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Context of 'February 7, 2002: White House Declares Geneva Convention Does Not Apply to Taliban or Al-Qaeda'

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Siding with the Pentagon and Justice Department against the State Department, President Bush declares the Geneva Conventions invalid with regard to conflicts with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Secretary of State Colin Powell urges Bush to reconsider, saying that while Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda terrorists, making such a decision for the Taliban—the putative government of Afghanistan—is a different matter. Such a decision could put US troops at risk. Both Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs chairman General Richard B. Myers support Powell’s position. Yet another voice carries more weight with Bush: John Yoo, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see October 23, 2001). Yoo says that Afghanistan is a “failed state” without a functional government, and Taliban fighters are not members of an army as such, but members of a “militant, terrorist-like group” (see January 9, 2002). White House counsel Alberto Gonzales agrees with Yoo in a January 25 memo, calling Yoo’s opinion “definitive.” The Gonzales memo concludes that the “new kind of war” Bush wants to fight should not be equated with Geneva’s “quaint” privileges granted to prisoners of war, or the “strict limitations” they impose on interrogations (see January 25, 2002). Military lawyers dispute the idea that Geneva limits interrogations to recitals of name, rank, and serial number, but their objections are ignored. For an OLC lawyer to override the judgment of senior Cabinet officials is unprecedented. OLC lawyers usually render opinions on questions that have already been deliberated by the legal staffs of the agencies involved. But, perhaps because OLC lawyers like Yoo give Bush the legal opinions he wants, Bush grants that agency the first and last say in matters such as these. “OLC was definitely running the show legally, and John Yoo in particular,” a former Pentagon lawyer will recall. “Even though he was quite young, he exercised disproportionate authority because of his personality and his strong opinions.” Yoo is also very close to senior officials in the office of the vice president and in the Pentagon’s legal office. [Ledger (Lakeland FL), 10/24/2004]
Undermining, Cutting out Top Advisers - Cheney deliberately cuts out the president’s national security counsel, John Bellinger, because, as the Washington Post will later report, Cheney’s top adviser, David Addington, holds Bellinger in “open contempt” and does not trust him to adequately push for expanded presidential authority (see January 18-25, 2002). Cheney and his office will also move to exclude Secretary of State Colin Powell from the decision-making process, and, when the media learns of the decision, will manage to shift some of the blame onto Powell (see January 25, 2002). [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Final Decision - Bush will make his formal final declaration three weeks later (see February 7, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Richard B. Myers, US Department of State, Taliban, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bellinger, George W. Bush, Geneva Conventions, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

White House lawyer Alberto Gonzales completes a draft memorandum to the president advising him not to reconsider his decision (see January 18-25, 2002) declaring Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters ineligible for prisoner of war status as Colin Powell has apparently recommended. [US Department of Justice, 1/25/2004 pdf file; Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The memo recommends that President Bush accept a recent Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo saying that the president has the authority to set aside the Geneva Conventions as the basis of his policy (see January 9, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 146]
Geneva No Longer Applies, Says Gonzales - Gonzales writes to Bush that Powell “has asked that you conclude that GPW [Third Geneva Convention] does apply to both al-Qaeda and the Taliban. I understand, however, that he would agree that al-Qaeda and the Taliban fighters could be determined not to be prisoners of war (POWs) but only on a case-by-case basis following individual hearings before a military board.” Powell believes that US troops will be put at risk if the US renounces the Geneva Conventions in relation to the Taliban. Rumsfeld and his chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, allegedly agree with Powell’s argument. [New York Times, 10/24/2004] But Gonzales says that he agrees with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which has determined that the president had the authority to make this declaration on the premise that “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war” and “not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war].” Gonzales thus states, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] Gonzales also says that by declaring the war in Afghanistan exempt from the Geneva Conventions, the president would “[s]ubstantially [reduce] the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act [of 1996]” (see August 21, 1996). The president and other officials in the administration would then be protected from any future “prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Memo Actually Written by Cheney's Lawyer - Though the memo is released under Gonzales’s signature, many inside the White House do not believe the memo was written by him; it has an unorthodox format and a subtly mocking tone that does not go with Gonzales’s usual style. A White House lawyer with direct knowledge of the memo later says it was written by Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington. Deputy White House counsel Timothy Flanigan passed it to Gonzales, who signed it as “my judgment” and sent it to Bush. Addington’s memo quotes Bush’s own words: “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war.” [Washington Post, 6/24/2007]
Powell 'Hits the Roof' over Memo - When Powell reads the memo (see January 26, 2002), he reportedly “hit[s] the roof” and immediately arranges for a meeting with the president (see January 25, 2002). [Newsweek, 5/24/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Geneva Conventions, Alberto R. Gonzales, Colin Powell, David S. Addington, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The White House declares that the United States will apply the Geneva Conventions to the conflict in Afghanistan, but will not grant prisoner-of-war status to captured Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Though Afghanistan was party to the 1949 treaty, Taliban fighters are not protected by the Conventions, the directive states, because the Taliban is not recognized by the US as Afghanistan’s legitimate government. Likewise, al-Qaeda fighters are not eligible to be protected under the treaty’s provisions because they do not represent a state that is party to the Conventions either.
Administration Will Treat Detainees Humanely 'Consistent' with Geneva - In the memo, President Bush writes that even though al-Qaeda detainees do not qualify as prisoners of war under Geneva, “as a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.” The presidential directive is apparently based on Alberto Gonzales’s January 25 memo (see January 25, 2002) and a memo from Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, David Addington (see January 25, 2002).
Bush Chooses Not to Suspend Geneva between US and Afghanistan - The directive also concludes that Bush, as commander in chief of the United States, has the authority to suspend the Geneva Conventions regarding the conflict in Afghanistan, should he feel necessary: Bush writes, “I have the authority under the Constitution to suspend Geneva as between the United States and Afghanistan, but I decline to exercise that authority at this time.” Though not scheduled for declassification until 2012, the directive will be released by the White House in June 2004 to demonstrate that the president never authorized torture against detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. [George W. Bush, 2/7/2002 pdf file; CNN, 2/7/2002; Newsweek, 5/24/2004; Truthout (.org), 1/19/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 191]
Overriding State Department Objections - Bush apparently ignores or overrides objections from the State Department, including Secretary of State Colin Powell (see January 25, 2002) and the department’s chief legal counsel, William Howard Taft IV (see January 25, 2002). Both Powell and Taft strenuously objected to the new policy. [Savage, 2007, pp. 147]
Ignoring Promises of Humane Treatment - The reality will be somewhat different. Gonzales laid out the arguments for and against complying with Geneva in an earlier memo (see January 18-25, 2002), and argued that if the administration dispensed with Geneva, no one could later be charged with war crimes. Yet, according to Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, sometime after the Bush memo is issued, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld decide to ignore the portions promising humane treatment for prisoners. “In going back and looking at the deliberations,” Wilkerson later recalls, “it was clear to me that what the president had decided was one thing and what was implemented was quite another thing.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 190-191]

Entity Tags: Geneva Conventions, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Lawrence Wilkerson, William Howard Taft IV, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

The Salt Pit, a secret CIA prison near Kabul, Afghanistan.The Salt Pit, a secret CIA prison near Kabul, Afghanistan. [Source: Space Imaging Middle East]President George Bush signs a secret order authorizing the CIA to set up a network of secret detention and interrogation centers outside the United States where high value prisoners can be interrogated “with unprecedented harshness.” [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] This takes place shortly after February 7, 2002, when Bush declared that al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners were not subject to the Geneva Convention (see February 7, 2002). The first secret CIA prison will begin operating in Thailand in March 2002 (see March 2002).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

A new interrogation unit arrives at the Bagram Collection Point (BCP), the improvised interrogation and holding facility at Bagram Air Force Base (see October 2001). The unit is headed by Lieutenant Carolyn Wood (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003), who leads a 13-man unit from the 525th Military Intelligence Brigade at Fort Bragg, NC. Wood’s unit is augmented by six Arabic-speaking reservists from the Utah National Guard. Many in the group, consolidated under Company A of the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion, are counterintelligence specialists with no background in interrogation. Only two of the soldiers have ever questioned actual prisoners. The training they receive is ad hoc and minimal. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, will later tell investigators, “There was nothing that prepared us for running an interrogation operation” like the one at Bagram. Nor are the rules of engagement clear. The platoon uses the standard interrogations guide, Section 34-52 of the Army Fleld Manual, and an order from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to treat prisoners “humanely” and, when possible, within the strictures of the Geneva Conventions. But when President Bush determines in February 2002 that the Conventions do not apply to Taliban and al-Qaeda captives (see February 7, 2002), the interrogators decide they “could deviate slightly from the rules,” in the words of Utah reservist Sergeant James Leahy. “There was the Geneva Conventions for enemy prisoners of war, but nothing for terrorists,” Leahy will tell Army investigators. And the detainees, senior intelligence officers say, are to be considered terrorists until proved otherwise. One group of soldiers is later dubbed “the Testosterone Gang”; they decorate their tent with a Confederate flag, spend large amounts of time bodybuilding, and quickly earn a reputation as some of the most brutal of the soldiers at Bagram. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Carolyn A. Wood, Donald Rumsfeld, Steven Loring, George W. Bush, James Leahy

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two days after General Rick Baccus has been relieved from duty as the guard commander at Guantanamo (see October 9, 2002), and almost one and a half months since the writing of the Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) August memo on torture (see August 1, 2002), military intelligence at Guantanamo begin suggesting new rules of interrogation. Lieutenant Colonel Jerald Phifer, Director J2, sends a memo, to Major General Michael E. Dunlavey, Commander of Joint Task Force (JTF) 170, requesting approval for more severe interrogation techniques. [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008] In 2009, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will write (see April 21, 2009) that Dunlavey’s request is sparked by recent reports on the use of SERE training techniques for interrogation purposes (see January 2002 and After and April 16, 2002). [Huffington Post, 4/21/2009]
Three Categories of Techniques - The memo states, “The current guidelines for interrogation procedures at GTMO [Guantanamo] limit the ability of interrogators to counter advanced resistance.” Phifer proposes three categories of techniques. The mildest, which includes yelling and weak forms of deception, are included in category one. Category two techniques are more severe and require approval by an “interrogator group director.” They include the use of stress positions for up to four hours; use of falsified documents; isolation for up to 30 days; sensory deprivation and hooding; 20-hour interrogations; removal of comfort and religious items; replacing hot food with cold military rations; removal of clothing; forced grooming, including the shaving of beards; and playing on detainees’ phobias to induce stress, such as a fear of dogs. The harshest techniques, listed in category three, are to be reserved for a “very small percentage of the most uncooperative detainees” and only used with permission from the commander of the prison. These methods include using non-injurious physical contact like poking or grabbing; threatening a detainee with death or severe pain or threatening that a family member would be subjected to such harm; exposing him to cold weather or water; using a wet towel to “induce the misperception of suffocation.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file; New Yorker, 2/27/2008]
Desire to Extract More Information from Detainee - The request is prompted in part by military intelligence’s belief that Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani has more information than the FBI has managed to extract from him. “Al-Khatani is a person in… whom we have considerable interest,” Dell’Orto will explain during a 2004 press briefing at the White House. “He has resisted our techniques. And so it is concluded at Guantanamo that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” [Washington File, 6/23/2004]
JAG Officer Concludes Tactics are Legal - The same day, a staff judge advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane E. Beaver, reviews Phifer’s proposed techniques for legality and, while making qualifications and recommending further review, concludes in a memo to Dunlavey that they are legal. Also the same day, Dunlavey sends the list of techniques to his superior, General James T. Hill, commander of the Southern Command, requesting approval for their use. Dunlavey writes: “Although [the techniques currently employed] have resulted in significant exploitable intelligence the same methods have become less effective over time. I believe the methods and techniques delineated in the accompanying J-2 memorandum will enhance our efforts to extract additional information.” [US Department of Defense, 10/11/2002 pdf file] Beaver concludes that since President Bush had decided that all the detainees “are not protected by the Geneva Conventions” (see January 18-25, 2002, February 7, 2002), all of the desired techniques are allowable because “no international body of law directly applies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 178]

Entity Tags: Rick Baccus, George W. Bush, James T. Hill, Carl Levin, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Diane E. Beaver, Michael E. Dunlavey, Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

President Bush issues a proclamation to mark the United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture. Bush states that the US is “committed to the worldwide elimination of torture and we are leading this fight by example.” He vows to prosecute torture and to prevent any “other cruel and unusual punishment.” The CIA’s chief lawyer, Scott Muller, complains to the White House that Bush’s statement could cause CIA interrogators, authorized by Bush to torture suspected al-Qaeda members (see February 7, 2002), to fear that they could be used as scapegoats by the administration. White House officials reassure Muller that despite Bush’s words, the administration still supports the CIA’s torture of prisoners. [New York Times, 5/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Scott Muller, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Lt. Col. Tucker Mansager tells reporters that the media will not be permitted access to secret detention facilities in Afghanistan, claiming that to do so would violate the prisoners’ rights under the Geneva Conventions. However in February 2002, the administration had denied “prisoner of war” status to all Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters captured in Afghanistan (see February 7, 2002) on grounds they were “illegal combatants.” Since then, the US has maintained that these prisoners are not protected by the Conventions. Nonetheless, Mansager explains: “Part of… spirit [of the Geneva Conventions] is to ensure that the persons under confinement are not subject to any kind of exploitation. It is the coalition’s position that allowing media into the facilities would compromise that protection.” [Reuters, 5/19/2004]

Entity Tags: Tucker Mansager

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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.” [Washington Post, 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. [Washington Post, 6/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Senate Judiciary Committee, Bush administration (43), Geneva Conventions, John Ashcroft, Tom Malinowski, US Department of Justice, Judge Advocate General Corps, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

To demonstrate that President Bush has never authorized torture against prisoners, the White House declassifies and releases a large number of internal documents, including the February 7, 2002 memo (see February 7, 2002) signed by Bush, and documents, inter alia from Gen. James T. Hill, showing that the US military interrogators were seeking more aggressive interrogation techniques. The disclosures are made, according to Alberto R. Gonzales, because the government “felt that it was harmful to this country, in terms of the notion that perhaps we may be engaging in torture.” [Washington Post, 6/23/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, James T. Hill

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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

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

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Alberto Mora, David S. Addington, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, William J. Haynes, War Crimes Act, Matthew Waxman, Gordon England, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Defense, Geneva Conventions, Stephen A. Cambone

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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. [Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Feith is joining the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University as a lecturer. [Washington Post, 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.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Phillippe Sands, Geneva Conventions, Douglas Feith, Al-Qaeda, Georgetown University, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

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.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, US Department of Defense, Patrick J. Leahy, Al-Qaeda, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, David Remes, Geneva Conventions, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury

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

Two senior Bush administration officials reflect on the executive order denying any Geneva Convention protections to Taliban and al-Qaeda detainees (see February 7, 2002). Jack Goldsmith, formerly head of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the Justice Department, says: “To conclude that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply—it doesn’t follow from that, or at least it shouldn’t, that detainees don’t get certain rights and certain protections. There are all sorts of very, very good policy reasons why they should have been given a rigorous legal regime whereby we could legitimatize their detention. For years there was just a giant hole, a legal hole of minimal protections, minimal law.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, recalls: “Based on what the secretary and [State Department legal adviser William] Taft were telling me, I think they both were convinced that they had managed to get the president’s attention with regard to what they thought was the governing document, the Geneva Conventions. I really think it came as a surprise when the February memo was put out. And that memo, of course, was constructed by [Cheney chief counsel David] Addington, and I’m told it was blessed by one or two people in OLC. And then it was given to [Vice President] Cheney, and Cheney gave it to the president. The president signed it.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, Jack Goldsmith

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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