Posts Tagged ‘torture techniques’

Bush/Cheney Pulled Torture Strings

March 6, 2010

By Robert Parry, Consortiumnews.com, March 4, 2010

George W. Bush’s White House stage-managed the Justice Department’s approval of torture techniques by putting pliable lawyers in key jobs, guiding their opinions and punishing officials who wouldn’t go along, according to details contained in an internal report that recommended disciplinary action against two lawyers.

Though the recently released report by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility concentrated on whether lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee deserved punishment for drafting and signing 2002 memos that permitted brutal interrogations of suspected terrorists, the report also revealed how the White House pulled the strings of Yoo, Bybee and others.

Continues >>

Straight to the Top

April 27, 2009

By Scott Horton | Harper’s Magazine, April 27, 2009

Correction, April 29, 2009:

This post requires correction in two respects. First, as already noted, Ed Whelan, former Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, has categorically denied attending the July 2003 meeting mentioned there. Second, I wrongly described his writing at the National Review as “defenses of torture enablers.” This phrase is both vague and inaccurate, and I apologize for any misunderstanding it may have caused. Whelan has never written anything for the National Review in defense of torture or torture enablers.

The torture trail starts and ends in the White House. That is perhaps the most inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the flurry of documents released in the last week—first the OLC memoranda, then a newly declassified report of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and finally an amazing document that Attorney General Eric Holder released yesterday, which has still gained little attention. The Holder note presents a summary of CIA interaction with the White House in connection with the approval of the torture techniques that John Yoo calls the “Bush Program.” Holder’s memo refers to the participants by their job titles only, but John Sifton runs it through a decoder and gives us the actual names. Here’s a key passage:

“[The] CIA’s Office of General Counsel [this would include current Acting CIA General Counsel John Rizzo] met with the Attorney General [John Ashcroft], the National Security Adviser [Condoleezza Rice], the Deputy National Security Adviser [Stephen Hadley], the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [John Bellinger], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] in mid-May 2002 to discuss the possible use of alternative interrogation methods [on Abu Zubaydah] that differed from the traditional methods used by the U.S. military and intelligence community. At this meeting, the CIA proposed particular alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”

The report continues to implicate more Bush officials: “On July 13, 2002, according to CIA records, attorneys from the CIA’s Office of General Counsel [including Rizzo] met with the Legal Adviser to the National Security Council [Bellinger], a Deputy Assistant Attorney General from OLC [likely John Yoo], the head of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice [Michael Chertoff], the chief of staff to the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation [Kenneth Wainstein], and the Counsel to the President [Alberto Gonzales] to provide an overview of the proposed interrogation plan for Abu Zubaydah.”

It makes clear that sign-off for torture comes from Condoleezza Rice, acting with the advice of her ever-present lawyer, John Bellinger. Another figure making a key appearance is an Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel named M. Edward Whelan III–presumably the same Ed Whelan who is presently melting his keyboard with defenses of the torture-enablers (Update, April 29, 2009: See correction.) at National Review. (Update: Andrew Sullivan also reported on the appearance of Whelan in the memo, but Whelan responded with a categorical denial that he was involved. This suggests that the memo’s chronology is incorrect and requires some clarification.) The central role played by Rice and Bellinger helps explain the State Department’s abrupt about-face on international law issues related to torture immediately after Rice became Secretary of State and Bellinger became Legal Adviser. It also makes clear that Vice President Cheney and President Bush were fully informed of what has happened and approved.

Condi Rice and John Ashcroft reviewed, approved waterboarding in 2002

April 23, 2009

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Peter Finn
Washington Post Staff Writers
The Washington Post, Thursday, April 23, 2009

Condoleezza Rice, John D. Ashcroft and at least 10 other top Bush officials reviewed and approved as early as the summer of 2002 the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation methods on detainees at secret prisons, including waterboarding that Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. has described as illegal torture, according to a detailed timeline furnished by Holder to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

At a moment when the Justice Department is deciding whether former officials who set interrogation policy or formulated the legal justifications for it should be investigated for committing crimes, the new timeline lists the members of the Bush administration who were present when the CIA’s director and its general counsel explained exactly which questioning methods were to be used and how those sessions proceeded.

Rice gave a key early approval, when, as Bush’s national security adviser, she met on July 17, 2002, with the CIA’s then-director, George J. Tenet, and “advised that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaydah,” subject to approval by the Justice Department, according to the timeline. Rice and four other White House officials had been briefed two months earlier on “alternative interrogation methods, including waterboarding,” it states. Waterboarding is a technique that simulates drowning.

A year later, in July 2003, the CIA briefed Rice, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Attorney General Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger on the use of waterboarding and other techniques, it states. They “reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy.”

In early 2004, a comprehensive report by the CIA inspector general raised new questions about the program, including the waterboarding of three detainees. It said that the interrogations were not clearly legal under an international treaty the United States had signed, known as the Convention Against Torture, which bars cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment that falls short of torture.

A fresh legal review by the Justice Department prompted Ashcroft to inform the CIA in writing on July 22, 2004, that its interrogation methods – except waterboarding – were legal. The following month, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel added that even waterboarding would be legal if it were carried out with a series of safeguards according to CIA plans. By the following May, the department had completed two more reviews of the program that came to the same conclusion. These were among the memos released by President Obama this week.

After the leak in 2005 of a Justice Department memo that narrowly defined the type of activity that would constitute torture, Rice traveled to Europe in an effort to quell the international uproar. As her trip was getting underway, she said, “The United States government does not authorize or condone torture of detainees. Torture, and conspiracy to commit torture, are crimes under U.S. law, wherever they may occur in the world.”

Rice also said at the time that the administration’s policy “will be consistent” with the international convention prohibiting “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.”

Torturers Should Be Punished

April 23, 2009

By Amy Goodman | Truthdig, April 22, 2009

Spokane, Wash. – George W. Bush insisted that the U.S. did not use torture.

But the four Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel memos released last week by the Obama administration’s Justice Department paint a starkly different picture. The declassified memos provided legal authorization for “harsh interrogation techniques” used by the Bush administration in the years following Sept. 11, 2001. They authorized (as listed in the Aug. 1, 2002, memo by then-Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee) “walling … facial slap, cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, insects placed in a confinement box, and the waterboard.”

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, the OLC under Bush “became a facilitator for illegal government conduct, issuing dozens of memos meant to permit gross violations of domestic and international law.”

The memos authorize what the International Committee of the Red Cross called, in a leaked report, “treatment and interrogation techniques … that amounted to torture.”

These torture techniques were developed by two psychologists based in Spokane, Wash.: James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. Their company, Mitchell Jessen & Associates, provided specialized training to members of the U.S. military to deal with capture by enemy forces. The training is called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Mitchell and Jessen, both psychologists, were contracted by the U.S. government to train interrogators with techniques they claimed would break prisoners.

They reverse-engineered the SERE training, originally developed to help people withstand and survive torture, to train a new generation of torturers.

The memos provide gruesome details of the torture. Waterboarding was used hundreds of times on a number of prisoners. The Bybee memo includes this Kafkaesque authorization: “You would like to place [Abu] Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him.”

After President Barack Obama said there should be no prosecutions, he was received with great fanfare at the CIA this week. Mark Benjamin, the reporter who originally broke the Mitchell and Jessen story, said when I questioned him about Obama’s position: “If you look at the president’s statements and you combine them with the statements of Rahm Emanuel, the chief of staff, and Eric Holder, the attorney general … you will see that over the last couple of days the Obama administration has announced that no one, not the people who carried out the torture program or the people who designed the program or the people that authorized the program or the people who said that it was legal-even though they knew that it frankly wasn’t-none of those people will ever face charges. The attorney general has announced that … the government will pay the legal fees for anybody who is brought up on any charges anywhere in the world or has to go before Congress. They will be provided attorneys … they have been given this blanket immunity … in return for nothing.”

Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein asked Obama to hold off on ruling out prosecutions until her panel finishes an investigation during the next six months. Though Obama promises to let the torturers go, others are pursuing them. Bybee is now a federal judge. A grass-roots movement, including Common Cause and the Center for Constitutional Rights, is calling on Congress to impeach Bybee. In Spain, Judge Baltasar Garzon, who got Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet indicted for crimes against humanity, has named Bybee and five others as targets of a prosecution.

For years, people have felt they have been hitting their heads against walls (some suffered this literally, as the memos detail). On Election Day, it looked like that wall had become a door. But that door is open only a crack. Whether it is kicked open or slammed shut is not up to the president. Though he may occupy the most powerful office on Earth, there is a force more powerful: committed people demanding change. We need a universal standard of justice. Torturers should be punished.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2009 Amy Goodman

Judge: Rumsfeld sanctioned torture in Gitmo

January 16, 2009

RINF.COM, Jan 15, 2009

A top US official has for the first time publicly admitted that a suspect, incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay prison was tortured.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Susan J Crawford, a judge tasked with deciding on whether Guantanamo detainees should be brought to trial, told the newspaper that she decided against prosecuting Saudi national Mohammed al-Qahtani because his interrogation met the legal definition of torture.

Crawford said that the harsh techniques used against al-Qahtani were approved by the then defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

“A lot of this happened on his watch,” she said.

The paper quoted the judge as saying that al-Qahtani, who allegedly planned to participate in the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US but was denied entry into the country, was subjected to prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and exposure to cold that placed him in a “life threatening condition.”

“The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” said Crawford, a former inspector general of the Pentagon.

“You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for and coercive. Clearly coercive,” she added.

The report came out amid growing certainty that President-elect Barack Obama will issue an executive order to close the notorious prison camp as one of his first moves.

Obama is under huge pressure from human rights groups to close Guantanamo, but has also conceded that closing it is quite complicated and will take some time.

Seasonal forgiveness has a limit. Bush and his cronies must face a reckoning

December 26, 2008

Heinous crimes are now synonymous with this US administration. If it isn’t held to account, what does that say about us?

‘Tis the night before Christmas and the season of goodwill. The mood is forgiving. Our faces warm with mulled wine, our tummies full, we’re meant to slump in the armchair, look back on the year just gone and count our blessings – woozily agreeing to put our troubles behind us.

As in families, so in the realm of public and international affairs. And this December that feels especially true. The “war on terror” that dominated much of the decade seems to be heading towards a kind of conclusion. George Bush will leave office in a matter of weeks and British troops will leave Iraq a few months later. The first, defining phase of the conflict that began on 9/11 – the war of Bush, Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden – is about to slip from the present to the past tense. Bush and Blair will be gone, with only Bin Laden still in post. The urge to move on is palpable.

You can sense it in the valedictory interviews Bush and Dick Cheney are conducting on their way out. They’re looking to the verdict of history now, Cheney telling the Washington Times last week: “I myself am personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road.” The once raging arguments of the current era are about to fade, the lead US protagonists heading off to their respective ranches in the west, the rights and wrongs of their decisions in office to be weighed not in the hot arena of politics, but in the cool seminar rooms of the academy.

Not so fast.

Yes, the new year would get off to a more soothing start if we could all agree to draw a line and move on. But it would be wrong. First, because we cannot hope to avoid repeating the errors of the last eight years unless they are subject to a full accounting. (It is for that reason Britain needs its own full, unconstrained inquiry into the Iraq war.) Second, because a crucial principle, one that goes to the very heart of the American creed, is at stake. And third, because this is not solely about the judgment of history. It may be about the judgment of the courts – specifically those charged with punishing war crimes.

Less than a fortnight ago, in the news graveyard of a Friday afternoon, the armed services committee of the US Senate released a bipartisan report – with none other than John McCain as its co-author – into the American use of torture against those held in the war on terror. It dismissed entirely the notion that the horrors of Abu Ghraib could be put down to “a few bad apples”. Instead it laid bare, in forensic detail, the trail of memos and instructions that led directly to the then defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

The report was the fruit of 18 months of work, involving some 70 interviews. Most of it is classified, but even the 29-page published summary makes horrifying reading. It shows how the most senior figures in the Bush administration discussed, and sought legal fig leaves for, practices that plainly amounted to torture. They were techniques devised in a training programme known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape or SERE, that aimed to teach elite American soldiers how to endure torture should they fall into the hands of pitiless enemies. The SERE techniques were partly modelled on the brutal methods used by the Chinese against US prisoners during the Korean war. Yet Rumsfeld ruled that these same techniques should be “reverse engineered”, so that Americans would learn not how to endure them – but how to inflict them. Which they then did, at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and beyond.

The Senate report cites the memorandums requesting permission to use “stress positions, exploitation of detainee fears (such as fear of dogs), removal of clothing, hooding, deprivation of light and sound, and the so-called wet towel treatment or the waterboard”. We read of Mohamed al Kahtani – against whom all charges were dropped earlier this year – who was “deprived of adequate sleep for weeks on end, stripped naked, subjected to loud music, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks”. Approval for this kind of torture, hidden under the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation”, was sought from and granted at the highest level.

And that doesn’t mean Rumsfeld. The report’s first conclusion is that, on “7 February 2002, President George W Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaida or Taliban detainees”. The result, it says, is that Bush “opened the door” to the use of a raft of techniques that the US had once branded barbaric and beyond the realm of human decency.

For this Bush should surely be held to account. And yet there is no sign that he will, and precious little agitation that he should. A still smiling Cheney denies the Bush administration did anything wrong. Note this breathtaking exchange with Fox News at the weekend. He was asked: “If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?” Cheney’s answer: “General proposition, I’d say yes.”

It takes a few seconds for the full horror of that remark to sink in. And then you remember where you last heard something like it. It was the now immortalised interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon. The disgraced ex-president was asked whether there were certain situations where the president can do something illegal, if he deems it in the national interest. Nixon’s reply: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

It is no coincidence that Cheney began his career in the Nixon White House. He has the same Nixonian disregard for the US constitution, the same belief that executive power is absolute and unlimited – that those who wield it are above the law, domestic and international. It is the logic of dictatorship.

But Nixon was forced from office, his vision of an unrestrained presidency rejected. If Bush and Cheney are allowed to retire quietly, America will have failed to reassert that bedrock principle of the republic: the rule of law.

This is why there must be a reckoning. Bush will do all he can to avoid it: and it is wholly possible that one of his last acts as president will be to cover himself, his vice-president and all his henchmen with a blanket pardon. Even if that does not happen, Barack Obama is unlikely to want to spend precious capital pursuing his predecessor for war crimes.

But other prosecutors elsewhere in the world should weigh their responsibilities. In the end, it was a lone Spanish magistrate, not a Chilean court, who ensured the arrest of Augusto Pinochet. A pleasing, if uncharitable, thought this Christmas, is that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush will hesitate before making plans to travel abroad in 2009. Or indeed at any time – ever again.

freedland@guardian.co.uk


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