!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Alberto Mora
Alberto Mora was a participant or observer in the following events:
John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice, 6/9/2002 ; Newsweek, 5/21/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 146] The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” [Newsweek, 5/21/2004] Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181]
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002]
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).
Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, John C. Yoo, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Alberto Mora, US Department of State, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, the top legal adviser to the Army’s interrogation unit at Guantanamo, JTF-170, writes a legal analysis of the extreme interrogation techniques being used on detainees. Beaver notes that some of the more savage “counter-resistance” techniques being considered for use, such as waterboarding (the use of which has resulted in courts-martials for users in the past) might present legal problems. She acknowledges that US military personnel at Guantanamo are bound by the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which characterizes “cruelty,” “maltreatment,” “threats,” and “assaults” as felonies. However, she reasons, if interrogators can obtain “permission,” or perhaps “immunity,” from higher authorities “in advance,” they might not be legally culpable. In 2006, a senior Defense Department official calls Beaver’s legal arguments “inventive,” saying: “Normally, you grant immunity after the fact, to someone who has already committed a crime, in exchange for an order to get that person to testify. I don’t know whether we’ve ever faced the question of immunity in advance before.” The official praises Beaver “for trying to think outside the box. I would credit Diane as raising that as a way to think about it.” Beaver will later be promoted to the staff of the Pentagon’s Office of General Counsel, where she will specialize in detainee issues. But Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora is less impressed. When he reads Beaver’s legal analysis two months later (see December 17-18, 2002), he calls it “a wholly inadequate analysis of the law.” According to Mora, the Beaver memo held that “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment could be inflicted on the Guantanamo detainees with near impunity.” Such acts are blatantly illegal, Mora believes. Mora will note that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld bases his decision to approve such harsh “counter-resistance” techniques (see December 2, 2002) in part on Beaver’s memo. He will write that Rumsfeld’s decision “was fatally grounded on these serious failures of legal analysis.” Neither Beaver nor Rumsfeld will draw any “bright line” prohibiting the combination of these techniques, or defining any limits for their use. As such, this vagueness of language “could produce effects reaching the level of torture,” which is prohibited without exception both in the US and under international law. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Written under Difficult Circumstances - Beaver later tells a more complete story of her creation of the memo. She insists on a paper trail showing that the authorization of extreme interrogation techniques came from above, not from “the dirt on the ground,” as she describes herself. The Guantanamo commander, Major General Michael Dunlavey, only gives her four days to whip up a legal analysis, which she sees as a starting point for a legal review of the interrogation policies. She has few books and materials, and more experienced lawyers at the US Southern Command, the Judge Advocate General School, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the DIA refuse to help her write the analysis. She is forced to write her analysis based on her own knowledge of the law and what she could find on the Internet. She bases her analysis on the previous presidential decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions, later recalling, “It was not my job to second-guess the president.” Knowing little of international law, she ignores that body of law altogether. She fully expects her analysis to be dissected and portions of it overridden, but she is later astonished that her analysis will be used as a legal underpinning for the administration’s policies. She has no idea that her analysis is to be used to provide legal cover for much more senior White House officials (see June 22, 2004). She goes through each of the 18 approved interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002), assessing them against the standards set by US law, including the Eighth Amendment, which proscribes “cruel and unusual punishment,” the federal torture statutes, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Beaver finds that each of the 18 techniques are acceptable “so long as the force used could plausibly have been thought necessary in a particular situation to achieve a legitimate government objective, and it was applied in a good faith effort and not maliciously or sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm.” Law professor Phillippe Sands later observes: “That is to say, the techniques are legal if the motivation is pure. National security justifies anything.” The interrogators must be properly trained, Beaver notes, and any interrogations involving the more severe techniques must “undergo a legal, medical, behavioral science, and intelligence review prior to their commencement.” However, if all of the criteria are met, she “agree[s] that the proposed strategies do not violate applicable federal law.” Sands points out that her use of the word “agree” indicates that she “seems to be confirming a policy decision that she knows has already been made.”
'Awful' but Understandable - Sands later calls her reasoning “awful,” but understands that she was forced to write the memo, and reasonably expected to have more senior legal officials review and rewrite her work. “She could not have anticipated that there would be no other piece of written legal advice bearing on the Guantanamo interrogations. She could not have anticipated that she would be made the scapegoat.” Beaver will recall passing Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington in a Pentagon hallway shortly after she submitted the memo. Addington smiled at her and said, “Great minds think alike.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Entity Tags: Michael E. Dunlavey, Donald Rumsfeld, Diane E. Beaver, Defense Intelligence Agency, David S. Addington, Alberto Mora, Geneva Conventions, Judge Advocate General School, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Army, Phillippe Sands, Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Southern Command
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
Shortly after the October 11, 2002, request by Guantanamo commander Major General Michael Dunlavey for approval of new, harsh interrogation techniques, and after Guantanamo legal counsel Diane Beaver submitted her analysis justifying the use of those techniques (see October 11, 2002), General James T. “Tom” Hill forwards everything to General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hill includes a letter that contains the sentence, “Our respective staffs, the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and Joint Task Force 170 [the Army unit in charge of interrogating Guantanamo detainees] have been trying to identify counter-resistant techniques that we can lawfully employ.” In the letter, Hill is clearly ambivalent about the use of severe interrogation methods. He wants the opinion of senior Pentagon lawyers, and requests that “Department of Justice lawyers review the third category [the most severe] of techniques.” But none of this happens. The Joint Chiefs should have subjected the request to a detailed legal review, including scrutiny by Myers’s own counsel, Jane Dalton, but instead, Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes short-circuits the approval process. Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora recalls Dalton telling him: “Jim pulled this away. We never had a chance to complete the assessment.” Myers later recalls being troubled that the normal procedures had been circumvented. Looking at the “Haynes Memo,” Myers will point out, “You don’t see my initials on this.” He notes that he “discussed it,” but never signed off on it. “This was not the way this should have come about.” Myers will come to believe that there was “intrigue” going on “that I wasn’t aware of, and Jane wasn’t aware of, that was probably occurring between [William J.] Haynes, White House general counsel [Alberto Gonzales], and Justice.” Instead of going through the proper channels, the memo goes straight to Haynes, who merely signs off with a note that says, “Good to go.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Entity Tags: Joint Chiefs of Staff, US Department of Justice, Diane E. Beaver, Alberto R. Gonzales, Alberto Mora, James T. Hill, Jane Dalton, Richard B. Myers, Michael E. Dunlavey, William J. Haynes
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), learns disturbing information about detainees in US custody being abused at the Guantanamo detention facility. Brant is in charge of a team of NCIS agents working with the FBI at Guantanamo, called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. The task force’s job is to obtain incriminating information from the detainees for use in future trials or tribunals. Brant, an experienced law enforcement officer, finds what his task force agents tell him about interrogations at Guantanamo troubling. According to his agents, who have examined the interrogation logs, the military intelligence interrogators seem poorly trained and frustrated by their lack of success. Brant learns that the interrogators are engaging in ever-escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse, using tactics that Brant will later describe as “repugnant.” Much of his information comes from NCIS psychologist Michael Gelles, who has access to the Army’s top-secret interrogation logs at Guantanamo. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Gelles learned of the torture techniques being used at Guantanamo while reading through those logs for an internal study. He is taken aback at what author and reporter Charlie Savage will later call “a meticulously bureaucratic, minute-by-minute account of physical torments and degradation being inflicted on prisoners by American servicemen and women.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 178] Brant will later recall that Gelles “is phenomenal at unlocking the minds of everyone from child abusers to terrorists.” Therefore, when Gelles tells Brant that he finds the logs “shocking,” Brant takes it seriously. One of the most horrific cases is that of Mohamed al-Khatani (see December 17, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008] Brant says that NCIS will pull its interrogators out of Guantanamo if the abuses continue, and goes to the Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, for help (see December 17-18, 2002). [Savage, 2007, pp. 178]
David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), learns of the horrific abuse of a Saudi detainee, Mohamed al-Khatani (sometimes spelled “al-Qahtani”—see February 11, 2008), currently detained at Guantanamo Bay. Al-Khatani is one of several terror suspects dubbed the “missing 20th hijacker”; according to the FBI, al-Khatani was supposed to be on board the hijacked aircraft that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11 (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Al-Khatani was apprehended in Afghanistan a few months after the terrorist attacks. He is one of the examples of prisoner abuse (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003) that Brant takes to Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora (see December 17-18, 2002). In 2006, Brant will say that he believes the Army’s interrogation of al-Khatani was unlawful. If any NCIS agent had engaged in such abuse, he will say, “we would have relieved, removed, and taken internal disciplinary action against the individual—let alone whether outside charges would have been brought.” Brant fears that such extreme methods will taint the cases to be brought against the detainees and undermine any efforts to prosecute them in military or civilian courts. Confessions elicited by such tactics are unreliable. And, Brant will say, “it just ain’t right.” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
David Brant, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), approaches Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora about the abuse of detainees in US custody at Guantanamo, abuse perhaps authorized at a “high level” in Washington. Brant is in charge of a team of NCIS agents working with the FBI at Guantanamo, called the Criminal Investigative Task Force. The task force’s job is to obtain incriminating information from the detainees for use in future trials or tribunals.
Troubling Information - Brant has learned troubling information about the interrogations at Guantanamo (see Early December, 2002). Brant had never discussed anything so sensitive with Mora before, and later recalls, “I wasn’t sure how he would react.” Brant had already discussed the allegations of abuse with Army officials, since they have command authority over the detainees, and to Air Force officials as well, but goes to Mora after deciding that no one in either branch seems to care. He is not hopeful that Mora will feel any differently.
Worried about Abuse - Brant goes to Mora because, he will recall, he didn’t want his investigators to “in any way observe, condone, or participate in any level of physical or in-depth psychological abuse. No slapping, deprivation of water, heat, dogs, psychological abuse. It was pretty basic, black and white to me.… I didn’t know or care what the rules were that had been set by the Department of Defense at that point. We were going to do what was morally, ethically, and legally permissible.” Brant had ordered his task force members to “stand clear and report” any abusive tactics that they might witness.
Mora 'Rocked' - Brant is not disappointed in Mora’s reactions. A military official who works closely with Brant will later recall that the news “rocked” Mora. The official will add that Mora “was visionary about this,” adding, “He quickly grasped the fact that these techniques in the hands of people with this little training spelled disaster.” Brant asks if Mora wants to hear more about the situation; Mora will write in a 2004 memo (see July 7, 2004), “I responded that I felt I had to.”
Second Meeting - Brant meets with Mora the next day, and shows Mora part of the transcript of the [Mohamed al-Khatani] interrogations. Mora is shocked when Brant tells him that the abuse was not “rogue activity,” but apparently sanctioned by the highest levels in the Bush administration. Mora will write in his memo, “I was under the opinion that the interrogation activities described would be unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” Mora will recall in a 2006 interview: “I was appalled by the whole thing. It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values.” Shocked, Mora will learn more from his counterpart in the Army (see December 18, 2002), and determine that the abusive practices need to be terminated.
Meeting with Pentagon Lawyer - He will bring his concerns to the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, and will leave that meeting hopeful that Haynes will put an end to the extreme measures being used at Guantanamo (see December 20, 2002). But when Mora returns from Christmas vacation, he will learn that Haynes has done nothing. Mora will continue to argue against the torture of detainees (see Early January, 2003). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Naval General Counsel Alberto Mora, concerned about information he has learned about detainee abuse at Guantanamo (see December 17-18, 2002), calls his friend Steven Morello, the Army’s general counsel, and asks if he knows anything about the subject. Morello replies: “I know a lot about it. Come on down.”
'The Package' - In Morello’s office, Mora views what he calls “the package”—a collection of secret military documents that outline the origins of the coercive interrogation policies at Guantanamo. It begins with a request to use more aggressive interrogation tactics at Guantanamo (see October 11, 2002). Weeks later, the new head of the detention facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, pushes senior Pentagon officials for more leeway in interrogations. On December 2, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave his approval for the use of several more intensive interrogation tactics, including the use of “hooding,” “exploitation of phobias,” “stress positions,” “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli,” and other coercive methods forbidden from use by the Army Field Manual (see December 2, 2002). Rumsfeld does withhold his approval on the use of some methods such as waterboarding.
'Ashen-faced' - Morello tells Mora, “we tried to stop it,” but was told not to ask questions. A participant in the meeting recalls that Mora was “ashen-faced” when he read the package. According to Mora’s memo, Morello, “with a furtive air,” says: “Look at this. Don’t tell anyone where you got it.” Mora later says, “I was astounded that the secretary of defense would get within 100 miles of this issue.” (Morello will later deny showing Mora a copy of the memo.) Mora is similarly unimpressed by another document in the package, a legal analysis by Army lawyer Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which he says will lead to the use of illegal torture by interrogators.
'Force Drift' - Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist Michael Gelles (see Early December, 2002) joins the meeting, and tells Mora that the Guantanamo interrogators are under intense pressure to achieve results. He tells Mora about the phenomenon of “force drift,” where interrogators using coercion begin to believe that if some force achieves results, then more force achieves better results. Mora determines to take action to bring the abuse to a close (see December 20, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, has learned that possibly illegal interrogation techniques are being used against Guantanamo Bay detainees (see December 17-18, 2002). After getting the authorization of Gordon England, the secretary of the Navy, Mora meets with the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes, in Haynes’s Pentagon office.
Meeting with Pentagon Counsel - In 2006, Mora will recall telling Haynes in the meeting that whatever its intent, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s decision to allow extreme interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002) is “torture.” Haynes replies, “No, it isn’t.” Mora asks Haynes to reconsider his opinions. For example, what does “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli” mean? Detention in a completely dark cell? For how long? Until he goes blind? And what does the phrase “exploitation of phobias” entail? Could it mean holding a detainee in a coffin? Threatening him with dogs, or rats? Can an interrogator drive a detainee insane? Mora notes that at the bottom of Rumsfeld’s memo, he asks why a detainee can be forced to stand for no longer than four hours a day when he himself often stands “for 8-10 hours a day.” While Rumsfeld may have intended to be humorous, Mora notes that Rumsfeld’s comment could be used as a defense argument in future terrorist trials. (In 2006, Lawrence Wilkerson will say of Rumsfeld’s comment: “It said, ‘Carte blanche, guys.’ That’s what started them down the slope. You’ll have My Lais then. Once you pull this thread, the whole fabric unravels.”) Mora leaves the office hoping that Haynes will come around to his point of view and convince Rumsfeld to withdraw the memo. He will be sharply disappointed (see July 7, 2004). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006] He later calls the interrogation practices “unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 179]
Haynes Close to Cheney's Office - Mora may not be aware that in meeting with Haynes, he is also in effect engaging the office of Vice President Dick Cheney. Haynes is a protege of Cheney’s neoconservative chief of staff, David Addington. Haynes worked as Addington’s special assistant when Addington served under then-Defense Secretary Cheney in 1989, and Addington promoted Haynes to the office of general counsel of the Army. When George W. Bush took office in 2001, Haynes was awarded the position of the Pentagon’s general counsel. Addington has played key roles in almost all of the administration’s legal arguments in favor of extreme interrogation techniques and detainee policies. One former government lawyer will describe Addington as “the Octopus” because his hands seem to reach into every legal issue. Many of Haynes’s colleagues know that information moves rapidly between Haynes’s and Cheney’s offices. While not a hardline neoconservative like Addington and many other Cheney staffers, Haynes is, as one former Pentagon colleague will call him, “pliant” to serving the agenda of the vice president. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, learns to his dismay that the torturing and abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay is continuing (see December 17-18, 2002), even after a meeting with the Pentagon’s chief counsel, William J. Haynes. Mora had hoped that Haynes would put a stop to the extreme techniques being used (see December 20, 2002). Mora has read an article in the Washington Post detailing allegations of CIA mistreatment of prisoners at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan; the story notes that the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, believes that US officials who knew about such treatment could be charged with crimes under the doctrine of command responsibility. [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; New Yorker, 2/27/2006] The specific allegations detailed in the story closely parallel what Mora knows were authorized at Guantanamo Bay. Mora continues to argue against the intense interrogation techniques, and his arguments quickly reach the ears of top Pentagon officials such as Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Captain Jane Dalton, the legal adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke; and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who had authorized harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo a month before (see December 2, 2002). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, meets for a second time with Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, who he had tried unsuccessfully to convince to join him in opposing the use of extreme interrogation methods at Guantanamo (see December 20, 2002). Mora will write in a June 2004 memo (see July 7, 2004) that when he tells Haynes how disappointed he is that nothing has been done to stop abuse at Guantanamo, Haynes retorts that “US officials believed the techniques were necessary to obtain information,” and that the interrogations might prevent future attacks against the US and save American lives. Mora acknowledges that he can imagine any number of “ticking bomb” scenarios where it might be the proper, if not the legal, thing to torture suspects. But, he asks, how many lives must be saved to justify torture? Hundreds? Thousands? Where do we draw the line? Shouldn’t there be a public debate on the issue? Mora is doubtful that anyone at Guantanamo would be involved in such a scenario, since almost all of the Guantanamo detainees have been in custody for over a year. He also warns Haynes that the legal opinions the administration is using will probably not stand up in court. If that is the case, then US officials could face criminal charges. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could find himself in court; the presidency itself could be damaged. “Protect your client!” he says. When Haynes relates Mora’s concerns to Rumsfeld, according to a former administration official, Rumsfeld responds with jokes about how gentle the interrogation techniques are. “Torture?” he asks rhetorically. “That’s not torture!” He himself stands for up to ten hours a day, he says, and prisoners are not allowed to stand for over four. The official will recall, “His attitude was, ‘What’s the big deal?’” Mora continues to push his arguments, but, as a former Pentagon colleague will recall: “people were beginning to roll their eyes. It was like, ‘Yeah, we’ve already heard this.’” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
The Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, is angered at the lack of response to his attempts to persuade the Pentagon to stop abusing prisoners at Guantanamo and is particularly frustrated with the Pentagon’s general counsel, William J. Haynes (see December 20, 2002 and January 9, 2003 and After). Mora decides to take a step that he knows will antagonize Haynes, who always warns subordinates never to put anything controversial in writing or in e-mail messages. Mora delivers an unsigned draft memo of his objections to Haynes, and tells him that he intends to “sign it out” that afternoon—thereby making it an official document—unless the harsh interrogation techniques at Guantanamo stop. Mora’s memo describes the interrogations at Guantanamo as “at a minimum cruel and unusual treatment, and, at worst, torture.”
'Working Group to Be Created - Haynes calls Mora later that day with good news: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is suspending his authorization of the disputed interrogation techniques (see December 2, 2002) and is appointing a “working group” of lawyers from all branches of the armed forces to develop new interrogation guidelines. Mora will be a part of that working group. An elated Mora begins working with the group of lawyers to discuss the constitutionality and effectiveness of various interrogation techniques. In 2006, he will say that he felt “no one would ever learn about the best thing I’d ever done in my life.”
Mora Outmaneuvered - But Haynes has outmaneuvered Mora. A week later, Mora sees a lengthy classified document that negates every argument he has made. Haynes has already solicited a second, overarching opinion from John Yoo, a lawyer at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, that supersedes Mora’s working group (see January 9, 2002). Mora is astonished (see January 23-Late January, 2003). He will later learn that the working group’s report will be forced to comply with Yoo’s legal reasoning. In fact, the group’s final report is never completed—though the draft report, which follows Yoo’s memo, is signed by Rumsfeld without Mora’s knowledge. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006] Mora later says that while Yoo’s memo displays a “seeming sophistication,” it is “profoundly in error,” contradicting both domestic law and international treaties. Mora and the other “dissident” members of the working group are led to believe that the report has been abandoned. [Savage, 2007, pp. 181] He will learn about Rumsfeld’s signature on the draft report while watching C-SPAN in mid-2004. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 189]
The Navy’s general counsel, Alberto Mora, is shocked when he reads a legal opinion drafted by John Yoo, of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, about techniques that can be used in prisoner interrogations (see January 9, 2002). Mora has been fighting the use of questionable techniques and was part of a working group that was reviewing them (see January 15-22, 2003). The opinion was sought by Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes and not only counters every legal and moral argument Mora has brought to bear, but supersedes the working group. Only one copy of the opinion exists, kept in the office of the Air Force’s general counsel, Mary Walker, the head of the working group.
'Catastrophically Poor Legal Reasoning' - Mora reads it in Walker’s office with mounting horror. The opinion says nothing about prohibiting cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of detainees; in fact, it defends such tactics. While sophisticated, it displays “catastrophically poor legal reasoning,” he will later recall. Mora believes that it approaches the level of the notorious Supreme Court decision in Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision that upheld the government’s detention of innocent Japanese-Americans during World War II. Mora is not aware that Yoo, like Haynes, is a member of an informal but extremely powerful “inner circle” dominated by David Addington, the chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. In fact, Yoo and Haynes are regular racquetball partners. Like Addington and Cheney, Yoo believes in virtually unrestricted executive powers during a time of war. Yoo wrote that almost any interrogation methods used against terror suspects is legally permissible, an argument that shocks Mora.
Mora's Response - In his June 2004 memo on the subject (see July 7, 2004), Mora will write, “The memo espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the President’s Commander-in-Chief authority.” Yoo’s reasoning is “profoundly in error,” Mora concludes, and is “clearly at variance with applicable law.” In 2006, Mora will add, “If everything is permissible, and almost nothing is prohibited, it makes a mockery of the law.” He writes to Walker shortly thereafter, saying that not only is Yoo’s opinion “fundamentally in error” but “dangerous,” because it has the weight of law and can only be reversed by the Attorney General or the President. Walker writes back that she disagrees, and she believes Haynes does as well. Two weeks later, Mora will discuss the memo with Yoo (see February 6, 2003). [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
Alberto Mora, the Navy’s general counsel, invites Justice Department lawyer John Yoo to his office to discuss Yoo’s recent memo defending the legality of extreme interrogation techniques used against terror suspects (see January 9, 2002). Mora has been working to put an end to such tactics at the Pentagon, but was horrified when his supervisor, Pentagon general counsel William Haynes, outflanked him with the Yoo memo (see January 23-Late January, 2003). Mora wants to know if Yoo believes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment can be allowed at Guantanamo, and if that the president’s authority to order torture is virtually unlimited. During the meeting with Yoo, Mora asks him, “Are you saying the President has the authority to order torture?” Yoo replies, “Yes.” “I don’t think so,” Mora retorts. “I’m not talking policy,” Yoo replies, “I’m just talking about the law.” Mora responds, “Well, where are we going to have the policy discussion, then?” Yoo has no idea. Perhaps it will take place within the Pentagon, where the defense-policy experts are. Mora knows that no such discussion will ever take place; the Bush administration will use Yoo’s memo to justify its support of torture. [New Yorker, 2/27/2006; Washington Post, 4/2/2008]
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 ; New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
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
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.” [New Yorker, 2/27/2006]
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) releases Defense Department documents showing that senior Pentagon officials approved harsh interrogation techniques that FBI agents termed abusive, ineffective, and unlawful. “We now possess overwhelming evidence that political and military leaders endorsed interrogation methods that violate both domestic and international law,” according to ACLU lawyer Jameel Jaffer. “It is entirely unacceptable that no senior official has been held accountable.” One document shows that FBI personnel at Guantanamo questioned harsh methods being used by military interrogators (see May 30, 2003). Another shows that senior Pentagon officials approved interrogation methods considered abusive by FBI agents (see May 5, 2004). The ACLU says that, combined with a memo from Navy general counsel Alberto Mora (see January 15-22, 2003), evidence “show[s] conclusively that Pentagon officials at the highest levels authorized the abuse of prisoners and persisted in their endorsement of unlawful interrogation methods even after FBI and Navy personnel objected to those methods orally and in writing.” The documents released by the ACLU also show that interrogators from the Department of Homeland Security identified themselves as FBI agents while using harsh methods against detainees. One FBI memo observed, “The next time a real agent tries to talk to that guy, you can imagine the result.” The documents also show that while FBI agents expressed concern about the harsh interrogation methods being employed by military and other interrogators, the FBI itself did little to counter such tactics (see January 24, 2004). [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
The Washington Post reports that at least two dozen current and former detainees at Guantanamo Bay claim that they were given drugs against their will, or witnessed other inmates being drugged. These detainees believe that they were drugged in order to force confessions of terrorist ties from them (see 2002-2005). The CIA and the Defense Department deny using drugs in their interrogations, and suggest that such claims are either lies or mistaken interpretations of routine medical treatment.
Claims Bolstered by Justice Department Memo - But the claims are bolstered by the recent revelation of a 2003 Justice Department memo that explicitly condoned the use of drugs on detainees (see March 14, 2003). The memo, written by then-Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, reversed a decades-old US ban on the use of “mind-altering substances” on prisoners. Instead, Yoo wrote, drugs could indeed be used as long as they did not inflict permanent or “profound” psychological damage. US law “does not preclude any and all use of drugs,” Yoo wrote. The claims are also given weight by a 2004 statement from the commander of a detention facility in Afghanistan, who alluded to the CIA drugging detainees (see February 2004).
Drugging Detainees a Gross Violation of Anti-Torture Treaties - Legal experts and human rights groups are calling for a full accounting, including release of detailed prison medical records. They say that forcing drugs on detainees for non-medical reasons is a particularly serious violation of international treaties banning torture. Medical ethics expert Leonard Rubinstein, the president of Physicians for Human Rights, says: “The use of drugs as a form of restraint of prisoners is both unlawful and unethical. These allegations demand a full inquiry by Congress and the Department of Justice.” Scott Allen, the co-director of the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, says that there are no accepted medical standards for the use of drugs to interrogate or subjugate prisoners. Any such use “would have to be considered an experimental use of medicine.… The involvement of physicians and other health professionals in such a program would be a profound betrayal of medical trust and needs to be investigated further.” The Geneva Conventions do not specifically refer to drugs, but they ban any use of force or coercion in interrogating prisoners of war. Law professor Barbara Olshansky, the author of a book on military tribunals, says: “If you’re talking about interrogations, you’re talking about very specific prohibitions that mean you cannot use any force, at all, to interrogate someone. The law is beyond clear.”
Team of Guards Present - When inmates were injected or forced to take pills, former detainees claim, the personnel administering the drugs were always accompanied by a squad of specially equipped guards known as the “Immediate Reaction Force” to handle any possible violent reactions from the drugged inmates. One former detainee who was later released without charge, Ruhel Ahmed, recalls that the guards wore padded gear and “forced us to have injections.” Ahmed recalls, “You are not allowed to refuse it and you don’t know what it is for.” He says he was given about a dozen injections, which “had the effect of making me feel very drowsy.”
No Solid Evidence of Claims - No evidence of such drugging is known to the public, outside of detainee claims of effects from the injections that range from unnatural drowsiness to full-blown hallucinations. Former US intelligence officials have acknowledged giving sedatives to terror suspects before transporting them from one facility to another (see May 1, 2002). Former Navy general counsel Alberto Mora, who attempted without success to resist the Bush administration’s decision to use harsh interrogation tactics against detainees (see December 17-18, 2002), says he knows of no instances where detainees were drugged as part of their questioning. However, he adds, the detainees “knew they were being injected with something, and it is clear from all accounts that some suffered severe psychological damage.” Emi MacLean, a lawyer for the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization which represents dozens of current and former detainees, says that many former detainees have clear and disturbing memories of being forcibly drugged. “Many speak about forced medication at Guantanamo without knowledge about what medication they were being forced to take,” MacLean says. “For some released [military] detainees, the forced medication they experienced was the most traumatic part” of their captivity. Other detainees have claimed, in interviews and statements provided by their lawyers, to have had injections and/or pills forcibly administered to them. One former detainee, French national Mourad Benchellali, says that during his three years at Guantanamo he was given treatments that were described to him as antibiotics or vitamins, yet they left him in what he describes as a mental fog. “These medicines gave us headaches, nausea, drowsiness,” Benchellali recalls. “But the effects were different for different detainees. Some fainted or threw up. Some had reactions such as pimples.” Other injections, often administered by force, left him and other detainees nauseated and light-headed, he says. “We were always tired and always felt groggy.” Detainee Moazzam Begg says that he believes he was given legitimate medications, but in improper dosages by poorly trained prison workers. Once, while being treated with pills for a panic attack, he began to hallucinate. “I saw things moving when they were not,” he recalls. “I talked to myself. I cried, laughed and sat immobile in a corner for hours. All of this was noted by the MPs and recorded.”
Use of Hallucinogens on Recalcitrant Prisoners? - Benchellali says that a different type of injection was used on detainees who were particularly uncooperative. His recollections are echoed by statements from four other detainees. “The injection would make them crazy,” he recalls. “They would have a crisis or dementia—yelling, no longer sleeping, soiling themselves. Some of us suspected they were given LSD.” Center for Constitutional Rights attorney J. Wells Dixon says the government seems to have given drugs to detainees whose extended captivity made them distraught or rebellious. “Many of these men have become desperately suicidal,” Dixon says. “And the government’s response has been to administer more medication, often without the consent of the prisoners.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights, Center for Constitutional Rights, Barbara Olshansky, Alberto Mora, Emi MacLean, J. Wells Dixon, Mourad Benchellali, Scott Allen, Physicians for Human Rights, Geneva Conventions, Moazzam Begg, US Department of Justice, Leonard Rubinstein, US Department of Defense, Rhuhel Ahmed
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Alberto Mora, the former general counsel for the Navy and a harsh critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see January 23-Late January, 2003), says: “I will tell you this: I will tell you that General Anthony [Antonio] Taguba, who investigated Abu Ghraib, feels now that the proximate cause of Abu Ghraib were the OLC memoranda that authorized abusive treatment (see November 6-10, 2001 and August 1, 2002). And I will also tell you that there are general-rank officers who’ve had senior responsibility within the Joint Staff or counterterrorism operations who believe that the number one and number two leading causes of US combat deaths in Iraq have been, number one, Abu Ghraib, number two, Guantanamo, because of the effectiveness of these symbols in helping recruit jihadists into the field and combat against American soldiers.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.