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Context of 'December 30, 2005: Cheney, Addington Rewrite Bush Signing Statement on Detainee Treatment Act'

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Jay Bybee.Jay Bybee. [Source: Public domain]The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) sends a non-classified memo to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, offering the opinion that a policy allowing suspected al-Qaeda members to be tortured abroad “may be justified.” [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002 pdf file] This memo will later be nicknamed the “Golden Shield” by insiders in the hopes that it will protect government officials from later being charged with war crimes (see April 2002 and After). [ABC News, 4/9/2008]
Multiple Authors - The 50-page “torture memo” is signed and authored by Jay S. Bybee, head of OLC, and co-authored by John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general. It is later revealed that Yoo authored the memo himself, in close consultation with Vice President Cheney’s chief adviser David Addington, and Bybee just signed off on it (see December 2003-June 2004). [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan also contributed to the memo. Addington contributed the claim that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it is plainly torture. Addington’s reasoning: US and treaty law “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]
Statute Only Prohibits 'Extreme Acts' - Gonzales had formally asked for the OLC’s legal opinion in response to a request by the CIA for legal guidance. A former administration official, quoted by the Washington Post, says the CIA “was prepared to get more aggressive and re-learn old skills, but only with explicit assurances from the top that they were doing so with the full legal authority the president could confer on them.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] “We conclude that the statute, taken as a whole,” Bybee and Yoo write, “makes plain that it prohibits only extreme acts.” Addressing the question of what exactly constitute such acts of an extreme nature, the authors proceed to define torture as the infliction of “physical pain” that is “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Purely mental pain or suffering can also amount to “torture under Section 2340,” but only if it results “in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g. lasting for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Torture Legal and Defensible - Bybee and Yoo appear to conclude that any act short of torture, even though it may be cruel, inhuman or degrading, would be permissible. They examine, for example, “international decisions regarding the use of sensory deprivation techniques.” These cases, they notice, “make clear that while many of these techniques may amount to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, they do not produce pain or suffering of the necessary intensity to meet the definition of torture. From these decisions, we conclude that there is a wide range of such techniques that will not rise to the level of torture.” More astounding is Bybee and Yoo’s view that even torture can be defensible. “We conclude,” they write, “that, under the current circumstances, necessity or self-defense may justify interrogation methods that might violate Section 2340A.” Inflicting physical or mental pain might be justified, Bybee and Yoo argue, “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network.” In other words, necessity or self-defense may justify torture. Moreover, “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2004] International anti-torture rules, furthermore, “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” of suspected terrorists. [US News and World Report, 6/21/2004] Laws prohibiting torture would “not apply to the president’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants” in the “war on terror,” because the president has constitutional authority to conduct a military campaign. [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Protecting US Officials from Prosecution - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “In case an interrogator was ever prosecuted for violating the antitorture law (see October 21, 1994 and January 26, 1998, Yoo laid out page after page of legal defenses he could mount to get the charges dismissed. And should someone balk at this strained interpretation of the law, Yoo offered his usual trump card: Applying the antitorture law to interrogations authorized by the president would be unconstitutional, since only the commander in chief could set standards for questioning prisoners.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 155-156]
Virtually Unrestricted Authority of President - “As commander in chief,” the memo argues, “the president has the constitutional authority to order interrogations of enemy combatants to gain intelligence information concerning the military plans of the enemy.” [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] According to some critics, this judgment—which will be echoed in a March 2003 draft Pentagon report (see March 6, 2003)—ignores important past rulings such as the 1952 Supreme Court decision in Youngstown Steel and Tube Co v. Sawyer, which determined that the president, even in wartime, is subject to US laws. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004] The memo also says that US Congress “may no more regulate the president’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004]
Ashcroft Refuses to Release Memo - After the memo’s existence is revealed, Attorney General John Ashcroft denies senators’ requests to release it, and refuses to say if or how the president was involved in the discussion. “The president has a right to hear advice from his attorney general, in confidence,” he says. [New York Times, 6/8/2004; Bloomberg, 6/8/2004; Washington Post, 6/9/2004] Privately, Ashcroft is so irritated by Yoo’s hand-in-glove work with the White House that he begins disparagingly referring to him as “Dr. Yes.” [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Only 'Analytical' - Responding to questions about the memo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan will claim that the memo “was not prepared to provide advice on specific methods or techniques,” but was “analytical.” But the 50-page memo seems to have been considered immensely important, given its length and the fact that it was signed by Bybee. “Given the topic and length of opinion, it had to get pretty high-level attention,” Beth Nolan, a former White House counsel from 1999-2001, will tell reporters. This view is confirmed by another former Office of Legal Counsel lawyer who says that unlike documents signed by deputies in the Office of Legal Counsel, memorandums signed by the Office’s head are considered legally binding. [Washington Post, 6/9/2004]
Memo Will be Withdrawn - Almost two years later, the OLC’s new head, Jack Goldsmith, will withdraw the torture memos, fearing that they go far beyond anything countenanced by US law (see December 2003-June 2004).
Memo Addresses CIA Concerns - The administration, particularly the axis of neoconservatives centered around Cheney’s office, has enthusiastically advocated the use of violent, abusive, and sometimes tortuous interrogation techniques, though the US has never endorsed such tactics before, and many experts say such techniques are counterproductive. The CIA, responding to the desires from the White House, hastily put together a rough program after consulting with intelligence officials from Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where detainees are routinely tortured and killed in captivity, and after studying methods used by former Soviet Union interrogators. The legal questions were continuous. The former deputy legal counsel for the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Paul Kelbaugh, recalls in 2007: “We were getting asked about combinations—‘Can we do this and this at the same time?… These approved techniques, say, withholding food, and 50-degree temperature—can they be combined?’ Or ‘Do I have to do the less extreme before the more extreme?’” The “torture memo” is designed to address these concerns. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Paul Kelbaugh, Timothy E. Flanigan, Scott McClellan, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jay S. Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, Beth Nolan, Al-Qaeda, Charlie Savage, Central Intelligence Agency, Jack Goldsmith

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

Rene Lerner, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and Justice Department lawyer Adrien Silas send a memo to Assistant Attorney General William Moschella. The memo will remain classified, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it pertains to the so-called “McCain Amendment,” later known as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005). President Bush will sign the bill into law, but will include a signing statement that states the administration will not follow the law because it impinges on the president’s constitutional authority to conduct military operations (see December 30, 2005). It is unclear whether Bush’s signing statement is influenced by the memo. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]

Entity Tags: Detainee Treatment Act, Adrien Silas, American Civil Liberties Union, US Department of Justice, Rene Lerner, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), George W. Bush, William E. Moschella

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduces an amendment to the annual legislation to fund the Defense Department. McCain’s amendment, co-sponsored by Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John Warner (R-VA) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a former military lawyer, states that military interrogators cannot exceed the limits on detainee treatment set forth in the US Army Field Manual. In essence, the amendment would prohibit the use of harsh interrogation techniques that many, including McCain, feel constitute torture. The Field Manual limits were specifically written to comply with the Geneva Conventions. The amendment also prohibits US officials, including CIA agents, from inflicting not just torture but any form of “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” on anyone in their custody, no matter where in the world the prisoner is being kept. The amendment, later known as the McCain Amendment or the McCain Torture Ban, becomes the subject of fierce, largely private negotiations between McCain and the White House. Vice President Cheney quickly lobbies friendly Republicans in Congress to oppose the amendment, and has private meetings with Warner and McCain. At Cheney’s behest, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) withdraws the entire bill from consideration rather than allow it to pass with the McCain amendment attached. [Savage, 2007, pp. 220-221]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, Bill Frist, Central Intelligence Agency, Detainee Treatment Act, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John McCain, US Department of Defense, Lindsey Graham, John W. Warner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Army adopts a new, classified set of interrogation methods that some feel may change the nature of the debate over cruel and inhuman treatment of detainees in US custody. The Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), which bases its definition of torture in part on Army standards, is currently wending its way through Congress. The new set of instructions are being added to the revised Army Field Manual, after they are approved by undersecretary of defense Stephen Cambone. The addendum provides exact details on what kinds of interrogation procedures can and cannot be used, and under what circumstances, pushing the legal limit of what interrogations can be used in ways that the Army has never done before. Some military observers believe that the new guidelines are an attempt by the Army to undercut the DTA, and many believe the bill’s sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) will be unhappy with the addendum. “This is a stick in McCain’s eye,” one official says. “It goes right up to the edge. He’s not going to be comfortable with this.” McCain has not yet been briefed on the contents of the new guidelines. McCain spokesman Mark Salter says, “This is politically obtuse and damaging. The Pentagon hasn’t done one molecule of political due diligence on this.” One Army officer says that the core of the definition of torture—what is and is not “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” treatment—“is at the crux of the problem, but we’ve never defined that.” The new Army Field Manual specifically prohibits such tactics as stress positioning, stripping prisoners, imposing dietary restrictions, using police dogs to intimidate prisoners, and sleep deprivation. The new manual is expected to be issued before the end of the year. [New York Times, 12/14/2005] The day after this is reported, President Bush agrees not to veto the DTA (see December 15, 2005).

Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, Detainee Treatment Act, US Department of Defense, John McCain, US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, 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

After President Bush signs the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 30, 2005), his office issues a “signing statement” concerning how he believes the government should enforce the new law. His advisers have spent days composing a statement that declares the administration’s support for the bill. But that statement is never issued. Just before Bush signs the bill, Vice President Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, intercepts the statement “and just literally takes his red pen all the way through it,” a White House official will later recall. Instead, Addington substitutes a single sentence. Bush, writes Addington, would interpret the law “in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the president to supervise the unitary executive branch and as commander in chief.” Neither Addington nor Cheney have any qualms about ignoring or superseding what Addington calls “interagency treaties” or language “agreed between cabinet secretaries.” Top officials from the CIA, the Justice Department, State Department, and Defense Department oppose the substitution. The White House’s senior national security lawyer, John Bellinger, says that Congress will view the statement as a “stick in the eye.” Nevertheless, with Cheney’s backing, White House counsel Harriet Miers sends the revised statement to Bush for his signature. Bush signs the statement. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Bush administration (43), David S. Addington, George W. Bush, Harriet E. Miers, John Bellinger, US Department of Justice, US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Georgetown law professor Marty Lederman, a former Justice Department official under both the Bush and Clinton administrations, notes the recent signing statement from the White House that essentially states President Bush will ignore the newly authorized Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005). “So much for the president’s assent to the McCain Amendment” (see December 15, 2005), Lederman writes. Of Bush’s signing statement itself, he writes: “Translation: I reserve the constitutional right to waterboard when it will ‘assist’ in protecting the American people from terrorist attacks.… You didn’t think [Vice President] Cheney and [Cheney’s chief of staff David] Addington (see December 30, 2005) were going to go down quietly, did you?” [Marty Lederman, 1/2/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 225]

Entity Tags: Detainee Treatment Act, Martin (“Marty”) Lederman

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The three Republican senators who co-sponsored the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act prohibiting torture (see December 15, 2005) criticize President Bush for his signing statement indicating that he would not follow the law if he sees fit (see December 30, 2005). Senators John McCain (R-AZ), the primary sponsor of the bill, and John Warner (R-VA) issue a statement rejecting Bush’s signing statement. “We believe the president understands Congress’s intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees,” the senators write. “The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration’s implementation of the new law.” The third co-sponsor, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), says he agrees with the letter, “and would go a little bit further.” Graham says: “I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any… law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified. If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations’ leaders from doing the same.” The White House refuses to respond to the senators’ comments. Law professor David Golove, a specialist in executive power issues, says the senators’ statements “mean that the battle lines are drawn” for an escalating fight over the balance of power between the two branches of government. “The president is pointing to his commander in chief power, claiming that it somehow gives him the power to dispense with the law when he’s conducting war,” Golove says. “The senators are saying: ‘Wait a minute, we’ve gone over this. This is a law Congress has passed by very large margins, and you are compelled and bound to comply with it.’” Elisa Massimino of Human Rights First says the senators’ statements should warn military and CIA interrogators that they could be subject to prosecution if they torture or abuse a detainee, regardless of Bush’s signing statement. “That power [to override the law] was explicitly sought by the White House, and it was considered and rejected by the Congress,” she says. “And any US official who relies on legal advice from a government lawyer saying there is a presidential override of a law passed by Congress does so at their peril. Cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment is illegal.” Golove notes that it is highly unlikely that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would prosecute anyone for performing actions Bush had authorized. [Boston Globe, 1/5/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 225-226]

Entity Tags: David Golove, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, John W. Warner, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Elisa Massimino

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

President Bush says that the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) has no loopholes that would allow US interrogators to torture prisoners. “No American will be allowed to torture another human being anywhere in the world,” he says (see December 30, 2005 and January 2, 2006). [Ireland Online, 1/26/2006]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Detainee Treatment Act

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) file an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) saying that because of the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005), the Court no longer has jurisdiction over the case. Graham and Kyl argue their point by citing the “legislative history” of the DTA, in particular the official statements Graham and Kyl made during debate over the bill, and specifically an “extensive colloquy” between the two that appears in the Congressional Record for December 21, 2005. Graham and Kyl argue that this “colloquy,” which argues that Guantanamo prisoners have no rights under the standard of habeas corpus, stands as evidence that “Congress was aware” that the DTA would strip the Court of jurisdiction over cases that involve Guantanamo detainees. (The Senate included an amendment written by Graham, Kyl, and Carl Levin (D-MI) to the DTA that would reject habeas claims in future court cases, but does not apply retroactively to cases already filed, such as Hamdan.) However, Graham and Kyl never engaged in such a discussion on the floor of the Senate. Instead, they had the text inserted in the Record just before the law passed (see December 30, 2005), meaning that no one in Congress heard their discussion. The brief indicates that the discussion happened during the debate over the bill when it did not. The Record indicates that the discussion that did take place concerning the Hamdan case comes from Democrats, and explicitly state that the DTA has no bearing on the case. C-SPAN video coverage of the debate proves that Graham and Kyl never made those statements, and Senate officials confirm that the discussion was inserted later into the Record. But in their brief, Graham and Kyl state that “the Congressional Record is presumed to reflect live debate except when the statements therein are followed by a bullet… or are underlined.” The Record shows no such formatting, therefore, says the brief, it must have been live. The debate between Graham and Kyl is even written to make it appear as if it had taken place live, with Graham and Kyl answering each other’s questions, Kyl noting that he is nearing the end of his allotted time, and another senator, Sam Brownback (R-KS) apparently attempting to interject a question. Lawyers for the prosecution will strenuously object to the brief, and Justice Department defense lawyers will use the brief as a centerpiece for their argument that the Supreme Court should throw the case out. [US Supreme Court, 2/2006 pdf file; Slate, 3/27/2006; FindLaw, 7/5/2006] Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will call the brief “a blatant scam,” and will accuse Graham and Kyl of “misle[ading] their Senate colleagues, but also sham[ing] their high offices by trying to deliberately mislead the US Supreme Court.… I have not seen so blatant a ploy, or abuse of power, since Nixon’s reign.… [Graham and Kyl] brazenly attempted to hoodwink the Court regarding the actions of Congress in adopting the DTA.” [FindLaw, 7/5/2006] Their efforts will not be successful, as the Supreme Court will ultimately rule against the Republican position in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006).

Entity Tags: John Dean, Detainee Treatment Act, US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, Samuel Brownback, Jon Kyl, Lindsey Graham, Carl Levin

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, 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

Aziz Huq.Aziz Huq. [Source: American Prospect]Aziz Huq, an author and the director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, writes that the Protect America Act (PAA-see August 5, 2007) came about as a result of what he calls “the most recent example of the national security waltz, a three-step administration maneuver for taking defeat and turning it into victory.” Step one is a court defeat for the administration, for example regarding detainees at Guantanamo (see June 28, 2004), or the overruling of military commissions in 2006 (see June 30, 2006). The second step, which comes weeks or months later, is an announcement that the ruling has created a security crisis and must be “remedied” through immediate legislation. The third and final step is the administration pushing legislation through Congress, such as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) or the Military Commissions Act, that, Huq writes, “not only undoes the good court decision but also inflicts substantial damage to the infrastructure of accountability.”
Step One: FISC Refuses to Approve NSA's Surveillance Program - In January 2007, the administration announced that it was submitting the NSA’s domestic surveillance program to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret court that issues FISA warrants for surveillance (see May 1, 2007). This was due to pending court cases threatening to rule the program in violation of FISA and the Fourth Amendment; the administration wanted to forestall, or at least sidestep, those upcoming rulings. In June, FISC refused to approve parts of the NSA program that involved monitoring overseas communications that passed through US telecom switches. Since a tremendous amount of overseas communications are routed through US networks, this ruling jeopardized the NSA’s previous ability to wiretap such communications virtually at will without a warrant. The administration objected to the NSA having to secure such warrants.
Step Two: The Drumbeat Begins - Months later, the drumbeat for new legislation to give the NSA untrammeled rights to monitor “overseas” communications, which not only traveled through US networks, but often began or ended with US citizens, began with appearances in the right-wing media by administration supporters, where they insisted that the FISC ruling was seriously hampering the NSA’s ability to garner much-needed intelligence on terrorist plots against the US. The White House and Congressional Republicans drafted legislation giving the NSA what it wanted, and presented it during the last week of the Congressional session, minimizing the time needed for scrutiny of the legislation as well as reducing the time available for meaningful debate.
Step Three: Passing a Law With Hidden Teeth - The legislation that would become the Protect America Act was carefully written by Bush officials, and would go much farther than giving the NSA the leeway it needed to wiretap US citizens. Instead, as Huq writes, “the Protect America Act is a dramatic, across-the-board expansion of government authority to collect information without judicial oversight.” Democrats believed they had negotiated a deal with the administration’s Director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, to limit the law to addressing foreign surveillance wiretaps, but, Huq writes, “the White House torpedoed that deal and won a far broader law.” The law removes any real accountability over domestic surveillance by either Congress or the judiciary. Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi says that the PAA provides “unlimited access to currently protected personal information that is already accessible through an oversight procedure.” The law is part of the administration’s continual attempts to “eviscerat[e]” the checks and balances that form the foundation of US democracy.
Ramifications - The law includes the provision that warrantless surveillance can be “directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside of the United States.” Huq writes that this is a tremendously broad and vague standard that allows “freewheeling surveillance of Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” He adds: “The problem lies in the words ‘directed at.’ Under this language, the NSA could decide to ‘direct’ its surveillance at Peshawar, Pakistan—and seize all US calls going to and from there.… Simply put, the law is an open-ended invitation to collect Americans’ international calls and e-mails.” The law does not impose any restrictions on the reason for surveillance. National security concerns are no longer the standard for implementing surveillance of communications. And the phrase “reasonably believe” is uncertain. The provisions for oversight are, Huq writes, “risibly weak.” Surveillance need only be explained by presentations by the Director of National Intelligence and the Attorney General to FISC, which has little room to invalidate any surveillance, and furthermore will not be informed of any specific cases of surveillance. As for Congress, the Attorney General only need inform that body of “incidents of noncompliance” as reported by the administration. Congress must rely on the administration to police itself; it cannot demand particulars or examine documentation for itself. The law expires in six months, but, Huq notes, that deadline comes up in the middle of the 2008 presidential campaign, with all the pressures that entails. And the law allows “the NSA to continue wielding its new surveillance powers for up to a year afterward.” The law, Huq writes, “does not enhance security-related surveillance powers. Rather, it allows the government to spy when there is no security justification. And it abandons all but the pretense of oversight.” [Nation, 8/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Mike McConnell, Detainee Treatment Act, Bush administration (43), Aziz Huq, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Military Commissions Act, National Security Agency, US Supreme Court, Philip Giraldi, Protect America Act

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

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), a likely candidate for the 2012 Republican presidential candidacy, refuses to say whether waterboarding is or is not torture. Interviewed on Fox News, Gingrich calls the release of the four Bush-era Justice Department memos authorizing and defending torture (see April 16, 2009) “a big mistake,” but adds, “I want to see the United States run the risk, at times, of not learning certain things in order to establish a standard for civilization.” When asked if waterboarding is torture, Gingrich refuses to give a straight answer. “I think it’s something we shouldn’t do,” he says, but then adds: “Lawyers I respect a great deal say it is absolutely within the law. Other lawyers say it absolutely is not. I mean, this is a debatable area.” When asked if waterboarding violates the Geneva Conventions, Gingrich again demurs, saying, “I honestly don’t know.” He then says, “I think—I think that there—I am exactly where Senator [John] McCain was.” McCain has long opposed the use of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009). [Think Progress, 4/26/2004]

Entity Tags: John McCain, Newt Gingrich, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain (R-AZ), a strong opponent of torture (see July 24, 2005 and After, October 1, 2005, November 21, 2005, December 13, 2005, December 15, 2005, and April 20, 2009), says that the US must “move on” from the Bush era of torture and not investigate the Bush administration’s torture policies. McCain refuses to support Democratic calls to impeach former Justice Department official Jay Bybee, who authored several of the torture memos (see August 1, 2002 and August 1, 2002), even as he acknowledges Bybee broke the law. McCain says: “He falls into the same category as everybody else as far as giving very bad advice and misinterpreting, fundamentally, what the United States is all about, much less things like the Geneva Conventions. Look, under President Reagan we signed an agreement against torture. We were in violation of that.” McCain says that “no one has alleged, quote, wrongdoing” on the part of Bush officials such as Bybee, saying only that they gave “bad advice” to Bush and other senior officials. [Think Progress, 4/26/2009]

Entity Tags: John McCain, Bush administration (43), Jay S. Bybee

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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