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Torture Hearing in Congress, Witness List

The Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties held a hearing on the role that Bush administration lawyers played in, as Chair Jerrold Nadler’s press release said, “creating abusive interrogation policies [torture] that have resulted in the widespread abuse [torture] of detainees in U.S. custody and control.”

The witnesses debunked the “ticking time bomb” scenario so often used to justify torture:

“Radio silence was the response when today’s witnesses were asked to identify a single example of a true ‘ticking bomb’ scenario ever occurring, even though such scenarios are often invoked to justify torture,” Congressman John Conyers said. “These scholars, who have studied this issue extensively and have intimate knowledge of the legal authority the administration sought, could not identify a single example. I hope that the administration officials who have agreed to testify will shed some light on this and many other questions raised in today’s hearing.”


  • Professor Phillipe Sands described the impact of US interrogation policies and legal opinions on our standing around the world, recounting how a foreign president had pulled out a copy of a John Yoo legal opinion as evidence that US law permitted torture.
  • Georgetown Professor David Luban testified that the John Yoo interrogation opinions were so flawed – full of “hot air” in his words – that US agents were “misled” into believing their actions were lawful and people in US custody “may have suffered cruel and illegal treatment because of these memos.”
  • Professor Sands described an important visit by senior administration lawyers to Guantanamo Bay in 2002 – vice presidential aide David Addington was on this trip and Sands described him as the “leader of the pack.” Former Defense Department general counsel Jim Haynes was also on this trip, and Sands testified at length about how Mr. Haynes and the administration had improperly blamed junior personnel at Guantanamo for initiating and legally approving aggressive interrogation techniques when in fact, Professor Sands testified, those techniques were pushed from the top of the administration and based on legal approval from the John Yoo August 2002 memorandum.

Watch the hearing here.

Before the hearing the Subcommittee considered, and approved by voice vote, a resolution to authorize the Committee Chair to issue subpoenas to compel Dick Cheney’s (another invited witness) Chief of Staff David Addington. Other witnesses — former Attorney General John Ashcroft and the torture memo author John Yoo — have agreed to testify. According to Nadler’s press release, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, former CIA Director George Tenet, and former Assistant Attorney General Daniel Levin “remain in dialougue about their availability.” Hmmm…. Maybe we should send Feith, Tenet, Levin, Cheney and Addington “save the date” cards to discuss torture so they don’t over-book their schedules. I’m sure their dance cards are quite full!

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May 11, 2008 Posted by | Torture News, Yoo Torture Memo | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Torture Paper Trail: from legal memos to pleas for help

Human Rights Watch has released a new report — Double Jeopardy: CIA Renditions to Jordan — which reports that the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) transferred at least 14 terrorist suspects to Jordanian custody for interrogation and torture since the September 11, 2001 attacks:

Based largely on firsthand information from Jordanian former prisoners who were detained with the non-Jordanian terrorism suspects, the report describes eight previously unknown cases of rendition. The new cases include Ibrahim Abu Muath al-Jeddawi, whose statements may have been relied upon as evidence in US status review proceedings at Guantanamo Bay, and Khayr al-Din al-Jazaeri, whose alleged activities were mentioned in a high-profile terrorism prosecution in France. None are known to have been charged with a criminal offense.

The report also excerpts a handwritten note from one of the rendered prisoners, Ali al-Hajj al-Sharqawi, which he wrote while in Jordanian custody in late 2002. The note, which al-Sharqawi marked with his thumbprint, says that GID interrogators beat him “in a way that does not know any limits.”


The note continues: “They threatened me with electricity, with snakes and dogs …. [They said] we’ll make you see death …. They threatened to rape me.”

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) plans to hold a May 6th hearing to examine the Yoo torture memo and “the issue of executive power as it relates to interrogation an war-making authority. Conyers also sent a letter today to Berkeley professor John Yoo asking him to testify at the hearing. Read his letter to Yoo here.

When the Yoo memo was released Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) made exactly this point in his 04/01/08 statement: It has been more than four months since I asked the White House — again — to declassify the secret Justice Department opinions on interrogation practices. Today’s declassification of one such memo is a small step forward, but in no way fulfills those requests. The administration continues to shield several memos even from members of Congress. The memo they have declassified today reflects the expansive view of executive power that has been the hallmark of this administration.

The Washington Post reports on the still hidden torture memos:

The release last week of a Justice Department memo that authorized the military to pursue harsh interrogation techniques torture has ignited new demands for documents that underpin the Bush administration’s most sensitive policies, including the treatment of detainees and the warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens. [correction mine]

One psychologist’s campaign to change the American Psychological Association’s participation in torture. Psychologist Steven Reisner is currently running for president of the APA. Reisner writes:

“My candidacy calls for a clear departure from the complicity of psychologists in state-sponsored abuses of human rights, whether these take place at Guantánamo, CIA black sites, or domestic supermax prisons.

I have been told that psychologists might fear for their jobs if we hold to a principled stance on detainees’ basic human rights. I fear for our nation and our profession if we don’t. And I hope that there are enough psychologists who feel similarly to me, so that the APA might at last join the other health professions in unambiguously opposing the practices that have brought shame to our profession and our nation.”

April 11, 2008 Posted by | Torture News, Yoo Torture Memo | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment