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Context of 'Early Morning November 8, 2003: Abu Ghraib Detainees Sexually Humiliated'

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Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status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

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

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

Two weeks after Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert Delahunty write a memo saying that the US should not be bound by international laws covering warfare and torture (see January 9, 2002), White House counsel Alberto Gonzales concurs (see January 25, 2002), saying: “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002] But others inside and outside the administration strongly disagree. Many will later point to Yoo and Delahunty’s memo as providing the “spark” for the torture and prisoner abuses reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth will call the memo a “maliciously ideological or deceptive” document that ignores US obligations under multiple international agreements. “You can’t pick or choose what laws you’re going to follow,” Roth will observe. “These political lawyers set the nation on a course that permitted the abusive interrogation techniques” disclosed in later months. Scott Horton, president of the International League for Human Rights, agrees. When you read the memo, Horton says, “the first thing that comes to mind is that this is not a lofty statement of policy on behalf of the United States. You get the impression very quickly that it is some very clever criminal defense lawyers trying to figure out how to weave and bob around the law and avoid its applications.” Two days later, the State Department, whose lawyers are “horrified” by the Yoo memo, vehemently disagrees with its position (see January 11, 2002). Three weeks later, State again criticizes the memo (see February 2, 2002). State senior counsel William Howard Taft IV points out that the US depends itself on the even observations of international law, and that following Yoo’s recommendations may undermine attempts to prosecute detainees under that same body of law. Secretary of State Colin Powell “hit[s] the roof” when he reads Gonzales’s response to the Yoo memo, warning that adopting such a legal practice “will reverse over a century of US policy and practice” and have “a high cost in terms of negative international reaction” (see January 26, 2002). The Bush administration will give in a bit to Powell’s position, announcing that it will allow Geneva to apply to the Afghan war—but not to Taliban and al-Qaeda prisoners. State Department lawyers call it a “hollow” victory for Powell, leaving the administration’s position essentially unchanged. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Robert J. Delahunty, Human Rights Watch, Colin Powell, Alberto R. Gonzales, International League for Human Rights, John C. Yoo, Kenneth Roth, William Howard Taft IV, Scott Horton, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Top: Charles Garner punches one of the seven detainees. Bottom: Lynndie England points at the word “Rapeist” written on the leg of another one of the seven detainees. Other detainees are forced to sit naked on each other in the background.Top: Charles Garner punches one of the seven detainees. Bottom: Lynndie England points at the word “Rapeist” written on the leg of another one of the seven detainees. Other detainees are forced to sit naked on each other in the background. [Source: Public domain]At Abu Ghraib, seven Iraqi detainees are brought to Cellblock 1A from one of the tent camps escorted by MPs. The seven Iraqis are suspected of having taken part in a fight. They include Nori al-Yasseri, detainee number 7787; Hussein Mohssein Mata al-Zayiadi, detainee number 19446; and four others known only by their first names: Haidar, Ahmed, Ahzem, Hashiem and Mustafa. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004; US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] At least one of them was detained on suspicion of car theft. [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2004] When they arrive, they all have their hands tied behind their backs with plastic handcuffs. Empty sandbags (“gunnysacks”) are put over their heads. [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] According to an account later provided by MP Spc. Matthew Wisdom, the other MPs suddenly begin striking at the prisoners. Spc. Charles Graner, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick and Sgt. Javal Davis “rotate around the detainees and abuse and hit them,” Wisdom later testifies. Graner poses for a photograph with his fist, clenched as if about to strike, close to a detainee’s head. “Right after the picture [is] taken, he actually hit[s] him,” Wisdom says in his testimony. [Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] The MPs then throw the tied-up Iraqi men against the walls until they fall on the floor. Wisdom later recounts, “Sfc [Sgt. First Class] Snider grabbed my prisoner and threw him into a pile.” [New Yorker, 5/10/2004] Pfc. Lynndie England, who had her birthday the day before and has come to the cellblock to visit her boyfriend Spc. Graner, says the prisoners fall in what she calls a “dog pile.” [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] According to Wisdom, he sees “Staff Sgt. Frederic, Davis and Cpl. Graner walking around the pile hitting the prisoners.” [New Yorker, 5/10/2004] Several guards take turns leaping on top of the pile. Also present is Spc. Jeremy Sivits, who later testifies: “That is when Sgt. Davis ran across the room and lunged in the air and landed in the middle of where the detainees were. I believe Davis ran across the room a total of two times and landed in the middle of the pile of detainees.” [Washington Post, 5/22/2004] “A couple of the detainees kind of made an ‘ah’ sound, as if this hurt them or caused them some type of pain.” In the meanwhile Pfc. England and Sgt. Javal Davis stomped on the lying prisoners’ fingers and feet. Sivits heard them scream because of it. [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] The alleged car thief later testified during Frederick’s trial, he felt someone putting his foot on his head when he was thrown into the pile of men. “He put his whole weight on my head and on my knee. I was screaming and crying.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2004] At this point, MP Sgt. Shannon K. Snider of the 372nd MP Company, who is working in an office on the top floor, hearing the cries of pain, leans over the railing and angrily yells at Sgt. Davis to stop abusing the prisoners. When Davis steps away from the pile of men, Snider leaves. “I believe that Sgt. Snider thought it was an isolated incident,” Sivits says, “and that when he ordered Sgt. Davis to stop, it was over.” [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] It was not. Testimony by Spc. Wisdom suggests some ringleaders among the MPs pressured the others to join in with the abuse. According to Wisdom, he too asked Davis not to stomp on toes. Davis then allegedly tells Wisdom: “Who are you to tell me to stop?” [Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] Wisdom witnesses Frederick hitting a prisoner “in the side of his chest.” [New Yorker, 5/10/2004; Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] Frederick then takes notice of Wisdom looking on. Wisdom testifies that Frederick “looked at me and said: ‘Wisdom, you’ve got to get some of this,’ meaning I should hit the detainees as well.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] According to Wisdom’s account, he goes outside after this incident, [New Yorker, 5/10/2004] and proceeds to alert his team leader Sgt. Robert Jones. [Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] After Snider has left the scene, and possibly Wisdom as well, the MPs put the prisoners back to their feet and remove their handcuffs. Graner orders the detainees in Arabic to take their clothes off. Graner takes the head of one of the naked but hooded prisoners in one arm and smashes his free fist into his temple, causing the prisoner to sag down on the floor. “Damn, that hurt!” Graner says jokingly. Sivits walks over to see if the detainee is still alive. “I could tell that the detainee was unconscious, because his eyes were closed and he was not moving, but I could see his chest rise and fall, so I knew he was still alive.” Maybe this is the same incident witnessed by Wisdom, as perhaps is the following. Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick writes an X on another detainee’s chest with his finger and says, “Watch this.” Then he punches the prisoner on the indicated spot so massively that the hooded prisoner sways backward, falls to his knees and is gasping for air. [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] Frederick has singled out the alleged car thief for extra punishment. “I stood him up and punched him in the chest. I was angry. They told me he was the ringleader. He hit a female soldier in the face with a rock.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2004] Sivits testifies that Frederick says that “he thought he put the detainee in cardiac arrest.” [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] When the detainee subsequently collapses, he is checked by a female medic. She says he is “faking.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2004] The seven detainees will continue to be abused into the night and will be forced to form naked human pyramids (see Evening November 7, 2003).

Entity Tags: Jeremy C. Sivits, Matthew Wisdom, Lynndie England, Nori al-Yasseri, Javal Davis, Mustafa, Sabrina Harman, Robert Jones II, Ivan L. Frederick II, Hashiem, Haydar Sabbar Abed, Ahmed, Hussein Mohssein Mata Al-Zayiadi, Charles Graner, Ahzem, Haidar, George R. Fay, New Yorker, Shannon K. Snider

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Top: the seven detainees are forced to form a human pyramid. Charles Graner and Sabrina Harman stand behind them smiling and giving thumbs up signs. Bottom: Some of the same detainees are forced to simulate oral sex on each other. Top: the seven detainees are forced to form a human pyramid. Charles Graner and Sabrina Harman stand behind them smiling and giving thumbs up signs. Bottom: Some of the same detainees are forced to simulate oral sex on each other. [Source: Public domain]At Abu Ghraib, seven Iraqi detainees are brought to Cellblock 1A from one of the tent camps escorted by MPs. The seven Iraqis are suspected of having taken part in a fight. They include Nori al-Yasseri, Hussein Mohssein Mata al-Zayiadi, and four others known only by their first names: Haidar, Ahmed, Ahzem, Hashiem and Mustafa. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004; US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] They are repeatedly punched and attacked by Staff Sgt. Ivan L. Frederick, Spc. Charles Graner, and other MPs (see Evening November 7, 2003). The MPs then take out their cameras to take pictures of the seven naked men and begin putting them in humiliating poses, often placing themselves in the picture as well, smiling. Graner makes them climb on top of each other to form a human pyramid, as is reported by Spc. Sabrina Harman. [Washington Post, 5/22/2004; Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] “They put us two on the bottom, two on top of them, and two on top of those and on top,” Al-Zayiadi will say. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] “The pyramid lasted about 15 to 20 minutes,” according to Harman. [Washington Post, 5/22/2004] The prisoners are also made to crawl on hands and knees with MPs riding on their backs. [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] “They were sitting on our backs like riding animals,” Al-Zayiadi says. Meanwhile, others are taking photographs. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] Frederick then takes hold of the prisoner whom he has singled out for additional punishment and motions him to masturbate. “I grabbed his arm by the elbow, put it on his genitals and moved it back and forth with an arm motion, and he did it.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2004] He makes another detainee do the same. “I lifted his hood and gave him a hand gesture, telling him to keep doing it himself.” [New York Times, 10/21/2004] Spc. Matthew Wisdom, who complained to his team leader Sgt. Robert Jones earlier in the evening about the treatment of the detainees, returns to Tier 1A to find a naked detainee being forced to masturbate in front of another naked detainee on his knees before him. “I saw two naked detainees,” Wisdom will later recall, “one masturbating to another kneeling with its mouth open. I thought I should just get out of there. I didn’t think it was right.” [New Yorker, 5/10/2004] According to Wisdom, Frederick says to him: “Look what these animals do when we leave them alone for two seconds.” [New Yorker, 5/10/2004; Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] Meanwhile, Pfc. Lynndie England makes sexually suggestive comments “in a somewhat sarcastic, fun tone of voice,” according to Wisdom. [Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] “I heard Pfc. England shout out, ‘He’s getting hard.’” [New Yorker, 5/10/2004] Again Wisdom leaves the building to tell Sgt. Jones, who assures him the “problem [will] be addressed and dealt with,” [Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] and Wisdom assumes that the problem will be taken care of. [New Yorker, 5/10/2004] Others, meanwhile, are lined up and forced to masturbate. These facts are corroborated by photographs that show the MPs laughing as they look on. [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] Al-Zayiadi later identifies himself in one of these pictures. “They told my friend to masturbate and told me to masturbate also, while they were taking pictures,” he says. [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] In the end, Al-Zayiadi says they are tossed naked but still hooded into a cell. “They opened the water in the cell and told us to lay face down in the water and we stayed like that until the morning, in the water, naked, without clothes.” [Washington Post, 5/21/2004] One of the seven prisoners is likely Haydar Sabbar Abed who says he was originally arrested for not carrying his ID card. After being involved in a fight with an Iraqi prison employee in one of the tent camps, he is taken to the Hard Site. He later recalls: “They cut off our clothes and… told us to masturbate towards this female soldier. But we didn’t agree to do it, so they beat us.” He also says: “They made us act like dogs, putting leashes around our necks. They’d whistle and we’d have to bark like dogs. We thought they were going to kill us.” [BBC, 8/4/2004] The next day, Wisdom asks for and is granted a transfer to a job elsewhere in the prison. Although he and Sgt. Jones say they have been angered by the abuse, they do little more than mildly confront their colleagues with their objections. [Los Angeles Times, 8/5/2004] To the detainees, the experience has been harrowing. Al-Yasseri will later call it a “night which we felt like 1,000 nights.” “I was trying to kill myself,” says Al-Zayiadi, “but I didn’t have any way of doing it.” [Rolling Stone, 7/28/2004] Gen. George Fay will also describe these incidents in his report (see August 25, 2004), which he concludes was an the affair of MPs alone. He states that military intelligence “involvement in this abuse has not been alleged nor is it likely.” However, one of the pictures taken that night, depicting the “human pyramid,” is later used as a screen saver for a computer in the Hard Site. The screen saver is later seen by a female military intelligence interrogator, but she states, according to Gen. Fay, that she did not report the picture because she did not see it again. The same interrogator, Fay will report, had a “close personal relationship” with Staff Sgt. Frederick, [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file] one of the main instigators of the abuse that night.

Entity Tags: Javal Davis, Ivan L. Frederick II, Jeremy C. Sivits, Matthew Wisdom, Shannon K. Snider, Hussein Mohssein Mata Al-Zayiadi, Lynndie England, Nori al-Yasseri, Mustafa, Haydar Sabbar Abed, George R. Fay, Haidar, New Yorker, Hashiem, Ahmed, Charles Graner, Ahzem, Sabrina Harman, Robert Jones II

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Lynndie England smiling at pointing at the penis of one of the Abu Ghraib detainees.Lynndie England smiling at pointing at the penis of one of the Abu Ghraib detainees. [Source: Public domain]Seven Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib prison have been punched, attacked, and humiliated all evening long on November 7, 2003, by their US captors (see Evening November 7, 2003 and Evening November 7, 2003). This abuse continues into the early morning hours of November 8. Pfc. Lynndie England is photographed pointing at the penises of several of the same seven detainees while Charles Graner and other MPs look on. [Salon, 3/14/2006]

Entity Tags: Ahmed, Nori al-Yasseri, Lynndie England, Mustafa, Haydar Sabbar Abed, Ahzem, Charles Graner, Haidar, Hussein Mohssein Mata Al-Zayiadi, Hashiem, Ivan L. Frederick II

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

George Fay.George Fay. [Source: US Army]Generals George Fay and Anthony R. Jones release a final report describing the findings of their combined investigation of the abuses committed by US soldiers against detainees being held at Abu Ghraib. The investigation was initially ordered by Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, commander of CJTF-7, who charged Fay with determining whether the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade “requested, encouraged, condoned, or solicited Military Police (MP) personnel to abuse detainees and whether MI [military intelligence] personnel comported with established interrogation procedures and applicable laws and regulations.” Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones joined the investigation in June and was instructed to determine if “organizations or personnel higher” than the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade chain of command were involved in the Abu Ghraib abuses. [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004] The report provides detailed descriptions of 44 separate incidents of abuse perpetrated by US soldiers against Abu Ghraib detainees beginning in September 2003. The abuses described include acts of sodomy, beatings, nudity, lengthy isolation, and the use of unmuzzled dogs aimed at making detainees urinate and defecate in fear. “The abuses spanned from direct physical assault, such as delivering head blows rendering detainees unconscious, to sexual posing and forced participation in group masturbation,” the authors say in the report. “At the extremes were the death of a detainee… an alleged rape committed by a US translator and observed by a female soldier, and the alleged sexual assault of an unknown female.” [Washington Post, 8/26/2005] Parts of the report are classified because, according to Army officials, they include references to secret policy memos. But when these classified sections are leaked to the New York Times by a senior Pentagon official, they do not appear to contain any sensitive material about interrogation methods or details of official memos. Instead, the secret passages demonstrate how interrogation practices from Afghanistan and Guantanamo were introduced to Abu Ghraib and how Sanchez played a major part in that process. [New York Times, 8/27/2004] Though the report lays most of the blame on MPs and a small group of military intelligence, civilian, and CIA interrogators, it does recommend disciplinary action for Col. Thomas M. Pappas and Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan. “The primary causes are misconduct (ranging from inhumane to sadistic) by a small group of morally corrupt soldiers and civilians, a lack of discipline on the part of the leaders and soldiers of the 205 MI BDE [Military Intelligence Brigade] and a failure or lack of leadership by multiple echelons within CJTF-7.” Lt. Gen. Sanchez, the commander of Combined Joined Task Force (CJTF) 7, though mildly criticized, is still praised in the report as having performed “above expectations.” [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004; Washington Post, 8/26/2005] Jones portrays the abuse as being only coincidentally linked to interrogations. “Most, though not all, of the violent or sexual abuses occurred separately from scheduled interrogations and did not focus on persons held for intelligence purposes.” Gen. Fay on the other hand writes that the majority of the victims of abuse were military intelligence holds, and thus held for intelligence purposes. In addition, he concludes that “confusion and misunderstanding between MPs and MI [military intelligence]” also contributed to acts of abuse. Military intelligence personnel ordered MPs to implement the tactic of “sleep adjustment.” “The MPs used their own judgment as to how to keep them awake. Those techniques included taking the detainees out of their cells, stripping them, and giving them cold showers. Cpt. [Carolyn A.] Wood stated she did not know this was going on and thought the detainees were being kept awake by the MPs banging on the cell doors, yelling, and playing loud music.” [US Department of Defense, 8/23/2004 pdf file]
Conclusions -
bullet Nearly 50 people were involved in the 44 incidents of abuse listed in the report: 27 military intelligence soldiers, 10 military police officers, four civilian contractors, and a number of other intelligence and medical personnel who failed to report the abuse. [Washington Post, 8/26/2005; Washington Post, 8/26/2005] Military intelligence soldiers were found to have requested or encouraged 16 of the 44 incidents. [Washington Post, 8/26/2005; Washington Post, 8/26/2005]
bullet The incidents of abuse included torture. “Torture sometimes is used to define something in order to get information,” Fay tells reporters. “There were very few instances where in fact you could say that was torture. It’s a harsh word, and in some instances, unfortunately, I think it was appropriate here. There were a few instances when torture was being used.” [Washington Post, 8/26/2005]
bullet Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez and his staff “contributed indirectly to the questionable activities regarding alleged detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib” and failed “to ensure proper staff oversight of detention and interrogation operations.” [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004; Washington Post, 8/26/2005] For example, Sanchez endorsed the use of stress positions, nudity, and military working dogs (see October 12, 2003), even though they had not been approved by Rumsfeld. [Washington Post, 8/26/2005] In spite of this, the executive summary of the report asserts that “the CJTF-7 Commander and staff performed above expectations… .” [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004; Washington Post, 8/26/2005]
bullet Senior officers in Iraq failed to provide “clear, consistent guidance” for handling detainees. [US Department of the Army, 3/9/2004; Washington Post, 8/26/2005]
bullet There is no evidence that policy or instructions provided by senior US authorities sanctioned the types of abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib. [Washington Post, 8/26/2005; Washington Post, 8/26/2005]
bullet CIA officials in the prison hid “ghost detainees” from human rights groups in violation of international law. [Washington Post, 8/26/2005]

Entity Tags: Steven L. Jordan, Ricardo S. Sanchez, George R. Fay, Anthony R. Jones, Thomas M. Pappas, Carolyn A. Wood

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Arlen Specter.Arlen Specter. [Source: US Senate]White House counsel Alberto Gonzales testifies before the US Senate as part of his confirmation as the Bush administration’s new attorney general. Much of the seven hours of testimony focuses on Gonzales’s position on torturing terrorist suspects. He is specifically questioned on the August 2002 Justice Department memo requested by Gonzales that outlined how US officials could interrogate subjects without violating domestic and international laws against torture by setting unusually high standards for the definition of torture (see August 1, 2002). [Democracy Now!, 1/7/2005] Arlen Specter (R-PA) asks Gonzales if he approves of torture. Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not,” but refuses to be pinned down on specifics of exactly what constitutes torture.
Equivocating on the Definition of Torture - Gonzales says he “was sickened and outraged” by the photographs of tortured Iraqis at Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), but refuses to say whether he believes any of that conduct is criminal, citing ongoing prosecutions. Joseph Biden (D-DE) retorts: “That’s malarkey. You are obliged to comment. That’s your judgment we’re looking at.… We’re looking for candor.” [CNN, 1/7/2005] When asked whether he agrees with the August 2002 memo that said, “[F]or an act to violate the torture statute, it must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” Gonzales says: “We were trying to interpret the standard set by Congress. There was discussion between the White House and Department of Justice as well as other agencies about what does this statute mean? It was a very, very difficult—I don’t recall today whether or not I was in agreement with all of the analysis, but I don’t have a disagreement with the conclusions then reached by the department.” He says that the standard “does not represent the position of the executive branch” today. Author and torture expert Mark Danner calls the standard “appalling… even worse the second time through.” Gonzales was obviously prepped for this line of questioning, Danner says: “He sat in front of the committee and asserted things, frankly, that we know not to be true.… He was essentially unwilling to say definitively there were no situations in which Americans could legally torture prisoners.… [T]here’s an assumption behind [this performance] that we have the votes. We’re going to get through. I just have to give them nothing on which to hang some sort of a contrary argument.”
Equivicating on Techniques - Edward Kennedy (D-MA) questions Gonzales about what techniques are defined as torture, including “live burial” (see February 4-5, 2004) and waterboarding. Kennedy says that, according to media reports, Gonzales never objected to these or other techniques. Gonzales does not have a “specific recollection” of the discussions or whether the CIA ever asked him to help define what is and is not torture. He also says that in “this new kind of” war against “this new kind of enemy, we realized there was a premium on receiving information” the US needs to defeat terrorists. Agencies such as the CIA requested guidance as to “[w]hat is lawful conduct” because they did not “want to do anything that violates the law.” Kennedy asks if Gonzales ever suggested that the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) ever “lean forward on this issue about supporting the extreme uses of torture?” Gonzales focuses on Kennedy’s phrasing: “Sir, I don’t recall ever using the term sort of ‘leaning forward,’ in terms of stretching what the law is.” He refuses to admit giving any opinions or requesting any documents, but only wanted “to understand [the OLC’s] views about the interpretation” of torture. Danner notes that Justice Department officials have told reporters that Gonzales pushed for the expansive definition of torture in the memos, but Gonzales refuses to admit to any of that in the questioning.
Ignoring the Uniform Code of Military Justice - Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells Gonzales that the Justice Department memo was “entirely wrong in its focus” because it excluded the Uniform Code Of Military Justice, and that it “put our troops at jeopardy.” Gonzales replies that he does not think that because of the memo the US has lost “the moral high ground” in the world. Danner says, “[Graham] is arguing that these steps weakened the United States, not only by putting troops at risk, but by undermining the US’s reputation in the world, undermining the ideological side of this war… Graham is saying very directly that by torturing, and by supplying images like that one, of… a hooded man, the man with the hood over his head and the wires coming out of his fingers and his genitals which is known far and wide in the Arab world in the Middle East it’s become highly recognizable by supplying that sort of ammunition, you’re giving very, very strong comfort and aid to the enemy in fact.” [Democracy Now!, 1/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, Arlen Specter, Alberto R. Gonzales, Central Intelligence Agency, Uniform Code of Military Justice, US Department of Justice, Mark Danner, Patrick J. Leahy, Joseph Biden, Bush administration (43), Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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