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The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) files a report with Coalition Authorities complaining that its soldiers and intelligence officers have been arresting and detaining Iraqis without cause, routinely using excessive force during the initial stages of detention, and subjecting prisoners to extreme physical and emotional abuse. The report is based on 29 visits to 14 detention centers in Iraq between March 31 and October 24, 2003, during which time ICRC workers privately interviewed thousands of prisoners. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004; Lewis 5/11/2004; Smith and White 5/12/2004) Among its findings:
bullet According to “certain CF (Coalition Forces) military intelligence officers,” 70 to 90 percent of the detainees being held in captivity were “arrested by mistake.” (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Captives were not informed of the reason for their arrest or provided with access to legal counsel. “They were often questioned without knowing what they were accused of. They were not allowed to ask questions and were not provided with an opportunity to seek clarification about the reason for their arrest.” (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet There were eight instances in which American guards shot at their captives resulting in seven prisoner deaths and 18 injuries. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet During the initial stages of captivity, prisoners were subjected to brutality which sometimes caused serious injury or death. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Prisoners were subjected to physical and psychological coercion, which in “some cases was tantamount to torture.” (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Prisoners were kept in prolonged solitary confinement in cells in complete darkness. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Prison guards and soldiers used excessive and disproportionate use of force. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Prisoners being held in Unit 1A of Abu Ghraib were kept “completely naked in totally empty concrete cells and in total darkness.” Some of the prisoners were forced into “acts of humiliation such as being made to stand naked against the wall of the cell with arms raised or with women’s underwear over the [sic] heads for prolonged periods—while being laughed at by guards, including female guards, and sometimes photographed in this position.” (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004; Lewis 5/11/2004)
bullet Prisoners’ hands were often bound with flexi-cuffs so tightly that the captive incurred skin wounds and nerve damage. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Soldiers pressed prisoners’ faces into the ground with their combat boots. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Prisoners were beaten with pistols and rifles and were slapped, punched, or kicked with knees or boots. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Prisoners were threatened with execution and transferred to Guantanamo. Some captives were told that their family members would be harmed. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Prisoners were deprived of adequate sleep, food, water, and access to open air. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Prisoners were subjected to forced and prolonged exposure to hot sun on days when the temperature exceed 120 degrees. (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Interviews with military intelligence officers confirmed that “methods of physical and psychological coercion used by the interrogators appeared to be part of the standard operating procedures by military intelligence personnel to obtain confessions and extract information.” (International Committee of the Red Cross 2/24/2004 pdf file; Slevin 5/10/2004)
bullet Iraqi police, operating under control of the US, turned people over to Coalition Forces for refusing to pay bribes. (New York Times 5/12/2004)

Antonio M. Taguba.Antonio M. Taguba. [Source: US Army]Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba files a 53-page classified report which finds that between October and December of 2003, members of the 372nd Military Police Company and US intelligence community engaged in numerous incidents of “sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses” against prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. As evidence, he cites “detailed witness statements and the discovery of extremely graphic photographic evidence.” The photographs—which are later leaked to the press (see Mid-April 2004), causing an enormous international public outcry—are not included in the report. (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004; Hersh 5/10/2004; Hersh 5/17/2004) Taguba also takes issue with the November 5 (see November 5, 2003) Ryder report which concluded that the military police units had not intentionally used inappropriate confinement practices. “Contrary to the findings of MG [Maj. Gen.] Ryder’s report, I find that personnel assigned to the 372nd MP Company, 800th MP Brigade were directed to change facility procedures to ‘set the conditions’ for MI interrogations.” Army intelligence officers, CIA agents, and private contractors “actively requested that MP guards set physical and mental conditions for favorable interrogation of witnesses.” (US Department of the Army 3/9/2004; Hersh 5/10/2004) He presents his report to his commander on March 3 (see March 3, 2004).

A new interrogation policy is approved for US personnel regarding prisoners detained in Iraqi facilities such as Abu Ghraib. The policy will remain classified as late as mid-2009, but the Senate Armed Services Committee (see April 21, 2009) will release excerpts from it. The policy warns that interrogators “should consider the fact that some interrogation techniques are viewed as inhumane or otherwise inconsistent with international law before applying each technique. These techniques are labeled with a [CAUTION].” Among the techniques labeled as such are a technique involving power tools, stress positions, and the presence of military working dogs, all potential violations of the Geneva Conventions. (Levin 4/21/2009)

Major General Antonio M. Taguba out-briefs the findings of his investigation to General David McKiernan. (Saletan 5/5/2004; Jehl 5/10/2004)

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba submits the final version of his report (see February 26, 2004) on the investigation into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib by MPs. He concludes that military intelligence personnel played a part in the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. But due to the fact that his investigation was limited to the conduct of MPs (see January 19, 2004), he did not investigate military intelligence conduct. Another investigation (see August 25, 2004), however, is launched that will examine military intelligence’s role in the abuses. It will be conducted by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, the Army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence. But the scope of this investigation is also limited from the outset, for two reasons. First, as a two-star general, he cannot hold any officer of his own rank or higher accountable. Second, Fay is appointed by Lt. Col. Ricardo S. Sanchez and therfore the scope of investigation is limited to the people under Sanchez’s command. (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004) Additionally, Fay may be less inclined to report negatively on military intelligence personnel, since his superior, Lt. Gen. Keith Alexander, head of Army Intelligence, has already stated that the abuse at Abu Ghraib was committed by “a group of undisciplined military police” who were acting on their own, and not upon instructions from military intelligence officers. (Weissman 5/14/2004)

Attorney General John Ashcroft is visited by a squad of top White House and Justice Department officials just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for severe, acute pancreatis, and is still recuperating in intensive care. The White House officials attempt to persuade the barely lucid Ashcroft to give his formal approval for the secret National Security Agency warrantless wiretapping surveillance program (see Early 2002), which requires the Justice Department to periodically review and approve it. (Shapiro 5/15/2007; Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; Eggen 6/7/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007)
Comey, Goldsmith Rush to Head Off Aides - Deputy Attorney General James Comey testifies to the incident before the Senate Judiciary Committee over three years later (see May 15, 2007). Comey will recall that he and Ashcroft had decided not to recertify the surveillance program due to their concerns over its legality and its lack of oversight. On March 9, Ashcroft was rushed to the hospital with severe pancreatis. As per Justice Department procedures, Comey became acting attorney general for the duration of Ashcroft’s incapacity. The next night, just hours after Ashcroft underwent emergency surgery for the removal of his gallbladder, Comey receives an urgent phone call from Ashcroft’s aide, David Ayres, who himself has just spoken with Ashcroft’s wife Janet. Ayres tells Comey that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andrew Card are en route to Ashcroft’s hospital room to pressure Ashcroft to sign off on the program recertification. A furious Comey telephones FBI director Robert Mueller, and the two, accompanied by aides, race separately through the Washington, DC streets with sirens wailing to reach Ashcroft’s hospital room; they beat Gonzales and Card to the room by a matter of minutes. “I was concerned that, given how ill I knew the attorney general was, that there might be an effort to ask him to overrule me when he was in no condition to do that,” Comey will testify, and will add that to him, Ashcroft appears “pretty bad off.” En route, Mueller instructs the security detail protecting Ashcroft not to allow Card or Gonzales to eject Comey from the hospital room. Card and Gonzales enter just minutes later. (Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; PBS 5/16/2007) “And it was only a matter of minutes that the door opened and in walked Mr. Gonzales, carrying an envelope, and Mr. Card,” Comey will testify. “They came over and stood by the bed, greeted the attorney general very briefly, and then Mr. Gonzales began to discuss why they were there—to seek his approval for a matter.” (Shapiro 5/15/2007) Gonzales is holding an envelope containing an executive order from Bush. He tells Ashcroft that he needs to sign off on the order, thereby giving the wiretapping program Justice Department authorization to continue unabated. Comey will testify that Ashcroft “lifted his head off the pillow and in very strong terms expressed his view of the matter, rich in both substance and fact, which stunned me. [Ashcroft then adds] ‘But that doesn’t matter, because I’m not the attorney general. There is the attorney general,’” pointing at Comey. Gonzales and Card leave the room without ever acknowledging Comey’s presence. “I was angry,” Comey will recall. “I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man, who did not have the powers of the attorney general because they had been transferred to me.” (Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; Eggen 6/7/2007) “That night was probably the most difficult night of my professional life, so it’s not something I forget,” Comey will testify. (PBS 5/16/2007) Goldsmith is also in the room; like Comey, Goldsmith receives a phone call alerting him to Gonzales’s and Card’s visit, and like Comey, Goldsmith races through the Washington streets to arrive at Ashcroft’s room minutes before Gonzales and Card arrive. He, too, is astonished at the brazen, callous approach taken by the two White House officials against Ashcroft, who he describes as laying in his darkened hospital room, with a bright light shining on him and tubes and wires protruding from his body. “Ashcroft, who looked like he was near death, sort of puffed up his chest,” Goldsmith later recalls. “All of a sudden, energy and color came into his face, and he said that he didn’t appreciate them coming to visit him under those circumstances, that he had concerns about the matter they were asking about and that, in any event, he wasn’t the attorney general at the moment; Jim Comey was. He actually gave a two-minute speech, and I was sure at the end of it he was going to die. It was the most amazing scene I’ve ever witnessed.” As Gonzales and Card leave the room, Goldsmith will recall, “Mrs. Ashcroft, who obviously couldn’t believe what she saw happening to her sick husband, looked at Gonzales and Card as they walked out of the room and stuck her tongue out at them. She had no idea what we were discussing, but this sweet-looking woman sticking out her tongue was the ultimate expression of disapproval. It captured the feeling in the room perfectly.” (Rosen 9/9/2007) After Gonzales and Card leave the room, Comey asks Mueller to instruct the security detail not to let any more visitors into the room, except for family, without Mueller’s approval, apparently in order to keep Gonzales and Card from attempting to return. (US Department of Justice 8/14/2007)
Cheney or Bush Behind Visit? - The hospital visit is sparked by at least two events: a meeting of White House officials a day earlier, where Vice President Dick Cheney attempted to push reluctant Justice Department officials to approve the surveillance program (see March 9, 2004), and Comey’s own refusal to certify the legality of the surveillance, as noted above. (Eggen 6/7/2007) Some believe that the timing of the incident shows that Cheney is the one who ordered Gonzales and Card to go to Ashcroft’s hospital room; Comey personally informed Cheney of his decision not to give his approval to the program. Speculation about Cheney’s ordering of the visit cannot be confirmed, (Roh 7/7/2007; Roh 8/16/2007) though the New York Times states flatly in an op-ed that “Vice President Dick Cheney sent Mr. Gonzales and [Card] to Mr. Ashcroft’s hospital room to get him to approve the wiretapping.” (New York Times 7/29/2007) Three years later, Goldsmith will tell Congress that he believes Bush himself authorized the visit (see October 2, 2007).
Meeting in the White House - Minutes after the incident in Ashcroft’s hospital room, Card orders Comey to appear at a late-night meeting at the White House; Comey refuses to go alone, and pulls Solicitor General Theodore Olson from a dinner party to act as a witness to the meeting. “Mr. Card was very upset and demanded that I come to the White House immediately. After the conduct I had just witnessed, I would not meet with him without a witness present,” Comey will testify. “[Card] replied, ‘What conduct? We were just there to wish him well.’ And I said again, ‘After what I just witnessed, I will not meet with you without a witness. And I intend that witness to be the solicitor general of the United States.’” On March 11, after an al-Qaeda bombing in Madrid kills over 200 people (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004, Bush recertifies the program without the approval of the Justice Department. Comey responds by drafting a letter of resignation, effective March 12. “I couldn’t stay if the administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice had said had no legal basis,” he will testify. “I just simply couldn’t stay.” Comey is not the only one threatening to resign; he is joined by Ashcroft, Mueller, Ayres, Goldsmith, Justice Department official Patrick Philbin, and others, who all intend to resign en masse if Bush signs off on the surveillance program without Justice Department support. But Ayres persuades Comey to delay his resignation; in Comey’s words, Ayres “asked me something that meant a great deal to him, and that is that I not resign until Mr. Ashcroft was well enough to resign with me.” Instead of resigning on March 12, Bush meets separately with Comey and Mueller, and promises to make changes in the program (see March 12-Mid-2004). Those changes have never been disclosed, though some changes are later found to be the creation of a secret review court to oversee the surveillance court, and the clarification of what exactly constitutes “probable cause” for surveillance. Comey will testify,…“Director Mueller came to me and said that, ‘The president told me that the Department of Justice should get this where it wants to be—to do what the department thinks is right.’ And I took that mandate and set about to do that, and I accomplished that.” (Thomas and Klaidman 1/9/2006; Shapiro 5/15/2007; Nizza 5/15/2007; Eggen and Kane 5/16/2007; PBS 5/16/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007) Goldsmith recalls his surprise when Congress later approves the program and brings it somewhat under the supervision of the FISA court. “I was sure the government was going to melt down,” Goldsmith says in 2007. “No one anticipated they were going to reverse themselves.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
Did Gonzales Break the Law? - It is also possible that Gonzales and Card may have broken the law in discussing classified information in a public venue. “Executive branch rules require sensitive classified information to be discussed in specialized facilities that are designed to guard against the possibility that officials are being targeted for surveillance outside of the workplace,” says law professor Neal Katyal, a national security adviser under Bill Clinton. “The hospital room of a cabinet official is exactly the type of target ripe for surveillance by a foreign power. And the NSA program is particularly sensitive. One government official familiar with the program notes, “Since it’s that program, it may involve cryptographic information,” some of the most highly protected information in the intelligence community. The law governing disclosure of classified information is quite strict, and numerous government and military officials have been investigated for potential violations in the past. “It’s the one you worry about,” says the government official. Katyal says that if Gonzales did indeed break the law, the Justice Department cannot run any investigation into the matter: “The fact that you have a potential case against the Attorney General himself calls for the most scrupulous and independent of investigations.” Many others are dismayed and confused by the contradictions between the absolute secrecy surrounding the program, and Gonzales’s and Card’s willingness to openly discuss it in such an insecure location, and in front of witnesses not cleared to hear details about the program—including Ashcroft’s wife, who is present in the room while the officials seek her husband’s signature. Former NSA general counsel Elizabeth Parker says not enough is known about the meeting to be sure whether or not the law was broken. “Obviously things can be discussed in ways that don’t divulge highly classified information,” she says. “The real issue is what is it about this program that is so classified that can’t allow it to be discussed in a Congressional setting, even a closed Congressional hearing. In order to have confidence in what this program is all about, one needs to understand better what the approach is and how it affects the rights of American citizens.”
'Horrible' Judgment - John Martin, who oversaw Justice’s counterintelligence division for 26 years, calls Gonzales’s and Card’s attempt to override Comey’s authority as acting attorney general as more than just “bad judgment.” Martin calls their judgement “horrible…they both knew or should have known that the Attorney General while he was so incapacitated had delegated his power to his deputy Jim Comey. Comey’s actions were heroic under the circumstances.” (Calabresi 5/17/2007)
Snow Dismisses Concerns - In May 2007, after Comey’s testimony to the Senate hits the media, White House press secretary Tony Snow dismisses any concerns about the inappropriateness of Gonzales’s and Card’s pressuring of Ashcroft in his hospital room, and skips over the fact that Comey, not Ashcroft, had the final authority of the Attorney General at the time. “Because he had an appendectomy, his brain didn’t work?” Snow will say of Ashcroft. “Jim Comey can talk about whatever reservations he may have had. But the fact is that there were strong protections in there, this program has saved lives and it’s vital for national security and furthermore has been reformed in a bipartisan way.” Judiciary Committee member Charles Schumer (D-NY) has a different take on the incident: “What happened in that hospital room crystallized Mr. Gonzales’ view about the rule of law: that he holds it in minimum low regard.” (Kellman 6/7/2007) Senate Democrats are preparing to introduce a resolution of no-confidence against Gonzales. (Calabresi 5/17/2007)

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba presents his report (see February 26, 2004) on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib to his commanders. (Weissman 5/14/2004) The report is “very closely held” among the Army’s senior leadership and the report is only accessible to top officials on a secure computer network. Congress is not informed of the report or its findings. (Bowman 5/6/2004) It is classified as “Secret / No Foreign Dissemination.” Neither the vice-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, nor the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will later say they know why the report was classified when asked at a Pentagon press briefing on May 4. Such a classification may be in violation of US law. Section 1.7 of Executive Order 12958 reads: “In no case shall information be classified in order to… conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error [or to] prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency….” (Secrecy News 5/5/2004)

The Pentagon announces Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller is to be replaced by Brig. Gen. Jay W. Hood as commander, Joint Task Force Guantanamo. Miller will become deputy commander for detainee operations in Iraq, including Abu Ghraib prison. (US Department of Defense 3/22/2004) He will assume his new function on April 15. (Chan 5/9/2004) In late April, abuses committed at Abu Ghraib will become a public scandal (see April 28, 2004). Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba had conducted a US Army investigation into the abuses in January 2004 (see February 26, 2004). In the course of that investigation, Taguba concluded that Miller was partly responsible for the abuses because Miller had visited Abu Ghraib and successfully pushed for more aggressive interrogation techniques there. However, due to a limited mandate, Taguba could not formally investigate Miller’s role. Ironically, after the scandal breaks, Miller will be in the role of helping to clean up the problems in the prison that he helped create. (Hersh 6/17/2007)

A report by the inspector general of the US Army’s Combined/Joint Task Force 180 in Bagram, Afghanistan, finds numerous problems with detainee treatment at Bagram and other facilities. The problems include a lack of training and oversight on acceptable interrogation techniques (see July 2002). According to the report, “Army doctrine simply does not exist” at the base, and detainees are not afforded “with the privileges associated with enemy or prisoner of war status” or the Geneva Conventions. The memoranda will be released to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see January 12, 2006). (American Civil Liberties Union 1/12/2006)

Attorney General John Ashcroft recertifies the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program as being within the law, three weeks after he and his deputy, James Comey, refused to certify it. The program had come under question in early 2004, when Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote to Ashcroft and Comey expressing his doubts about the program’s legality (see September 9, 2007). For those three weeks, the program operated without Justice Department approval; President Bush personally recertified it himself, though it was suspended and subjected to an internal review (see March 12-Mid-2004). Ashcroft had previously refused to recertify the program while recuperating from surgery, despite pressure from White House officials Alberto Gonzales and Andrew Card (see March 10-12, 2004). Ashcroft, Comey, Goldsmith, and other Justice Department officials had even threatened to resign en masse if Bush recertified the program without their department’s support; Bush promised to revamp the program to address Ashcroft and Comey’s objections to the program, though what those changes are remains unclear. (Savage 5/16/2007; Kellman 6/7/2007)

The Army issues a classified “Information Paper” entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that details the status of 62 investigations into prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cases documented in the paper include allegations of assaults, physical assaults, mock executions, sexual assaults, threatening to kill an Iraqi child to “send a message to other Iraqis,” stripping detainees, beating them and shocking them with a blasting device, throwing rocks at handcuffed Iraqi children, choking detainees with knots of their scarves, and interrogations at gunpoint. The document will be released to the public by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 2006 (see May 2, 2006). Of the 62 cases, 26 involve detainee deaths. Some have already gone through courts-martial proceedings. The cases involve allegations from Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, Camp Bucca, and other sites in Mosul, Samarra, Baghdad, and Tikrit, and the Orgun-E facility in Afghanistan. (American Civil Liberties Union 5/2/2006)

A deranged Abu Ghraib detainee wanders the halls covered in human feces on December 12, 2003. MP Ivan Frederick stands behind him with a stick.A deranged Abu Ghraib detainee wanders the halls covered in human feces on December 12, 2003. MP Ivan Frederick stands behind him with a stick. [Source: Public domain]The Abu Ghraib prison photos are leaked to CBS. The network informs the Pentagon that it will broadcast a story on the prison abuses and include the photos. But the network delays broadcasting the story at the request of Gen. Richard Myers. (Hann 4/30/2004; CBS News 5/6/2004; Scheer 5/6/2004; CNS News 5/7/2004)

Lynndie England dragging a prisoner nicknamed Gus on October 24, 2003.Lynndie England dragging a prisoner nicknamed Gus on October 24, 2003. [Source: Public domain]CBS’s “60 Minutes II” airs the Abu Ghraib prison photos (see March 23, 2004) having learned that the New Yorker is about to publish a piece on abuses at Abu Ghraib. Bush reportedly first learns about these photos from the television report. (CBS News 5/6/2004; Scheer 5/6/2004; Bowman 5/6/2004; Deggans 5/9/2004) Most of the photos show prisoners being forced to engage in humiliating sexual acts. For example in one photo a hooded naked man is forced to masturbate as a grinning female MP, Lynndie England, looks on, giving a thumbs-up. Another photo shows two naked hooded men, one standing, while the other is kneeling in front of him, simulating oral sex. The Bush administration will portray these forced acts of humiliation as the immature pranks of low ranking soldiers. But others will argue that the acts were ordered from above with the intent to exploit Arab culture’s conservative views with regard to sex and homosexuality (see 2002-March 2003). (Hersh 5/10/2004; Hersh 5/17/2004) A different picture shows a hooded-man with his arms spread and wires dangling from his fingers, toes, and penis. He was apparently told that if he fell off the box he would be electricuted. The tactic is known as the “The Vietnam,” an “arcane torture method known only to veterans of the interrogation trade” that had been first used by Brazilians in the 1970s. (Rejali 5/14/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004 Sources: Darius Rejali) Another picture is of Manadel al-Jamadi who was killed after being “stressed” too much (see (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003). (Hersh 5/10/2004; Hersh 5/17/2004) “A generation from now,” one observer notes, “historians may look back to April 28, 2004, as the day the United States lost the war in Iraq.” (Carter 11/2004)

Seymour Hersh.Seymour Hersh. [Source: Daily Californian / Skyler Reid]The New Yorker magazine publishes an in-depth article by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh on the Abu Ghraib abuses, as well as excerpts of the Taguba report (see February 26, 2004). The article includes some of the graphic photos of the abuses that were turned in by Spc. Joseph Darby (see January 13, 2004) in January. (Hersh 5/10/2004) Soon thereafter, subordinates of Undersecretary for Policy Douglas Feith send out an “urgent” e-mail around the Pentagon warning officials not to read the Taguba report and not to mention the report to anybody including family members, even though major parts of it are now part of the public record. Newsweek later quotes a military lawyer as saying, that Feith has turned his office into a “ministry of fear.” (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004)

Coalition Joint Task Force-7, an Army command in Afghanistan, is still operating under rules of interrogation issued by CENTCOM commander General Ricardo Sanchez in September 2003 and rescinded in October 2003 (see October 12, 2003). This information comes from a report issued by Brigadier General Richard Formica (see November 2004) and from documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (see July 10, 2006). The September 2003 rules allowed for the use of attack dogs, stress positions, sleep deprivation, and “environmental manipulation”—subjecting prisoners to extremes of heat and cold. In February 2004, a JTF-7 officer asked in a memo: “Can you verify that this [the September Sanchez memo] is a valid, signed policy? If not, can you send me (or steer me toward) the current policy?” The officer received a reply consisting of another copy of the September memo. On May 16, 2004, unit commanders become aware that the September memo had been superceded by reading news reports. (American Civil Liberties Union 7/10/2006) According to the Defense Department, the September memo was “erroneously” provided to JTF-7. The Defense Department credits the Formica investigation for finding the error, which, Defense officials say, was “corrected immediately.… In the months between the policy’s creation and the investigation, some interrogations had been conducted using five unapproved interrogation methods, but none had resulted in abuse.” The official will note: “That’s the important point—we found [the error] and looked into it. When we discovered the error, we corrected it immediately.” (Wood 6/17/2006)

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh dismisses photos taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib over the course of several broadcasts. The excerpts are collected by Newsweek, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters. On May 3, he tells his listeners, “You know, if you look at—if you really look at these pictures, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looks just like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do onstage—maybe I’m, yeah—and get an NEA [National Education Association] grant for something like this” (see October 2003, October 17-22, 2003, October 24, 2003, Evening October 25, 2003, November 4, 2003, November 4-December 2, 2003, and Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003, among others). On May 4, he says: “You know, those [US soldiers in Iraq] are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time. These people—you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off? … It is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.” On May 5, he says: “I think a lot of the American culture is being feminized. I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.” On May 6: he says, “The thing, though, that continually amazes—here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever.… I mean, this is something that you can see onstage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex and the City.” In that same broadcast, he praises the torturers by saying: “And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it’s pretty thoughtful.… Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured.… Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context.” And on May 11, he says, “If you take these pictures and bring them back and have them taken in an American city and put on an American Web site, they might win an award from the pornography industry.” (Media Matters 5/6/2004; Braiker 5/13/2004; Boehlert 2006, pp. 118; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 160)

Major General Geoffrey Miller says during a Coalition Provisional Authority briefing that while physical contact between the interrogator and detainees is prohibited, “sleep deprivation and stress positions and all that could be used—but they must be authorized.” (see April 16, 2003) But as Amnesty International later notes in a letter to George Bush, “The United Nations Committee against Torture, the expert body established by the Convention against Torture (see October 21, 1994) has expressly held that restraining detainees in very painful positions, hooding, threats, and prolonged sleep deprivation are methods of interrogation which violate the prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” (Amnesty International 5/7/2004)

Speaking about the Abu Ghraib scandal (see April 28, 2004), President Bush promises a “full investigation.” In an interview with Al Arabiya, he says: “It’s important for people to understand that in a democracy, there will be a full investigation. In other words, we want to know the truth. In our country, when there’s an allegation of abuse… there will be a full investigation, and justice will be delivered.… It’s very important for people and your listeners to understand that in our country, when an issue is brought to our attention on this magnitude, we act. And we act in a way in which leaders are willing to discuss it with the media.… In other words, people want to know the truth. That stands in contrast to dictatorships. A dictator wouldn’t be answering questions about this. A dictator wouldn’t be saying that the system will be investigated and the world will see the results of the investigation.” (White House 5/5/2004) In April 2009, after significant revelations of Bush torture policies have hit the press (see April 16, 2009 and April 21, 2009), Atlantic columnist Andrew Sullivan will write: “Bush personally authorized every technique revealed at Abu Ghraib. He refused to act upon the International Committee of the Red Cross’s report that found that he had personally authorized the torture of prisoners, in violation of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention on Torture and domestic law against cruel and inhuman treatment. A refusal to investigate and prosecute Red Cross allegations of torture is itself a violation of the Geneva Accords.” (Sullivan 4/27/2009)

The Wall Street Journal publishes portions of the February Red Cross (ICRC) report (see February 24, 2004) on coalition prisons in Iraq. (Cloud, Robbins, and Jaffe 5/7/2004)

In response to what the five Britons released from Guantanamo (see March 9, 2004) have claimed about the abuses they suffered during their stay at the US detention camp, John Sifton from Human Rights Watch says, “It is now clear that there is a systemic problem of abuse throughout the US military’s detention facilities—not merely misbehavior by a few bad apples.” (Rose 5/16/2004)

Sgt. Samuel Provance of the 302nd Military Intelligence Battalion tells ABC News that the US military is engaged in a cover-up of the Abu Ghraib abuses. “There’s definitely a cover-up,” he says. “People are either telling themselves or being told to be quiet.” He also says the MPs seen in the photos with naked Iraqi prisoners at the prison were acting under orders from military intelligence. “Anything [the MPs] were to do legally or otherwise, they were to take those commands from the interrogators…. One interrogator told me about how commonly the detainees were stripped naked, and in some occasions, wearing women’s underwear. If it’s your job to strip people naked, yell at them, scream at them, humiliate them, it’s not going to be too hard to move from that to another level.” (Ross and Salomon 5/18/2004; White and Higham 5/20/2004)

Military Intelligence solider Sgt. Samuel Provance tells the Washington Post in a telephone interview that the highest ranking military intelligence officers at Abu Ghraib were involved in the abuses and that he believes that the Army is trying to deflect attention away from military intelligence’s role. (White and Higham 5/20/2004)

After speaking to the media (see May 18, 2004) (see May 19, 2004), Sgt. Samuel Provance receives a disciplinary order from his battalion commander, Lt. Col. James Norwood, notifying him that he has been stripped of his security clearance, transferred to a different platoon, and made ineligible for promotions or awards. He is also informed that he may be prosecuted for speaking out because his comments were “not in the national interest.” (Ross and Salomon 5/21/2004) Norwood says: “There is reason for me to believe that you may have been aware of the improper treatment of the detainees at Abu Ghraib before they were reported by other soldiers.” The conclusions of Maj. Gen. George Fay’s investigation (see August 25, 2004), Norwood warns, “may reveal that you should face adverse action for your failure to report.” (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004) Indeed, the Fay report will conclude that Provance “[f]ailed to report detainee abuse” and “[f]ailed to obey a direct order.” Maj. Gen. Fay will also write, “He interfered with this investigation by talking about the investigation, giving interviews to the media, and passing the questions being asked by investigators to others via a website.” (US Department of Defense 8/23/2004 pdf file) Provance’s attorney, Scott Horton, believes the military is intimidating soldiers in an effort to prevent them from speaking out about what they know. “I see it as an effort to intimidate Sgt. Provance and any other soldier whose conscience is bothering him, and who wants to come forward and tell what really happened at Abu Ghraib,” he says. (Ross and Salomon 5/21/2004)

In an e-mail, an “On Scene Commander” of the FBI in Baghdad refers to an executive order by President Bush allowing aggressive interrogation techniques to be used at any rate in Iraq by Task Force 6-26, which is the new name for JTF-121. These techniques include sleep deprivation, stress positions, loud music, yelling, stripping, dogs, and hooding. The executive order is still in use even though the use of hooding, stress positions, dogs, and stripping at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan were prohibited on January 15, 2003 (see January 15, 2003). Since the FBI agent has been ordered to report instances of abuse (see May 19, 2004), he notes a dilemma: would the techniques authorized by the executive order constitute abuse or not? He writes: “This instruction begs the question of what constitutes ‘abuse.’ We assume this does not include lawful interrogation techniques authorized by executive order.” A week before, apparently as a result of the unfolding of the Abu Ghraib scandal, some techniques described in the executive order could only be used with special approval from top levels in the hierarchy. Thus, the FBI agent says in his e-mail: “[W]e will still not report the use of these techniques as ‘abuse’ since we will not be in a position to know whether, or not, the authorization for these tactics was received from the aforementioned high-level officials. We will consider as abuse any physical beatings, sexual humiliation or touching, and other conduct clearly constituting abuse. Yet, there may be a problem if OGC [FBI Office of General Counsel] does not clearly define ‘abuse’ and if OGC does not draw a clear line between conduct that is clearly abusive and conduct that, while seemingly harsh, is permissible under applicable Executive Orders and other laws. In other words, we know what’s permissible for FBI agents but are less sure what is permissible for military interrogators.” (FBI 5/14/2004)

When the Taguba report (see March 9, 2004), which together with all its 106 annexes includes 6,000 pages, is delivered by the Pentagon to the Senate Armed Services Committee, some 2,000 pages are missing, withheld by the Defense Department. Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita calls this an “oversight.” (Associated Press 5/24/2004) Nevertheless, the missing pages contain key documents, internal Army memos and e-mails, sworn statements by soldiers, officers, contractors, and prisoners. It also includes the final section of Taguba’s interview with Col. Thomas M. Pappas. (Hirsh and Barry 6/7/2004) The missing annexes of the Taguba report hold evidence that the abuse was not conducted solely by a few MPs acting on their own, but instead at the instigation and with the involvement of military intelligence personnel.

A heavily redacted e-mail shows that either a military officer or government official is told that three reports of detainee abuse from Iraq are “probably true/valid.” One detainee was “in such poor physical shape from obvious beatings that [name redacted] asked the MPs to note his condition before he proceeded with interrogation.” Another detainee was “in such bad shape… that he was laying down in his own feces.” These cases seem to have occurred in Abu Ghraib and Camp Cropper. The e-mail will be released in 2006 (see May 2, 2006). (American Civil Liberties Union 5/2/2006)

Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba is a young officer rising through the ranks of the US Army with unusual speed. But after his hard-hitting report on the Abu Ghraib abuses (see February 26, 2004), he claims that Gen. John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, threatens to have him investigated (see May 2004). Taguba had been scheduled to rotate to the Third Army’s headquarters in Georgia in June of 2004, but instead he is ordered to work at the Pentagon. A retired four-star Army general later tells Taguba that he had been sent to the job in the Pentagon so that he could “be watched.” Taguba later claims that in January of 2006, General Richard Cody, the Army’s Vice-Chief of Staff. calls him and bluntly tells him without any explanation, “I need you to retire by January of 2007.” Taguba does retire in January 2007, after thirty-four years of active service.. He will later complain, “They always shoot the messenger. To be accused of being overzealous and disloyal—that cuts deep into me. I was being ostracized for doing what I was asked to do.” (Hersh 6/17/2007)

The Washington Post reveals the existence of a secret August 2002 memo from the Justice Department. This memo advised the White House that torturing al-Qaeda terrorists in captivity “may be justified,” and that international laws against torture “may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations” conducted in the US war on terrorism (see August 1, 2002). The legal reasoning was later used in a March 2003 report by Pentagon lawyers assessing interrogation rules governing the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay (see March 6, 2003). Bush officials say that despite the memo, it has abided by the Geneva Conventions and other international treaties proscribing torture (see February 7, 2002). The incidents at Abu Ghraib, where numerous Iraqi prisoners were tortured, maimed, and sometimes murdered, were not policy, officials say. Human rights organizations and civil libertarians are appalled at the memo. “It is by leaps and bounds the worst thing I’ve seen since this whole Abu Ghraib scandal broke,” says Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. “It appears that what they were contemplating was the commission of war crimes and looking for ways to avoid legal accountability. The effect is to throw out years of military doctrine and standards on interrogations.” A senior Pentagon official says that the Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) were quick to challenge the Justice Department opinion when it was promoted by the Pentagon. “Every flag JAG lodged complaints,” the official says. A senior military attorney says of the memo: “It’s really unprecedented. For almost 30 years we’ve taught the Geneva Convention one way. Once you start telling people it’s okay to break the law, there’s no telling where they might stop.” (Priest and Smith 6/8/2004) Attorney General John Ashcroft tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he will not discuss the contents of the August 2002 memo, nor turn it over to the committee. “I believe it is essential to the operation of the executive branch that the president has the opportunity to get information from the attorney general that is confidential,” he says. (Schmidt 6/8/2004)

During the annual G-8 economic summit, held in Sea Island, Georgia (2004 G8 Summit 2004) , President Bush rejects the notion that he approved the use of torture. “The authorization I gave,” the president says, “was that all we did should be in accordance with American law and consistent with our international treaty obligations. That’s the message I gave our people.” He adds, “What I authorized was that we stay within the framework of American law.” And to emphasize his point, he says: “Listen, I’ll say it one more time.… The instructions that were given were to comply with the law. That should reassure you. We are a nation of laws. We follow the law. We have laws on our books. You could go look at those laws and that should reassure you.” (US President 6/21/2004) During the summit, the foreign ministers of the participating countries are suddenly called to Washington to meet with Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell. As Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham will later recall: “Colin suddenly phoned us all up and said, ‘We’re going to the White House this morning.’ Now, this is curious, because normally the heads of government don’t give a damn about foreign ministers. We all popped in a bus and went over and were cordially received by Colin and President Bush. The president sat down to explain that, you know, this terrible news had come out about Abu Ghraib and how disgusting it was. The thrust of his presentation was that this was a terrible aberration; it was un-American conduct. This was not American. [German Foreign Minister] Joschka Fischer was one of the people that said, ‘Mr. President, if the atmosphere at the top is such that it encourages or allows people to believe that they can behave this way, this is going to be a consequence.’ The president’s reaction was: ‘This is un-American. Americans don’t do this. People will realize Americans don’t do this.’ The problem for the United States, and indeed for the free world, is that because of this—Guantanamo, and the ‘torture memos’ from the White House (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002), which we were unaware of at that time—people around the world don’t believe that anymore. They say, ‘No, Americans are capable of doing such things and have done them, all the while hypocritically criticizing the human-rights records of others.’” (Murphy and Purdum 2/2009)

Jack Goldsmith, once considered a rising star in the Bush administration (see October 6, 2003), resigns under fire from his position as chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). In his nine-month tenure, Goldsmith fought against the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, its advocacy of torture, and its policy of extrajudicial detention and trial for terror suspects. Goldsmith will not discuss his objections to the administration’s policy initiatives until September 2007, when he will give interviews to a variety of media sources in anticipation of the publication of his book, The Terror Presidency. Goldsmith led a small, in-house revolt of administration lawyers against what they considered to be the constitutional excesses of the legal policies advocated by the administration in its war on terrorism. “I was disgusted with the whole process and fed up and exhausted,” he will recall. Goldsmith chooses to remain quiet about his resignation, and as a result, his silence will be widely misinterpreted by media, legal, and administration observers. Some even feel that Goldsmith should be investigated for his supposed role in drafting the torture memos (see January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and December 2003-June 2004) that he had actually opposed. “It was a nightmare,” Goldsmith will recall. “I didn’t say anything to defend myself, except that I didn’t do the things I was accused of.” (Rosen 9/9/2007) Goldsmith will not leave until the end of July, and will take a position with the Harvard University Law School. Unlike many other Justice Department officials, he will not be offered a federal judgeship, having crossed swords with White House lawyers too many times. (Savage 2007, pp. 191)

Attempting to stem the flow of bad publicity and world-wide criticism surrounding the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and similar reports from Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, accompanied by Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, give a lengthy press conference to discuss the US’s position on interrogation and torture. Gonzales and Haynes provide reporters with a thick folder of documents, being made public for the first time. Those documents include the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see November 27, 2002), and the list of 18 interrogation techniques approved for use against detainees (see December 2, 2002 and April 16, 2003). Gonzales and Haynes make carefully prepared points: the war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, is a different kind of war, they say. Terrorism targets civilians and is not limited to battlefield engagements, nor do terrorists observe the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules. The administration has always acted judiciously in its attempt to counter terrorism, even as it moved from a strictly law-enforcement paradigm to one that marshaled “all elements of national power.” Their arguments are as follows:
Always Within the Law - First, the Bush administration has always acted within reason, care, and deliberation, and has always followed the law. In February 2002, President Bush had determined that none of the detainees at Guantanamo should be covered under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). That presidential order is included in the document packet. According to Gonzales and Haynes, that order merely reflected a clear-eyed reading of the actual provision of the conventions, and does not circumvent the law. Another document is the so-called “torture memo” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). Although such legal opinions carry great weight, and though the administration used the “torture memo” for months to guide actions by military and CIA interrogators, Gonzales says that the memo has nothing to do with the actions at Guantanamo. The memo was intended to do little more than explore “the limits of the legal landscape.” Gonzales says that the memo included “irrelevant and unnecessary” material, and was never given to Bush or distributed to soldiers in the field. The memo did not, Gonzales asserts, “reflect the policies that the administration ultimately adopted.” Unfortunately for their story, the facts are quite different. According to several people involved in the Geneva decision, it was never about following the letter of the law, but was designed to give legal cover to a prior decision to use harsh, coercive interrogation. Author and law professor Phillippe Sands will write, “it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall.” Sands interviewed former Defense Department official Douglas Feith about the Geneva issue, and Feith proudly acknowledged that the entire point of the legal machinations was to strip away detainees’ rights under Geneva (see Early 2006).
Harsh Techniques Suggested from Below - Gonzales and Haynes move to the question of where, exactly, the new interrogation techniques came from. Their answer: the former military commander at Guantanamo, Michael E. Dunlavey. Haynes later describes Dunlavey to the Senate Judiciary Committee as “an aggressive major general.” None of the ideas originated in Washington, and anything signed off or approved by White House or Pentagon officials were merely responses to requests from the field. Those requests were prompted by a recalcitrant detainee at Guantanamo, Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had proven resistant to normal interrogation techniques. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, and fears of a second attack mounted, Dell’Orto says that Guantanamo field commanders decided “that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” Thusly, a request was processed from Guantanamo through military channels, through Haynes, and ultimately to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved 15 of the 18 requested techniques to be used against al-Khatani and, later, against other terror suspects (see September 25, 2002 and December 2, 2002). According to Gonzales, Haynes, and Dell’Orto, Haynes and Rumsfeld were just processing a request from military officers. Again, the evidence contradicts their story. The torture memo came as a result of intense pressure from the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. It was never some theoretical document or some exercise in hypothesizing, but, Sands will write, “played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantanamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.” Gonzales and Haynes were, with Cheney chief of staff David Addington and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the authors of the torture memo), “a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse,” in Sands’s words. Dunlavey was Rumsfeld’s personal choice to head the interrogations at Guantanamo; he liked the fact that Dunlavey was a “tyrant,” in the words of a former Judge Advocate General official, and had no problem with the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld had Dunlavey ignore the chain of command and report directly to him, though Dunlavey reported most often to Feith. Additionally, the Yoo/Bybee torture memo was in response to the CIA’s desire to aggressively interrogate another terror suspect not held at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Sands will write, “Gonzales would later contend that this policy memo did ‘not reflect the policies the administration ultimately adopted,’ but in fact it gave carte blanche to all the interrogation techniques later recommended by Haynes and approved by Rumsfeld.” He also cites another Justice Department memo, requested by the CIA and never made public, that spells out the specific techniques in detail. No one at Guantanamo ever saw either of the memos. Sands concludes, “The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves. A key question is whether Haynes and Rumsfeld had knowledge of the content of these memos before they approved the new interrogation techniques for al-Khatani. If they did, then the administration’s official narrative—that the pressure for new techniques, and the legal support for them, originated on the ground at Guantanamo, from the ‘aggressive major general’ and his staff lawyer—becomes difficult to sustain. More crucially, that knowledge is a link in the causal chain that connects the keyboards of Feith and Yoo to the interrogations of Guantanamo.”
Legal Justifications Also From Below - The legal justification for the new interrogation techniques also originated at Guantanamo, the three assert, and not by anyone in the White House and certainly not by anyone in the Justice Department. The document stack includes a legal analysis by the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which gives legal justifications for all the interrogation techniques. The responsibility lies ultimately with Beaver, the three imply, and not with anyone higher up the chain. Again, the story is severely flawed. Beaver will give extensive interviews to Sands, and paint a very different picture (see Fall 2006). One Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist, Mike Gelles (see December 17-18, 2002), will dispute Gonzales’s contention that the techniques trickled up the chain from lower-level officials at Guantanamo such as Beaver. “That’s not accurate,” he will say. “This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo—no way.” That view is supported by a visit to Guantanamo by several top-ranking administration lawyers, in which Guantanamo personnel are given the “green light” to conduct harsh interrogations of detainees (see September 25, 2002).
No Connection between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib - Finally, the decisions regarding interrogations at Guantanamo have never had any impact on the interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales wants to “set the record straight” on that question. The administration has never authorized nor countenanced torture of any kind. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized and had nothing to do with administration policies. Much evidence exists to counter this assertion (see December 17-18, 2002). In August 2003, the head of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, visited Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, accompanied by, among others, Diane Beaver (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). They were shocked at the near-lawlessness of the facility, and Miller recommended to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme US commander in Iraq, that many of the same techniques used at Guantanamo be used in Abu Ghraib. Sanchez soon authorized the use of those techniques (see September 14-17, 2003). The serious abuses reported at Abu Ghraib began a month later. Gelles worried, with justification, that the techniques approved for use against al-Khatani would spread to other US detention facilities. Gelles’s “migration theory” was controversial and dangerous, because if found to be accurate, it would tend to implicate those who authorized the Guantanamo interrogation techniques in the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. “Torture memo” author John Yoo called the theory “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.” But Gelles’s theory is supported, not only by the Abu Ghraib abuses, but by an August 2006 Pentagon report that will find that techniques from Guantanamo did indeed migrate into Abu Ghraib, and a report from an investigation by former defense secretary James Schlesinger (see August 24, 2004) that will find “augmented techniques for Guantanamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” (White House 7/22/2004; Sands 5/2008)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reportedly pressures the Army to conclude the investigations (see August 25, 2004) of Generals George Fay and Anthony R. Jones by late August, before the Republican Convention in New York. (Hersh 9/13/2004 Sources: Scott Horton)

Navy General Counsel Alberto J. Mora writes a secret, but unclassified, memo to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Mora writes the memo in an attempt to stop what he sees as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruel and inhuman treatment of terror suspects. The memo details in chronological fashion Mora’s earlier attempts to speak out against the Bush administration’s decision to circumvent the Geneva Conventions (see January 9, 2002 and January 11, 2002).
Specific Problems - Mora, a veteran of the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and a strong supporter of the “war on terror,” argues that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward US-held terrorist suspects is an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also writes that the Bush administration’s legal arguments that justify an expansion of executive power in everything from interrogations to warrantless wiretapping are “unlawful,” “dangerous,” and “erroneous” legal theories. Not only are they wrong in granting President Bush the right to authorize torture, he warns that they may leave US personnel open to criminal prosecution. While the administration has argued that it holds to humane, legal standards in interrogation practices (see January 12, 2006), Mora’s memo shows that from the outset of the administration’s “war on terror,” the White House, the Justice Department, and the Defense Department intentionally skirted and at times ignored domestic and international laws surrounding interrogation and detention of prisoners.
Cruelty and Torture - Mora will later recall the mood in the Pentagon: “The mentality was that we lost three thousand Americans [on 9/11], and we could lose a lot more unless something was done. It was believed that some of the Guantanamo detainees had knowledge of other 9/11-like operations that were under way, or would be executed in the future. The gloves had to come off. The US had to get tougher.” But, Mora will say, the authorization of cruel treatment of detainees is as pernicious as any defined torture techniques that have been used. “To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction,” he says. “If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue.… The debate here isn’t only how to protect the country. It’s how to protect our values.” (Mora 7/7/2004 pdf file; Mayer 2/27/2006)

British detainee Moazzam Begg, being held in Guantanamo, manages to send a handwritten four-page letter uncensored by US authorities. Begg’s lawyers in Britain describe this as an “oddity.” His solicitor Stafford Smith says the letter must have been released either “by mistake or because someone in the US has a conscience.” In the letter, Begg describes having been subjected to “pernicious threats of torture, actual vindictive torture, and death threats, amongst other coercively employed interrogation techniques.” This happened “particularly, though unexclusively in Afghanistan.” Interviews, Begg writes, “were conducted in an environment of generated fear, resonant with terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods. In this atmosphere of severe antipathy towards detainees was the compounded use of racially and religiously prejudiced taunts. This culminated, in my opinion, with the deaths of two fellow detainees (see November 30-December 3, 2002) (see December 10, 2002) at the hands of US military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness.” (Wright 10/1/2004)

The Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for US Central Command (CENTCOM) says that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of torture methods against detainees in US custody (see December 2, 2002) rendered such methods legal for use in Afghanistan. According to the lawyer: “[T]he methodologies approved for [Guantanamo]… would appear to me to be legal interrogation processes. [The secretary of defense] had approved them. The general counsel [Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes] had approved them.… I believe it is fair to say the procedures approved for Guantanamo were legal for Afghanistan.” (Levin 4/21/2009)

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, in a speech to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), says that there is proof that Iraqi prisoners, including women and children, were raped and sodomized by US guards while in custody at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison. Hersh, who, as evidenced by a video recording of the speech, is struggling with what to say and what not to say, tells the assemblage: “Debating about it, ummm.… Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib.… The women were passing messages out saying, ‘Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened,’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out.” Hersh continues: “It’s impossible to say to yourself how did we get there? Who are we? Who are these people that sent us there? When I did My Lai [a US military atrocity during the Vietnam War] I was very troubled like anybody in his right mind would be about what happened. I ended up in something I wrote saying in the end I said that the people who did the killing were as much victims as the people they killed because of the scars they had, I can tell you some of the personal stories by some of the people who were in these units witnessed this. I can also tell you written complaints were made to the highest officers, and so we’re dealing with a enormous massive amount of criminal wrongdoing that was covered up at the highest command out there and higher, and we have to get to it and we will. We will.” In an earlier speech, Hersh noted the photos and videos of “horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run.” (Koppelman 7/15/2004) Other stories from Abu Ghraib document the rape and sexual assault of prisoners (see October 7, 2003, October 24, 2003, and January 4, 2004).

Paul T. Mikolashek.Paul T. Mikolashek. [Source: US Army]The US Army’s inspector general, Lt. Gen. Paul T. Mikolashek, presents a 300-page report listing 94 documented cases of prisoner abuse to the Senate Armed Services Committee. (White and Higham 7/23/2004) Of the 94 cases cited in the report, 39 are deaths. Twenty of those are suspected homicides. (Hendren and Mazzetti 10/15/2004) In preparing the report, Mikolashek’s team visited more than two dozen US military installations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the US. Unlike previous investigations, Mikolashek did not look at individual cases. Instead, his team reviewed records of reported cases and the findings of previous investigations. Team members also interviewed 650 soldiers and officers and looked at broad Army doctrine and training. (White and Higham 7/23/2004) Mikolashek’s report concludes that abuses were not due to “systemic” problems. (White and Higham 7/23/2004) For example, it found no evidence that there was a “pattern of abuse” in the central command’s area of responsibility. (Myers and Schmitt 6/6/2004) The report’s conclusions are made in spite of the fact that the investigative team identified numerous problems at the prison stemming from poorly trained US military personnel, inadequate supervision, and vague and contradictory policies and orders. According to Mikolashek, documented cases of abuse were “aberrations” that did not follow from Army doctrine but from the “the failure of individuals to follow known standards of discipline and Army values and, in some cases, the failure of a few leaders to enforce those standards of discipline.” They were, the report stressed, “unauthorized actions taken by a few individuals.” The conduct of most of the soldiers, however, exhibited “military professionalism, ingrained Army values, and moral courage,” the report insisted. (White and Higham 7/23/2004) The report’s conclusions stand in stark contrast to the Red Cross’s report (see February 24, 2004), released in late February, which concluded that problems in the US detention system were widespread and systemic. Though the report will be heavily criticized for its conclusion that military and administration officials should not be blamed for the atrocities, it does contain an abundant amount of evidence that they created an environment that encouraged the abuses to happen. For example, Mikolashek’s team found:
bullet The military hired private contractors to interrogate detainees because the military had too few translators and interrogators in the field. More than a third of these private contractors were not sufficiently trained. (White and Higham 7/23/2004)
bullet Almost two thirds of the prisoners were kept in makeshift prison camps, or collection points, for as many as 30 days—60 times the 12-hour limit set by Army doctrine. (White and Higham 7/23/2004)
bullet Preventive medical services were insufficient. Not one of the US-run facilities visited by the team met the Army’s medical screening requirements. (White and Higham 7/23/2004)
bullet Copies of the Geneva Conventions in the detainees’ native languages were present at only four of the 16 facilities visited by Mikolashek’s team, in contravention of international law. There was not a single US-run facility in Afghanistan that had a copy. (White and Higham 7/23/2004)
bullet At Abu Ghraib, the conditions were extremely unsanitary. The prison was seriously overcrowded, lacked an adequate supply of potable water, and had garbage and sewage strewn on the grounds of the outdoor camps. There were only 12 showers available for 600 to 700 detainees. Meals provided to the detainees were often contaminated with dirt and rodent droppings. (White and Higham 7/23/2004)
bullet The Bagram base in Afghanistan had a leaking roof and no sanitary system. “Human waste spills were frequent on the main floor,” the reports says. Sections of the base were contaminated with toxic chemicals leftover from previous airport operations. (White and Higham 7/23/2004)
bullet The military’s interrogation policy was confusing and instructions were often conflicting. “While the language of the approved policies could be viewed as a careful attempt to draw the line between lawful and unlawful conduct, the published instructions left considerable room for misapplication.” This could “create settings in which unsanctioned behavior, including detainee abuse, could occur,” the report’s authors conclude. (White and Higham 7/23/2004)

An unnamed Defense Department official tells the Washington Post that the soon-to-be-released Fay report (see August 25, 2004), authored by Lt. Gen. Anthony R. Jones and Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, will demonstrate that the prisoner abuses “were bad, illegal, unauthorized, and some of it was sadistic.” But the report will conclude that they were “the actions of a few; actions that went unnoticed because of leadership failures.” (White and Ricks 8/24/2004)

James Schlesinger.James Schlesinger. [Source: HBO]The four-member Independent Panel to Review Department of Defense Detention Operations completes its final report on its investigations into the prisoner abuses that are known to have taken place in US-run detention centers throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. The investigative panel, which includes James R. Schlesinger, Harold Brown, Tillie K. Fowler, and Gen. Charles A. Horner, finds that a failure of leadership, leading all the way to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, contributed to the abuse of prisoners. Like the Fay report (see August 25, 2004), to be released the following day, and the February 2004 Taguba report (see March 9, 2004), the Schlesinger report concludes that a lack of oversight and supervision allowed incidents, such as that which occurred at Abu Ghraib, to occur. Unlike preceding investigations, the Schlesinger Panel takes issue with the notion that abuses resulted from the actions of a few bad apples and were not widespread, charging that there is “both institutional and personal responsibility at higher levels.” The panel however does not name names. Notwithstanding their criticisms of the secretary, all four members say that Rumsfeld’s mistakes were comparably less significant than those made by uniformed officers. The panel, appointed by the secretary himself, recommends against removing Rumsfeld from office. (Jehl 8/25/2004) In sum, the panel finds:
bullet Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his aides failed to anticipate significant militant resistance to the US invasion and did not respond quickly enough to it when its strength became apparent. (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The Department of Defense created confusion when it issued, retracted, and then re-issued its policy on interrogation methods. (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The failure to adequately staff Abu Ghraib contributed to the poor conditions and abuses that took place at the prison. The ratio of military police to prisoners at the facility was 75 to one. (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet Responsibility for the abuses that took place at Abu Ghraib go beyond the handful of MPs present in the photographs. “We found a string of failures that go well beyond an isolated cellblock in Iraq,” panelist Tillie K. Fowler explains during a Pentagon press conference. “We found fundamental failures throughout all levels of command, from the soldiers on the ground to the Central Command and to the Pentagon. These failures of leadership helped to set the conditions which allowed for the abusive practice to take place.” (US Department of Defense 8/24/2004; Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet Rumsfeld’s decision (see December 2, 2002) on December 2, 2002 to authorize 16 pre-approved additional interrogation procedures for use at the Guantanamo facility; his subsequent decision (see January 15, 2003) to rescind that authority, and the final April 16, 2003 decision (see April 16, 2003) providing a final list of approved techniques was “an element contributing to uncertainties in the field as to which techniques were authorized.” The methods on the list eventually “migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The panel seemingly concludes that the interrogation methods approved for use in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo are lawful, fully agreeing that the Third Geneva Convention does not apply to detainees considered enemy combatants. The panel does not question whether the military was justified in classifying the detainees, or “terrorists,” as such. “The Panel accepts the proposition that these terrorists are not combatants entitled to the protections of Geneva Convention III. Furthermore, the Panel accepts the conclusion the Geneva Convention IV and the provisions of domestic criminal law are not sufficiently robust and adequate to provide for the appropriate detention of captured terrorists.” (US Congress 9/9/2004, pp. 83 pdf file)
bullet The panel says that Gen. Ricardo Sanchez’s decision to classify some prisoners in Iraq as enemy combatants was “understandable,” even though Combined Joint Task Force 7 “understood there was no authorization to suspend application of the Geneva Conventions… .” (US Congress 9/9/2004, pp. 83 pdf file)
bullet Abuses at Abu Ghraib involved both MPs and military intelligence personnel. “We now know these abuses occurred at the hands of both military police and military intelligence personnel,” the report says. “The pictured abuses, unacceptable even in wartime, were not part of authorized interrogations nor were they even directed at intelligence targets. They represent deviant behavior and a failure of military leadership and discipline. However, we do know that some of the egregious abuses at Abu Ghraib which were not photographed did occur during interrogation sessions and that abuses during interrogation sessions occurred elsewhere.… We concur with the Jones/Fay investigation’s (see August 25, 2004) conclusion that military intelligence personnel share responsibility for the abuses at Abu Ghraib with the military police soldiers cited in the Taguba investigation.” (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet In Guantanamo, roughly one-third of all abuses were interrogation related. (New York Times 8/25/2004)
bullet Contradicting the conclusions of the Red Cross report (see May 7, 2004), the Schlesinger report demonstrates that abuses were widespread. “Abuses of varying severity occurred at differing locations under differing circumstances and context,” the report’s authors write. “They were widespread and, though inflicted on only a small percentage of those detained… .” (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The abusive practices were not sanctioned by the military’s interrogation policy. “No approved procedures called for or allowed the kinds of abuse that in fact occurred. There is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities.” (Jehl 8/25/2004)
bullet The panelists believe the abuses occurring during the night shift in Cell Block 1 of Abu Ghraib “would have been avoided with proper training, leadership and oversight.” (Jehl 8/25/2004) Critics will say the report is a “whitewash,” noting that the panel cannot be considered independent given that it was appointed by Rumsfeld himself. Months before the panel completed its work, panelist Tillie Fowler said Rumsfeld should not be blamed for the abuses. “The secretary is an honest, decent, honorable man, who’d never condone this type of activity,” she said referring to the abuse at Abu Ghraib. “This was not a tone set by the secretary.” (Myers and Schmitt 6/6/2004)

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.” (White 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. (Jehl and Schmitt 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; Graham 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. (Graham 8/26/2005; White 8/26/2005) Military intelligence soldiers were found to have requested or encouraged 16 of the 44 incidents. (Ricks 8/26/2005; White 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.” (White 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; Graham 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. (White 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; Graham 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; White 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. (Graham 8/26/2005; White 8/26/2005)
bullet CIA officials in the prison hid “ghost detainees” from human rights groups in violation of international law. (White 8/26/2005)

At Fort Bragg, defense attorneys for Pfc. Lynndie England rely upon the two Pentagon reports (see August 24, 2004) (see August 25, 2004) released the previous week to argue that their client and other low-ranking MPs were following approved military intelligence procedures. The hearing is being held to investigate the nineteen charges against England and to determine whether she should face a court-martial. Thirteen of her charges relate to the abuse of detainees, while the others concern possession of sexually explicit photos. If convicted, England faces up to thirty-eight years in prison. (Associated Press 8/30/2004)

During the presentation and discussion of the Schlesinger report (see August 24, 2004) before the House Armed Services Committee, most Republicans, including its chairman, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), say the investigation shows that only a handful of US soldiers were responsible for the abuses. Democrats however, like Representative Ike Skelton (D-MO), disagree. “We must not continue to call this the work of just a few bad apples,” Skelton says. (Schmitt and Jehl 9/10/2004)

Side profiles of Habibullah (left) and Dilawar (right).Side profiles of Habibullah (left) and Dilawar (right). [Source: CBS]More than one-and-a-half years after the deaths of the Afghan detainees Mullah Habibullah (see November 30-December 3, 2002) and Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), the US Army Criminal Investigation Command completes its investigation of the two cases. It finds that 28 military personnel, including two captains, were involved in the incident. The perpetrators could be charged with involuntary manslaughter, assault, and conspiracy. A Pentagon official says five or six of the soldiers will likely be charged with the most serious offenses. The investigation concludes that “multiple soldiers” beat Dilawar and Habibullah, using mostly their knees. It is likely, according to Pentagon officials, that the beatings were concentrated on the legs of the detainees, so that wounds would be less visible. Amnesty International severely criticizes the long duration of the investigation. “The failure to promptly account for the prisoners’ deaths indicates a chilling disregard for the value of human life and may have laid the groundwork for further abuses in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere,” says Jumana Musa of Amnesty International USA. (Shanker 10/15/2004)

Noor Uthman Muhammed, a detainee being held at Guantanamo, disputes many of the allegations made against him at a combatant status review tribunal hearing to determine if he is an enemy combatant. Muhammed admits receiving and giving military training at Khalden Camp in Afghanistan, buying food for the camp, and being captured with training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). However, he contests many of the charges, and he denies:
bullet Handling one of the weapons he is accused of using, the Zukair anti-aircraft weapon, which he says he has never heard of;
bullet Procuring a fax machine for Osama bin Laden. He did attempt to buy a piece of similar equipment, but the deal did not go through and the equipment was for himself, not bin Laden, who he has never met;
bullet Being assisted in his escape from Afghanistan by a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant. When he asks for the lieutenant’s name, the military officials are unable to provide it;
bullet Having a Somali passport;
bullet Being associated with al-Qaeda. He comments: “I have no knowledge of al-Qaeda, and I don’t know anybody from there. But if you want to say that I’m Muslim and want to make-believe I belong to al-Qaeda, then that is something different”;
bullet Being associated with the Taliban. He comments: “I don’t know anything about the Taliban. I never carried arms with them.” (US Department of Defense 2004 pdf file)

The Army completes a classified report on detainee abuse at Camp Nama, a Special Forces detention center at Baghdad International Airport. The report is based on an investigation led by Brigadier General Richard Formica into three specific allegations against the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Arabian Peninsula, which operates throughout Iraq. Formica’s report concludes that detainees who report being sodomized or beaten are seeking sympathy and better treatment, and thus are not credible. The report cites an Army medical report which had initially noted that a complaining detainee’s wounds were “consistent with the history [of abuse] he provided.… The doctor did find scars on his wrists and noted what he believed to be an anal fissure.” Two days later, Formica had the detainee re-examined by another doctor, who found “no fissure, and no scarring.” Formica concludes, “As a result, I did not find medical evidence of the sodomy.” In the case of a detainee who died in custody, Formica reports that the detainee suffered bruising to the “shoulders, chest, hip, and knees” but adds, “It is not unusual for detainees to have minor bruising, cuts, and scrapes.” A July 2006 report by Human Rights Watch will find evidence of “serious mistreatment” of detainees based on witness accounts of Special Forces interrogators and other US personnel. Formica will note in an e-mail: “I conducted a thorough investigation… and stand by my report.… [S]everal issues” he discovered “were corrected,” he will say. (Wood 6/17/2006; Hersh 6/17/2007)

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. (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Locy 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. (Locy 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. (Savage 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. (Locy 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. (Locy 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.” (Locy 11/9/2004; Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 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. (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 11/9/2004) Robertson’s ruling is the first by a federal judge to assert that the commissions are illegal. (Leonnig and Mintz 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. (Savage 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.” (Leonnig and Mintz 11/9/2004; Savage 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.” (Savage 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.” (Locy 11/9/2004)

Studio poster for ‘Saving Private Ryan.’Studio poster for ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ [Source: Little Golden Guy (.com)]Sixty-six of ABC’s 225 affiliated stations choose not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day. ABC aired the film, widely considered a homage to American soldiers, on Veterans Day in 2001 and 2002 without complaint. But with new concerns that the Bush administration, and the American electorate, is energized by a passion for “moral values” (see November 3, 2004), the stations’ executives believe they may risk fines from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The film opens with a graphic depiction of the famous D-Day invasion of Normandy by US, British, and Canadian forces, and the entire film contains a significant amount of profanity. The FCC could impose fines of up to $32,500 on a station if it finds the film violates moral and ethical standards. The FCC says it has received complaints, but has not yet decided to mount any sort of investigation. Many stations choosing not to air the film say that if their viewers are angry at the decision, they should call the FCC themselves. ABC spokeswoman Susan Sewell says the “overwhelming majority” of viewers are comfortable with their decision to broadcast the film. Some of the stations choosing not to air the film point to a recent FCC decision to fine CBS stations up to $500,000 for airing a Super Bowl halftime show in which entertainer Janet Jackson exposed her right breast for a moment. ABC’s contract with DreamWorks, the film studio who produced Saving Private Ryan, does not allow the network or its stations to edit the film. ABC shows an introduction by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, says that he cannot imagine the FCC fining any station for showing the film: “I think that this planet would collide with Saturn before that happens.” (Associated Press 11/12/2004; BBC 11/13/2004) In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write that “merely the fear of reprisals was enough to push television stations… onto the slippery slope of self-censorship before anyone in Washington even bothered to act.” Rich asks if such self-censorship might extend into these stations’, and networks’, coverage of the Iraq war: “If these media outlets were afraid to show a graphic Hollywood treatment of a 60-year old war starring the beloved Tom Hanks because the feds might fine them, toy with their licenses, or deny them regulatory permission to expand their empires, might they curry favor with Washington by softening their news divisions’ efforts to present the ugly facts of an ongoing war? The pressure groups that were incensed by both Saving Private Ryan and risque programming were often the same ones who campaigned against any news organization that was not toeing the administration political line in lockstep with Fox [News].” (Rich 2006, pp. 153-154)

Randall Schmidt.Randall Schmidt. [Source: US Air Force]FBI agents at Guantanamo prison have been complaining to superiors about military personnel abusing detainees there since 2002 (see End of 2002). However, there is no official investigation until December 2004, after the widely publicized Abu Ghraib abuse scandal. Gen. Bantz Craddock, head of the US Army’s Southern Command and a close associate of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, assigns Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt to investigate. Schmidt will later say, “I found some things that didn’t seem right. For lack of a camera, you could have seen in Guantanamo what was seen at Abu Ghraib.” Schmidt will say that he determined Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of the Guantanamo prison, “was responsible for the conduct of interrogations that I found to be abusive and degrading. The intent of those might have been to be abusive and degrading to get the information they needed.… Did the means justify the ends? That’s fine.… He was responsible.” Schmidt formally recommends that Miller be “held accountable” and “admonished.” But Craddock rejects this and absolves Miller of any improprieties, and the army’s Inspector General seconds that conclusion. By this time, Miller is in charge of reforming Abu Ghraib and other prisons in Iraq (see March 22, 2004). Schmidt will later learn that Rumsfeld was in contact with Miller about some Guantanamo interrogations and personally approved the most severe interrogation tactics. (Hersh 6/17/2007)

The Justice Department issues a 17-page memo which officially replaces the August 2002 memo (see August 1, 2002), which asserted that the president’s wartime powers supersede international anti-torture treaties and defined torture very narrowly, describing it as a tactic that produces pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The new memo, authored by acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) and Acting Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin, is ostensibly meant to deflect criticisms that the Bush administration condones torture. In fact, the very first sentence reads, “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” But the White House insists that the new memo does not represent a change in policy because the administration has always respected international laws prohibiting the mistreatment of prisoners. The primary concern of the new memo is to broaden the narrow definition of torture that had been used in the August memo. Levin adopts the definition of torture used in Congressional anti-torture laws, which says that torture is the infliction of physical suffering, “even if it does not involve severe physical pain.” But the pain must still be more than “mild and transitory,” the memo says. Like the original memo, Levin says that torture may include mental suffering. But to be considered so it would not have to last for months or years, as OLC lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo had asserted two years earlier. The most contested conclusions of the August 2002 memo—concerning the president’s wartime powers and potential legal defense for US personnel charged with war crimes—are not addressed in the Levin memo. “Consideration of the bounds of any such authority would be inconsistent with the president’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture,” the memo says. (US Department of Justice 12/30/2004 pdf file; Guggenheim 12/31/2004)
National Security Not a Justification for Torture - The memo also attempts to quell concerns that the administration believes national security may be used as justification for tactics that could be considered as torture. It states, “[A] defendant’s motive (to protect national security, for example) is not relevant to the question whether he has acted with the requisite specific intent under the statute.” (US Department of Justice 12/30/2004 pdf file)
Memo Divided White House Officials - Many in the White House opposed the issuance of the memo, but were rebuffed when other administration officials said the memo was necessary to ease the confirmation of Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
Torture Opponents Disappointed - Civil libertarians and opponents of torture within the Justice Department are sharply disappointed in the memo. While it gives a marginally less restrictive definition of the pain required to qualify as torture, and gives no legal defenses to anyone who might be charged with war crimes, it takes no position on the president’s authority to override interrogation laws and treaties, and finds that all the practices previously employed by the CIA and military interrogators were and are legal. Yoo will later write that “the differences in the opinions were for appearances’ sake. In the real world of interrogation policy, nothing had changed. The new opinion just reread the statute to deliberately blur the interpretation of torture as a short-term political maneuver in response to public criticism.” (Savage 2007, pp. 196-197)
Secret Memo Will Allow Waterboarding; Dissidents Purged - A secret memo is completed a short time later that allows such torture techniques as waterboarding to be used again (see February 2005). The Levin memo triggers a department-wide “purge” of dissidents and torture opponents; some will resign voluntarily, while others will resign after being denied expected promotions. (Savage 2007, pp. 197)

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). (Goodman and Gonzales 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.” (Goodman and Gonzales 1/7/2005)

The Senate Judiciary Committee brings in several experts to expand upon the testimony of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). One of the most outspoken critics is Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Koh had worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under Ronald Reagan, and later served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Clinton administration. He is a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Koh had once worked closely with OLC lawyer John Yoo, the author of numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002), but now, without explicitly mentioning Yoo by name, he repudiates his former student’s legal positions. Gonzales worked closely with Yoo to craft the administration’s positions on wiretapping, torture, the inherent power of the president, and other issues. “Having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and for more than two years as an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, I am familiar with how legal opinions like this are sought and drafted,” Koh states. “I further sympathize with the tremendous pressures of time and crisis that government lawyers face while drafting such opinions. Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, the August 1, 2002 OLC memorandum [drafted by Yoo at Gonzales’s behest—see August 1, 2002] is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read.” The August 1 memo, as well as other opinions by Yoo and Gonzales, “grossly overreads the inherent power of the president” as commander in chief, Koh testifies. The memos raise profound questions about the legal ethics of everyone involved—Gonzales, Yoo, and others in the Justice Department and White House. “If a client asks a lawyer how to break the law and escape liability, the lawyer’s ethical duty is to say no,” Koh testifies. “A lawyer has no obligation to aid, support, or justify the commission of an illegal act.” (Senate Judiciary Committee 1/7/2005 pdf file; Savage 2007, pp. 211-212)

The US television news media virtually ignores the court-martial of Specialist Charles Graner, who is charged with abusing and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005), according to author and media critic Frank Rich. “[I]f a story isn’t on TV in America, it’s MIA in the culture,” Rich will write. Much of the broadcast coverage is focused on stories about President Bush’s upcoming inauguration and on Britain’s Prince Harry, who had dressed up in Nazi regalia for a costume party. The network and cable news stations grant Graner’s trial only “brief, mechanical” summations “when it was broadcast at all.” The usual claims that television news only focuses on lurid, scandal-ridden news stories do not apply here, Rich writes: “It surely didn’t lack for drama; the Graner trial was Judgment at Nuremberg turned upside down.” Viewers do not learn of defense lawyer Guy Womack’s claim during his closing argument that “In Nuremberg, it was the government being prosecuted. We were going after the order-givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers.” Rich will later write that if the American public could not be exposed to fictional films about World War II (see November 11, 2004), then it “certainly… could not be exposed to real-life stories involving forced group masturbation, electric shock, rape committed with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in prisoners’ ears, involuntary enemas, and beatings that ended in death (see May 3-11, 2004). When one detainee witness at the Graner trial testified… that he had been forced to eat out of a toilet, his story was routinely cited in newspaper accounts but left unmentioned on network TV newscasts.” (Rich 2006, pp. 155)

Army Specialist Charles Graner is sentenced to 10 years in prison. In a military court-martial, Graner was convicted of crimes related to the torture and abuse of prisoners in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison (see October 2003), October 17-22, 2003), November 4-December 2, 2003, and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003), including charges of battery, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, committing indecent acts, and dereliction of duty. Graner admitted some of his actions were criminal, and told jurors, “I didn’t enjoy what I did there” before he was found guilty. Asked if he felt remorse over his actions, Graner says simply: “There’s a war on. Bad things happen.” After Graner completes his sentence, he will be dishonorably discharged. He has forfeited all of his pay and benefits. Defense lawyer Guy Womack says that Graner and his six fellow Abu Ghraib guards also facing trials (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006) are being used as scapegoats by the Defense Department. Graner and his lawyers were unable to effectively discuss orders being handed down from superior officers during the trial, as the judge in the court-martial, Colonel James Pohl, refused to let witnesses say the names of officers who gave the orders or what orders might have been given, in effect constraining the trial to point to Graner and his colleagues as independent, “rogue” agents operating outside the chain of command. Graner did not testify during his trial, but during sentencing said that he had done what he was ordered to do by US intelligence agents, in order to “soften up” prisoners for interrogation. According to Graner, a lieutenant in his unit told him: “If [military intelligence] asks you to do this, it needs to be done. They’re in charge, follow their orders.” He believed the orders to torture and abuse prisoners were lawful, he claims. (Associated Press 1/16/2005; Rich 2006, pp. 155) Author and media critic Frank Rich will later note that while the print media coverage of Graner’s trial is relatively extensive, the broadcast media virtually ignores it in favor of celebrating the inauguration of President Bush (see January 11-16, 2005). (Rich 2006, pp. 155)

Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales turns in supplementary written answers to expand upon and clarify his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). Buried in the documents is what reporter Charlie Savage will call “an explosive new disclosure.” Gonzales reveals that the Bush administration had secretly decided that the Convention against Torture, an international treaty, only has force on domestic soil, where the US Constitution applies. Noncitizens held overseas have no rights under the treaty, Bush lawyers concluded. Legal scholars from all sides of the political continuum denounce the administration’s position. Judge Abraham Sofaer, who negotiated the treaty for the Reagan administration, will write a letter to Congress informing it that President Reagan had never intended the treaty’s prohibition on torture and brutal treatment to apply only on US soil. However, the Bush administration stands by its position. (Savage 2007, pp. 213)

The American Civil Liberty Union (ACLU) calls for the creation of a Special Counsel “to investigate and prosecute any criminal acts by civilians in the torture or abuse of detainees by the US Government” and appeals to senators to insist that Alberto Gonzales commit to appointing one, before voting on his nomination as attorney general. “[I]t is likely,” the ACLU concludes, that between the production of the August 1, 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and its official replacement by another legal opinion on December 30, 2004 (see December 30, 2004), “criminal acts occurred under the looser interpretations in effect for more than two years.” According to the ACLU, “The appointment of an outside special counsel—with full investigatory and prosecutorial powers—is the only way to ensure that all civilians who violated federal laws against torture will be held responsible.” (American Civil Liberties Union 1/30/2005)

Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general by the Senate on a generally party-line vote of 60-36, one of the smallest margins of confirmation in Senate history. Gonzales’s confirmation hearings (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005) have been the source of great controversy, with Senate Democrats accusing him of being deliberately evasive, obfuscutory (see January 17, 2005), and even obtuse during questioning, but with a solid Republican majority, Democrats have little ability to do anything to interfere with Gonzales’s ascension to power. (Savage 2007, pp. 213) Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) explains his opposition to Gonzales: “What is at stake here is whether he has demonstrated to the Senate of the United States that he will discharge the duties of the office to which he’s been nominated, specifically whether he will enforce the Constitution and the laws of the United States and uphold the values upon which those laws are based. Regrettably, and disturbingly in my view, Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of meeting this most basic and fundamental standard.” Dodd adds that Gonzales “has endorsed, unfortunately, the position that torture can be permissible.” Fellow Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) adds: “At the very least Mr. Gonzales helped to create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would take place. You could connect the dots from the administration’s legal memos to the Defense Department’s approval of abusive interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.” Republicans are incredulous that Democrats would oppose Gonzales’s candidacy, and imply that their opposition is racially based. “Is it prejudice?” asks Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Is it a belief that a Hispanic-American should never be in a position like this because he will be the first one ever in a position like this? Or is it because he’s constantly mentioned for the Supreme Court of the United States of America? Or is it that they just don’t like Judge Gonzales?” Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) says: “This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans and should not be diluted by partisan politics. Judge Gonzales is a role model for the next generation of Hispanic-Americans in this country.” (Fox News 2/4/2005) When Gonzales is sworn in on February 14, President Bush will use the occasion to urge Congress to renew the controversial USA Patriot Act (see February 14, 2005). (Deseret News 2/15/2005)

After a contentious Senate confirmation hearing (see February 3, 2005), White House senior counsel Alberto Gonzales is sworn in as attorney general of the United States. He is the first Hispanic to hold the office, and replaces former Attorney General John Ashcroft. President Bush says that the “attorney general has my complete confidence” and that he has been “a model of service” with a “deep dedication to the cause of justice.” Gonzales, Bush says, is now on “an urgent mission to protect the United States from another terrorist attack.” Bush uses the swearing-in press conference to urge Congress to renew all provisions of the USA Patriot Act, saying that “we must not allow the passage of time, or the illusion of safety, to weaken our resolve in this new war.” Gonzales says he will place his loyalty to the nation above his loyalty to Bush, noting that while the attorney general is “a member of the president’s Cabinet, a part of his team… the attorney general represents also the American people, and his first allegiance must always be to the Constitution of the United States.” (New York Times 2/14/2005; Thomas 2011)

The Army decides not to prosecute unnamed soldiers for killing an Iraqi detainee and attempting to cover up the death. The soldiers were stationed at Forward Operating Base Rifles near Al Asad, Iraq. In January 2004, several soldiers assaulted an Iraqi detainee. One lifted the detainee up from the floor by placing a baton under his chin, fracturing the detainee’s hyoid bone and causing his death. The soldiers were charged with negligent homicide, and with additional charges of conspiracy and making false statements. Apparently, the soldiers receive nothing more than written letters of reprimand and counseling. The officer completing the Commander’s Report on the offense writes, “Soldier should not be titled for any offense.” The detainee’s name is not revealed to the public. (US Department of Defense 3/5/2005 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union 5/2/2006)

A scene of a US soldier aiming his weapon from the ‘Ramadi Madness’ videotapes.A scene of a US soldier aiming his weapon from the ‘Ramadi Madness’ videotapes. [Source: Miami New Times]The Palm Beach Post releases two undated videos from Iraq that the government had refused to release to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The videos, part of a set which will become known as the “Ramadi Madness” videos, were made by members of the West Palm Beach-based Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, stationed in Ramadi in 2002 and 2003. The videos are divided into segments called, among other titles, “See Haj Run” and “Blood Clot,” and depict scenes of urban fighting and Iraqis being captured and detained by US forces. In 2006, the government will authenticate the videos as being genuine (see May 2, 2006). The videos combine to make an approximately 26-minute long “crude documentary,” according to the Post, “created by a couple of [Bravo Company] sergeants.” The films were examined by Army investigators, who eventually concluded that they showed “inappropriate behaviors” but nothing criminal. The Post describes the videotaped scenes as ranging “from routine to poignant to macabre.” One shows a US soldier moving the hand of a dead Iraqi truck driver to “make him say ‘Hi.’” Another shows two soldiers pretending to choke a third with a plastic handcuff. A snippet entitled “Haji Cat” shows soldiers feeding and cuddling a kitten, which they’ve named “Anthrax.” Another shows an injured Iraqi man being pulled from the sidewalk into a building by other Iraqis. A later video shows an Iraqi prisoner on the ground with his hands bound and an off-screen voice saying, “I don’t know what the [expletive] this guy did, but he is a bad guy”; another detainee is receiving medical treatment for a head wound and being told to “smile for the camera.” A small group of soldiers interrogates a detainee. One video shows a homemade bomb made with plastic explosives packed in a rusted oil can. The “Blood Clot” video shows a US soldier kicking a wounded Iraqi and explaining, “This [expletive] shot at me.” The video moves to a close-up of an Iraqi detainee’s gunshot wound, then shows a group of women being detained while an off-screen voice declares, “Bad women.” One of the more graphic videos is titled “Friends Don’t Let Friends Play with Explosives.” It begins with a camera shot of burned and dismembered corpses, with an off-screen voice saying, “There’s the crater,” and, “That’s what you get, [expletive].” A soldier points to human remains and pokes the remains across the ground with his foot. Voices are heard off-screen, saying, “Oh, that’s part of his skull,” “That’s where the guy got thrown against the wall,” and, “They were setting the explosive, and it blew up on them.” Finally, “That’s your brain on idiocy” is said as the camera focuses on another pile of remains. (Palm Beach Post 3/13/2005; American Civil Liberties Union 5/2/2006) The Army will not charge anyone over the actions depicted in the videotapes. (Associated Press 3/4/2005)

Dr. Michael Gelles, the head psychologist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), says that torture and coercion do not produce reliable information from prisoners. Gelles adds that many military and intelligence specialists share his view. Gelles warned of problems with torture and abuse at Guantanamo nearly three years ago (see Early December, 2002 and December 18, 2002). And he is frustrated that Bush administration officials have “dismissed” critics of coercive techniques as weaklings and “doves” who are too squeamish to do what is necessary to obtain information from terror suspects. In reality, Gelles says, many experienced interrogators are convinced that torture and coercion do more harm than good. Gelles has extensive experience with interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and notes that NCIS had interrogated Muslim terror suspects well before 9/11, including investigations into the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983).
'Rapport-Building' - The best way to extract reliable intelligence from a Muslim extremist, Gelles says, is through “rapport-building”—by engaging the suspect in conversations that play on his cultural sensitivities. Similar techniques worked on Japanese soldiers during the height of battles during World War II (see July 17, 1943). Gelles says he and others have identified patterns of questioning that can elicit accurate information from Islamist radicals, but refuses to discuss them specifically. “We do not believe—not just myself, but others who have to remain unnamed—that coercive methods with this adversary are… effective,” he says. “If the goal is to get ‘information,’ then using coercive techniques may be effective. But if the goal is to get reliable and accurate information, looking at this adversary, rapport-building is the best approach.”
Conflict between Experts, Pentagon Civilians - Gelles describes a sharp division between interrogation specialists such as himself, and civilian policymakers at the Pentagon. Many government specialists, including fellow psychologists, intelligence analysts, linguists, and interrogators who have experience extracting information from captured Islamist militants, agree with Gelles that coercion is not effective, but top civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense disagree. Coercive interrogations try to “vacuum up all the information you can and figure out later” what is true and what is not, he says. This method jams the system with false and misleading data. Gelles compares it to “coercive tactics leading to false confessions” by suspects in police custody. Many at the Pentagon and elsewhere mistake “rapport-building” techniques for softness or weakness. Just because those interrogations are not humiliating or physically painful, Gelles says, the techniques are not necessarily “soft.” Telling a detainee that he is a reprehensible murderer of innocents is perfectly acceptable, Gelles says: “Being respectful doesn’t mean you don’t confront, clarify, and challenge the detainee when he gives the appearance of being deceptive.” On the other hand, coercive techniques induce detainees to say anything to make the pain and discomfort stop. “Why would you terrify them with a dog?” Gelles asks, referring to one technique of threatening detainees with police dogs. “So they’ll tell you anything to get the dog out of the room?” Referring to shackling prisoners in “stress positions” for hours on end, Gelles adds: “I know there is a school of thought that believes [stress positions] are effective. In my experience, I’ve never seen it be of any value.” Innocent suspects will confess to imagined crimes just to stop the abuse, Gelles says.
Other Harmful Consequences - Gelles also notes that coercive techniques undermine the possibility of building rapport with the prisoner to possibly gain information from him. And, he says, unless the prisoner is either killed in custody or detained for life, eventually he will be released to tell the world of his captivity, damaging America’s credibility and moral authority. (Savage 3/31/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 217-218)

Author Gerald Posner has claimed that shortly after al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida was captured in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), he was tricked into thinking he had been handed over to the Saudis and then confessed high-level cooperation between al-Qaeda and the Saudi and Pakistani governments. Posner’s account has since been corroborated by New York Times journalist James Risen (see Early April 2002). In a 2005 book, Posner further alleges: “From conversations with investigators familiar with the [9/11 Commission’s] probe, the portions of Zubaida’s interrogation in which he named [Saudi and Pakistani connections] were not provided to the Commission. The CIA has even withheld [them] from the FBI, which is supposed to have access to all terror suspects’ questioning.” (Posner 2005, pp. 14) There is some circumstantial evidence to support this. Aside from the alleged Saudi trickery, Zubaida reportedly confessed vital intelligence in late March and into April 2002, including the previously unknown fact that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks (see Late March through Early June, 2002). But footnotes from various 9/11 Commission reports indicate that the earliest Zubaida interrogation used by the Commission is from May 23, 2002, after a new CIA team had taken over his interrogation (see Mid-May 2002 and After). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 65 pdf file) Hundreds of hours of Zubaida’s interrogation sessions have been videotaped by the CIA, but these videotapes will be destroyed by the CIA in 2005 under controversial circumstances (see November 2005).

Steven Bradbury, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo to John Rizzo, the senior deputy counsel for the CIA. The memo will remain classified for nearly four years (see April 16, 2009). It addresses, in the words of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “whether CIA interrogation methods violate the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment standards under federal and international law.” Bradbury concludes that neither past nor present CIA interrogation methods violate such standards. (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)
CIA Techniques Not Torture, Bradbury Explains - Bradbury calls torture “abhorrent” and “universally repudiated,” and says the US will never condone it. Afterwards, he spends a great deal of effort explaining why the various techniques used by the CIA do not constitute torture. Bradbury goes into numerous details about varieties of “harsh interrogation techniques” that can be used on prisoners, often restating details from an August 2002 OLC memo (see August 1, 2002) and elaborating on those descriptions. One technique he details is forced nudity. “Detainees subject to sleep deprivation who are also subject to nudity as a separate interrogation technique will at times be nude and wearing a diaper,” he writes, and notes that the diaper is “for sanitary and health purposes of the detainee; it is not used for the purpose of humiliating the detainee and it is not considered to be an interrogation technique.… The detainee’s skin condition is monitored, and diapers are changed as needed so that the detainee does not remain in a soiled diaper.” He cites “walling,” a technique involving slamming a detainee into a “false wall,” and writes, “Depending on the extent of the detainee’s lack of cooperation, he may be walled one time during an interrogation session (one impact with the wall) or many times (perhaps 20 or 30 times) consecutively.” Other techniques Bradbury cites include waterboarding, “abdominal slaps,” and “water dousing.” For water dousing, Bradbury gives specific restrictions: “For example, in employing this technique:
bullet “For water temperarure of 41°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 20 minutes without drying and rewarming.
bullet “For water temperarure of 50°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 40 minutes without drying and rewarming.
bullet “For water tempetarure of 59°F, total duration of exposure may not exceed 60 minutes without drying and rewarming.
“The minimum permissible temperature of the water used in water dousing is 41°F, though you have informed us that in practice the water temperature is generally not below 50°F, since tap water rather than refrigerated water is generally used.” (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 pdf file; CNN 4/17/2009)
Waterboarding Used More Frequently than Authorized - Bradbury also notes that waterboarding is sometimes used more times than authorized or indicated. Referring to an as-yet-unreleased 2004 report by the CIA’s inspector general on torture and abuse of detainees, he writes: “The IG report noted that in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated.… (‘[T]he waterboard technique… was different from the technique described in the DoJ [Department of Justice] opinion and used in the SERE training (see December 2001 and July 2002). The difference was the manner in which the detainee’s breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the [CIA] interrogator… applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychologists/interrogators acknowledged that the agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real—and is more poignant and convincing.’)… The inspector general further reported that ‘OMS [the CIA’s Office of Medical Services] contends that the expertise of the SERE waterboard experience is so different from the subsequent agency usage as to make it almost irrelevant. Consequently, according to OMS, there was no a priori reason to believe that applying the waterboard with the frequency and intensity with which it was used by the psychologist/interrogators was either efficacious or medically safe.‘… We have carefully considered the IG report and discussed it with OMS personnel. As noted, OMS input has resulted in a number of changes in the application of the waterboard, including limits on frequency and cumulative use of the technique. Moreover, OMS personnel are carefully instructed in monitoring this technique and are personally present whenever it is used.… Indeed, although physician assistants can be present when other enhanced techniques are applied, ‘use of the waterboard requires the presence of the physician.’” (Office of Legal Counsel 5/10/2005 pdf file)

The New York Times obtains a copy of a classified file of the Army criminal investigation into a number of detainee deaths at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The report focuses on two Afghan detainees, Mullah Habibullah (see October 2004 and November 30-December 3, 2002) and a taxi driver known as Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), both of whom were in essence tortured to death; other detainees are also covered in the report. The Army report follows up on the official inquiry conducted in late 2004 (see October 2004).
Torture to Extract Information, Punish Detainees, and Alleviate Boredom - The Times writes: “Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths. In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.” One female interrogator has what a colleague in a sworn statement calls a taste for humiliation; that interrogator is described as having stood on the neck of one prostrate detainee, and having kicked another detainee in the genitals. Another statement tells of a shackled prisoner being forced to kiss the boots of his interrogators. A third tells of a detainee forced to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water. Overall, the Army report concludes that many of the tactics used by interrogators and guards amounts to criminal assault. Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita says: “What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone’s standard for humane treatment. We’re finding some cases that were not close calls.” Seven soldiers, all interrogators and guards of low rank, have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter; two others received reprimands, and 15 others named in the original report were cited as bearing probable criminal responsibility in the deaths. One of the interrogators charged with assaulting Dilawar, Sergeant Selena Salcedo, says: “The whole situation is unfair. It’s all going to come out when everything is said and done.”
Many Interrogators Redeployed to Iraq; Bagram Tactics Used at Abu Ghraib - The Army criminal investigation was conducted slowly. During the course of the investigation, many of the Bagram interrogators, including their operations officer, Captain Carolyn Wood, were redeployed to Iraq (see Mid-March 2003). Wood took charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison and, according to Army inquiries, began using tactics “remarkably similar” to those employed at Bagram (see July 15, 2003 and (Early August 2003)). She received the Bronze Star for her actions (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003).
Serious Disparities between Investigative Results and Personnel Statements - In the aftermaths of the deaths, military officials made a number of unsupported claims. The deaths of both Dilawar and Habibullah were originally listed as due to natural causes even as military coroners ruled the deaths homicides. The American commander in Afghanistan at the time, Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, said that he had no indication that the deaths were caused by abuses carried out by US soldiers; the methods used in the detainees’ interrogations were, McNeill said, “in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques.”
Poorly Trained Interrogators - The report focuses on one group of poorly trained interrogators from the Army’s 519th Military Intelligence Brigade (see July 2002). After Bush’s decree that terror suspects have no rights under Geneva, the interrogators began pushing the envelope of acceptable interrogation techniques. They began employing “stress positions” that cause pain and suffering but not, presumably, actual injury. They began experimenting with longer and longer periods of sleep deprivation. One of the more popular methods is called in military jargon “Fear Up Harsh,” or as one soldier called it, “the screaming technique.” The technique is based on verbally and physically intimidating detainees, and often degenerates into screaming and throwing furniture. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, sometimes tried to curb his interrogators’ excesses, but, contradictorily, often refused to countenance “soft” interrogation techniques, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. Sergeant James Leahy recalled, “We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren’t our friends and could not be trusted.” One of Loring’s favorites was Specialist Damien Corsetti, nicknamed “Monster,” a tall, bearded interrogator Loring jokingly nicknamed “the King of Torture.” One Saudi detainee told Army investigators that during one session, Corsetti pulled out his penis, shoved it in the Saudi’s face, and threatened to rape him. (The earlier investigation found cause to charge Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner, and indecent acts; no charges were filed. Corsetti was fined and demoted for brutalizing a female prisoner at Abu Ghraib.) By August 2002, the 519th interrogators, joined by a group of reservists from a military police company, were routinely beating their prisoners, and particularly favored the “common peroneal strike,” a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg just above the knee. The MPs later said that they never knew such physical brutality was not part of Army interrogation practices. “That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg,” one of the MPs, Sergeant Thomas Curtis, later told investigators.
'Timmy' - Specialist Jeremy Callaway told investigators of one Afghan prisoner with apparently severe emotional and mental problems. The detainee would eat his own feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. He quickly became a favorite target for some of the MPs, who would repeatedly knee him in the legs and, at least once, chained him with his arms straight up in the air. The MPs nicknamed him “Timmy” after an emotionally disturbed child in the “South Park” animated television show. According to Callaway, one of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character. Eventually, “Timmy” was sent home. (Golden 5/20/2005)

Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, issues a classified memo. The contents and the recipient remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later determine the memo deals with the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” by the CIA. In early May, Bradbury determined that none of the CIA’s past or present interrogation methods violated either federal or international standards (see May 10, 2005). (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 pdf file)

Steven Bradbury.Steven Bradbury. [Source: Mark Wilson / Getty Images]Steven Bradbury is nominated by President Bush to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). He will continue in that position on an acting basis into 2008, even though Congressional Democrats refuse to confirm him for the job, and even though his continuation in the post violates the Vacancies Reform Act, which precludes non-confirmed appointees for holding their positions for over 210 days (see October 16, 2007). (Ward 9/20/2007; Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007; Ackerman 10/19/2007) Bradbury takes over from Jack Goldsmith, who resigned the position under fire (see June 17, 2004).
Arm of the White House - Bradbury has a long history of supporting the White House’s agenda of expansive executive power. He came to the Justice Department after clerking with Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and mentoring under former Whitewater special counsel Kenneth Starr. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007) A co-founder of the Federalist Society (Shenon 10/15/2007) , he is as staunchly conservative as any Bush appointee, but unlike some of the more outspoken of his colleagues, he comes across as low-key, pragmatic, and non-confrontational. As a Justice Department lawyer, Bradbury proved himself in line with the neoconservative views of Vice President Dick Cheney and Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington. Former State Department senior official Philip Zelikow recalls Bradbury as being “fundamentally sympathetic to what the White House and the CIA wanted to do.” Bradbury was brought in to the OLC in part to rein in that office, which under its previous head Jack Goldsmith became the hub of the internal opposition to Bush’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and domestic surveillance (see Late 2003-2005). In 2005, Bradbury signs two secret Justice Department memos giving broad authorization and legal justification for the CIA’s torture of terrorist suspects (see February 2005 and Late 2005),. Bradbury works closely with then-White House counsel and current attorney general Alberto Gonzales to bring the Justice Department back into line with White House demands. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec, who headed the OLC under former presidents Reagan and George H. W. Bush, says he believes the intense pressures from the current administration’s campaign against terrorism has warped the OLC’s proper role. “The office was designed to insulate against any need to be an advocate,” Kmiec says. Now the OLC has “lost its ability to say no.… The approach changed dramatically with opinions on the war on terror. The office became an advocate for the president’s policies.”
Probation - Bradbury was first considered for the job after Gonzales, newly confirmed as attorney general, rejected the idea of promoting Daniel Levin, the acting head of the OLC after Goldsmith’s departure. Gonzales considered Levin unsuitable for the job because of his independence and support for Goldsmith’s dissents. Instead, Gonzales chose Bradbury for the job. But the White House was uncertain of Bradbury’s reliability, and so placed him on a sort of “internal trial,” monitored by Gonzales’s replacement at the White House, Harriet Miers. Miers judged Bradbury’s loyalty to the president and his willingness to work with Gonzales in justifying White House policy decisions. Bradbury reportedly understands that his “probation” is intended for him to show just how compliant and supportive he is of the White House, and he soon wins the confidence of the White House by completely aligning himself with Addington. (Shane, Johnston, and Risen 10/4/2007)
'Sordid criminal conspiracy' - Harper’s Magazine commentator and lawyer Scott Horton will write in November 2007 that it is obvious “Bradbury was picked for one reason: to provide continuing OLC cover for the torture conspirators.… The Justice Department’s strategy has been to cloak Bradbury’s torture memoranda in secrecy classifications and then to lie aggressively about their very existence.… This episode demonstrates once more the intimate interrelationship between the policies of torture, secrecy, and the right to lie to the public and the courts in the interests of shielding the Bush administration from public embarrassment. And once more the Justice Department is enlisted not in the enforcement of the law, but rather in a sordid criminal conspiracy.” (Horton 11/7/2007)

Donald Shepperd, on the June 24 CNN broadcast.Donald Shepperd, on the June 24 CNN broadcast. [Source: CNN]Within hours of returning from a Pentagon-sponsored “fact-finding” trip to the Guantanamo detention facility (see June 24-25, 2005), CNN military analyst Don Shepperd, as planned (see June 25, 2005), extolls the virtues of the Pentagon’s handling of detainees on a lineup of CNN news broadcasts. As per his most recent briefing, he does not mention the case of Mohammed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who has suffered extensive brutality at the hands of his captors. Instead, his “analyses” are so uniformly laudatory that, as commentator Glenn Greenwald will observe, they are “exactly what it would have been had [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld himself written the script.” After returning from his half-day visit, he participates in a live telephone interview with CNN anchor Betty Nguyen. He opens with the observation: “I tell you, every American should have a chance to see what our group saw today. The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here, in my opinion, are totally false. What we’re seeing is a modern prison system of dedicated people, interrogators and analysts that know what they are doing. And people being very, very well-treated. We’ve had a chance to tour the facility, to talk to the guards, to talk to the interrogators and analysts. We’ve had a chance to eat what the prisoners eat. We’ve seen people being interrogated. And it’s nothing like the impression that we’re getting from the media. People need to see this, Betty.… I have been in prisons and I have been in jails in the United States, and this is by far the most professionally-run and dedicated force I’ve ever seen in any correctional institution anywhere.” Shepperd watched an interrogation, and he describes it thusly: “[T]hey’re basically asking questions. They just ask the same questions over a long period of time. They get information about the person’s family, where they’re from, other people they knew. All the type of things that you would want in any kind of criminal investigation. And these were all very cordial, very professional. There was laughing in two of them that we…” Nguyen interrupts to ask, “Laughing in an interrogation?” and Shepperd replies: “In the two of them that we watched. Yes, indeed. It’s not—it’s not like the impression that you and I have of what goes on in an interrogation, where you bend people’s arms and mistreat people. They’re trying to establish a firm professional relationship where they have respect for each other and can talk to each other. And yes, there were laughing and humor going on in a couple of these things. And I’m talking about a remark made where someone will smirk or laugh or chuckle.” In another CNN interview three days later, Shepperd reiterates and expands upon his initial remarks, and says of the detainees: “[W]e have really gotten a lot of information to prevent attacks in this country and in other countries with the information they’re getting from these people. And it’s still valuable.” CNN does not tell its viewers that Shepperd is president of The Shepperd Group, a defense lobbying and consulting firm. (CNN 6/24/2005; Greenwald 5/9/2008)

Retired Air Force General Donald Shepperd, a CNN news analyst, returns from a “fact-finding” trip to Guantanamo Bay (see June 24-25, 2005) prepared to provide Pentagon talking points to CNN audiences. Shepperd is remarkably candid about his willingness to serve as a Pentagon propagandist, writing in a “trip report” he files with his handlers, “Did we drink the ‘Government Kool-Aid?’—of course, and that was the purpose of the trip.” He acknowledges that “a one day visit does not an expert make” (Shepperd and his fellow analysts spent less than four hours touring the entire facility, all in the company of Pentagon officials), and notes that “the government was obviously going to put its best foot forward to get out its message.” He adds that “former military visitors are more likely to agree with government views than a more appropriately skeptical press.” Shepperd also sends an e-mail to Pentagon officials praising the trip and asking them to “let me know if I can help you.” He signs the e-mail, “Don Shepperd (CNN military analyst).” Shepperd’s e-mail is forwarded to Larry Di Rita, a top public relations aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Di Rita’s reply shows just how much control the Pentagon wields over the analysts. Di Rita replies, “OK, but let’s get him briefed on al-Khatani so he doesn’t go too far on that one.” Di Rita is referring to detainee Mohammed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had been subjected to particularly brutal treatment. Shepperd will, as planned, praise the Guantanamo detainee program on CNN in the days and hours following his visit to the facility (see June 24-25, 2005). (Greenwald 5/9/2008) He will say in May 2008: “Our message to them as analysts was, ‘Look, you got to get the importance of this war out to the American people.’ The important message is, this is a forward strategy, it is better to fight the war in Iraq than it is a war on American soil.” (Folkenflik 5/1/2008)

Gordon Cucullu.Gordon Cucullu. [Source: The Intelligence Summit]“Independent military analyst” Gordon Cucullu, a former Green Beret, is an enthusiastic participant in the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Cucullu has just returned from a half-day tour of the Guantanamo detention facility (see June 24-25, 2005), and is prepared to give the Pentagon’s approved message to the media.
Talking Points Covered in Fox Appearance - In an e-mail to Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence, he alerts the department to a new article he has written for conservative Website FrontPage, and notes that he has appeared on an early-morning broadcast on Fox News and delivered the appropriate talking points: “I did a Fox & Friends hit at 0620 this morning. Good emphasis on 1) no torture, 2) detainees abuse guards, and 3) continuing source of vital intel.” (Greenwald 5/9/2008)
Op-Ed: Pampered Detainees Regularly Abuse Guards - In the op-ed for FrontPage, entitled “What I Saw at Gitmo,” he writes that the US is being “extraordinarily lenient—far too lenient” on the detainees there. There is certainly abuse going on at Guantanamo, Cucullu writes—abuse of soldiers by the detainees. Based on his three-hour tour of the facility, which included viewing one “interrogation” and touring an unoccupied cellblock, Cucullu says that the detainees “fight their captors at every opportunity” and spew death threats against the soldiers, their families, and Americans in general. The soldiers are regularly splattered with “feces, urine, semen, and spit.” One detainee reportedly told another, “One day I will enjoy sucking American blood, although their blood is bitter, undrinkable.” US soldiers, whom Cucullu says uniformly treat the detainees with courtesy and restraint (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), are constantly attacked by detainees who wield crudely made knives, or try to “gouge eyes and tear mouths [or] grab and break limbs as the guards pass them food.” In return, the detainees are given huge meals of “well-prepared food,” meals which typically overflow from two styrofoam containers. Many detainees insist on “special meal orders,” and throw fits if their meals are not made to order. The level of health care they are granted, Cucullu says, would suit even the most hypochondriac American. Cucullu writes that the detainees are lavished with ice cream treats, granted extended recreational periods, live in “plush environs,” and provided with a full array of religious paraphernalia. “They are not abused, hanged, tortured, beheaded, raped, mutilated, or in any way treated the way that they once treated their own captives—or now treat their guards.” The commander, Brigadier General Jay Hood, tells Cucullu that such pampered treatment provides better results than harsher measures. “Establishing rapport” is more effective than coercion, Hood says, and, in Cucullu’s words, Hood “refers skeptics to the massive amount of usable intelligence information [the detainees] produce even three years into the program.” In conclusion, Cucullu writes, the reader is “right to worry about inhumane treatment” at Guantanamo, but on behalf of the soldiers, not the detainees. (Cucullu 6/27/2005)

Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has already tendered his resignation, gives his farewell speech to an assemblage in the Justice Department. Comey makes what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a cryptic reference to the fights over warrantless surveillance and torture issues that he had fought alongside [former Office of Legal Counsel chief Jack] Goldsmith and the other non-team players” (see Late 2003-2005 and June 17, 2004). Comey tells the assembled employees that, during his tenure, he had dealt with issues that “although of consequence almost beyond my imagination, were invisible because the subject matter demanded it.” In these disputes, he says he worked with people whose loyalty “to the law… would shock people who are cynical about Washington.” Those people, he says, “came to my office, or my home, or called my cell phone late at night, to quietly tell me when I was about to make a mistake; they were people committed to getting it right—and to doing the right thing—whatever the price. These people know who they are. Some of them did pay a price for their commitment to [do] right, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.” (US Department of Justice 8/15/2005; Parry 2/8/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 199) Comey will later testify that one of the people he is referring to is former Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin. (Savage 2007, pp. 199)

The Justice Department decides not to prosecute in most cases where detainees were abused and killed by the CIA. The cases, of which there are apparently eight, had been referred to the department by the CIA’s inspector general (see (August 2004)) and were investigated primarily by the US Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, although officials at department headquarters in Washington are also involved in the decision not to prosecute. Although some of the cases are still technically under review at this time, the department indicates it does not intend to bring charges. (Jehl and Golden 10/23/2005) The cases include:
bullet The death of Iraqi prisoner Manadel al-Jamadi in CIA custody in November 2003 (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003 and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003);
bullet The asphyxiation of Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush in Iraq, also in November 2003 (see November 24 or 25, 2003 and November 26, 2003). This incident involved the military, as well as at least one CIA contractor; (Jehl and Golden 10/23/2005)
bullet The intimidation of al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri by a CIA officer named “Albert” using a gun and drill (see September 11, 2003).
bullet The death of detainee Gul Rahman, who froze to death at the Salt Pit prison in Afghanistan (see November 20, 2002). The case was examined by prosecutors, but, in the end, a recommendation not to prosecute the officer who caused the detainee to die is made. (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009) The officer’s first name is not known, although his last name is Zirbel. (Mahoney and Johnson 10/9/2009, pp. 29 pdf file) The decision is made because prosecutors conclude that the prison was outside the reach of US law; although the CIA funded it and vetted its Afghan guards, it was technically an Afghan prison. In addition, it is unclear whether Rahman, who was captured in Pakistan and then taken to Afghanistan, would have died from injuries sustained during his capture, rather than by freezing. Although hypothermia was listed as the cause of death in the autopsy, the body was not available to investigators. According to the Washington Post, “questions remain whether hypothermia was used as a cover story in part to protect people who had beaten the captive.” However, according to a “senior official who took part in the review,” the decision not to prosecute in this case is not initially that clear, and an indictment is considered. However, the prosecutors decide not to press charges against Zirbel and a memo explaining this decision is drafted. An official involved in the review will later say there is “absolutely no pressure” from the Justice Department’s management to decide not to prosecute. However, a later report by the Post will indicate there may be a split among prosecutors over the decision, and that a political appointee, US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Paul McNulty, assesses the case. McNulty will be nominated for the position of deputy attorney general around this time (see October 21, 2005). (Johnson, Markon, and Tate 9/19/2009)
However, one CIA employee, a contractor named David Passaro, has been charged with detainee abuse (see June 18-21, 2003). (Jehl and Golden 10/23/2005) The department will begin a second review of some or all of these cases in 2009 (see August 24, 2009).

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases a report that documents the death of 44 detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan while in US custody. Most died during interrogation. The report, based on government reports (including autopsy reports, death reports, and other documents turned over to the ACLU through a Freedom of Information Act request), finds that “detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation, and to hot and cold environmental conditions.” ACLU director Anthony Romero says: “There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths. High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military.” The detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy SEALs, military intelligence officials, and “OGA” (Other Governmental Agency) personnel, a designation the ACLU says is usually used to refer to the CIA. Twenty-one of the 44 deaths were homicides, the ACLU says. Eight died from abusive techniques; autopsy reports show the causes of death were “strangulation,” “asphyxiation,” and “blunt force injuries.” Most of the “natural deaths” were attributed to what government doctors termed “Arteriosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease.” The ACLU notes that the report proves that detainees died not only at the hands of CIA personnel, but from abuse and maltreatment by Navy SEALs and military intelligence officials as well. The report cites, among other deaths, an Iraqi prisoner who died from hypothermia (see April 5, 2004), an Iraqi prisoner who was strangled and beaten to death (see January 9, 2004), an Iraqi general who died from smothering and “chest compressions” (see November 26, 2003), an Iraqi prisoner beaten and smothered to death (see Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003), two Afghani civilians beaten to death by US soldiers (see November 6, 2003 and December 10, 2002), and an older Iraqi man strangled to death while in US custody (see June 5, 2003). ACLU lawyer Amrit Singh says: “These documents present irrefutable evidence that US operatives tortured detainees to death during interrogations. The public has a right to know who authorized the use of torture techniques and why these deaths have been covered up.” (American Civil Liberties Union 10/24/2005)

David Addington.David Addington. [Source: Richard A. Bloom / Corbis]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Dick Cheney, is named Cheney’s chief of staff to replace Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Valerie Plame Wilson case (see February 13, 2002). (Waas and Singer 10/30/2005; MSNBC 11/4/2005) Addington is described by one White House official as “the most powerful man you never heard of.” A former Justice Department official says of Addington, “He seems to have his hand in everything, and he has these incredible powers, energy, reserves in an obsessive, zealot’s kind of way.” He is, according to former Solicitor General Theodore Olson, Cheney’s “eyes, ears, and voice.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006) Addington is a neoconservative ideologue committed to dramatically expanding the power of the presidency, and a powerful advocate of the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. He has been with Cheney for years, ever since Cheney chose him to serve as the Pentagon’s chief counsel while Cheney was Defense Secretary under Ronald Reagan. During that time, Addington was an integral part of Cheney’s battle to keep the Iran-Contra scandal from exploding (see 1984). (Milbank 10/11/2004; Waas and Singer 10/30/2005; MSNBC 11/4/2005; Ravagan 5/21/2006) According to Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, documentary evidence shows that Cheney’s office, and Addington in particular, were responsible for giving at least tacit approval for US soldiers to abuse and torture prisoners in Iraq (see January 9, 2002). In an administration devoted to secrecy, Addington stands out in his commitment to keeping information away from the public. (Milbank 10/11/2004) Though Addington claims to have a lifelong love affair with the Constitution, his interpretation of it is somewhat unusual. One senior Congressional staffer says, “The joke around here is that Addington looks at the Constitution and sees only Article II, the power of the presidency.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006) Addington’s influence in the White House is pervasive. He scrutinizes every page of the federal budget, hunting for riders that might restrict the power of the president. He worked closely with Gonzales to oppose attempts by Congress to pry information from the executive branch, and constantly battles the State Department, whose internationalist philosophy is at odds with his and Cheney’s own beliefs. (Milbank 10/11/2004) Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein calls Addington the “intellectual brainchild” of overreaching legal assertions that “have resulted in actually weakening the presidency because of intransigence.” According to Fein, Addington and Cheney are doing far more than reclaiming executive authority, they are seeking to push it farther than it has ever gone under US constitutional authority. They have already been successful in removing executive restraints formerly in place under the War Powers Act, anti-impoundment legislation, the legislative veto and the independent counsel statute. “They’re in a time warp,” Fein says. “If you look at the facts, presidential powers have never been higher.” (Milbank 10/11/2004) “He thinks he’s on the side of the angels,” says a former Justice Department official. “And that’s what makes it so scary.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006)

Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, says that he has seen documents that show a “visible audit trail” that links the practice of abuse and torture of prisoners by US soldiers directly back to the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. “There’s no question in my mind,” he says, “where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to [torture prisoners] originated—in the vice president of the United States’ office.” Wilkerson, while in Powell’s office, had access to a raft of documents concerning the allegations of prisoner abuse. He says that Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld led a quiet push to deny prisoners Geneva Convention protections. According to Wilkerson, Cheney’s then-chief counsel, David Addington (now Cheney’s chief of staff—see October 28, 2005), helped begin the process. Addington “was a staunch advocate of allowing the president in his capacity as commander in chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions.” Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, and others “began to authorize procedures within the armed forces that led to, in my view, what we’ve seen,” Wilkerson says. The Pentagon’s contentions that such prisoner abuses, particularly at Abu Ghraib, were limited to a few soldiers of low rank are false, he says: “I’m privy to the paperwork, both classified and unclassified, that the secretary of state asked me to assemble on how this all got started, what the audit trail was, and when I began to assemble this paperwork, which I no longer have access to, it was clear to me that there was a visible audit trail from the vice president’s office through the secretary of defense down to the commanders in the field that in carefully couched terms—I’ll give you that—that to a soldier in the field meant two things: We’re not getting enough good intelligence and you need to get that evidence, and, oh, by the way, here’s some ways you probably can get it. And even some of the ways that they detailed were not in accordance with the spirit of the Geneva Conventions and the law of war. You just—if you’re a military man, you know that you just don’t do these sorts of things because once you give just the slightest bit of leeway, there are those in the armed forces who will take advantage of that.” (Milbank 11/4/2005; Savage 2007, pp. 220)

Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, who for a year has advocated that the US issue clear rules about detention and interrogation of terror suspects (see Summer 2005), calls a meeting of three dozen Pentagon officials, including the vice chief and top uniformed lawyer for each military branch. England wants to discuss a proposed new directive defining the US military’s detention policies. The secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force are present, as are generals from each branch of service and a number of military lawyers, including Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora. The agenda is set by Matthew Waxman, the deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs. Waxman says that the president’s general statement that detainees should be treated humanely “subject to military necessity” (see February 7, 2002) has left US military interrogators and others unsure about how to proceed with detainees. Waxman has proposed making it official Pentagon policy to treat detainees in accordance with Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions, which bars cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as well as “outrages against human dignity.” The standard has already been in effect since the Geneva Conventions were first put into place over 50 years ago, and US military personnel are trained to follow it. In 2007, the Washington Post will observe, “That was exactly the language… that [Vice President] Cheney had spent three years expunging from US policy.” Mora will later recall of the meeting, “Every vice chief came out strongly in favor, as did every JAG,” or Judge Advocate General.
Opposition - Every military officer supports the Waxman standard, but two civilians oppose it: Stephen Cambone, the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, and William Haynes, the Pentagon’s general counsel and a close associate of Cheney’s chief counsel, David Addington. Cambone and Haynes argue that the standard will limit the US’s “flexibility” in handling terror suspects, and it might expose administration officials to charges of war crimes. If Common Article III becomes the standard for treatment, then it might become a crime to violate it.
War Crimes Questions - An exasperated Mora points out that whether the proposal is adopted or not, the Geneva Conventions are already solidly part of both US and international law. Any serious breach is in legal fact a war crime. Mora reads from a copy of the US War Crimes Act, which already forbids the violation of Common Article III. It is already the law, Mora emphasizes, and no one is free to ignore it. Waxman believes his opponents are isolated, and issues a draft of DOD Directive 2310, incorporating the Geneva-based language.
Browbeating Waxman - Within a few days, Addington and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s chief of staff, bring Waxman in for a meeting. The meeting goes poorly for Waxman. Addington ridicules the vagueness of the Geneva ban on “outrages upon personal dignity,” saying it leaves US troops timid in the face of unpredictable legal risk. Waxman replies that the White House policy is far more opaque, and Addington accuses him of trying to replace the president’s decision with his own. Mora later says, “The impact of that meeting is that Directive 2310 died.” Shortly thereafter, Waxman will leave the Pentagon for a post at the State Department. (Mayer 2/27/2006; Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007)

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. (McCoy 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.” (Corn 1/6/2006)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and NSA chief Lieutenant General Michael Hayden conduct their own “briefing” on the recently revealed NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) with the White House press corps. Gonzales and Hayden make the following points:
bullet Gonzales says that he will not discuss the internal workings of the still-classified program, only what he calls its “legal underpinnings.”
bullet He claims that the program, which he calls “the most classified program that exists in the United States government,” is legal because President Bush authorized it, and says that the idea that “the United States is somehow spying on American citizens” is wrong: it is “[v]ery, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
bullet He says that for the NSA to eavesdrop on a US citizen’s telephone or e-mail communications, “we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al-Qaeda, affiliated with al-Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, or working in support of al-Qaeda.” The wiretapping program is an essential part of the administration’s war against terror, he says.
bullet He goes on to claim that “the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes” legal grounds for “this kind of signals intelligence.” (White House 12/19/2005) The White House signed Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) into law on September 18, 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001. (White House 9/18/2001)
Hayden Claims Supreme Court Backing - While he admits that the Congressional authorization to use force against international terrorism does not specifically mention any kind of electronic surveillance, he refers the listeners to the Supreme Court case concerning alleged US terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi (see June 28, 2004), in which the Court ruled that Hamdi had the legal right to challenge his detention. “[T]he United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word ‘detention.’ And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O’Connor agreed. She said, it was clear and unmistakable that the Congress had authorized the detention of an American citizen captured on the battlefield as an enemy combatant for the remainder—the duration of the hostilities. So even though the authorization to use force did not mention the word, ‘detention,’ she felt that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield was a fundamental incident of waging war, and therefore, had been authorized by Congress when they used the words, ‘authorize the President to use all necessary and appropriate force.’ For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.”
Bush 'Very Concerned' With Protecting Civil Liberties - Gonzales insists, Bush “is very concerned about the protection of civil liberties, and that’s why we’ve got strict parameters, strict guidelines in place out at NSA to ensure that the program is operating in a way that is consistent with the President’s directives.” He adds, “[W]e feel comfortable that this surveillance is consistent with requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, and the Supreme Court has long held that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement in—when special needs outside the law enforcement arena. And we think that that standard has been met here.”
Wiretapping Essential in Catching Terrorists - Hayden reiterates how important the wiretapping is to catching terrorists and stopping potential attacks against US targets, though he and Gonzales both refuse to say what, if any, terrorist plots or what terror suspects might have been captured through the NSA wiretapping program. Hayden does say, “This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States.…I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available,” though he refuses to cite specifics. He admits that there have been some errors in surveilling innocent US citizens, though he refuses to give any details, and says those errors were quickly corrected.
Administration Not Required to Go Through FISA - Gonzales, who is the main speaker in the briefing, reiterates that while the administration continues to seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, “we are not legally required to do, in this particular case, because the law requires that we—FISA requires that we get a court order, unless authorized by a statute, and we believe that authorization has occurred.” He justifies the administration’s refusal to use the FISA court for obtaining warrants by insisting that NSA officials “tell me that we don’t have the speed and the agility that we need, in all circumstances, to deal with this new kind of enemy. You have to remember that FISA was passed by the Congress in 1978. There have been tremendous advances in technology… since then.” Hayden adds, “I don’t think anyone could claim that FISA was envisaged as a tool to cover armed enemy combatants in preparation for attacks inside the United States. And that’s what this authorization under the President is designed to help us do.”
'Balancing' of Civil Liberties, National Security - Hayden says the warrantless wiretapping program is part of “a balancing between security and liberty,” a more “aggressive” operation “than would be traditionally available under FISA. It is also less intrusive. It deals only with international calls. It is generally for far shorter periods of time. And it is not designed to collect reams of intelligence, but to detect and warn and prevent about attacks. And, therefore, that’s where we’ve decided to draw that balance between security and liberty.”
Media Leaks Damaging to National Security - Gonzales refuses to talk about when any members of Congress were briefed on the program or what they were told, but he does imply that there will be some sort of leak investigation as to how the New York Times found out about the program: “[T]his is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
No Evidence of Compromised National Security - When asked whether he can cite any evidence that the revelation of the program’s existence has actually compromised anything—“Don’t you assume that the other side thinks we’re listening to them? I mean, come on,” one reporter says—Gonzales responds, rather confusingly, “I think the existence of this program, the confirmation of the—I mean, the fact that this program exists, in my judgment, has compromised national security, as the President indicated on Saturday.”
Easier to Sidestep FISA Instead of Seek Congressional Approval - He does admit that the administration decided to sidestep the FISA court entirely instead of attempt to work with Congress to rewrite the FISA statutes because “we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible” to amend the law to the White House’s satisfaction. Gonzales says those who are concerned about the program being excessively intrusive or a threat to American civil liberties simply “don’t understand the specifics of the program, they don’t understand the strict safeguards within the program.… Part of the reason for this press brief today is to have you help us educate the American people and the American Congress about what we’re doing and the legal basis for what we’re doing.” He adds that any legal experts who believe the program is illegal are basing their judgments “on very limited information.”
Tough Questioning - One reporter asks an unusually tough series of questions to Gonzales: “Do you think the government has the right to break the law?”, to which Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not. I don’t believe anyone is above the law.” The reporter then says, “You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do,” to which Gonzales replies cryptically, “Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation.” The reporter insists, “You’re never supposed to spy on Americans,” and Gonzales deflects the responsibility for the decision back onto the Supreme Court.
Administration Will Tell Nation What It Needs to Know - Gonzales says the administration has no intention of releasing any of the classified legal opinions underpinning the program, and this press briefing is one of the methods by which the administration will “educat[e] the American people…and the Congress” to give them what they need to know about the program. (White House 12/19/2005)

Suzanne Spaulding, a former counsel for the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence commission, and executive director of the National Terrorism Commission from 1999 through 2000, writes an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance program. She writes that the three main sources of oversight and restraint on Bush’s unfettered efforts to monitor US citizens—Congress, the judiciary, and the American people—have failed to halt what she calls “this extraordinary exercise of presidential power.” Spaulding, who will testify along similar lines before the Senate over a year later (see April 11, 2007), writes, “Ironically, if it is ultimately determined that this domestic surveillance program reflects the exercise of unchecked power in contravention of law, it will wind up weakening the presidency. Once again, we will confront the challenge of restoring Americans’ faith in the rule of law and our system of checks and balances.” The pretense of oversight by the administration, in providing limited and perhaps misleading briefings on the program only to the so-called “Gang of Eight” Congressional leaders, is superficial and ineffective, she writes; the entire process “effectively eliminates the possibility of any careful oversight.” She notes that because of the severe restrictions both in the information doled out to these Congressional leaders, and their strict prohibition on discussing the information with anyone else, even other intelligence panel members, “[i]t is virtually impossible for individual members of Congress, particularly members of the minority party, to take any effective action if they have concerns about what they have heard in one of these briefings. It is not realistic to expect them, working alone, to sort through complex legal issues, conduct the kind of factual investigation required for true oversight and develop an appropriate legislative response.” Congressional oversight is key to retaining the trust of the US citizenry, she writes, and adds that that particular principle was well understood at the CIA while she was there. Oversight “is vital for a secret agency operating in a democracy. True oversight helps clarify the authority under which intelligence professionals operate. And when risky operations are revealed, it is important to have members of Congress reassure the public that they have been overseeing the operation. The briefings reportedly provided on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program reflect, instead, a ‘check the box’ mentality—allowing administration officials to claim that they had informed Congress without having really achieved the objectives of oversight.” While those few members of Congress are given little real information, the judiciary, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), is cut out of the process entirely. “Instead of going to a judge on the secret court that was specifically established to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance inside the United States, we are told that an NSA shift supervisor was able to sign off on the warrantless surveillance of Americans,” she writes. “That’s neither a check nor a balance. The primary duty of the NSA shift supervisor, who essentially works for the president, is to collect intelligence. The task of the judge is to ensure that the legal standards set out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have been met. Which one has stronger independence to say no, if no needs to be said? The objectives of the surveillance program, as described in news reports, seem laudable. The government should be running to ground the contacts listed in a suspected terrorist’s cell phone, for example. What is troubling is that this domestic spying is being done in apparent contravention of FISA, for reasons that still are not clear.” In her piece she takes issue with the Bush administration’s insistence that its surveillance program is legal and necessary. She makes the following case:
Specious Arguments to Duck FISA Court - The argument that the FISA Court is too slow to respond to immediate needs for domestic surveillance is specious, she says. “FISA anticipates situations in which speed is essential. It allows the government to start eavesdropping without a court order and to keep it going for a maximum of three days. And while the FISA application process is often burdensome in routine cases, it can also move with remarkable speed when necessary, with applications written and approved in just a few hours.” Instead, she says that the Bush administration must have dodged FISC because their wiretaps didn’t meet FISA standards of probable cause. Since FISC is staffed by judges hand-picked by conservative then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “who presumably felt that they had the right temperament and expertise to understand the national security imperatives as well as the need to protect civil liberties,” and since FISC has granted all but four of the more than 5,645 requests for wiretaps and surveillance made by the administration since 2001, to argue that FISC is unresponsive is simply wrong-headed. And, she notes, if the administration felt that FISA’s standards were too strict, it could have moved to amend the law to allow more leniency in obtaining such warrants. It has not done so since the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act. She writes, “The administration reportedly did not think it could get an amendment without exposing details of the program. But this is not the first time the intelligence community has needed a change in the law to allow it to undertake sensitive intelligence activities that could not be disclosed. In the past, Congress and the administration have worked together to find a way to accomplish what was needed. It was never previously considered an option to simply decide that finding a legislative solution was too hard and that the executive branch could just ignore the law rather than fix it.”
No Justification for Keeping Program Secret - In addition, the administration has consistently failed to make a case for keeping the domestic wiretapping policy secret for four years. US-designated terrorist groups already know that the government listens to their cell phone conversations whenever possible, and they are well aware of the various publicly known programs to search through millions of electronic communications, such as the NSA’s Echelon program (see April 4, 2001). “So what do the terrorists learn from a general public discussion about the legal authority being relied upon to target their conversations?” she asks. “Presumably very little. What does the American public lose by not having the public discussion? We lose the opportunity to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they do on our behalf.”
Assertions that Program Authorized by Congress Fallacious - The argument advanced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that says the program does not violate the law because Congress’s post-9/11 authorization of force against terrorists gives the administration the right to circumvent FISA is equally specious, she argues. “FISA does provide for criminal penalties if surveillance is conducted under color of law ‘except as authorized by statute.’ This is a reference to either FISA or the criminal wiretap statute. A resolution, such as the Use of Force resolution, does not provide statutory authority. Moreover, FISA specifically provides for warrantless surveillance for up to 15 days after a declaration of war. Why would Congress include that provision if a mere Use of Force resolution could render FISA inapplicable? The law clearly states that the criminal wiretap statute and FISA are ‘the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.’ If these authorities are exclusive, there is no other legal authority that can authorize warrantless surveillance. Courts generally will not view such a clear statutory statement as having been overruled by a later congressional action unless there is an equally clear indication that Congress intended to do that.” Therefore, by any legal standard, the administration’s program is, apparently, illegal.
No Inherent Presidential Authority - The ultimate argument by Bush officials, that the president has some sort of inherent authority as commander-in-chief to authorize illegal wiretaps, is the same groundless legal argument recently used to justify the use of torture by US intelligence and law enforcement agents (see December 28, 2001). That argument was withdrawn, Spaulding notes, after it became publicly known. While the courts have not specifically ruled on this particular argument, Spaulding notes that the Supreme Court refused to recognize then-President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the nation’s steel mills to avert a possible strike during the Korean War. The Supreme Court ruled “that the president’s inherent authority is at its weakest in areas where Congress has already legislated. It ruled that to find inherent presidential authority when Congress has explicitly withheld that authority—as it has in FISA—‘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 president and Congress.’” She notes that in 2004, the Supreme Court rejected the argument for unchecked presidential power in the Hamdi case (see June 28, 2004), with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing for the court, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. …Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with… enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.” Spaulding concludes, “The rule of law and our system of checks and balances are not a source of weakness or a luxury of peace. As O’Connor reminded us in Hamdi, ‘It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments…that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.’” (Spaulding 12/25/2005)

Douglas Feith.Douglas Feith. [Source: Whodidit.org]Law professor Phillippe Sands interviews Douglas Feith, the former undersecretary of defense for policy and one of the key architects of the Iraq invasion. (Sands 5/2008) Feith is joining the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a lecturer. (DeParle 5/25/2006) Feith discusses his great pride in his part in the administration’s decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions’ restrictions on interrogating prisoners (see February 7, 2002). Feith says that Geneva merely got in the way of the US doing what it needed to do with regards to the detainees. Since al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives did not function under Geneva, he argues, the US did not need to, either. Feith says that between his arguments and the contempt the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon held for the military officers who stood by the Geneva restrictions, the decision was made to set Geneva aside when circumstances warranted. It was never a matter of questioning Geneva’s status as international law, but deciding to whom and in what circumstances the conventions apply.
Catch 22 - Sands writes that according to Feith’s (and eventually the administration’s) rationale: “Geneva did apply to the Taliban, but by Geneva’s own terms Taliban fighters weren’t entitled to POW status, because they hadn’t worn uniforms or insignia. That would still leave the safety net provided by the rules reflected in Common Article 3—but detainees could not rely on this either, on the theory that its provisions applied only to ‘armed conflict not of an international character,’ which the administration interpreted to mean civil war. This was new. In reaching this conclusion, the Bush administration simply abandoned all legal and customary precedent that regards Common Article 3 as a minimal bill of rights for everyone.… I asked Feith, just to be clear: Didn’t the administration’s approach mean that Geneva’s constraints on interrogation couldn’t be invoked by anyone at Guantanamo? ‘Oh yes, sure,’ he shot back. Was that the intended result?, I asked. ‘Absolutely.… That’s the point.‘… As he saw it, either you were a detainee to whom Geneva didn’t apply or you were a detainee to whom Geneva applied but whose rights you couldn’t invoke.”
Impact on Interrogations - When asked about the difference for the purpose of interrogation, Sands will write: “Feith answered with a certain satisfaction, ‘It turns out, none. But that’s the point.’ That indeed was the point. The principled legal arguments were a fig leaf. The real reason for the Geneva decision, as Feith now made explicit, was the desire to interrogate these detainees with as few constraints as possible.” Reflecting on that time, Feith says with obvious relish, “This year I was really a player.” Sands asks Feith if he ever worried that the Geneva decision might have eroded the US’s moral authority. Feith’s response is blunt: “The problem with moral authority [is] people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the _ssholes, to put it crudely.” (Sands 5/2008)

John Yoo’s ‘The Powers of War and Peace.’John Yoo’s ‘The Powers of War and Peace.’ [Source: University of Maryland]Libertarian law professor Cass Sunstein reviews a recent book by former Bush legal adviser John Yoo, who authored several of the Bush administration’s most controversial legal opinions concerning terrorism and executive power (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 4, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, November 2, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 15, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, April 8, 2002, June 27, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and October 11, 2002). Yoo’s book, The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11, is a compendium of his pre-9/11 academic writings that landed him his job at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Sunstein notes that Yoo, perhaps more than any other single legal scholar, has reshaped the government’s legal stance on any number of issues. He argued for the president’s unilateral ability to declare war without the approval of Congress, the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on suspected terrorists, the withdrawal of essential civil liberties and legal rights from suspected terrorists and enemy collaborators, the right of the administration to electronically eavesdrop on the American citizenry without judicial consent or oversight, the ability to ignore or withdraw from international treaties without congressional approval, and more besides. Sunstein writes: “[T]aken as a whole, the claims of the Bush administration may be properly regarded as an effort to create a distinctive set of constitutional understandings for the post-September 11 era. The White House is attempting to create a kind of 9/11 Constitution. A defining feature of these understandings is a strong commitment to inherent presidential authority over national security, including a belief that in crucial domains the president can act without congressional permission, and indeed cannot be checked by congressional prohibitions.” Yoo is a key figure in that effort. Sunstein calls his work interesting but completely one-sided, simply ignoring “the mountainous counter-evidence” against most of his constitutional claims. “Yoo’s reading would require us to ignore far too many statements by prominent figures in the founding generation,” Sunstein writes. “There are not many issues on which James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, James Wilson, John Adams, and Pierce Butler can be said to agree. Were all of them wrong?” Sunstein concludes: “[W]ith respect to war, there is no reason for a 9/11 Constitution. The old one, read in the light of our traditions, will do just fine.” (Sunstein 1/9/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 81-82)

After Human Rights Watch, an organization which works to end torture of government detainees around the globe, claims that the Bush administration has made a “deliberate policy choice” to abuse detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says, “What took place at Guantanamo is a matter of public record today, and the investigations turned up nothing that suggested that there was any policy in the department other than humane treatment.” In 2002, President Bush declared that detainees in US custody should be treated “humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles” of the Geneva Conventions (see January 19, 2002). Shortly after Rumsfeld’s statement, White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Human Rights Watch has damaged its own credibility by making such claims. (Mayer 2/27/2006)

The Navy’s former general counsel, Alberto Mora, now the general counsel for Wal-Mart’s international operations, ends a long, self-imposed silence about his opposition to the military’s advocacy of torture and abuse of terror suspects (see July 7, 2004). Mora tells New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer that the administration’s legal response to the 9/11 attacks was flawed from the outset, triggering a series of subsequent errors and misjudgments that were virtually impossible to correct. In particular, the determination to ignore the Geneva Conventions “was a legal and policy mistake,” but “very few lawyers could argue to the contrary once the decision had been made.” Mora continues, “It seemed odd to me that the actors weren’t more troubled by what they were doing.” Many administration lawyers seemed to be ignorant of history. “I wondered if they were even familiar with the Nuremberg trials—or with the laws of war, or with the Geneva Conventions. They cut many of the experts on those areas out. The State Department [whose lawyers and officials often opposed the use of abusive interrogation tactics] wasn’t just on the back of the bus—it was left off the bus.… [P]eople were afraid that more 9/11s would happen, so getting the information became the overriding objective. But there was a failure to look more broadly at the ramifications. These were enormously hardworking, patriotic individuals. When you put together the pieces, it’s all so sad. To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values.” (Mayer 2/27/2006)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says he will sharply limit the testimony of former attorney general John Ashcroft and former deputy attorney general James Comey before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee is preparing for hearings on the warrantless wiretapping program authorized by President Bush several months after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). Gonzales says that “privilege issues” will circumscribe both men’s testimony: “As a general matter, we would not be disclosing internal deliberations, internal recommendations. That’s not something we’d do as a general matter, whether or not you’re a current member of the administration or a former member of the administration.” He adds, “You have to wonder what could Messrs. Comey and Ashcroft add to the discussion.” Comey was an observer to the late-night visit by Gonzales and then-White House chief of staff Andrew Card to Ashcroft’s hospital room, where Gonzales and Card unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the heavily sedated Ashcroft to reauthorize the program after Comey, as acting attorney general, determined the program was likely illegal (see March 10-12, 2004). Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) says he has asked Gonzales for permission to call Comey and Ashcroft to testify, but has not yet received an answer. Specter says, “I’m not asking about internal memoranda or any internal discussions or any of those kind of documents which would have a chilling effect.” Specter will ask Ashcroft and Comey to talk about the legal issues at play in the case, including the events surrounding the hospital visit. In the House Judiciary Committee, Republicans block an attempt by Democrats to ask Gonzales to provide legal opinions and other documents related to the program. (Eggen 2/16/2006)

Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far.Steven Calabresi, one of the architects of the ‘unitary executive’ theory, says Bush’s use of signing statements has gone too far. [Source: MeFeedia]Legal scholars and constitutional experts decry President Bush’s claim that he can ignore or disobey laws with impunity. An examination by Boston Globe reporter Charlie Savage finds that to date, Bush has claimed the authority to disobey over 750 laws enacted since he took office (see January 20, 2001 and After, After September 11, 2001, January 27, 2002, November 5, 2002, March 12, 2004 and After, November 6, 2003, December 2004, December 17, 2004, Dec. 23, 2004, January 17, 2005, August 8, 2005, October 18, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 23, 2006). He claims that as president, he has the power to override any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. While the Constitution assigns Congress the power to write the laws and the president the duty “to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” Bush asserts that he has no mandate to “execute” a law he believes is unconstitutional. Administration spokespersons have repeatedly said that Bush “will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution,” but it is Bush who decides what is and is not constitutional. Many legal scholars disagree with Bush’s position, and accuse him of attempting to usurp Congressional power for himself.
Philip Cooper - Law professor Phillip Cooper says over the Bush administration’s tenure, it has relentlessly worked to concentrate ever more governmental power into the White House. “There is no question that this administration has been involved in a very carefully thought-out, systematic process of expanding presidential power at the expense of the other branches of government,” Cooper says. “This is really big, very expansive, and very significant.”
Christopher Kelley - Political science professor Christopher Kelley notes that Bush uses signing statements to abrogate Congressional powers in a manner inconsistent with Constitutional mandates. “He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises—and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened,” Kelley says.
David Golove - Law professor David Golove says Bush has besmirched “the whole idea that there is a rule of law” because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore. “Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional,” Golove says. To the extent that Bush is interpreting the Constitution in defiance of Supreme Court rulings, Golove notes, he threatens to “overturn the existing structures of constitutional law.” When a president ignores the Court and is not restrained by a Congress that enables his usurpations, Golove says, the Constitution can be made to simply “disappear.” Golove adds, “Bush has essentially said that ‘We’re the executive branch and we’re going to carry this law out as we please, and if Congress wants to impeach us, go ahead and try it.’”
Jack Beerman - Law professor Jack Beermann says: “The president is daring Congress to act against his positions, and they’re not taking action because they don’t want to appear to be too critical of the president, given that their own fortunes are tied to his because they are all Republicans. Oversight gets much reduced in a situation where the president and Congress are controlled by the same party.”
Steven Calabresi - Former Justice Department official Steven Calabresi, who came up with the idea of using signing statements to counter Congressional powers during the Reagan administration (see August 23, 1985 - December 1985), now says, “I think what the administration has done in issuing no vetoes and scores of signing statements (see September 2007) is not the right way to approach this.”
Bruce Fein - Former Reagan Justice Department official Bruce Fein says: “This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn’t doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power.” (Savage 4/30/2006; Savage 2007, pp. 243)

Army documents released by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reveal that Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the former commander of US forces in Iraq, ordered military interrogators to “go to the outer limits” to get information from detainees (see May 19, 2004). The documents also show that senior government officials were aware of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan before the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. ACLU executive director Anthony Romero says: “When our leaders allow and even encourage abuse at the ‘outer limits,’ America suffers. A nation that works to bring freedom and liberty to other parts of the world shouldn’t stomach brutality and inhumanity within its ranks. This abuse of power was engineered and accepted at the highest levels of our government.” The ACLU also releases an April 2004 information paper entitled “Allegations of Detainee Abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan” that outlined the status of 62 investigations of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib (see April 2, 2004). According to the ACLU, the documents show that, far from being the work of “a few bad apples” as alleged by President Bush and other White House officials (see Mid-May 2004, August 2004, September 10, 2004, and October 1, 2004), the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was systematic and authorized by high-level officials, including Sanchez. “These documents are further proof that the abuse of detainees was widespread and systemic, and not aberrational,” says ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. “We know that senior officials endorsed this abuse, but these officials have yet to be held accountable.” Other documents show that US soldiers escaped prosecution after killing a detainee in their custody (see March 3, 2005), several reports of detainee abuse are considered “true/valid” (see May 25, 2004), and a military doctor cleared a detainee for further interrogations even after documenting injuries inflicted by beatings and electric shocks (see June 1, 2004). (American Civil Liberties Union 5/2/2006)

Brigadier General Richard Formica.Brigadier General Richard Formica. [Source: Combined Security Transition Command, Afghanistan]The Defense Department publicly releases the so-called “Formica Report,” a report from two years before (see November 2004) that detailed the findings of an investigation into allegations of detainee abuse at Camp Nama, a US detention facility at Baghdad International Airport in Iraq. The report, overseen by Brigadier General Richard Formica, is made available through a Freedom of Information Act request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The investigation found no evidence of any detainees being abused by Army personnel. A Defense Department official says: “This is not new news. The major points and the recommendations [from this report] have been implemented. This is an excellent example of the [Defense Department] doing the right thing; an excellent example of the department implementing the recommendations. You can’t ask for more from your government.” Formica conducted his investigation from May 2004 through November 2004. The official says that one of the most important changes made as a result of the Formica investigation was a clarification of authorized interrogation methods. (Wood 6/17/2006)

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

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases documents that show the Defense Department ignored requests from senior military commanders for clarification regarding interrogation tactics. In January 2003, military commanders in Afghanistan requested clarification from Pentagon officials as to what interrogation methods could be used against prisoners in US custody. Those officials ignored the request (see January 2003). “It is the Defense Department’s responsibility to ensure that prisoners are treated humanely, as the Geneva Conventions require,” says ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer. “But as these documents show, the Defense Department allowed abusive interrogation practices to flourish.” The documents also show that at least one unit in Afghanistan operated for eight months under rules of interrogation that had been rescinded (see May 2004). In other instances, field and unit commanders came up with their own rules for interrogation. One commander at Guantanamo came up with his own definition of sleep deprivation, according to the documents: “I define ‘sleep deprivation’ as keeping a detainee awake continuously for five or six day’s [sic] straight.” Another unit determined that, if soldiers could be subjected to 20-hour days in training, it should be acceptable to subject prisoners to similar conditions: “If it was okay to subject our soldiers to twenty-hour days, then in our mind’s [sic] it was okay to subject the terrorists to twenty-hour interrogations.” In one instance, a detainee was interrogated for 20 hours every day for almost two months. “These documents further confirm that systemic command failures led to the widespread abuse of detainees held in US custody abroad,” says the ACLU’s Amrit Singh. “Only an independent investigation into detainee abuse can be trusted to hold relevant officials accountable for such failures.” (American Civil Liberties Union 7/10/2006)

Daniel Dell’Orto.Daniel Dell’Orto. [Source: US Department of Defense]Shortly after the Supreme Court rules that the Geneva Conventions apply to detainees suspected of terrorist affiliations (see June 30, 2006), the Bush administration publicly agrees to apply the Conventions to all terrorism suspects in US custody, and the Pentagon announces that it is now requiring all military officials to adhere to the Conventions in dealing with al-Qaeda detainees. The administration says that from now on, all prisoners in US custody will be treated humanely in accordance with the Conventions, a stipulation that would preclude torture and “harsh interrogation methods.” Until the ruling, the administration has held that prisoners suspected of terrorist affiliations did not have the right to be granted Geneva protections (see February 7, 2002). Lawyer David Remes, who represents 17 Guantanamo detainees, says, “At a symbolic level, it is a huge moral triumph that the administration has acknowledged that it must, under the Supreme Court ruling, adhere to the Geneva Conventions. The legal architecture of the war on terror was built on a foundation of unlimited and unaccountable presidential power, including the power to decide unilaterally whether, when and to whom to apply the Geneva Conventions.” But in the wake of the ruling the administration is pressuring Congress to introduce legislation that would strip detainees of some of the rights afforded them under the Conventions, including the right to free and open trials, even in a military setting. “The court-martial procedures are wholly inappropriate for the current circumstances and would be infeasible for the trial of these alien enemy combatants,” says Steven Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Bradbury and Daniel Dell’Orto, the Defense Department’s principal deputy attorney general, have repeatedly urged lawmakers to limit the rights of detainees captured in what the administration terms its war on terrorism. Dell’Orto says Congress should not require that enemy combatants be provided lawyers to challenge their imprisonment. Congressional Democrats have a different view. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “I find it hard to fathom that this administration is so incompetent that it needs kangaroo-court procedures to convince a tribunal of United States military officers that the ‘worst of the worst’ imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay should be held accountable” for crimes. “We need to know why we’re being asked to deviate from rules for courts-martial.” (Babington and Abramowitz 7/12/2006)

Actor Kiefer Sutherland as ‘Jack Bauer.’Actor Kiefer Sutherland as ‘Jack Bauer.’ [Source: Stuff.co.nz]Law professor Phillippe Sands begins a series of interviews with the former staff judge advocate for the US Army in Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver. She is the author of a legal analysis that was used by the Bush administration to justify its extreme interrogation techniques (see October 11, 2002). Sands describes her as “coiled up—mistreated, hung out to dry.” She is unhappy with the way the administration used her analysis, and notes that she was guided in her work at Guantanamo by personnel from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. She believes that some of the interrogation techniques were “reverse-engineered” from a training program called SERE—Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape—though administration officials have denied this. Several Guantanamo personnel were sent to Fort Bragg, SERE’s home, for a briefing on the program (see December 2001, January 2002 and After, Mid-April 2002, Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002, July 2002, July 2002, July 2002, and August 1, 2002). Military training was not the only source of inspiration. Fox’s television drama 24 came to a conclusion in the spring of 2002, Beaver recalls. One of the overriding messages of that show is that torture works. “We saw it on cable,” Beaver remembers. “People had already seen the first series. It was hugely popular.” The story’s hero, Jack Bauer, had many friends at Guantanamo, Beaver adds. “He gave people lots of ideas.” She recalls in graphic terms how excited many of the male personnel became when extreme interrogation methods were discussed. “You could almost see their d_cks getting hard as they got new ideas,” she will say. “And I said to myself, You know what? I don’t have a d_ck to get hard—I can stay detached.” The FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service refused to become involved in aggressive interrogations, she says (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and December 17, 2002). (Sands 5/2008)

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

In two separate sessions, from October 6-11 and again from December 4-14, officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) interview 14 detainees newly transferred from a variety of CIA secret “black sites” to Guantanamo. The transfers followed President Bush’s acknowledgment that the CIA has maintained a number of these sites and his announced intention to have a number of the detainees sent to the Cuban facility (see September 17, 2001 and September 6, 2006).
ICRC Access - The ICRC is legally bound to monitor compliance with the Geneva Conventions and to supervise the treatment of prisoners of war; previously, it had not been allowed to see the detainees, and in some cases were never informed of their detention. The ICRC officials interview each prisoner in private, with the intention of producing “a description of the treatment and material conditions of detention of the 14 during the period they were held in the CIA detention program.”
Interviews - The 14 have been held for periods ranging “from 16 months to almost four and a half years.” The ICRC’s report, never intended for public consumption, will be released to the CIA several months later (see February 14, 2007) and revealed in a book in early 2009 (see March 15, 2009). Some of the detainees, concerned about the possible repercussions that may ensue from their discussions, ask the ICRC to withhold their names from some allegations, though most of the report attributes specific narratives and allegations to particular prisoners. Almost every allegation is independently corroborated by other, named detainees.
'Striking Similarity' - In 2009, author Mark Danner will write, quoting the ICRC report: “[I]ndeed, since the detainees were kept ‘in continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention’ throughout their time in ‘the black sites,’ and were kept strictly separated as well when they reached Guantanamo, the striking similarity in their stories, even down to small details, would seem to make fabrication extremely unlikely, if not impossible. ‘The ICRC wishes to underscore,’ as the writers tell us in the introduction, ‘that the consistency of the detailed allegations provided separately by each of the 14 adds particular weight to the information provided below.’”
Topics of Report - The report covers the following areas:
bullet Main elements of the CIA detention program;
bullet Arrest and transfer;
bullet Continuous solitary confinement and incommunicado detention;
bullet Other methods of ill-treatment;
bullet Suffocation by water (the ICRC term for waterboarding);
bullet Prolonged stress standing;
bullet Beatings by use of a collar;
bullet Beating and kicking;
bullet Confinement in a box;
bullet Prolonged nudity;
bullet Sleep deprivation and use of loud music;
bullet Exposure to cold temperature/cold water;
bullet Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles;
bullet Threats;
bullet Forced shaving;
bullet Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food;
bullet Further elements of the detention regime.
Conclusion - The report concludes: “The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” Danner will write, “Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms ‘torture’ and ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’ are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn’t be more significant.” (Danner 3/15/2009)

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). (Mariner 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. (Cohen 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.” (Babington and Weisman 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. (Mariner 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. (Mariner 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.” (Parry 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. (Mariner 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. (Mariner 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. (Goodman 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. (Benjamin 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. (Mariner 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)

John Yoo, a former Justice Department official, celebrates the passage of the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006). Yoo writes that Congress has ordered “the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror.” The bill is not so much a victory for the presidency, Yoo writes, as it is a loss for the judiciary, a “stinging rebuke to the Supreme Court. It strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear any habeas corpus claim filed by any alien enemy combatant anywhere in the world.” It supersedes the Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), which Yoo calls “an unprecedented attempt by the court to rewrite the law of war and intrude into war policy… [a] stunning power grab.” Now, he writes: “Congress and the president did not take the court’s power grab lying down. They told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror, stripped them of habeas jurisdiction over alien enemy combatants, and said there was nothing wrong with the military commissions. It is the first time since the New Deal that Congress had so completely divested the courts of power over a category of cases. It is also the first time since the Civil War that Congress saw fit to narrow the court’s habeas powers in wartime because it disagreed with its decisions. The law goes farther. It restores to the president command over the management of the war on terror. It directly reverses Hamdan by making clear that the courts cannot take up the Geneva Conventions. Except for some clearly defined war crimes, whose prosecution would also be up to executive discretion, it leaves interpretation and enforcement of the treaties up to the president. It even forbids courts from relying on foreign or international legal decisions in any decisions involving military commissions.” Yoo had previously authored numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002). (Yoo 10/19/2006)

National Defense Intelligence College logo.National Defense Intelligence College logo. [Source: National Defense Intelligence College]A study just released by the Intelligence Science Board, a wing of the National Defense Intelligence College, suggests that after the 9/11 attacks, when US military and intelligence agency interrogators were asked to use harsher tactics on suspected terrorists to find out information about upcoming attacks, the interrogators were not sure how to implement such tactics. Therefore, they began “mak[ing] it up on the fly,” the study finds. It continues, “Th[e] shortfall in advanced, research-based interrogation methods at a time of intense pressure from operational commanders to produce actionable intelligence from high-value targets may have contributed significantly to the unfortunate cases of abuse that have recently come to light.” (Stein 4/4/2008)

Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes, whose involvement with a set of documents known as the “torture memos” threatens his nomination as an appellate court judge (see November 27, 2002), telephones Morris Davis, the lead prosecutor at Guantanamo, to pressure Davis to charge accused Australian terror suspect David Hicks. Haynes is apparently attempting to do a political favor for Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Haynes is advised that his interference is improper, but calls Davis a second time and suggests that Davis charge other prisoners along with Hicks to avoid any impression that the charges are “a political solution to the Hicks case.” Davis will resign in part because of pressure from Washington to politicize his prosecutions (see October 4, 2007). (Falkoff 11/2/2007)

The CIA continues to fight an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawsuit demanding that it turn over three key memos authorizing the detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists at secret overseas “black sites” (see November 10, 2006). Court documents filed by the agency cite national security concerns for keeping the documents hidden from public scrutiny. ACLU attorney Amrit Singh says: “The CIA’s declaration uses national security as a pretext for withholding evidence that high-level government officials in all likelihood authorized abusive techniques that amount to torture. This declaration is especially disturbing because it suggests that unlawful interrogation techniques cleared by the Justice Department for use by the CIA still remain in effect. The American public has a right to know how the government is treating its prisoners.” One document is a lengthy presidential order described by the CIA as a “14-page memorandum dated 17 September 2001 from President Bush to the director of the CIA pertaining to the CIA’s authorization to detain terrorists” (see September 17, 2001). Twelve of the 14 pages are “a notification memorandum” from the president to the National Security Council regarding a “clandestine intelligence activity.” ACLU officials say this statement “raises questions regarding the extent to which Condoleezza Rice was involved in establishing the CIA detention program as national security adviser.” The CIA declares in the brief that the presidential document is so “Top Secret” that NSC officials created a “special access program” governing access to it. The brief states that “the name of the special access program is itself classified SECRET,” meaning that the CIA believes that the disclosure of the program’s name “could be expected to result in serious danger to the nation’s security.” The other two documents are, respectively, an August 1, 2002 Justice Department memo “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al-Qaeda members” (see August 1, 2002), and an apparent “draft” version of the August 1 memo prepared for White House counsel Alberto Gonzales by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, the then-head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The draft memo apparently contends that physical abuse only equates to torture under US law if it inflicts pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” The memo was later rescinded (see December 2003-June 2004). The ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer says: “Through these memos, the president and Office of Legal Counsel created a legal framework that was specifically intended to allow the CIA to violate both US and international law. While national security sometimes requires secrecy, it is increasingly clear that these documents are being kept secret not for national security reasons but for political ones.” (American Civil Liberties Union 1/10/2007)

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stuns Senate Judiciary Committee questioners when he says that the fundamental right of habeas corpus, the right for an accused person to go to court and challenge his or her imprisonment, is not protected by the Constitution. Gonzales, in response to questions by Arlen Specter (R-PA), says: “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or every citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas.… There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution. There’s a prohibition against taking it away.” Specter is incredulous, asking how the Constitution could bar the suspension of a right that didn’t exist—a right, he notes, that was first recognized in medieval England as protection against the king’s power to send subjects to royal dungeons. Gonzales does say that habeas corpus is “one of our most cherished rights,” and admits that Congress has protected that right. But Gonzales refuses to acknowledge that the Constitution itself protects the right. If the Constitution does not, then Congress would be able to limit or nullify habeas corpus rights if it so chooses. Congress has not passed such an all-encompassing law yet, but it has passed a law, the Military Commissions Act, that strips the courts of any authority to hear habeas corpus suits filed by “enemy combatants.”
Experts Fear Government Encroachment on Civil Liberties - But constitutional experts on both the left and the right say that Gonzales’s position implies a far broader power. Erwin Chemerinsky, a law professor who has frequently criticized the Bush administration, says: “This is the key protection that people have if they’re held in violation of the law. If there’s no habeas corpus, and if the government wants to pick you or me off the street and hold us indefinitely, how do we get our release?” Former Reagan Justice Department official Douglas Kmiec agrees. If Gonzales’s view prevails, Kmiec says, “one of the basic protections of human liberty against the powers of the state would be embarrassingly absent from our constitutional system.” A Justice Department spokesman says that Gonzales is only noting the absence of a specific constitutional guarantee for habeas corpus, and acknowledges that the Supreme Court has declared “the Constitution protects [habeas corpus] as it existed at common law” in England. These rights, the spokesman says, do not apply to foreigners held as enemy combatants. (Egelko 1/24/2007)
Habeas Protected in Constitution - The right of habeas corpus is clear in Article I, Section 9, Clause 2 of the Constitution: “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” (Think Progress 1/19/2007)
Expansion of Presidential Powers - Former Reagan Justice Department attorney Bruce Fein says that Gonzales’s stance on habeas corpus is an underpinning of the Bush administration’s attempt to advocate the “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. Gonzales’s statements contain a message: “Congress doesn’t have to let [judges] decide national security matters. It’s part of an attempt to create the idea that during conflicts, the three branches of government collapse into one, and it is the president.” (Egelko 1/24/2007)

Two unnamed US Special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in the March 2003 deaths of Afghan soldier Jamal Naseer and Afghan peasant Wakil Mohammed are given administrative reprimands by the US Army. Naseer was reportedly tortured to death by Special Forces soldiers (see March 16, 2003) and the unarmed Mohammed was shot after a firefight near the Special Forces base of Gardez (see March 1, 2003). But a statement released by the Special Forces Command indicates that the reprimands only fault the soldiers for assault relating to the “slapping of detainees.” It states that the soldier who shot Wakil Muhammed was acting in self-defense. As for Naseer, “all other allegations, to include voluntary manslaughter and aggravated assault of detainee Jamal Naseer, were found to be unsubstantiated.” A reprimand is not a formal punishment, rather it has the effect of reducing the recipient’s prospects for a promotion and can end a military career. A military investigation began in 2004 after media reports about their deaths (see September 21, 2004). (McCollough 1/31/2007)

Nieman Reports, a quarterly magazine about journalism, publishes an article by investigative journalist Craig Pyes describing how the US Army attempted to undermine a Los Angeles Times investigation looking into the March 2003 deaths of two Afghan detainees (see March 16, 2003). It is believed that members of a Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan murdered the two men, identified as Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed, and then covered up the circumstances surrounding their deaths. An official investigation into the two deaths by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) found insufficient probable cause to bring charges for either of the two deaths. As a result of the CID investigation, two soldiers were given noncriminal administrative letters of reprimand (see January 26, 2007) for “slapping” prisoners at the Gardez facility and for failing to report the death of Naseer. In his article, Pyes recounts the resistance he and his colleague Kevin Sack encountered from the military as they sought information about the two deaths. The military refused to disclose basic information about the circumstances surrounding the two deaths, including the two men’s identities, the circumstances of their detention, the charges against them, court papers, and investigative findings. The journalists also learned that soldiers had been told by their superiors that it was important that everyone be “on the same page in case there was an investigation.” During their investigation, they also discovered that “military examiners had made some significant errors, including their initial failure to identify the victims. They also grossly misidentified dates of crucial events and persistently failed to interview key people and locate supporting documents.” (Nieman Watchdog 3/2/2007)

At a Guantanamo Bay tribunal to decide his combat status (see March 9-April 28, 2007), militant Islamist logistics manager Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is accused of heading Khaldan and Darunta training camps in Afghanistan and of co-ordinating their operation with Osama bin Laden, as well as moving money for al-Qaeda, desiring fraudulently-obtained Canadian passports for a terrorist plot, and making diary entries about planned attacks in the US. (US Department of Defense 3/27/2007 pdf file)
Complaints of Torture, Admission of False Confessions - Zubaida complains of being tortured in US custody (see Mid-May 2002 and After and March 10-April 15, 2007). Zubaida’s statements about his treatment in US custody will be redacted from the trial transcripts, but a few remarks remain. In broken English, Zubaida states: “I was nearly before half die plus [because] what they do [to] torture me. There I was not afraid from die because I do believe I will be shahid [martyr], but as God make me as a human and I weak, so they say yes, I say okay, I do I do, but leave me. They say no, we don’t want to. You to admit you do this, we want you to give us more information… they want what’s after more information about more operations, so I can’t. They keep torturing me.” The tribunal president, a colonel whose name is also redacted, asks, “So I understand that during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue, is that correct?” Zubaida replies, “Yes.” (US Department of Defense 3/27/2007 pdf file; Rose 12/16/2008)
Denies Being Al-Qaeda Member or Enemy of US - He goes on to deny that he is an “enemy combatant,” saying that the Khaldan training camp, which he admits being logistics manager of, was around since the Soviet-Afghan War and was also used to train Muslims who wanted to fight invaders in Muslim lands, such as Chechnya, Kashmir, the Philippines, and Bosnia, where “America helped us.” After he was captured the US administration exaggerated his importance, and some media accounts have suggested his role was greatly exaggerated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He denies being an official member of al-Qaeda and says he disagrees with attacks on civilians. However, he admits some of his trainees subsequently decided to join al-Qaeda and that he did not prevent them from doing this. He also denies moving the money and submits a volume of his diary that apparently shows he was in Pakistan when the charges state he went to Saudi Arabia to collect the money. He requests the production of other volumes of his diaries, on which some of the charges are based, but they are not made available to the tribunal. In addition, he denies corresponding with bin Laden before 2000 and details a dispute that arose between them after that time. He says his diary entries about military targets are “strictly hypothetical,” and the passports are for non-terrorist travel. Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, he admits he helped non-aligned fighters escape from South Asia. He states that he is an enemy of the US because of its alliance with Israel, which he claims is oppressing his fellow Palestinians, saying, “A partner of a killer is also a killer.” (US Department of Defense 3/27/2007 pdf file)

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