warprompts

Torture in the House: Marjorie Cohn’s Testimony

Read an excerpt from Marjorie Cohn’s testimony before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

She speaks of the law and torture…

What does torture have in common with genocide, slavery, and wars of aggression? They are all jus cogens. That’s Latin for “higher law” or “compelling law.” This means that no country can ever pass a law that allows torture. There can be no immunity from criminal liability for violation of a jus cogens prohibition.

The United States has always prohibited torture in our Constitution, laws, executive statements, judicial decisions, and treaties. When the U.S. ratifies a treaty, it becomes part of American law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

Whether someone is a POW or not, he must always be treated humanely; there are no gaps in the Geneva Conventions.

The U.S. War Crimes Act, and 18 USC sections 818 and 3231, punish torture, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, and inhuman, humiliating or degrading treatment.

The Torture Statute criminalizes the commission, attempt, or conspiracy to commit torture outside the United States.

John Yoo’s criminal role…

The Constitution gives Congress the power to make laws and the President the duty to enforce them. Yet Bush, relying on memos by lawyers including John Yoo, announced the Geneva Conventions did not apply to alleged Taliban and Al Qaeda members. But torture and inhumane treatment are never allowed under our laws.

Justice Department lawyers wrote memos at the request of Bush officials to insulate them from prosecution for torture. In memos dated August 1, 2002 and March 14, 2003, John Yoo wrote the DOJ would not enforce U.S. laws against torture, assault, maiming and stalking, in the detention and interrogation of enemy combatants.

The maiming statute makes it a crime for someone “with the intent to torture, maim, or disfigure” to “cut, bite, or slit the nose, ear or lip, or cut out or disable the tongue, or put out or destroy an eye, or cut off or disable a limb, or any member of another person” or throw or pour upon another person any scalding water, corrosive acid, or caustic substance.

Yoo said, “just because the statute says — that doesn’t mean you have to do it.” In a debate with Notre Dame Professor Doug Cassell, Yoo said there is no treaty that prohibits the President from torturing someone by crushing the testicles of the person’s child. It depends on the President’s motive, Yoo said, notwithstanding the absolute prohibition on torture.

Yoo twisted the law and redefined torture much more narrowly than the Torture Convention and the Torture Statute. Under Yoo’s definition, you have to nearly kill the person to constitute torture.

Yoo wrote that self-defense or necessity could be defenses to war crimes prosecutions, notwithstanding the Torture Convention’s absolute prohibition against torture in all circumstances.

DOJ Memos…

After the August 1, 2002 memo was made public, the DOJ knew it was indefensible. It was withdrawn as of June 1, 2004, and a new opinion, dated December 30, 2004, specifically rejected Yoo’s definition of torture, and admitted that a defendant’s motives to protect national security won’t shield him from prosecution. The rescission of the prior memo is an admission by the DOJ that the legal reasoning was wrong. But for the 22 months it was in effect, it sanctioned and caused the torture of myriad prisoners.

Yoo and other DOJ lawyers were part of a common plan to violate U.S. and international laws outlawing torture. It was reasonably foreseeable their advice would result in great physical or mental harm or death to many detainees. Indeed, more than 100 have died, many from torture. Yoo admitted recently he knew interrogators would take action based on what he advised.

The torture architects and their liability…

Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and micromanaged the torture by approving specific torture techniques such as waterboarding. Bush admitted he knew and approved of their actions.

They are all liable under the War Crimes Act and the Torture Statute. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, commanders, all the way up the chain of command to the commander in chief, are liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them, and they did nothing to stop or prevent it. The Bush officials ordered the torture after seeking legal cover from their lawyers.

The President can no more order the commission of torture than he can order the commission of genocide, or establish a system of slavery, or wage a war of aggression.

A Select Committee of Congress should launch an immediate and thorough investigation of the circumstances under which torture was authorized and rationalized. The high officials of our government, and the lawyers who advised them, should be investigated and prosecuted by a Special Prosecutor, independent of the Justice Department, for their roles in misusing the rule of law and legal analysis to justify torture and other crimes in flagrant violation of our laws.



Advertisements

June 1, 2008 Posted by | Torture News, Yoo Torture Memo | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torture to American Voices

Another British citizen accuses British officials “outsourcing” his torture. He also describes hearing the sounds of American and British voices while being tortured:

The fourth man to claim that he was tortured after being detained in Pakistan during a British-led counter-terrorism investigation is an alleged al-Qaida terrorist from the West Midlands. He says that for several months the ISI [Pakistan’s intelligence agency] kept him in a pitch-black cell not much bigger than a coffin, and that he was brought out to be beaten, whipped and subjected to electric shocks. On one occasion, he alleges, he was kept hooded and interrogated by people speaking English, with both British and American accents…

[H]is claims follow similar allegations made by three other British citizens of Pakistani origin. These men all say they suffered severe torture at secret ISI interrogation centres shortly before receiving questioning by British counter-terrorism officials.

The latest man to allege British collusion in his torture had been living in Pakistan for almost four years when he was picked up by the ISI two years ago, during a British-led counter-terrorism operation.

“He said he had been interrogated by westerners, but didn’t specify whether they were British or American,” said his lawyer. “He was not well treated during interrogation.”

The 27-year-old’s family say he gave a detailed account of mistreatment after being brought to court on a number of occasions. His brother said: “He described being dragged off a bus and having the living daylights beaten out of him. At first he was held in what he called a ‘grave cell’. It was like a coffin: there was so little room that when he was lying down if he brought up his knees they touched the roof.

“He told me that one time, when he was being beaten, he could hear English and American accents in the room with him. He had a hood over his head but he knows what an English accent sounds like.”

A court in Pakistan eventually ruled that there was insufficient evidence to convict the man on terrorism charges.

It’s never a good sign when John Ashcroft is the conscience of the group. Ted Rall writes in his piece, Arrest Bush

“Why are we talking about this in the White House?” John Ashcroft nervously asked his fellow members of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. (The Principals were Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General Ashcroft.)

“History will not judge this kindly,” Ashcroft predicted.

“This” is torture. Against innocent people. Conducted by CIA agents and American soldiers and marines. Sanctioned by legal opinions issued by Ashcroft’s Justice Department. Directly ordered by George W. Bush.

An Iraqi man sued two U.S. military contractors Monday, claiming he was repeatedly tortured while being held at the Abu Ghraib prison for more than 10 months. The AP reports:

Emad al-Janabi’s federal lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles, claims that employees of CACI International Inc. and L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. punched him, slammed him into walls, hung him from a bed frame and kept him naked and handcuffed in his cell beginning in September 2003…

Al-Janabi, 43, said he was detained by U.S. troops during a late-night raid in which he and his family were beaten by their captors. He said he was taken to a military base where he was stripped naked, a hood was placed on his head and his hands and legs were chained.

“They (U.S. troops) did not tell me what was the reason behind my arrest … during the interrogation, the American soldier told me I was a terrorist … and I was preparing for an attack against the U.S. forces,” said al-Janabi, who denied the accusation and claims he was forced to give confessions under “savage” intimidation.

The lawsuit also claims the contractors conspired in a cover-up by destroying documents and other information, hid prisoners during periodic checks by the International Red Cross and misled military and government officials about what was happening at Abu Ghraib.

Al-Janabi was released in July 2004 and wasn’t charged with any crime, according to the lawsuit. He also was forced to form a human pyramid in the nude with other prisoners, according to the lawsuit, but his Philadelphia-based attorney Susan Burke said it wasn’t known if he was in the infamous photo that became public.

The Jurist reports that last year a US District Judge refused to dismiss a class action suit against CACI alleging torture.

The National Law Journal reports that the Senate on April 23 approved, by unanimous consent, S. 2324, the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008. But the bill passed only after the lawmakers agreed to an amendment by Senator Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., which, among other items, deleted a provision giving the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) jurisdiction to investigate misconduct allegations against department attorneys, including its most senior officials.

So what does this mean? TPMMuckraker explains that:

OPR, which reports to the attorney general, is currently conducting a variety of very sensitive investigations for the administration. The office is probing the Department’s approval of the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. And recently it announced that it is investigating the Department’s legal memos authorizing the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture by CIA and military interrogators.

It is conducting those probes because Inspector General Glenn Fine cannot. The bill which passed the House would have changed that, as Fine himself pointed out in a letter (pdf) to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) back in February, when he told them that he could not investigate the Department’s authorization of torture because “under current law, the OIG does not have jurisdiction to review the actions of DOJ attorneys acting in their capacity to provide legal advice.” Fine added: “Legislation that would remove this limitation has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, but at this point the OIG does not have jurisdiction to undertake the review you request.”

And with Kyl’s amendment, it appears that Fine won’t be getting that jurisdiction any time soon.

Made it Matter: Canadian teacher fasts to protest torture.

May 6, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

White House Tortured

No surprise here: ABC News reported that,

The discussions in the White House were top secret and sources say, involve some of the President’s most senior and influential advisors, principals of the National Security Council. In dozens of private talks and meetings, sources said that a handful of top advisors discussed specific high-value al Qaeda prisoners and exactly how those prisoners would be interrogated. Whether, for example, they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding. The discussion about the “enhanced interrogation techniques” were so detailed, sources said, the interrogations were almost choreographed, down to the number of times the CIA could use a specific tactic. Former CIA director George Tenet, in an interview last year with ABC News told Charles Gibson.

And the Associated Press reported on 08/10/08 that:

Bush administration officials from Vice President Dick Cheney on down signed off on using harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists after asking the Justice Department to endorse their legality, The Associated Press has learned.

The officials also took care to insulate President Bush from a series of meetings where CIA interrogation methods, including waterboarding, which simulates drowning, were discussed and ultimately approved…

The meetings were held in the White House Situation Room in the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks. Attending the sessions were then-Bush aides Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA Director George Tenet and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Reactions, coverage and commentary:

Buzzflash.com:

If you recall, Ashcroft was the one who resisted, from his hospital bed, a White House effort to strong arm him into signing off on actions that he deemed unConstitutional. When you have John Ashcroft as a conscientious objector, you know that Cheney Inc. has crossed the line into uber illegal activity

Brains and Eggs:

There’s no blaring headline in the Washington Post online about this story. Nothing even very significant that I can find from the source, ABC News, on their website. There is a story there, however about how “absolutely appalling” Dick Cheney thinks Rev. Wright’s comments were.

deadlineUSA (The Guardian)

But will this get any traction? Will people at the top of the Bush administration including Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft be held responsible? I doubt it. It would appear Barack Obama’s bowling prowess or lack thereof garners more attention in the mainstream media.

Salon.com (Glenn Greenwald):

In the past two weeks, the following events transpired. A Department of Justice memo, authored by John Yoo, was released which authorized torture and presidential lawbreaking. It was revealed that the Bush administration declared the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights to be inapplicable to “domestic military operations” within the U.S. The U.S. Attorney General appears to have fabricated a key event leading to the 9/11 attacks and made patently false statements about surveillance laws and related lawsuits. Barack Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania and had a low score.

Here are the number of times, according to NEXIS, that various topics have been mentioned in the media over the past thirty days:

“Yoo and torture” – 102

“Mukasey and 9/11” — 73

“Yoo and Fourth Amendment” — 16

“Obama and bowling” — 1,043

“Obama and Wright” — More than 3,000 (too many to be counted)

“Obama and patriotism” – 1,607

“Clinton and Lewinsky” — 1,079

Center for Constitutional Rights:

American torturers must not go unpunished.

The Center for Constitutional Rights has, since 2006, been pursuing high-level Bush administration officials in national courts across Europe for their program of torture and coercive interrogations…

CCR represents men who were tortured while held in U.S. custody… Mohammed al Qahtani, who has been at Guantanamo since 2002, was subjected to a brutal interrogation program – specifically authorized by Donald Rumsfeld – that included 20-hour interrogations, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and severe sleep deprivation, among other tactics. The government is seeking the death penalty against al Qahtani based on evidence that was likely obtained through torture.

And check out the excellent coverage found in these outlets:

Daily Mail (UK)

Crooks and Liars

Emptywheel

Left in the West

IntoxiNation

Make it matter. Contact your representatives and demand they investigate these war crimes.

And speaking of making it matter… The National Lawyers Guild is calling on Berkeley to dismiss John Yoo, “whose torture memos led to commission of war crimes.” Help out their effort by contacting Yoo’s dean and asking why they have a war criminal on staff.

April 13, 2008 Posted by | Media Criticism, Torture News, Yoo Torture Memo | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment