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Senate Armed Services Hearings, Learning how to torture

The Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week — “on the origins of aggressive interrogation techniques: Part I of the Committee’s inquiry into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody” — has revealed:

Pentagon officials drawing up methods to question suspects after the September 11 attacks consulted experts who taught U.S. troops how to resist harsh interrogation, a Senate committee was told on Tuesday.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin said a little-known unit that taught skills of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) provided a list of interrogation techniques.

And the AP reported:

Military lawyers warned against the harsh detainee interrogation techniques approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in 2002, contending in separate memos weeks before Rumsfeld’s endorsement that they could be illegal, a Senate panel has found.

The investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee also has confirmed that senior administration officials, including the Pentagon’s then-general counsel William “Jim” Haynes, sought the help of military psychologists early on to devise the more aggressive methods – which included the use of dogs, making a detainee stand for long periods of time and forced nudity, according to officials familiar with the findings.

Other coverage on the hearings:

Rumsfeld Aides Sought Torture How-To

McClatchey Newspapers reports that, “Torture wasn’t merely an option for military guards in Afghanistan in the first couple of years of the war on terror: It was routine.”

So it appears, anyway, from the extensive reporting by McClatchy Newspapers, which has been serialized this week in The Oregonian. The stories describe the casual and widespread use of inhuman techniques of “interrogation” and imprisonment, including hanging detainees by their wrists, beating their legs to pulp and kicking and punching prisoners until they collapsed.

At least two detainees died after being beaten. Few Americans were punished. And many Afghans were radicalized by the widespread harsh treatment.

A North Carolina House judiciary committee is scheduled to consider a ban on torture and forced disappearances:

The plan to be discussed Tuesday would make torture a felony punishable by up to more than six years in prison.

The proposed law defines torture as both the mental or physical suffering inflicted on a person to obtain information or coerce them.

It also would make the abduction or inappropriate detention of someone a felony.

The bill’s sponsors have said they introduced the measure after hearing allegations that a Smithfield-based company helped the CIA transport suspected terrorists to secret overseas prisons. They pushed for a similar law last year, but the plan never made it out of the House.

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June 18, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.



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

Thank you, Helen Thomas

Reporter Helen Thomas confronts Bush spokeswoman on torture:

Q The President has said publicly several times, in two consecutive news conferences a few months ago, and you have said over and over again, we do not torture. Now he has admitted that he did sign off on torture, he did know about it. So how do you reconcile this credibility gap?

MS. PERINO: Helen, you’re taking liberties with the what the President said. The United States has not, is not torturing any detainees in the global war on terror. And General Hayden, amongst others, have spoken on Capitol Hill fully in this regard, and it is — I’ll leave it where it is. The President is accurate in saying what he said.

Q That’s not my question. My question is, why did he state publicly, we do not torture —

MS. PERINO: Because we do not.

Q — when he really did know that we do?

MS. PERINO: No, that’s what I mean, Helen. We’ve talked about the legal authorities —

Q Are you saying that we did not?

MS. PERINO: I am saying we did not, yes.

Q How can you when you have photographs and everything else? I mean, how can you say that when he admits that he knew about it?

MS. PERINO: Helen, I think that you’re — again, I think you’re conflating some issues and you’re misconstruing what the President said.

Q I’m asking for the credibility of this country, not just this administration.

MS. PERINO: And what I’m telling you is we have — torture has not occurred. And you can go back through all the public record. Just make sure — I would just respectfully ask you not to misconstrue what the President said.

Q You’re denying, in this room, that we torture and we have tortured?

MS. PERINO: Yes, I am denying that.

Elaine, did you have one?

Q I have one on Zimbabwe, actually.

Q Where is everybody?

According to Raw Story, the “Where is everybody?” was said by Thomas who turned in her seat, looked at her colleagues, shook her head in disgust, and asked sadly: “Where is everybody? For God’s sakes!”

What purpose did the Yoo memos really serve? Scott Horton looks into this in his LA Times editorial — Which came first: memos or torture?

It increasingly appears that the Bush interrogation program was already being used before Yoo was asked to write an opinion. He may therefore have provided after-the-fact legal cover. That would help explain why Yoo strained to take so many implausible positions in the memos.

It also appears that government lawyers had told Bush administration officials that some of the techniques already in use were illegal, even criminal. In fact, a senior Pentagon lawyer described to me exchanges he had with Yoo in which he stressed that those using the techniques could face prosecution. Yoo notes in his Pentagon memo that he communicated with the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and got assurances that prosecutions would not be brought. The question becomes, was Yoo giving his best effort at legal analysis, or was he attempting to protect the authors of the program from criminal investigation and prosecution?

In any case, Yoo kept the program running.

Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) questioned FBI Director Robert Mueller on torture at a House Judiciary hearing on 04/23/08. Florida should be proud. Here’s one snippet of the exchange:

RW: My question Mr. Director, I congratulate you for pulling the FBI agents back, but why did you not take more substantial steps to stop the interrogation techniques that your own FBI agents were telling you were illegal? Why did you not initiate criminal investigations when your agents told you the CIA and the Department of Defense were engaging in illegal interrogation techniques, and rather than simply pulling your agents out, shouldn’t you have directed them to prevent any illegal interrogations from taking place?

RM: I can go so far sir as to tell you that a protocol in the FBI is not to use coercion in any of our interrogations or our questioning and we have abided by our protocol.

RW: I appreciate that. What is the protocol say when the FBI knows that the CIA is engaging or the Department of Defense is engaging in an illegal technique? What does the protocol say in that circumstance?

RM: We would bring it up to appropriate authorities and determine whether the techniques were legal or illegal.

RW: Did you bring it up to appropriate authorities?

RM: All I can tell you is that we followed our own protocols.

RW: So you can’t tell us whether you brought it; when your own FBI agents came to you and said the CIA is doing something illegal which caused you to say don’t you get involved; you can’t tell us whether you then went to whatever authority?

RM: I’ll tell you we followed our own protocols.

RW: And what was the result?

RM: We followed our own protocols. We followed our protocols. We did not use coercion. We did not participate in any instance where coercion was used to my knowledge.

RW: Did the CIA use techniques that were illegal?

RM: I can’t comment on what has been done by another agency and under what authorities the other agency may have taken actions.

RW: Why can’t you comment on the actions of another agency?

RM: I leave that up to the other agency to answer questions with regard to the actions taken by that agency and the legal authorities that may apply to them.

RW: Are you the chief legal law enforcement agency in the United States?

RM: I am the Director of the FBI.

RW: And you do not have authority with respect to any other governmental agency in the United States? Is that what you’re saying?

RM: My authority is given to me to investigate. Yes we do.

RW: Did somebody take away that authority with respect to the CIA?

RM: Nobody has taken away the authority. I can tell you what our protocol was, and how we followed that protocol.

RW: Did anybody take away the authority with respect to the Department of Defense?

RM: I’m not certain what you mean.

RW: Your authority to investigate an illegal torture technique

The New Republic interviews Philippe Sands, author of the forthcoming The Torture Team:

TNR: The administration’s narrative has been that a harsh set of interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and stress positions, was introduced in response to demands from interrogators in the field who concluded that what they had didn’t work. How did you reach the conclusion that, in fact, the pressure for the new techniques came from high up in the administration and worked its way down?

PS: I have no doubt about the early, close, and active involvement of the upper echelons of the administration in the decision to request, approve and then use harsh techniques of interrogation on “Detainee 063,” Mohammed Al Qahtani. The story that emerged from the interviews was clear and it was consistent (plus, I had the opportunity to put my findings to Jim Haynes, who was the final piece of the jigsaw). The administration’s ‘bottom-up’ narrative–as spun by Mr. Haynes and others–is false, inaccurate, and misleading, and I believe it was knowingly intended to be so. The administration has scapegoated individuals who were on the ground at Guantánamo in order to protect itself.

The ACLU and Human Rights First have filed a motion in federal court to overturn the dismissal of a lawsuit against Donald Rumsfeld. The March 2005 lawsuit was filed on behalf of nine Iraqi and Afghan detainees who were tortured in US custody and eventually released without being charged with a crime. Read about the case against Rumsfeld here.

Make it Matter. Sign the Human Rights First petition to tell the presidential candidates to end torture.

April 29, 2008 Posted by | Torture News, Yoo Torture Memo | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment