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Profile: Judge Advocate General School (JAGS)

Judge Advocate General School (JAGS) was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

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