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Profile: Jonathan Turley
“It is not surprising the authorities are building a death row because they have said they plan to try capital cases before these tribunals. This camp was created to execute people. The administration has no interest in long term prison sentences for people it regards as hard-core terrorists.”
[Courier Mail, 5/26/2003]
Jonathan Turley was a participant or observer in the following events:
In the days following the capture of al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002), a group of top White House officials, the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, begins a series of meetings that result in the authorization of specific torture methods against Zubaida and other detainees. The top secret talks and meetings eventually approve such methods to be used by CIA agents against high-value terrorism suspects. The US media will not learn of this until six years later (see April 9, 2008). The Principals Committee meetings are chaired by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and attendees include Vice President Dick Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. Tenet’s successor, Porter Goss, will also participate in the meetings. Sometimes deputies attend in place of their superiors. Rice’s group not only discusses and approves specific “harsh” methods of interrogation, but also approves the use of “combined” interrogation techniques on suspects who prove recalcitrant. The approved techniques include slapping and shoving prisoners, sleep deprivation, and waterboarding, or simulated drowning, a technique banned for decades by the US military. Some of the discussions of the interrogation sessions are so detailed that the Principals Committee virtually choreographs the sessions down to the number of times CIA agents can use specific tactics. [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008] The Principals Committee also ensures that President Bush is not involved in the meetings, thereby granting him “deniability” over the decisions, though Bush will eventually admit to being aware of the decisions (see April 11, 2008). The Principals Committee, particularly Cheney, is described by a senior intelligence official as “deeply immersed” in the specifics of the decisions, often viewing demonstrations of how specific tactics work. [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Imminent Threat Calls for Extreme Measures - The move towards using harsh and likely illegal interrogation tactics begins shortly after the capture of Zubaida in late March 2002 (see Late March through Early June, 2002 and March 28, 2002). Zubaida is seen as a potentially critical source of information about potential attacks similar to 9/11. He is kept in a secret CIA prison where he recovers from the wounds suffered during his capture, and where he is repeatedly questioned. However, he is allegedly uncooperative with his inquisitors, and CIA officials want to use more physical and aggressive techniques to force him to talk (see March 28, 2002-Mid-2004 and April - June 2002). The CIA briefs the Principals Committee, chaired by Rice, and the committee signs off on the agency’s plan to use more extreme interrogation methods on Zubaida. After Zubaida is waterboarded (see April - June 2002), CIA officials tell the White House that he provided information leading to the capture of two other high-level al-Qaeda operatives, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Late 2002 and May 2002-2003). The committee approves of waterboarding as well as a number of “combined” interrogation methods, basically a combination of harsh techniques to use against recalcitrant prisoners.
The 'Golden Shield' - The committee asks the Justice Department to determine whether using such methods would violate domestic or international laws. “No one at the agency wanted to operate under a notion of winks and nods and assumptions that everyone understood what was being talked about,” a second senior intelligence official will recall in 2008. “People wanted to be assured that everything that was conducted was understood and approved by the folks in the chain of command.” In August 2002, Justice Department lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel will write a memo that gives formal legal authority to government interrogators to use harsh, abusive methods on detainees (see August 1, 2002). The memo is called the “Golden Shield” for CIA agents who worry that they could be held criminally liable if the harsh, perhaps tortuous interrogations ever become public knowledge. CIA veterans remember how everything from the Vietnam-era “Phoenix Program” of assassinations to the Iran-Contra arms sales of the 1980s were portrayed as actions of a “rogue,” “out-of-control” CIA; this time, they intend to ensure that the White House and not the agency is given ultimate responsibility for authorizing extreme techniques against terror suspects. Tenet demands White House approval for the use of the methods, even after the Justice Department issues its so-called “Golden Shield” memo explicitly authorizing government interrogators to torture suspected terrorists (see August 1, 2002). Press sources will reveal that Tenet, and later Goss, convey requests for specific techniques to be used against detainees to the committee (see Summer 2003). One high-ranking official will recall: “It kept coming up. CIA wanted us to sign off on each one every time. They’d say: ‘We’ve got so and so. This is the plan.’” The committee approves every request. One source will say of the discussions: “These discussions weren’t adding value. Once you make a policy decision to go beyond what you used to do and conclude it’s legal, [you should] just tell them to implement it.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008] In April 2008, law professor Jonathan Turley will say: “[H]ere you have the CIA, which is basically saying, ‘We’re not going to have a repeat of the 1970s, where you guys have us go exploding cigars and trying to take out leaders and then you say you didn’t know about it.’ So the CIA has learned a lot. So these meetings certainly cover them in that respect.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008] A former senior intelligence official will say, “If you looked at the timing of the meetings and the memos you’d see a correlation.” Those who attended the dozens of meetings decided “there’d need to be a legal opinion on the legality of these tactics” before using them on detainees. [Associated Press, 4/10/2008]
Ashcroft Uneasy at White House Involvement - Ashcroft in particular is uncomfortable with the discussions of harsh interrogation methods that sometimes cross the line into torture, though his objections seem more focused on White House involvement than on any moral, ethical, or legal problems. After one meeting, Ashcroft reportedly asks: “Why are we talking about this in the White House? History will not judge this kindly.” However, others in the discussions, particularly Rice, continue to support the torture program. Even after Jack Goldsmith, the chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), withdraws the “Golden Shield” memo and after Powell begins arguing that the torture program is harming the image of the US abroad, when CIA officials ask to continue using particular torture techniques, Rice responds: “This is your baby. Go do it.”
Reaction after Press Learns of Meetings - After the press learns of the meetings (see April 9, 2008), the only person involved who will comment will be Powell, who will say through an assistant that there were “hundreds of [Principals Committee] meetings” on a wide variety of topics and that he is “not at liberty to discuss private meetings.” [ABC News, 4/9/2008; Associated Press, 4/10/2008; ABC News, 4/11/2008]
Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Porter J. Goss, US Department of Justice, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Principals Committee, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Jack Goldsmith, John Ashcroft, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Jonathan Turley, National Security Council
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
National Security Council lawyer John Bellinger. [Source: New York Times]The CIA meets three White House officials to discuss what to do with videotapes it has made of detainee interrogations (see Spring-Late 2002). The CIA wants to destroy the tapes, so it briefs the officials on them and asks their advice. The officials are:
Alberto Gonzales, White House counsel until early 2005, when he will become attorney general;
David Addington, counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney;
John Bellinger, senior lawyer at the National Security Council;
There are conflicting accounts of the advice the lawyers give the CIA. One source will say there was “vigorous sentiment” among some unnamed top White House officials to destroy the tapes. They apparently want to destroy the tapes in 2005 because they could be damaging in the light of the Abu Ghraib scandal (see April 28, 2004). Other sources will say nobody at the White House advocates destroying the tapes. However, it seems none of the lawyers gives a direct order to preserve the tapes or says their destruction would be illegal. [New York Times, 12/19/2007] A source familiar with Bellinger’s account will say, “The clear recommendation of Bellinger and the others was against destruction of the tapes… The recommendation in 2003 from the White House was that the tapes should not be destroyed.” [Associated Press, 12/20/2007] When CIA Director Michael Hayden informs legislators of these discussions in late 2007, he will say that upon being informed high-ranking CIA officials are demanding the tapes be destroyed, the lawyers “consistently counseled caution.” The Washington Post will comment: “The ambiguity in the phrasing of Hayden’s account left unresolved key questions about the White House’s role. While his account suggests an ambivalent White House view toward the tapes, other intelligence officials recalled White House officials being more emphatic at the first meeting that the videos should not be destroyed. Also unexplained is why the issue was discussed at the White House without apparent resolution for more than a year.” [Washington Post, 12/20/2007] Another White House official, Harriet Miers, is also consulted around this time and is said to advise against the tapes’ destruction (see Between 2003-Late 2005). [New York Times, 12/19/2007] When it is revealed that these officials were consulted, Law professor Jonathan Turley will comment: “[T]his is a very significant development, because it shows that this was not just some rogue operator at the CIA that destroyed evidence being sought by Congress and the courts. It shows that this was a planned destruction, that there were meetings and those meetings extended all the way to the White House, and included Alberto Gonzalez, who would soon become attorney general and Harriet Miers, who would become White House counsel. That’s a hair’s breath away from the president himself.” [CNN, 12/19/2007]
Constitutional lawyers and experts believe that the Supreme Court will not accept the petition to reopen the landmark US v Reynolds case (see February 26, 2003 and May 30, 2003). Kate Martin of the Center for National Security Studies says that the petition is essentially frivolous, and says of the claim that Reynolds was decided on the basis of a fraudulent government presentation: “That the facts of the original case are not true is irrelevant to the state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). The idea that it undercuts the privilege is ridiculous. Often in cases, after they’re decided, the facts are proven not to be true. That’s the nature of the legal system. Sometimes people lie. Sometimes there’s new information.” Law professor Jonathan Turley is more sympathetic to the petition, but agrees that the Supreme Court will probably not hear it: “For the Supreme Court to address the fact clearly that it had been lied to would open difficult issues.… The Court used the facts of Reynolds to say the government could be trusted.… Reynolds was based on trust, on willful blinders. There’s much danger in going back now, in recognizing that the government routinely lies. They’re not going to face that. They won’t reopen this. I think Reynolds is like discovering an unfaithful wife after fifty years of marriage. You’re hurt by the betrayal, but you can’t turn back half a century. You preserve the marriage for the children’s sake” (see December 1980, September 1982, November 1984, January 1990, June 13, 1991, and September 16, 1992). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 266-267]
Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley writes a sardonic take on the just-starting Lewis Libby trial (see January 16-23, 2007), and notes that the trial has no heroes, only villains and victims. Indeed, he writes, the trial can best be summed up in terms of the classical Seven Deadly Sins. There is, Turley writes, no “person of unalloyed virtue to serve as a standard for judging the rest. In fact, the case now reads like a political parable of the seven deadly sins, with each of the main characters being undone by a fundamental personality flaw.” Pride, he writes, is summed up in the person of President Bush, whose pride, or hubris, led him to use falsified intelligence to order the invasion of Iraq. Sloth is summed up in Congress’s failure to adequately investigate the hollow claims advanced by the administration in support of the war. Turley accuses the victims, Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame Wilson, of a certain level of gluttony, writing that they “seemed to succumb to the allure of their newfound celebrity” after the long-running story turned them into media stars. Wrath, he writes, is framed in the person of Vice President Dick Cheney: angry at Wilson for revealing the falsehoods behind the Iraq war claims (see July 6, 2003), Cheney ordered him besmirched and discredited, an order that resulted in the outing of Wilson’s wife as a CIA official. Envy, Turley says, is personified by former New York Times reporter Judith Miller, whom he claims used her rising celebrity status to inject herself into the administration’s case for war with Iraq. He pins the sin of lust on prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, accusing the government attorney of being far too eager to bring journalists in front of his grand jury and, presumably, into the Libby courtroom. And while many in the scenario can be justifiably accused of displaying the sin of greed, Turley writes, he saves this last deadly sin for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, whom he writes was “blinded by self-advancement,” failing to acknowledge his own involvement in outing Plame Wilson even as he mocked and derided the investigation into her exposure. Turley calls the trial “the perfect Washington morality play.” [Salon, 1/16/2007]
In a setback for the Justice Department, a mistrial is declared in the government’s attempted prosecution of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (see 1989), a now-defunct Muslim charity that the government accused of sponsoring terrorism back in 2001. The mistrial was not the first verdict sent down; the judge originally announced a near-complete acquittal of Holy Land’s top officials on terrorist financing charges. However, three jurors stated in court that the verdict was incorrect, the judge sent the jury back into chambers for further deliberations. A mistrial of four Holy Land officials is declared after the jury declares itself locked, and a fifth official is declared innocent of all but one charge, where the jury again finds itself unable to render a verdict. The mistrials and acquittals are a blow to the Justice Department and the White House, both of which have billed the prosecution of Holy Land as the best efforts in years to secure a clear victory against terrorism. “It’s a major loss for the government,” says law professor Jonathan Turley, who has himself represented alleged terrorist financiers against the Justice Department. The case was never as solid as it was presented by government officials. In 2001, after Holy Land was declared a terrorist sponsor by the Bush administration and its funds were frozen (see February 19, 2000 and December 4, 2001), civil libertarians called the government’s definition of sponsorship of terrorism overly broad, and Holy Land fought back in court. In 2004, the government indicted Holy Land and its top leaders, leveling accusations that the charity and its officials had funnelled $12 million to the terrorist group Hamas through secondary charities (see October 1994-2001, May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004 and December 18, 2002-April 2005). A summary of wiretapped conversations between charity officials contained inflammatory anti-Semitic statements, which bolstered the government’s case in the public eye, but when the actual transcripts were examined, no such anti-Semitic statements could be found. And the government’s strategy of adding a long list of “unindicted co-conspirators” to its allegations against Holy Land, a list which includes many prominent Muslim organizations still legally operating inside the US, has caused many to accuse the government of conducting a smear campaign (see December 3-14, 2001 and August 21, 2004). While the Justice Department may well retry the case, the verdict, which seems to favor the defendants, “doesn’t bode well for the government’s prosecution” of this and other similar cases, says export controls lawyer Judith Lee. [US News and World Report, 10/22/2007]
The Justice Department urges a federal judge not to begin an inquiry into the destruction of CIA videotapes in a case involving 11 Guantanamo Bay detainees. The judge in the case, Henry Kennedy, had previously issued a ruling that evidence related to the detainees should be preserved (see June-July 2005). After attorneys for the detainees file a motion saying the CIA’s destruction of the tapes “raises grave concerns about the government’s compliance with the preservation order entered by this court,” the administration argues it was not under an obligation to preserve the videotapes and tells US District Judge Kennedy that asking for information about the tapes’ destruction could “potentially complicate” a Justice Department inquiry into it. The Justice Department also says the judge lacks jurisdiction and is worried he will compel CIA officers to testify. In addition, the destroyed tapes were made outside Guantanamo, whereas the order previously issued by the judge only directly affected material in Guantanamo. However, evidence from “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant” is being used against one of the detainees, and this lieutenant may have been shown on the destroyed tapes, making them relevant to the case. The Associated Press calls the Justice Department’s request “unusual,” and law professor Douglas Kmiec comments, “It’s hard to know on the surface whether this is obstruction or an advancement of a legitimate inquiry.” [New York Times, 12/11/2007; Associated Press, 12/15/2007] Another law professor, Jonathon Turley, comments: “The Justice Department insists it will essentially investigate itself and then tells the court that because it is investigating itself it won’t turn over evidence of its possible criminal misconduct. It’s so circular, it’s maddening.” [ABC News, 12/15/2007] In early January 2008, Kennedy will decline to hold a hearing into the destruction, saying that the destroyed tapes were not directly related to this case, as they were not made in Guantanamo. He is also “influenced by the assurances of the Department of Justice” that its criminal investigation will cover the issue of whether the tapes’ destruction “was inconsistent with or violated any legal obligations.” [New York Times, 1/10/2008]
Speaking on CNN, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley outlines the criminal offenses that may have been committed in the scandal surrounding the destruction of CIA videotapes showing detainee interrogations: “There are at least six identifiable crimes from obstruction of justice to obstruction of congress, perjury, conspiracy and false statements. What is often forgotten, the crime of torturing suspects. Now, if that crime was committed, it was a crime that would conceivably be ordered by the president himself, only the president can order those types of special treatments or interrogation techniques.” [CNN, 12/19/2007]
Law professor Jonathan Turley, discussing recent revelations that top White House officials regularly met to discuss and approve torture methods for terror suspects in US custody (see April 2002 and After and April 11, 2008), says: “What you have are a bunch of people talking about what is something that’s a crime. For those of us who look at the criminal code and see torture for what it is, this is like a meeting of the Bada Bing club. These people are sitting around regularly talking about something defined as a crime. Then you have [former Attorney General] John Ashcroft standing up and saying, maybe we shouldn’t be talking about this at the White House. Well, obviously, that’s quite disturbing. It shows that this was a program, not just some incident, not just someone going too far. It was a torture program, implemented by the United States of America and approved as the very highest level. And it goes right to the president’s desk. And it’s notable that this group wanted to get lawyers to sign off on this, and they found those lawyers, people like Jay Bybee and John Yoo (see August 1, 2002). And those people were handsomely rewarded. In Bybee’s case, he became a federal judge after signing off on a rather grotesque memo that said that they could do everything short of causing organ failure or death.” Asked if what the White House officials did could lead to war crimes prosecutions, Turley answers: “It’s always been a war crimes trial ready to happen. But Congress is like a convention of Claude Rains actors. Everyone’s saying, we’re shocked, shocked; there’s torture being discussed in the White House. But no one is doing anything about it. So what we have is the need for someone to get off the theater and move to the actual in going and trying to investigate these crimes.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008]
President Bush admits he knew about his National Security Council Principals Committee’s discussion and approval of harsh interrogation methods against certain terror suspects (see April 2002 and After). Earlier reports had noted that the Principals—a group of top White House officials led by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice—had deliberately kept Bush “out of the loop” in order for him to maintain “deniability.” Bush tells a reporter: “Well, we started to connect the dots in order to protect the American people. And yes, I’m aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved.” Bush says that the news of those meetings to consider extreme interrogation methods was not “startling.” He admitted as far back as 2006 that such techniques were being used by the CIA (see September 6, 2006). But only now does the news of such direct involvement by Bush’s top officials become public knowledge. The Principals approved the waterboarding of several terror suspects, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003 and March 10, 2007); Bush defends the use of such extreme measures against Mohammed, saying: “We had legal opinions that enabled us to do it. And no, I didn’t have any problem at all trying to find out what Khalid Shaikh Mohammed knew.… I think it’s very important for the American people to understand who Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was. He was the person who ordered the suicide attack—I mean, the 9/11 attacks.” [ABC News, 4/11/2008] Bush’s admission is no surprise. The day before Bush makes his remarks, law professor Jonathan Turley said: “We really don’t have much of a question about the president’s role here. He’s never denied that he was fully informed of these measures. He, in fact, early on in his presidency—he seemed to brag that they were using harsh and tough methods. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that he was aware of this. The doubt is simply whether anybody cares enough to do anything about it.” [MSNBC, 4/10/2008]
Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley discusses the Bush-era Justice Department torture memos released by the Obama administration (see April 16, 2009). Turley is interviewed by MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, who notes that as the memos were being released, President Obama said, “This is a time for reflection, not retribution; nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” She wonders if Obama means he won’t prosecute CIA officers who carried out the orders to torture prisoners, or if he means he won’t prosecute the civilian officials who sanctioned torture. Turley is not sure. “But what is really disturbing is that President Obama’s obviously referring to criminal investigation and prosecution,” he says, “that somehow he’s equating the enforcement of federal laws that he took an oath to enforce, to uphold the Constitution and our laws—and he’s equating that with an act of retribution, and some sort of hissy fit or blame game. You know, it’s not retribution to enforce criminal laws. But it is obstruction to prevent that enforcement and that is exactly what he has done thus far. He is trying to lay the groundwork, to look principled when he’s doing an utterly unprincipled thing. There’s very few things worse for a president to do than to protect accused war criminals, and that’s what we’re talking about here. President Obama himself has said that waterboarding is torture. And torture violates at least four treaties and is considered a war crime. So, the refusal to let it be investigated is to try to obstruct a war crime investigation. That puts it in the same category as Serbia and other countries that have refused to allow investigations to occur.” It is not up to a president to decide who gets prosecuted for breaking a law and who does not, Turley notes, and adds: “[W]hat’s amazing is that we’ve gotten used to senators and our president and the attorney general talking about whether it’s a convenient time, whether this is a good time for us to investigate, whether we’ve got other things to do. There aren’t any convenient or inconvenient times to investigate war crimes. You don’t have a choice. You don’t wait for the perfect moment. You have an obligation to do it. And what I think the president is desperately trying to do is to sell this idea that somehow it’s a principled thing not to investigate war crimes because it’s going to really be painful. And, quite frankly, I think the motive is obvious. He knows that it will be politically unpopular, because an investigation will go directly to the doorstep of President Bush and he knows it. And there’s not going to be a lot of defenses that could be raised for ordering a torture program.” [MSNBC, 4/17/2009]
Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley writes of the “interesting” statement then-President Bush made in the days preceding the US invasion of Iraq. Bush told the Iraqi military and its citizenry, “War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished, and it will be no defense to say, ‘I was just following orders’” (see March 17, 2003). Turley also notes Bush’s statement against torture made three months after the invasion (see June 26, 2003). According to Turley, “Bush gave a standard that showed that he and his administration knew that there is no ‘good faith defense’ in committing war crimes.” [Jonathan Turley, 4/29/2009]
Provisions for indefinite detention included in the 2012 “National Defense Authorization Act,” an annual ‘must pass’ defense spending bill, begin to generate controversy soon after the proposed text is published. The language drafted by the Senate Armed Services Committee provides for indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of essentially anyone accused of supporting or being associated with groups “engaged in hostilities” with the United States, including US citizens. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) begins monitoring the proceedings and urging the public to oppose the bill. [ACLU.org, 7/6/2011] Other civil liberties and human rights groups will follow suit, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. The ACLU, CCR, and HRW point out that indefinite detention without charge or trial has not been codified since the McCarthy era. [ConstitutionCampaign.org, 12/6/2011; HRW.org, 12/15/2011; CCRJustice.org, 1/4/2012; Amnesty International, 1/5/2012] Constitutional experts Jonathan Turley and Glenn Greenwald will repeatedly condemn the bill’s indefinite military detention provisions. [Jonathan Turley, 1/2/2012; Salon, 12/15/2012] Two retired four-star Marine Generals, Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar, will criticize the NDAA’s indefinite detention provision in an op-ed published in the New York Times, writing that under the law, “Due process would be a thing of the past.” And, “[T]his provision would expand the battlefield to include the United States—and hand Osama bin Laden an unearned victory long after his well-earned demise.” [New York Times, 12/13/2011] Congress will pass the bill on December 15 (see December 15, 2011) and President Obama will sign it into law on December 31 (see December 31, 2011). A poll conducted shortly after the bill is passed by Congress will find that only one in four likely voters support the NDAA (see December 22-26, 2011). After the bill is signed into law, states and municipalities will begin to pass laws and resolutions opposing the bill (see December 31, 2011 and After).
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