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Context of 'March 21, 2002: Rumsfeld Signs Military Commission Order No. 1'

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Patrick Philbin.Patrick Philbin. [Source: Daylife (.com)]Patrick Philbin joins the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). Philbin is an old friend and colleague of the OLC’s John Yoo; both graduated from Yale and both clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Philbin has no experience in the legalities surrounding national security issues; he spent the 1990s working for a corporate law firm helping telecommunications companies sue the Federal Communications Commission. Philbin joins the OLC with the expectation of working solely with administrative law. But after the 9/11 attacks, he will be asked to help Yoo handle the unexpected raft of national security issues. His first real work in the area of national security will be his finding (see November 6, 2001) that the president has untrammeled power to order the establishment of military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 13, 2001). [Savage, 2007, pp. 136]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, US Department of Justice, Patrick F. Philbin, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Less than two weeks after 9/11, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales sets up an interagency group to design a strategy for prosecuting terrorists, and specifically asks it to suggest military commissions as one viable option for prosecution of suspected terrorists.
Membership - The initial participants include Gonzales; White House lawyer Timothy Flanigan; Pentagon general counsel William Haynes; the vice president’s chief counsel, David Addington; National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger; and State Department lawyer Pierre-Richard Prosper, a former career prosecutor who now serves as State’s ambassador at large for war crimes issues and who will head the group.
Various Options - The group spends a month in a windowless conference room at State, bringing in experts from around the government, including military lawyers and Justice Department lawyers. The Justice Department advocates regular trials in civilian courts, such as the trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers (see February 26, 1993). However, many in the group object, noting that terrorist trials in regular courthouses on US soil pose security risks. The military lawyers propose courts-martial, which can take place anywhere in the world and would have military protection. A third option, military commissions, would offer the security of courts-martial without the established rules of evidence and procedure courts-martial have; setting up such a system might offer more flexibility in trying suspected terrorists, but many in the group wonder if President Bush would require Congressional authorization. Prosper will later recall, “We were going to go after the people responsible for the attacks, and the operating assumption was that we would capture a significant number of al-Qaeda operatives.” In addition to the use of military commissions, the group begins to work out three other options: ordinary criminal trials, military courts-martial, and tribunals with a mixed membership of civilians and military personnel. The option of a criminal trial by an ordinary federal court is quickly brushed aside for logistical reasons, according to Prosper. “The towers were still smoking, literally. I remember asking: Can the federal courts in New York handle this? It wasn’t a legal question so much as it was logistical. You had 300 al-Qaeda members, potentially. And did we want to put the judges and juries in harm’s way?” Despite the interagency group’s willingness to study the option of military commissions, lawyers at the White House, according to reporter Tim Golden, grow impatient with the group. Some of its members are seen to have “cold feet.” [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 135]
Parallel Process at White House - Unbeknownst to Prosper’s group, the White House is crafting its own version of military commissions or tribunals (see Late October 2001). When President Bush issues his executive order creating military tribunals (see November 13, 2001), Prosper and his group will first learn about it by watching the nightly news. [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Department of State, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan, Pierre-Richard Prosper, John Bellinger, Beth Nolan, Alberto R. Gonzales, Scott McClellan, Jay S. Bybee, John Ashcroft, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan presents his subordinate, associate counsel Bradford Berenson, with a draft presidential order he has written establishing military tribunals for suspected terrorists. The draft order declares that President Bush is invoking his wartime powers as commander in chief to establish a system of military tribunals, sometimes called military commissions.
Commissions More 'Flexible' - In the White House’s view, military tribunals offer several advantages over either civilian court trials or military courts-martial, as is being discussed in the interagency working group on prosecuting terrorists at the State Department (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Civilian trials would be subject to public scrutiny and media spectacle, and would pose a problem of security risks. Military courts-martial are quite rigid in their procedures and rules of evidence. Military commissions, as envisioned by Flanigan and the two other White House lawyers who put together the scheme—Berenson and David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney—would offer more “flexibility” for the use of evidence gathered either under battlefield conditions or in interrogations, evidence that might not meet the standards of either a court-martial or a civilian trial. And, as author Charlie Savage will later note, “commissions enhanced presidential power by concentrating the process in the executive branch alone.”
A 'Relic' - Savage will explain: “Under normal trials, Congress defines a crime and sets the sentence for it; the executive branch investigates and prosecutes people who are accused of committing the crime; and the judicial branch runs the trial, decides whether to admit evidence, determines whether the defendant is guilty or innocent, and hears any appeal. With a military commission, all these powers were collapsed into the hands of the armed forces and, ultimately, their commander in chief. Although fairly common in nineteenth-century conflicts, military commissions were a relic: They had not been used by the United States since World War II.”
Support from Justice Department Lawyer - Their work will be bolstered when Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin issues a secret memo declaring that the president has the inherent authority to order military commissions (see November 6, 2001). Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington never inform the interagency working group of their own work, although they made use of the working group’s research. Flanigan, Berenson, and Addington cite Philbin’s memo as the definitive word on the president’s authority. When President Bush announces the order establishing the commissions (see November 13, 2001), the order abruptly short-circuits the interagency working group and renders its work irrelevant. [Savage, 2007, pp. 134-135]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Bush administration (43), Bradford Berenson, Charlie Savage, George W. Bush, US Department of State, David S. Addington, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Geneva Conventions are mentioned in a memo issued the day after the publication of the Heritage Foundation paper (see November 5, 2001), but only to suggest that suspected terrorists should not be entitled to the rights enclosed in them. Patrick F. Philbin, a deputy in the OLC, sends a confidential 35-page memo to the White House legal counsel Gonzales, arguing that the president, as Commander-in-Chief, has “inherent authority” to establish military commissions without authorization from the US Congress. The 9/11 attacks are themselves “plainly sufficient” to justify the application of the laws of war. Furthermore, putting terrorists on trial under the laws of war, “does not mean,” according to Philbin, “that terrorists will receive the protections of the Geneva Conventions or the rights that laws of war accord to lawful combatants.” The Philbin memo will serve as a basis for a Presidential order (see November 13, 2001) establishing the option of military commissions, which will be drafted by Deputy White House Counsel Timothy E. Flanigan and David S. Addington, the legal counsel to Vice President Cheney. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Alberto R. Gonzales

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

William J. Haynes.William J. Haynes. [Source: US Defense Department]William J. Haynes, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s general counsel, shows a draft of a presidential order establishing military commissions to Colonel Lawrence J. Morris, a judge advocate general (JAG) attorney with strong experience in military justice and the laws of war. Morris heads a Pentagon legal team that has so far been excluded from the discussion on how suspected terrorists should be prosecuted. Col. Morris is given just 30 minutes to read the draft but is not allowed to keep a copy or even take notes. The next day, the Army’s Judge Advocate General, Major General Thomas J. Romig, hastily convenes a meeting of Pentagon lawyers to prepare suggestions for improvement, with an eye on bringing the order closer to existing military legal standards. The final order, however, includes none of the lawyer’s recommendations. “They hadn’t changed a thing,” a military official will later recall. [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Lawrence J. Morris, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Vice President Cheney leads a meeting at the White House to put the finishing touches on a draft presidential order establishing military commissions (see Late October 2001 and November 9, 2001). The meeting includes Attorney General John Ashcroft, Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and several White House lawyers, but leaves out senior officials of the State Department and the National Security Council. Cheney has decided to tell neither National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice nor Secretary of State Colin Powell about the order until it has already been signed. Cheney has also told no one in the interagency working group ostensibly formulating the administration’s approach to prosecuting terrorists (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). Ashcroft angrily dissents from Cheney’s plan to give the White House sole authority over the commissions, and invokes his authority as the nation’s top law enforcement official to demand that the Justice Department be given a say in the decision. Cheney overrules Ashcroft’s objections. He will discuss the draft with President Bush over lunch a few days later (see November 11-13, 2001). [New York Times, 10/24/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: William J. Haynes, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

At a private lunch meeting, Vice President Cheney presents President Bush with a four-page memo, written in strict secrecy by lawyer John Yoo of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see November 6-10, 2001), and a draft executive order that establishes military commissions for the trial of suspected terrorists (see November 10, 2001). The legal brief mandates that foreign terrorism suspects held in US custody have no access to any courts whatsoever, civil, criminal, military, domestic, or foreign. They can be detained indefinitely without charges. If they are to be tried, they can be tried in closed “military commissions.” [White House, 11/13/2001; Savage, 2007, pp. 138; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Military Commissions Suitable to 'Unitary Executive' Agenda - According to author Craig Unger, military commissions are a key element of Cheney’s drive towards a “unitary executive,” the accretion of governmental powers to the presidency at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. Federal trials for terror suspects would put them under all the legal procedures provided under the US judicial system, an unacceptable alternative. Military courts-martial would give them the rights granted by the Geneva Conventions. Military commissions, however, are essentially tribunals operating outside of both civilian and military law. Defendants have few rights. Secret evidence can be admitted without being disclosed to the defendants. Hearsay and coerced testimony are admissible. Prisoners can be held indefinitely. [Unger, 2007, pp. 221-222]
No Bureaucratic Footprints - After Bush peruses the memo and the draft order, Cheney takes them back with him to his office. After leaving Bush, Cheney takes extraordinary steps to ensure that no evidence of his involvement remains. The order passes from Cheney to his chief counsel David Addington, and then to associate White House counsel Bradford Berenson. At Berenson, the provenance of the order breaks, as no one tells him of its origin. Berenson rushes the order to deputy staff secretary Stuart Bowen with instructions to prepare it for signature immediately, without advance distribution to Bush’s top advisers. Bowen objects, saying that he had handled thousands of presidential documents without ever sidestepping the strict procedures governing coordination and review. Bowen relents only after being subjected to what he will later recall as “rapid, urgent persuasion” that Bush is standing by to sign and that the order is too sensitive to delay. Berenson will later say he understood that “someone had briefed” Bush “and gone over it” already. “I don’t know who that was.” When it is returned to Bush’s office later in the day, Bush signs it immediately (see November 13, 2001). Virtually no one else has seen the text of the memo. The Cheney/Yoo proposal has become a military order from the commander in chief.
Dodging Proper Channels - The government has had an interagency working group, headed by Pierre Prosper, the ambassador at large for war crimes, working on the same question (see Shortly Before September 23, 2001). But Cheney and Addington have refused to have any contact with Prosper’s group; one of Cheney’s team later says, “The interagency [group] was just constipated.” Cheney leapfrogged over Prosper’s group with their own proposal, performing an adroit bureaucratic move that puts their proposal in place without any oversight whatsoever, and cutting Prosper’s group entirely out of the process. When the news of the order is broadcast on CNN, Secretary of State Colin Powell demands, “What the hell just happened?” An angry Condoleezza Rice, the president’s national security adviser, sends an aide to find out. Virtually no one, even witnesses to the presidential signing, know that Cheney promulgated the order. In 2007, Washington Post reporters Barton Gellman and Jo Becker will call the episode “a defining moment in Cheney’s tenure” as vice president. Cheney has little Constitutional power, but his deft behind-the-scenes manuevering and skilled bureaucratic gamesmanship enable him to pull off coups like this one, often leaving even the highest White House officials none the wiser. “[H]e has found a ready patron in George W. Bush for edge-of-the-envelope views on executive supremacy that previous presidents did not assert,” the reporters write. [White House, 11/13/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 221-222; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Quiet Contravening of US Law - Six years later, Unger will observe that few inside or outside Washington realize that Cheney has, within a matter of days, contravened and discarded two centuries of American law. He has given the president, in the words of former Justice Department lawyer Bruce Fein, “the functions of judge, jury, and prosecutor in the trial of war crimes [and] the authority to detain American citizens as enemy combatants indefinitely… a frightening power indistinguishable from King Louis XIV’s execrated lettres de cachet that occasioned the storming of the Bastille.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 223-224]

Entity Tags: Stuart W. Bowen, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, Barton Gellman, Bradford Berenson, Jo Becker, Bruce Fein, Condoleezza Rice, Craig Unger, Colin Powell, Pierre-Richard Prosper

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush issues a three-page executive order authorizing the creation of military commissions to try non-citizens alleged to be involved in international terrorism (see November 10, 2001). The president will decide which defendants will be tried by military commissions. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld will appoint each panel and set its rules and procedures, including the level of proof needed for a conviction. A two-thirds vote is needed to convict a defendant and impose a sentence, including life imprisonment or death. Only the president or the secretary of defense has the authority to overturn a decision. There is no provision for an appeal to US civil courts, foreign courts, or international tribunals. Nor does the order specify how many judges are to preside on a tribunal or what qualifications they must have. [US Department of Defense, 11/13/2001; Washington Post, 11/14/2001; New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Questionable Rule of Evidence Adopted - The order also adopts a rule of evidence stemming from the 1942 Supreme Court case of United States v. Quirin that says evidence shall be admitted “as would… have probative value to a reasonable person.” This rule, according to Judge Evan J. Wallach, “was repeatedly used [in World War II and in the post-war tribunals] to admit evidence of a quality or obtained in a manner which would make it inadmissible under the rules of evidence in both courts of the United States or courts-martial conducted by the armed forces of the United States.” [Wallach, 9/29/2004] Evidence derived from torture, for example, could theoretically be admitted. It should be noted that the order is unprecedented among presidential directives in that it takes away some individuals’ most basic rights, while claiming to have the power of law, with the US Congress not having been so much as consulted.
Specifics Left to Rumsfeld - Bush’s executive order contains few specifics about how the commissions will actually function. Bush will delegate that task to Rumsfeld, although, as with the order itself, White House lawyers will actually make the decision to put Rumsfeld in charge, and Bush will merely sign off on the decision (see March 21, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 138]
Dispute over Trial Procedures - During the next few years, lawyers will battle over the exact proceedings of the trials before military commissions, with many of the military lawyers arguing for more rights for the defendants and with Defense Department chief counsel William J. Haynes, and Justice Department and White House lawyers (including White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, vice presidential counsel David Addington, and Gonzales’ deputy Timothy Flanigan) taking a more restrictive line. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Out of the Loop - Both National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin Powell were left outside of the circle during the drafting of this directive (see November 6, 2001 and November 9, 2001). Rice is reportedly angry about not being informed. [New York Times, 10/24/2004]
Serious 'Process Failure' - National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger will later call the authorization a “process failure” with serious long-term consequences (see February 2009).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, John Bellinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, David S. Addington, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes, Timothy E. Flanigan

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

In a speech to the US Chamber of Commerce, Vice President Cheney tells his audience that terror suspects do not deserve to be treated as prisoners of war. Cheney is laying the groundwork for the general acceptance of President Bush’s order that terror suspects are to be denied access to the US judicial system (see November 13, 2001). Asked about Bush’s proposed military tribunals for dealing with charges against suspected terrorists, Cheney says that according to Bush’s order, he and he alone will decide whether a suspect is tried in a military tribunal. Cheney continues: “Now some people say, ‘Well, gee, that’s a dramatic departure from traditional jurisprudence in the United States.’ It is, but there’s precedents for it.… The basic proposition here is that somebody who comes into the United States of America illegally, who conducts a terrorist operation killing thousands of innocent Americans, men, women, and children, is not a lawful combatant. They don’t deserve to be treated as a prisoner of war. They don’t deserve the same guarantees and safeguards that would be used for an American citizen going through the normal judicial process. This—they will have a fair trial, but it’ll be under the procedures of a military tribunal and rules and regulations to be established in connection with that. We think it’s the appropriate way to go. We think it’s—guarantees that we’ll have the kind of treatment of these individuals that we believe they deserve.” [White House, 11/14/2001] Many in the administration are disturbed at Cheney’s remarks, as Bush has not yet publicly made this decision (see November 13, 2001). [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

President Bush’s order to establish military tribunals, or commissions, to try suspected terrorists (see November 13, 2001) is defended by Vice President Cheney, who tells reporters that the suspects subjected to such tribunals “don’t deserve to be treated as prisoners of war. They don’t deserve the same guarantees and safeguards we use for an American citizen.” Law professor Douglas Kmiec agrees. “This is the answer for what we’re dealing with: unlawful belligerents who do not come within our constitutional structure,” he says. “The president’s order is not extraordinary when one places it in the context of historic military campaigns.” Civil libertarians and administration critics disagree. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) says military commissions are based on the “thinnest legal precedents” and would “antagonize our allies and alienate the many legal immigrants in this country.” Law professor Anne-Marie Slaughter notes: “President Bush has said this is a war to bring terrorists to justice. So the real question is, what’s justice? That requires a fair trial and proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and that is not the aim of a military tribunal.” A better option, she says, would be convening an international war crimes tribunal. And law professor Joshua Rosenkranz says: “There is a natural temptation to hunker down whenever we are in crisis. But there is a danger that this hysteria-driven effort to protect to ourselves is weakening the foundations of our democracy.” [USA Today, 11/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Douglas Kmiec, Joshua Rosenkranz, John Conyers, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy, sends an urgent appeal to Washington regarding President Bush’s November 13 military order (see November 13, 2001). [BBC Radio 4, 7/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Param Cumaraswamy, Colin Powell, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Scorching criticism of President Bush’s Executive Order (see November 13, 2001) comes from the Center for National Security Studies, which says it “violates separation of powers as the creation of military commissions has not been authorized by the Congress and is outside the president’s constitutional powers.” The order is also an “unconstitutional attempt to suspend the writ of habeas corpus.” [Center for National Security Studies, 11/19/2001] Law professor Kathleen Clark similarly states: “These military tribunals are troubling in many respects, particularly in their denial of basic due process protection for defendants. But even apart from this question of civil liberties, this presidential order is unconstitutional because the president lacks the authority under the constitution and statutory law to create this kind of court.” [Center for Democracy and Technology, 11/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Clark, Center for National Security Studies

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signs Military Commission Order No. 1 prescribing the procedures of the military commission trials (see November 10, 2001). The order says a two-third majority is required to determine a sentence and unanimity for applying the death penalty. It fails to provide for the possibility of appeals. It also says evidence submitted before a commission “shall” be declared admissible if the presiding officer or a majority of the commission members consider that it “would have probative value to a reasonable person.” [US Department of Defense, 3/21/2002 pdf file]
Fundamental Violations of Defendant Rights - Thus, if the presiding member or a majority considers a statement made under any form of coercion, including torture, to have some “probative value,” it “shall” be admitted. Professor Neal Katyal of Georgetown University later says this is a break with standard proceedings in civil courts and courts-martial and calls it “clearly at odds with American military justice.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/18/2004] Under the rules, the “Accused” is assigned a military officer to conduct his defense, but may select another officer. He may also retain a civilian attorney; however, he may only choose a lawyer who is vetted by the military. Unlike a military attorney, the civilian lawyer can be excluded from the trial if the presiding member of the commission decides to hold closed proceedings. This prompts Amnesty International to observe that the commissions “will restrict the right of defendants to choose their own counsel and to an effective defense.” [Amnesty International, 10/27/2004] Under the rules of the military commissions the military is allowed to monitor private conversations between defense lawyers and their clients. This violates, as Human Rights Watch remarks, “the fundamental notion of attorney-client confidentiality.” [Human Rights Watch, 1/9/2004]
Extraordinary Procedures for a 'Special Breed of Person' - In a discussion of the new rules, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, in an appearance on the PBS NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, explains that the detainees being held in Guantanamo are “dangerous people, whether or not they go before a military commission.” He adds, “We’re dealing with a special breed of person here” and thusly new and far more draconian rules must be applied. [PBS, 3/21/2002]
Battle with JAG Lawyers - Rumsfeld worked with lawyers from the Pentagon’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) office to create the procedures for the commissions. The JAG lawyers viewed the commissions as well outside the established rule of law, both in due process as mandated by the Constitution and in the protections mandated by the Geneva Conventions. But Rumsfeld and his group of political appointees considered the JAGs too closed-minded, and insisted on procedures that horrified the military lawyers—low standards for convictions, denial of civilian attorneys, imposition of the death penalty without unanimous consent of the panel of officers judging the case, and other proposed procedures. The JAGs argued that some of the proposals floated by Rumsfeld and his staff would violate their own ethical standards and put them at risk for later prosecution for war crimes if adopted. One top JAG official threatened to resign if the procedures were not brought more in line with established military law. The final version is a compromise between the two camps. Major General Thomas Romig, the head of JAG, later says that the final version still is not what the JAGs would have created on their own. As reporter and author Charlie Savage will later write, based on Romig’s comments: “While less draconian than the political appointees’ initial plans, the military commissions were still legally objectionable in several respects. The commission rules, for example, allowed secret evidence that would be kept hidden from a defendant and allowed the admission of evidence obtained through coercive interrogations [torture]. Moreover, the special trials still had no explicit congressional authorization.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 138-139]

Entity Tags: Thomas J. Romig, US Department of Defense, Neal Katyal, Donald Rumsfeld, Human Rights Watch, Judge Advocate General Corps, Charlie Savage, Geneva Conventions, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Param Cumaraswamy—still awaiting a response from the US government to his urgent appeal (see November 13, 2001) relating to Bush’s November 13, 2001 military order (see November 13, 2001) —says: “The Bush administration has not been very responsive to criticisms, and they have become a little intolerant to criticisms about themselves, but they are very free to criticize other governments when they violate human rights norms.” [BBC Radio 4, 7/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Amnesty International, Charles Anteby

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Salim Ahmed Hamdan.Salim Ahmed Hamdan. [Source: Public domain]US District Judge James Robertson rules that the Combatant Status Review Tribunal being held at the Guantanamo base in Cuba to determine the status of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan is unlawful and cannot continue. At the time of the decision, Hamdan is before the Guantanamo military commission. [Washington Post, 11/9/2004; USA Today, 11/9/2004] The commission system, as set up by White House lawyers David Addington and Timothy Flanigan three years before (see Late October 2001), gives accused terrorists such as Hamdan virtually no rights; in author and reporter Charlie Savage’s words, “the [Bush] administration had crafted rules that would make it easy for prosecutors to win cases.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 195-196]
Violation of Geneva Conventions - Robertson, in his 45-page opinion, says the government should have conducted special hearings to determine whether detainees qualified for prisoner-of-war protections under the Geneva Conventions at the time of capture. [USA Today, 11/9/2004] He says that the Bush administration violated the Geneva Conventions when it designated prisoners as enemy combatants, denied them POW protections, and sent them to Guantanamo. [Boston Globe, 11/9/2004] The Combatant Status Review Tribunals that are currently being held in response to a recent Supreme Court decision (see June 28, 2004) are inadequate, Robertson says, because their purpose is to determine whether detainees are enemy combatants, not POWs, as required by the Third Geneva Convention. [USA Today, 11/9/2004]
Rejects Claims of Presidential Power - Robertson also rejects the administration’s claim that the courts must defer to the president in a time of war. “The president is not a ‘tribunal,’” the judge says. [USA Today, 11/9/2004] Robertson, a Clinton appointee, thus squarely opposes both the president’s military order of November 13, 2001 (see November 13, 2001) establishing the possibility of trial by military tribunal, and his executive order of February 7, 2002 (see February 7, 2002) declaring that the Geneva Conventions do not to apply to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. “The government has asserted a position starkly different from the positions and behavior of the United States in previous conflicts,” Robertson writes, “one that can only weaken the United States’ own ability to demand application of the Geneva Conventions to Americans captured during armed conflicts abroad.” [USA Today, 11/9/2004; Washington Post, 11/9/2004; Boston Globe, 11/9/2004]
Orders Military Courts-Martial - Robertson orders that until the government conducts a hearing for Hamdan before a competent tribunal in accordance with the Third Geneva Conventions, he can only be tried in courts-martial, according to the same long-established military rules that apply to trials for US soldiers. [Washington Post, 11/9/2004; Boston Globe, 11/9/2004] Robertson’s ruling is the first by a federal judge to assert that the commissions are illegal. [Washington Post, 11/9/2004]
Hearings Immediately Recessed - When word of Robertson’s ruling comes to Guantanamo, Colonel Peter Brownback, presiding over a pretrial hearing for Hamdan, immediately gavels the hearing closed, declaring an “indefinite recess” for the tribunal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 195-196]
Ruling Applauded by Civil Libertarians, Rejected by Bush Lawyers - Anthony Romero, director of the American Civil Liberties Union; Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice; and Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, all applaud Robertson’s ruling. [Boston Globe, 11/9/2004] The Bush administration rejects the court’s ruling and announces its intention to submit a request to a higher court for an emergency stay and reversal of the decision. “We vigorously disagree.… The judge has put terrorism on the same legal footing as legitimate methods of waging war,” Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says. “The Constitution entrusts to the president the responsibility to safeguard the nation’s security. The Department of Justice will continue to defend the president’s ability and authority under the Constitution to fulfill that duty.” [Washington Post, 11/9/2004; Boston Globe, 11/9/2004] He also says that the commission rules were “carefully crafted to protect America from terrorists while affording those charged with violations of the laws of war with fair process.” [Boston Globe, 11/9/2004]
Ruling May Affect Other Detainees - Though the ruling technically only applies to Hamdan, his civilian attorney, Neal Katyal, says it could affect other detainees. “The judge’s order is designed only to deal with Mr. Hamdan’s case,” Katyal says. “But the spirit of it… extends more broadly to potentially everything that is going on here at Guantanamo.” [USA Today, 11/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Mark Corallo, Neal Katyal, James Robertson, George W. Bush, Anthony D. Romero, Peter Brownback, Charlie Savage, US Supreme Court, American Civil Liberties Union, Salim Ahmed Hamdan

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Al Gore speaks to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society.Al Gore speaks to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. [Source: American Constitution Society]Former Vice President Al Gore delivers a long, impassioned speech on civil liberties and constitutional issues to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. Gore joins former Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) in speaking out against the Bush administration’s infringement on American civil liberties. Gore and Barr have what Gore calls a “shared concern that America’s Constitution is in grave danger.”
Patently Illegal Domestic Surveillance - Gore’s speech is sparked by recent revelations that the NSA has been spying on American citizens for years (see December 15, 2005), and in response, the administration “has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress precisely to prevent such abuses.” As the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) is perfectly sufficient, there was no need for the Bush administration to circumvent that law. “At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA’s domestic surveillance,” Gore says. “What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.” Gore says he agrees with Bush on the threat of terrorism, but disagrees that the US has to “break the law or sacrifice our system of government” to protect itself, as this will make it “weaker and more vulnerable.” In addition, he says, “once violated, the rule of law is itself in danger,” and, “Unless stopped, lawlessness grows, the greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles.” It is patently obvious that the Bush administration has broken the law in conducting and approving its warrantless wiretaps, Gore says, regardless of what arguments and defenses administration officials may put forth (see September 12-18, 2001 and Early 2002). So, Gore says, “When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him the power he wanted when this measure was passed, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if Congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as [Supreme Court] Justice [Felix] Frankfurter once wrote, ‘To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between the president and the Congress.‘… And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.”
Illegal Seizure of American Citizens - Gore notes that Bush has declared that he has “a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that notwithstanding his American citizenship that person in prison has no right to talk with a lawyer, even if he wants to argue that the president or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person” (see November 13, 2001 and March 5, 2002). He says: “The president claims that he can imprison that American citizen—any American citizen he chooses—indefinitely, for the rest of his life, without even an arrest warrant, without notifying them of what charges have been filed against them, without even informing their families that they have been imprisoned.” Gore then says: “No such right exists in the America that you and I know and love. It is foreign to our Constitution. It must be rejected.”
Specious Authority to Torture - Neither does the executive branch have the right to authorize torture, Gore says. After citing horrific examples from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, he calls it “a shameful exercise of power that overturns a set of principles that you’re nation has observed since General George Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War. They have been observed by every president since then until now. They violate the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture, and our own laws against torture.”
Unlawful Kidnapping of Foreign Citizens - The president has no right to have foreign citizens kidnapped from their homes and brought to the US for interrogation and imprisonment, or worse, delivered to other nations for harsh interrogations and torture, says Gore. The closest allies of the US have been shocked by such claims.
No Restraint in the Constitution? - Gore asks whether the president really has such powers under the Constitution and, if so, “are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?” He quotes the dean of Yale’s law school, Harold Koh, who said, “If the president has commander in chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.” Gore is “deeply troubl[ed]” that “our normal American safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power.” He cites the numerous usage of “signing statements” by Bush that signal his intent “not to comply” with particular legislation (see December 30, 2005). When the Supreme Court struck down Bush’s indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” (see June 28, 2004), “the president then engaged in legal maneuvers designed to prevent the court from providing any meaningful content to the rights of the citizens affected.”
Historical Cycles - Since the founding of America, Gore says, the country has abrogated its citizens’ rights in one circumstance or another, and cites numerous examples. But those abrogations were always rectified to some degree in a repeated cycle of what he calls “excess and regret.” Gore is worried that the country may not be in such a cycle now. Instead, he says, the US may be on a path to permanent, state-sanctioned authoritarianism, with the constitutional safeguards American citizens have come to expect eroded and undermined to the point of irretrievability. Gore specifically cites the administration’s support for the so-called “unitary executive” theory of government, which he says “ought to be more accurately described as the unilateral executive.” That theory “threatens to expand the president’s powers until the contours of the Constitution that the framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition.”
Stark Authoritarianism - Why are Bush and his top officials doing this? Gore says that “[t]he common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control. The same pattern has characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the executive branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from all executive branch employees.” Gore continues: “Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time. The only check on it is that, sooner or later, a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. Two thousand two hundred American soldiers have lost their lives as this false belief bumped into a solid reality.”
Gutting Congress - Though serious damage has been done to the judicial branch, Gore acknowledges, “the most serious damage in our constitutional framework has been to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of Congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the executive to attain this massive expansion of its power.… [T]he legislative branch of government as a whole, under its current leadership, now operates as if it were entirely subservient to the executive branch.… [T]he whole process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his political organization” (see February 1, 2004). Gore says each member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, must “uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of American government that you are supposed to be under the Constitution of our country.”
We the People - The American people still, for the moment, have the power to enforce the Constitution, Gore says, quoting former President Dwight Eisenhower, who said, “Any who act as if freedom’s defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.” Gore continues: “Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction.… The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk. Yet in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights. Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment’s notice to completely annihilate the country?” [Congressional Quarterly, 1/16/2006; American Constitutional Society, 1/16/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Liberty Coalition, US Supreme Court, Harold Koh, George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., American Constitution Society, Bush administration (43), Convention Against Torture, Felix Frankfurter, George Washington, Geneva Conventions, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Robert “Bob” Barr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to create “military commissions” to try terror suspects (see November 13, 2001), John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council during much of the Bush administration, says: “A small group of administration lawyers drafted the president’s military order establishing the military commissions, but without the knowledge of the rest of the government, including the national security adviser, me, the secretary of state, or even the CIA director. And even though many of the substantive problems with the military commissions as created by the original order have been resolved by Congress in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case (see June 30, 2006), we have been suffering from this original process failure ever since.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Colin Powell, US Supreme Court, George J. Tenet, National Security Council, John Bellinger

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a 2008 contender for the Republican presidential nomination, tells an ABC audience that the US experienced “no domestic attacks” during the Bush administration. Giuliani is forgetting, or ignoring, the 9/11 attacks, the most lethal and costly terrorist attacks in US history, a curious omission considering Giuliani was mayor when two hijacked jetliners struck New York City’s World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001, eight months into the Bush administration. In recent months, two former Bush administration officials have also denied that 9/11 took place during the Bush presidency (see November 24, 2009 and December 27, 2009), as has a Nevada newspaper publisher just days ago (see January 3, 2010). Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos begins by asking Giuliani about his opposition to trying suspected terrorists in civilian courts instead of in military tribunals (see November 13, 2001 and January 29, 2009). Giuliani asks “why stop” torturing suspects instead of putting them on trial, saying that the US may continue to get “good information” from them, presumably about plans for future terrorist attacks. Giuliani says that while Bush “didn’t do everything right” in the “war on terror,” what Obama “should be doing is following the right things [Bush] did. One of the right things he did was treat this as a war on terror, we had no domestic attacks under Bush, we had one under Obama.” Stephanopoulos notes that Obama has “stepped up” actions against terrorists, but does not correct Giuliani’s claim that the US “had no domestic attacks under Bush.” [Media Matters, 1/8/2010]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, Bush administration (43), Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

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