force Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, a legal adviser at Guantanamo (see July 2007), and Defense Department General Counsel William J. Haynes (see October 4, 2007). [Washington Post, 10/20/2007] Davis planned on prosecuting as many as 80 of the Guantanamo detainees. There have been no trials so far, because the Supreme Court ruled the trials unconstitutional until they were reauthorized by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Davis has made headlines with outspoken support of the trials and his colorful characterizations of Guantanamo detainees. In March 2006, he compared detainees who challenged the trial system to vampires afraid of the harsh sunlight of US justice: “Remember if you dragged Dracula out into the sunlight, he melted? Well, that’s kind of the way it is trying to drag a detainee into the courtroom,” he told reporters. “But their day is coming.” [Miami Herald, 10/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Morris Davis, Military Commissions Act, Thomas Hartmann, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Defense Department announces that it is bringing death penalty charges against six high-value enemy detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. The six, all charged with involvement in the 9/11 attacks, will be tried under the much-criticized military tribunal system (see October 17, 2006) implemented by the Bush administration. They are:
bullet Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, a Pakistani who claims responsibility for 31 terrorist attacks and plots, is believed to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks, and claims he beheaded Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Mohammed was subjected to harsh interrogation tactics by the CIA, including waterboarding.
bullet Ali Adbul Aziz Ali, Mohammed’s nephew and cousin of jailed Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef. He is accused of facilitating the attacks by sending $120,000 to US-based terrorists, and helping nine of the hijackers enter the US.
bullet Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, accused of being a link between al-Qaeda and the 9/11 hijackers. Bin al-Shibh is accused of helping some of the hijackers obtain flight training.
bullet Khallad bin Attash, who has admitted planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and is accused of running an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. He claims to have helped in the bombing of the US embassy in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
bullet Mustafa Ahmad al-Hawsawi, accused of being a financier of the 9/11 attacks, providing the hijackers with cash, clothing, credit cards, and traveller’s checks.
bullet Mohamed al-Khatani, another man accused of being a “20th hijacker;” al-Khatani was stopped by immigration officials at Orlando Airport while trying to enter the US. He was captured in Afghanistan.
Many experts see the trials as part of an election-year effort by the Bush administration to demonstrate its commitment to fighting terrorism, and many predict a surge of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic world. Some believe that the Bush administration is using the trials to enhance the political fortunes of Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has made the US battle against al-Qaeda a centerpiece of his campaign. “What we are looking at is a series of show trials by the Bush administration that are really devoid of any due process considerations,” says Vincent Warren, the executive director head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many Guantanamo detainees. “Rather than playing politics the Bush administration should be seeking speedy and fair trials. These are trials that are going to be based on torture as confessions as well as secret evidence. There is no way that this can be said to be fair especially as the death penalty could be an outcome.”
Treatment of Detainees an Issue - While the involvement of the six detainees in the 9/11 attacks is hardly disputed, many questions surround their treatment at Guantanamo and various secret “black sites” used to house and interrogate terror suspects out of the public eye. Questions are being raised about the decision to try the six men concurrently instead of separately, about the decision to seek the death penalty, and, most controversially, the admissibility of information and evidence against the six that may have been gathered by the use of torture.
Details of Forthcoming Tribunals - While the charges are being announced now, Brigadier General Thomas Hartmann, the Pentagon official supervising the case, acknowledges that it could be months before the cases actually begin, and years before any possible executions would be carried out. Hartmann promises the trials will be “as completely open as possible,” with lawyers and journalists present in the courtroom unless classified information is being presented. Additionally, the six defendants will be considered innocent until proven guilty, and the defendants’ lawyers will be given “every stitch of evidence” against their clients.
'Kangaroo Court' - British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who has worked with “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo, believes nothing of what Hartmann says. The procedures are little more than a “kangaroo court,” Stafford Smith says, and adds, “Anyone can see the hypocrisy of espousing human rights, then trampling on them.” Despite Hartmann’s assurances, it is anything but clear just what rights the six defendants will actually have. [Independent, 2/12/2008] The charges against al-Khahtani are dropped several months later (see May 13, 2008).

Entity Tags: Vincent Warren, US Department of Defense, Khallad bin Attash, Daniel Pearl, Clive Stafford Smith, John McCain, Mohamed al-Khatani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Thomas Hartmann, Center for Constitutional Rights, Ramzi Yousef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Bush administration (43), Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Supreme Court rules 5-4 that foreign terror suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay have the Constitutional right to challenge their detention in US civilian courts. The Court splits along ideological lines, with the more liberal and moderate members supporting the finding, and the more conservative members opposing it. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered a centrist, writes the ruling. He writes, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” The ruling specifically strikes down the portion of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006) that denies detainees their habeas corpus rights to file petitions. [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] The case is Boumediene v. Bush, and was filed in the Supreme Court in March 2007 on behalf of Lakhdar Boumediene, a Bosnian citizen held in the Guantanamo camp since 2002 (see January 18, 2002). It was combined with a similar case, Al Odah v United States (see October 20, 2004). [Oyez (.org), 6/2007; Jurist, 6/29/2007]
'Stinging Rebuke' for Bush Administration - The ruling is considered a serious setback for the Bush administration (a “stinging rebuke,” in the words of the Associated Press), which insists that terror suspects detained at Guantanamo and elsewhere have no rights in the US judicial system. It is unclear whether the ruling will lead to prompt hearings for detainees [Associated Press, 6/12/2008; Associated Press, 6/12/2008] ; law professor James Cohen, who represents two detainees, says, “Nothing is going to happen between June 12 and January 20,” when the next president takes office. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr says the decision will not affact war crimes trials already in the works: “Military commission trials will therefore continue to go forward.”
Scalia: Ruling Will 'Cause More Americans to Be Killed' - President Bush says he disagrees with the ruling, and says he may seek new legislation to keep detainees under lock and key. Justice Antonin Scalia, the leader of the Court’s ideological right wing, agrees; in a “blistering” dissent, he writes that the decision “will make the war harder on us. It will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed.” In his own dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts argues that the ruling strikes down “the most generous set of procedural protections ever afforded aliens detained by this country as enemy combatants.” Joining Scalia and Roberts in the minority are Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Voting in the majority are Kennedy and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, David Souter, and John Paul Stevens.
Military Tribunals 'Doomed,' Says Navy Lawyer - Former Navy lawyer Charles Swift, who argued a similar case before the Supreme Court in Hamdan v Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), says he believes the ruling removes any legal basis for keeping Guantanamo open, and says that military tribunals are “doomed.” The entire rationale for Guantanamo and the tribunals, Swift says, is the idea that “constitutional protections wouldn’t apply.” But now, “The court said the Constitution applies. They’re in big trouble.” Democrats and many human rights organizations hail the ruling as affirming the US’s commitment to the rule of law; some Republican lawmakers say the ruling puts foreign terrorists’ rights over the safety of the American people. Vincent Warren, the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights, says: “The Supreme Court has finally brought an end to one of our nation’s most egregious injustices. By granting the writ of habeas corpus, the Supreme Court recognizes a rule of law established hundreds of years ago and essential to American jurisprudence since our nation’s founding.” [Associated Press, 6/12/2008]

Entity Tags: Stephen Breyer, Vincent Warren, US Supreme Court, Samuel Alito, Military Commissions Act, Peter Carr, Bush administration (43), Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Charles Swift, Clarence Thomas, David Souter, George W. Bush, Lakhdar Boumediene, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens, James Cohen, John G. Roberts, Jr, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al-Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America.… His new order amounts to requiring—on penalty of prosecution—that CIA interrogators be polite. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” [Army, 9/2006] And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Barack Obama, American Enterprise Institute, Wall Street Journal, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The New York Review of Books publishes a lengthy article documenting the Red Cross’s hitherto-secret report on US torture practices at several so-called “black sites.” The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) issued a report on “The Black Sites” in February 2007 (see October 6 - December 14, 2006), but that report has remained secret until now. These “black sites” are secret prisons in Thailand, Poland, Afghanistan, Morocco, Romania, and at least three other countries (see October 2001-2004), either maintained directly by the CIA or used by them with the permission and participation of the host countries.
Specific Allegations of Torture by Official Body Supervising Geneva - The report documents the practices used by American guards and interrogators against prisoners, many of which directly qualify as torture under the Geneva Conventions and a number of international laws and statutes. The ICRC is the appointed legal guardian of Geneva, and the official body appointed to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; therefore, its findings have the force of international law. The practices documented by the ICRC include sleep deprivation, lengthy enforced nudity, subjecting detainees to extensive, intense bombardment of noise and light, repeated immersion in frigid water, prolonged standing and various stress positions—sometimes for days on end—physical beatings, and waterboarding, which the ICRC authors call “suffocation by water.” The ICRC writes that “in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they [the detainees] were subjected while held in the CIA program… constituted torture.” It continues, “In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.” Both torture and “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” are specifically forbidden by Geneva and the Convention Against Torture, both of which were signed by the US (see October 21, 1994). The 14 “high-value detainees” whose cases are documented in the ICRC report include Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and Tawfiq bin Attash (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004). All 14 remain imprisoned in Guantanamo. [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009 pdf file; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] Based on the ICRC report and his own research, Danner draws a number of conclusions.
bullet The US government began to torture prisoners in the spring of 2002, with the approval of President Bush and the monitoring of top Bush officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft. The torture, Danner writes, “clearly violated major treaty obligations of the United States, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture, as well as US law.”
bullet Bush, Ashcroft, and other top government officials “repeatedly and explicitly lied about this, both in reports to international institutions and directly to the public. The president lied about it in news conferences, interviews, and, most explicitly, in speeches expressly intended to set out the administration’s policy on interrogation before the people who had elected him.”
bullet Congress was privy to a large amount of information about the torture conducted under the aegis of the Bush administration. Its response was to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006), which in part was designed to protect government officials from criminal prosecutions under the War Crimes Act.
bullet While Congressional Republicans were primarily responsible for the MCA, Senate Democrats did not try to stop the bill—indeed, many voted for it. Danner blames the failure on its proximity to the November 2006 midterm elections and the Democrats’ fear of being portrayed as “coddlers of terrorists.” He quotes freshman Senator Barack Obama (D-IL): “Soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.” (Obama voted against the MCA, and, when it passed, he said, “[P]olitics won today.”)
bullet The damage done to the US’s reputation, and to what Danner calls “the ‘soft power’ of its constitutional and democratic ideals,” has been “though difficult to quantify, vast and enduring.” Perhaps the largest defeat suffered in the US’s “war on terror,” he writes, has been self-inflicted, by the inestimable loss of credibility in the Muslim world and around the globe. The decision to use torture “undermin[ed] liberal sympathizers of the United States and convinc[ed] others that the country is exactly as its enemies paint it: a ruthless imperial power determined to suppress and abuse Muslims. By choosing to torture, we freely chose to become the caricature they made of us.”
A Need for Investigation and Prosecution - Danner is guardedly optimistic that, under Democratic leadership in the White House and Congress, the US government’s embrace of torture has stopped, and almost as importantly, the authorization and practice of torture under the Bush administration will be investigated, and those responsible will be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. But, he notes, “[i]f there is a need for prosecution there is also a vital need for education. Only a credible investigation into what was done and what information was gained can begin to alter the political calculus around torture by replacing the public’s attachment to the ticking bomb with an understanding of what torture is and what is gained, and lost, when the United States reverts to it.” [New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Abu Zubaida, New York Review of Books, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, International Committee of the Red Cross, Mark Danner

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

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