What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not “Poor Judgment”

14.3.10

The seal of the US Justice DepartmentIt’s now over three weeks since veteran Justice Department lawyer David Margolis dashed the hopes of those seeking accountability for the Bush administration’s torturers, but this is a story of such profound importance that it must not be allowed to slip away.

Margolis decided that an internal report (PDF) into the conduct of John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, who wrote the notorious memos in August 2002, which attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA, was mistaken in concluding that both men were guilty of “professional misconduct,” and should be referred to their bar associations for disciplinary action.

Instead, Margolis concluded, in a memo (PDF) that shredded four years of investigative work by the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), the DoJ’s ethics watchdog, that Yoo and Bybee had merely exercised “poor judgment.” As lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel, which is charged with providing objective legal advice to the Executive branch on all constitutional questions, Yoo and Bybee attempted to redefine torture as the infliction of physical pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” or the infliction of mental pain which “result[s] in significant psychological harm of significant duration e.g. lasting for months or even years.”

Yoo, notoriously, had lifted his description of the physical effects of torture from a Medicare benefits statute and other health care provisions in a deliberate attempt to circumvent the UN Convention Against Torture, signed by President Reagan in 1988 and incorporated into US federal law, in which torture is defined as:

any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person …

Obsessed with finding ways in which “severe pain” could be defined so that the CIA could torture detainees and get away with it, Yoo drew on some truly revolting examples of physical torture, citing a particularly brutal case, Mehinovic v. Vuckovic, in which, during the Bosnian war, a Serb soldier named Nikola Vuckovic had tortured his Bosnian neighbor, Kemal Mehinovic, with savage and sadistic brutality. Yoo dismissed the possibility that other torture techniques — waterboarding, for example, which is a form of controlled drowning, and prolonged sleep deprivation — might cause “significant psychological harm of significant duration,” or physical pain rising to a level that a judge might regard as torture.

In both of his definitions, however, Yoo was clearly mistaken. No detailed studies have yet emerged regarding the prolonged psychological effects of the torture program approved by Yoo and Bybee, largely because lawyers for the “high-value detainees” in Guantánamo have been prevented — first under Bush, and now under Obama — from revealing anything publicly about their clients.

However, lawyers for Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was charged in the Bush administration’s Military Commissions, made a good show of demonstrating that bin al-Shibh is schizophrenic and on serious medication, when they argued throughout 2008 that he was not fit to stand trial, and I have seen no evidence to suggest that bin al-Shibh was in a similar state before his four years in secret CIA prisons.

Abu ZubaydahAn even more pertinent example is Abu Zubaydah, a supposed “high-value detainee,” held in secret CIA prisons for four and a half years, for whom the torture program was originally developed. Zubaydah’s case may well be the most shocking in Guantánamo, because, although he was subjected to physical violence and prolonged sleep deprivation, was confined in a small box and was waterboarded 83 times, the CIA eventually concluded that he was not, as George W. Bush claimed after his capture, “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations,” but was, instead, a “kind of travel agent” for recruits traveling to Afghanistan for military training, who was not a member of al-Qaeda at all.

Zubaydah was clearly mentally unstable before his capture and torture, as the result of a head wound sustained in Afghanistan in 1992, but as one of his lawyers, Joe Margulies, explained in an article in the Los Angeles Times last April, his subsequent treatment in US custody has caused a profound deterioration in his mental health that would certainly constitute “significant psychological harm of significant duration.” Margulies wrote:

No one can pass unscathed through an ordeal like this. Abu Zubaydah paid with his mind. Partly as a result of injuries he suffered while he was fighting the communists in Afghanistan, partly as a result of how those injuries were exacerbated by the CIA and partly as a result of his extended isolation, Abu Zubaydah’s mental grasp is slipping away. Today, he suffers blinding headaches and has permanent brain damage. He has an excruciating sensitivity to sounds, hearing what others do not. The slightest noise drives him nearly insane. In the last two years alone, he has experienced about 200 seizures.

Moreover, when it came to defining physical torture, the OPR Report’s authors noted that, as so often in the memos, Yoo had ignored relevant case history. The key passage in the report deals with the US courts’ decisions regarding the Torture Victim Protection Act (TVPA). Yoo had drawn on Mehinovic for his description of physical torture “of an especially cruel and even sadistic nature,” and, as the authors noted, he also argued that “only ‘acts of an extreme nature’ that were ‘well over the line of what constitutes torture’ have been alleged in TVPA cases.”

The authors continued:

Thus, the memorandum asserted, “there are no cases that analyze what the lowest boundary of what constitutes torture.” [sic]

That assertion was misleading. In fact, conduct far less extreme than that described in Mehinovic v. Vuckovic was held to constitute torture in one of the TVPA cases cited in the appendix to the Bybee memo. That case, Daliberti v. Republic of Iraq, 146 F. Supp. 2d 146 (D.D.C. 2001), held that imprisonment for five days under extremely bad conditions, while being threatened with bodily harm, interrogated, and held at gunpoint, constituted torture with respect to one claimant.

A close inspection of Daliberti (which dealt with US personnel seized by Iraqi forces between 1992 and 1995) is revealing, as the D.C. District Court held that “Such direct attacks on a person and the described deprivation of basic human necessities are more than enough to meet the definition of ‘torture’ in the Torture Victim Protection Act.” The judges based their ruling on the following:

David Daliberti and William Barloon allege that they were “blindfolded, interrogated and subjected to physical, mental and verbal abuse” while in captivity. They allege that during their arrests one of the agents of the defendant threatened them with a gun, allegedly causing David Daliberti “serious mental anguish, pain and suffering.” During their imprisonment in Abu Ghraib prison, Daliberti and Barloon were “not provided adequate or proper medical treatment for serious medical conditions which became life threatening.” The alleged torture of Kenneth Beaty involved holding him in confinement for eleven days “with no water, no toilet and no bed.” Similarly, Chad Hall allegedly was held for a period of at least four days “with no lights, no window, no water, no toilet and no proper bed.” Plaintiffs further proffer that Hall was “stripped naked, blindfolded and threatened with electrocution by placing wires on his testicles … in an effort to coerce a confession from him.”

Yoo and his apologists will undoubtedly quibble yet again. There is the threat of electrocution, a threat made with a gun, and deprivation of water, in one case for eleven days, none of which feature in the OLC’s memos. However, outside of the specific torture program approved by the OLC, numerous prisoners who were held at Bagram before being transported to Guantánamo have stated that they were actually subjected to electric shocks while hooded (rather than being threatened with electrocution), and that being threatened at gunpoint was a regular occurrence.

Moreover, it has also been stated that the withholding of medication was used with Abu Zubaydah after his capture, when he was severely wounded, and it should also be noted that numerous ex-prisoners have stated that, in Guantánamo, it was routine for medical treatment to be withheld unless prisoners cooperated with their interrogators (PDF).

Most of all, however, a comparison between Daliberti and the OLC memos reveals the extent to which the techniques approved by Yoo resulted in “severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental,” which clearly exceeded that endured by David Daliberti and his fellow Americans in Iraq.

First of all, there is waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that has long been recognized as torture by the United States. As Eric Holder noted during his confirmation hearing in January 2009, “We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam.” With this in mind, it ought to be inconceivable that anyone could argue that waterboarding Abu Zubaydah 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times could be anything less than torture.

In addition, the prolonged isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, nudity, hooding, shackling in painful positions, cramped confinement, physical abuse, dousing in cold water, beatings and threats endured by the CIA’s “high-value detainees,” as revealed in the leaked ICRC report (PDF) based on interviews with the 14 men transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, completes a picture that surely “shocks the conscience” more than the torture described in Daliberti, especially as those held were subjected to these techniques for far longer periods.

Susan CrawfordShould any further doubts remain about the definition of torture — and how it was implemented in the “War on Terror” — these should have been dispelled in January 2009, when, shortly before President Bush left office, Susan Crawford, the retired military judge who was the Convening Authority for the Military Commissions at Guantánamo (responsible for deciding who should be charged) granted the most extraordinary interview to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post.

Crawford told Woodward that the reason she had not pressed charges against Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi who was initially put forward for a trial by Military Commission, along with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and three other men, was because he was tortured in Guantánamo. “We tortured Qahtani,” she said. “His treatment met the legal definition of torture.”

“The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent,” Crawford explained. “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. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge,” and to conclude that it was torture.

As I explained in an article at the time:

Al-Qahtani’s treatment was severe, of course. As Time magazine revealed in an interrogation log that was made available in 2005 (PDF), he was interrogated for 20 hours a day over a 50-day period in late 2002 and early 2003, when he was also subjected to extreme sexual humiliation, threatened by a dog, strip-searched and made to stand naked, and made to bark like a dog and growl at pictures of terrorists. On one occasion he was subjected to a “fake rendition,” in which he was tranquilized, flown off the island, revived, flown back to Guantánamo, and told that he was in a country that allowed torture.

In addition, as I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files:

The sessions were so intense that the interrogators worried that the cumulative lack of sleep and constant interrogation posed a risk to his health. Medical staff checked his health frequently — sometimes as often as three times a day — and on one occasion, in early December, the punishing routine was suspended for a day when, as a result of refusing to drink, he became seriously dehydrated and his heart rate dropped to 35 beats a minute. While a doctor came to see him in the booth, however, loud music was played to prevent him from sleeping.

The techniques used on al-Qahtani were approved by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but the impetus came from the torture memos written and authorized by Yoo and Bybee. Moreover, although Crawford was not so principled when it came to considering the treatment to which the “high-value detainees” had been subjected in CIA custody — on the basis, presumably, that such information would be easier to conceal in a Military Commission than al-Qahtani’s well-publicized ordeal — it is clear from the ICRC report on the “high-value detainees” that their treatment also “met the legal definition of torture.” In addition, it seems probable that the treatment of the 80 other prisoners held in secret CIA prisons, the treatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, before their arrival in Guantánamo, and the treatment of over a hundred prisoners in Guantánamo, who were subjected to versions of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used on al-Qahtani would also constitute torture.

Jay S. Bybee and John YooFor these reasons, David Margolis’ whitewash of John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee cannot be the final word. In his memo to Attorney General Eric Holder, dismissing the report’s conclusions, Margolis tried to claim that it was important to remember that Yoo and Bybee were working in extraordinary circumstances, striving to prevent another major terrorist attack. In an early version of the report, OPR head Mary Patrice Brown dismissed this argument, asserting that “Situations of great stress, danger and fear do not relieve department attorneys of their duty to provide thorough, objective and candid legal advice, even if that advice is not what the client wants to hear.”

This is correct, but another authoritative source also explains why there are no excuses for twisting the law out of all shape in an attempt to justify torture. As the UN Convention Against Torture stipulates (Article 2.2), “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

The UN Convention also stipulates (Article 4. 1) that signatories to the Convention “shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law” and requires each State, when torture has been exposed, to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution” (Article 7.1). As with Article 2.2, there are no excuses for not taking action, and that includes political expediency, or, as Barack Obama described it, “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Truthout. You can Digg the original article here.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah (November 2009), UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?” (January 2010), Binyam Mohamed: Evidence of Torture by US Agents Revealed in UK (February 2010). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan (July 2009), US Torture Under Scrutiny In British Courts (July 2009), What The British Government Knew About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed (August 2009), Torture in Bagram and Guantánamo: The Declaration of Ahmed al-Darbi (September 2009), UK Judges Order Release Of Details About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed By US Agents (October 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List (January 2010), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive.

And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), Torture In Guantánamo: The Force-feeding Of Hunger Strikers (June 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Torture And Futility: Is This The End Of The Military Commissions At Guantánamo? (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (Fouad al-Rabiah, September 2009), UK Court Orders Release Of Torture Evidence In The Case Of Shaker Aamer, The Last British Resident In Guantánamo (December 2009), Shaker Aamer: UK Government Drops Opposition To Release Of Torture Evidence (December 2009), Afghan Nobody Faces Trial by Military Commission (January 2010), Murders at Guantánamo: Scott Horton of Harper’s Exposes the Truth about the 2006 “Suicides” (January 2010), Two Algerian Torture Victims Are Freed from Guantánamo (January 2010), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

58 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    So Jason Leopold at Truthout tells me that this has so far been read by 150,000 people. It’s also been cross-posted on Facebook by over 350 people, and you can Digg the original here: http://digg.com/political_opinion/What_Torture_Is_and_Why_It_s_Illegal_Andy_Worthington

    Here are some comments from Truthout readers:

    mysterioso started the ball rolling, writing:

    Forget it. You’re beating a dead horse.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    mg wrote:

    There may not be a detailed study of the effects of the “enhanced interrogation techniques”, but for some in the military to scrap its waterboarding training because it had the psychological effect of a nuclear bomb on a person’s resolve is certainly telling. This was before, or at least about the same time as the infamous memos were drafted. Margolis’ determination seems wrong.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    An anonymous reader wrote:

    Pointless exercise — this administration has bought into all the evil of its Bush roots and will not let go.

    Difference? No difference. just repeated bait and switch to try and keep us on board.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    in L.A. responded to mysterioso:

    “Forget it. You’re beating a dead horse.”

    Until it’s found out that an American was treated in the same manner.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And in L.A. may have a point, if the latest case against Donald Rumsfeld is anything to go by:
    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-rumsfeld-lawsuit-20100305,0,5827108.story

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Another anonymous reader responded to mysterioso:

    Dead Horse or whatever, the fact that we even have to discuss torture shows that our government is clearly out of control.That so much torture went on and no one is yet held accountable could indeed lead to a conclusion that WE are the “bad guys” on the planet — a violent regime with zero moral high ground to stand on… George Washington is rolling in his grave…

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Another anonymous reader wrote:

    Another attempt to test the waters. Another way to eventually be legal as “they” decide to torture Americans as the bankrupt government goes thru its death throes. Allowing an American to be classified an “enemy combatant” was only the beginning of the 4th Reich. Will Americans stand up for American Way?

  8. Andy Worthington says...

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Another anonymous reader wrote:

    Let Yoo and Bybee be subjected to water boarding, threatenings at gun point, and all the things they don’t consider to be “torture” and then we will see if they alter their original definition of what torture is.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    BillyDoc wrote:

    My fellow Americans, welcome to the true and undisputed Axis of Evil. The Great Satan. Our homeland.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m not at all proud of this. I spent years of my life in government and military service, thinking at the time that I was serving my country. There is no way I would do it again. Not even close. This IS the Great Satan and the Axis of Evil, this bastion of Christian Values. My only hope now is that it collapses quickly, for humanity’s sake.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    An anonymous reader wrote:

    The government of the United States. all three branches, no longer care about our history, our long held values, the rule of law, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.

    All they care about is the law of the jungle, who survives and who dies.

    It is like that T-shirt that came out a few years ago — “He who has the most toys when he dies, wins.”

    And if in the process of winning, torture must be used, according to their standards, they will find a rationalization for using it, just as they have done, no matter how their arguments stretch credulity, no matter how they violate our laws, treaties or history. If they think it will help them win, then it is fair game and a legitimate response.

    Saints preserve us, as no one else will.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Another anonymous reader wrote:

    Obama is W-lite and like W he deserves to be impeached!

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    No We Won’t followed up:

    It is Obama who is responsible for this cover-up or whitewashing of W/Cheney torture/warcrimes. And it is Obama who clearly now deserves to be IMPEACHED.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    boBo wrote:

    Who would ever have thought it. Once called the leader of the free world we are now Nazi Germany, or perhaps even worse. Maybe we are now Stalinist Soviet Union or The Peoples Repub under Mao. So this is how the average non Nazi, German citizen must have felt as Hitler took over power.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    S. Wolf Britain wrote:

    So right, Andy Worthington!!!!! You put it so succinctly and thoroughly that there is absolutely no (further) excuse(s) for not completely recognizing that all of the very points, and most important points, you made are totally accurate.

    This article and the pointed facts it proves entirely true, beyond any reasonable doubt(s) whatsoever, also pointedly prove that there is absolutely no (further) excuse(s) for not holding all those involved in ordering and/or justifying the obvious torture completely accountable to the fullest extent of the law; and that there are absolutely no doubts whatsoever that ALL OF THEM are war criminals and MUST BE prosecuted, convicted and imprisoned for the rest of their natural lives for their heinous orders, justifications and very serious criminal violations of law that they very clearly perpetrated.

    Thank you for making this patently and absolutely clear beyond any reasonable or logical doubt(s), excuse(s), justification(s) or rationalization(s) whatsoever.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Over on Facebook, Cranston Snord asked:

    is eric holder the next person “above” margolis?

    is there any way OPR can revisit this?

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    This was my reply:

    Hi Cranston,
    Holder could override it if he wanted, but obviously he doesn’t want to — or has been told not to — as it’s clearly an officially sanctioned whitewash. The pressure will have to come from us, which is why I think it’s so important to keep discussing it.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Willy Bach followed up:

    There is one thing I think needs to be added here:

    1. That the USA has routinely used torture and this extends back at least to the Indochina War 1952-1975. Read ‘The wasted nations: Report of the International Commission of Enquiry into United States Crimes in Indochina, June 20-25, 1971′ by Frank Browning and Dorothy Forman. The descriptions of torture carried out by South Vietnamese on behalf of US forces, and by US forces too are truly horrific…. See more

    2. Richard Matthews’ book, ‘The Absolute Violation’ very specifically states that torturers need to be trained, equipped, given guidelines to work to, accompanied and supported by doctors and psychologists and rehabilitated after their duties are completed. This means an industrial-scale routinisation of these practices. Matthews also says that there is never a sound or acceptable reason for the use of torture including the so-called ‘ticking bomb’, which he argues is a false and improbable scenario.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Eric C. Anderson wrote:

    Great work Andy, your hard work is much appreciated.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    And Roland Jesperson followed up:

    Yes Andy, great and crucially important work. (small btw: i even sent a modest donation to keep your work going recently, when something was posted here — i’m sure anyone who is able and willing to can still donate, right? i’ve lost the link — maybe someone who can easily find it could post again?)

  21. Andy Worthington says...

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    And a few more comments from Truthout:

    Another anonymous reader wrote:

    Our government’s embrace of torture during the dark Bush years and the failure under Obama to aggressively demand accountability and redress is the most profound signal, among the many, of our nation’s decline and descent.
    ..’out damned spot..’

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Another anonymous reader wrote:

    Let’s face it. The effect of sustained illegal mistreatment of prisoners, made very public, has gone a long way towards redefining the Taliban — at least in their own minds — as freedom fighters.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    goddamnatheist wrote:

    Do you honestly think a government lawyer would ever try and hold other government lawyers accountable for their actions?
    Let these two stand trial at the Hague and then see what happens.
    No government employee will ever be held accountable for their actions. But a junior enlisted soldier will and be sent to prison.
    Where some still sit and rot for lesser acts.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Another anonymous reader wrote:

    You can’t have a war on terror — semantically this is ludicrous. War IS terror & the USA are promoting, executing, aiding and abetting more wars than any other nation on the planet. So who are the terrorists?

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Another anonymous reader wrote:

    There is absolutely no doubt that U.S. officials authorized and caused to be effectuated torture on multiple occasions.
    No doubt whatsoever.
    Obama is complicit with Bush and Cheney in administering torture.
    We have entered a complete and total orwellian regime.

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    Another anonymous reader wrote:

    Please settle down — Hysteria wins no battles. Obama accurately judged that 34 million Americans need med.care before we all can afford to settle this important legal matter. Remember how Clinton’s political foes diverted attention for two years onto his personal goof-up? Steady Obama is right: The (obvious to me) sins and crimes of Att’y Yoo and accomplice can wait until we get 34 mill. Americans in under our tent and a lot more people re- employed. THEN is the ripe time to confront Yoo and the entire Cheney team of fierce defenders. But for the first couple Obama years, we need to stay cool like Br’er Fox in Uncle Remus’ tales: “But Br’er Fox, he don’t say nuthin'; he jus’ lay low.”

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    This provoked the following response from another anonymous reader:

    There is nothing hysterical about the truth.
    A six year war with 50 million dead ended in the
    Nuremberg trials. Do you call those trials “hysteria” or a matter of secondary importance?
    They established the sound legal doctrines under which Yoo is clearly guilty.
    You (above poster) are an apologist for evil.

  29. joni says...

    Andy

    Keep at it. I am posting these type of articles on my blog and there are a few apologists who want to continue to argue that waterboarding (and others) is not torture.

    I think that Bybee and Yoo (and the other higher up the chain of command) should continue to be hounded about this issue until they are held accountable for their actions. They committed crimes against humanity (in my opinion).

    Many thanks Andy for your tireless work.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for the comment and the support, Joni. Please do keep publicizing it. Torture’s apologists want to wear us out but this is not a passing fancy. It strikes to the core of treaties developed over many long years — and particularly since World War II — to outlaw this kind of behavior, with no exceptions allowed.

  31. Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Diary « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] coincide with the publication of my article, “What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not ‘Poor Judgment,’” in which I revisited the scandalous whitewash of the Justice Department report into the conduct [...]

  32. Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Diary by Andy Worthington « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] coincide with the publication of my article, “What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not ‘Poor Judgment,’” in which I revisited the scandalous whitewash of the Justice Department report into the conduct [...]

  33. Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] Some activists were still burnt out from campaigning for Barack Obama, others thought the new President had waved a magic wand and miraculously cured all America’s ills, while others, to the right of common sense and decency, were beginning to mobilize in opposition to a President who, to be frank, should have been more of a disappointment to those who thought that “hope” and “change” might mean something than to those who supported the Bush administration’s view of the world. Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, endorsed indefinite detention without charge or trial for prisoners at Guantánamo, and shielded Bush administration officials and lawyers from calls for their prosecution for turning America into a nation with secret prisons, an extraordinary rendition program, and a detention policy for terror suspects based on the use of torture. [...]

  34. Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Bush and Cheney’s Torture, Lies « Moderate Observer says...

    [...] Some activists were still burnt out from campaigning for Barack Obama, others thought the new President had waved a magic wand and miraculously cured all America’s ills, while others, to the right of common sense and decency, were beginning to mobilize in opposition to a President who, to be frank, should have been more of a disappointment to those who thought that “hope” and “change” might mean something than to those who supported the Bush administration’s view of the world. Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan, endorsed indefinite detention without charge or trial for prisoners at Guantánamo, and shielded Bush administration officials and lawyers from calls for their prosecution for turning America into a nation with secret prisons, an extraordinary rendition program, and a detention policy for terror suspects based on the use of torture. [...]

  35. Scholars and Rogues » WEHT SWK?: Nota Bene #2010-12 says...

    [...] stop fantasizing about living in an urban utopia” … “This is a story of such profound importance that it must not be allowed to slip away” … “As Washington focuses on Barack [...]

  36. CrossTalk on Gitmo: Morphing injustice – Andy Worthington vs Cully Stimson « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] to highlight the incompetence that led to so few genuine terrorist suspects being captured, and the lamentable introduction of torture as a key component in the interrogation process – and I believe that “Cully” also had the [...]

  37. Lawrence Wilkerson Demolishes Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld’s Lies About Guantánamo « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] and abuse to be held accountable for their actions. These are calls which, in law-abiding circles, have increased since the recent whitewash of a report recommending disciplinary action for John Yoo and Jay S. [...]

  38. Col. Morris Davis Defends the Rule of Law, Calls for Prosecution for Torturers « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] also pulled no punches when it came to explaining why torture is a criminal offense, and why those who authorize it must be prosecuted — an unsurprising, but important opinion, [...]

  39. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld’s Lies about Guantánamo : STATESMAN SENTINEL says...

    [...] and abuse to be held accountable for their actions. These are calls which, in law-abiding circles, have increased since the recent whitewash of a report recommending disciplinary action for John Yoo and Jay S. [...]

  40. The Progressive Mind » The Torture of Omar Khadr, a Child in Bagram and Guantánamo | Andy Worthington says...

    [...] Counsel, which is supposed to objectively interpret the law as it applies to the executive branch, purported to redefine torture, in two memos that have become known as the “torture memos,” as the infliction of physical pain [...]

  41. The Torture of Omar Khadr, a Child in Bagram and Guantánamo « roger hollander says...

    [...] Counsel, which is supposed to objectively interpret the law as it applies to the executive branch, purported to redefine torture, in two memos that have become known as the “torture memos,” as the infliction of [...]

  42. Nine Years After 9/11, US Court Concedes that International Laws of War Restrict President’s Wartime Powers « Dandelion Salad says...

    [...] As recently as February this year, Yoo continued to defend the President’s absolute right to do what he considered “necessary” in wartime without opposition, and was, to a distressing extent, justified in doing so when a senior Justice Department official, David Margolis, rewrote the conclusion of a four-year internal investigation into the “torture memos,” claiming that Yoo (and Jay S. Bybee, the head of the OLC), were not guilty of “professional misconduct,” as the report’s authors had asserted, but had, instead, merely exercised “poor judgment.” [...]

  43. The Bush Administration and Human Experimentation at Guantánamo Bay « Craig Considine says...

    [...] The article — which involved over a year of research, as Leopold and Kaye persuaded former officials to open up to them — not only adds to Leopold’s important work and to Kaye’s formidable track record as a chronicler of the development of human experimentation in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” torture program (which he has also revealed as part of an obsession with human experimentation reaching back to the 1950s), but also confirms the existence of an important new front in the struggle to raise awareness of the horrors of torture, and the requirement that those who authorized it be held accountable for their crimes. [...]

  44. Paul Wolfowitz authorized human experimentation at Guantánamo | The Elephant In the Living Room says...

    [...] to raise awareness of the horrors of torture, and the requirement that those who authorized it be held accountable for their crimes.  You can read much more at the Andy Worthington website. This entry was posted on Monday, [...]

  45. In Upcoming Book Bush Admits to Waterboarding | Watts Cookin' says...

    [...] many crimes – including the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the authorization of the use of torture on “high-value detainees” seized in the “War on [...]

  46. Hounding a Torture Judge: A Report by Susan Harman on the Campaign to Impeach Jay S. Bybee « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] the report’s conclusion — that both men were guilty of “professional misconduct” — concluding instead that they had merely exercised “poor [...]

  47. Former CIA “Ghost Prisoner” Abu Zubaydah Recognized as “Victim” in Polish Probe of Secret Prison « Eurasia Review says...

    [...] those seeking accountabiity for the senior Bush administration officials and lawyers who established a global torture program [...]

  48. Former CIA "Ghost Prisoner" Abu Zubaydah Recognized as "Victim" in Polish Probe of Secret Prison – Left Blog Feeds- Progressive News says...

    [...] Zubaydah by Public domain For those seeking accountabiity for the senior Bush administration officials and lawyers who established a global torture [...]

  49. New York Times Attempts To Stifle Torture Debate - OpEd says...

    [...] Conventions into an unrecognizable mess to excuse torture” in what will forever be known as the “torture memos.”The Times also recognized torture as “immoral and illegal and counterproductive,” and stated [...]

  50. Former CIA Interrogator Speaks Out Against Torture - OpEd says...

    [...] Bush administration, and much of it is the right sort of buzz — openly involving reminders that torture is a crime, and that, in addition, using torture is worthless if the aim is to produce reliable information. [...]

  51. US Training Manual Used As Basis for Bush’s Torture Program Is Released by Pentagon « Peace and Justice Post says...

    [...] two memos — the “torture memos” — signed by his boss, Jay Bybee, on August 1, 2002, which purported to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA, and approved the use of ten torture techniques on Abu [...]

  52. Ten Years of Torture: Marking the 10th Anniversary of John Yoo’s “Torture Memos” | _ says...

    [...] The decision to allow Margolis to allow Yoo and Bybee to evade accountability is typical of the Obama administration, which has refused to engage with any attempt — internally or internationally — to prosecute those involved in the Bush administration’s torture program, even though crimes were undeniably committed, as I explained in an article a month after Margolis’s whitewash. [...]

  53. Ten Years of Torture: Marking the 10th Anniversary of John Yoo’s “Torture Memos” « Stop Making Sense says...

    [...] The decision to allow Margolis to allow Yoo and Bybee to evade accountability is typical of the Obama administration, which has refused to engage with any attempt — internally or internationally — to prosecute those involved in the Bush administration’s torture program, even though crimes were undeniably committed, as I explained in an article a month after Margolis’s whitewash. [...]

  54. Hiding Horrific Tales of Torture: How Guantanamo Fuels Injustice (Andy Worthington) says...

    [...] wrote two memos — the “torture memos,” signed by OLC head Jay S. Bybee — in which he cynically attempted to redefine torture, and endorsed an interrogation plan for Abu Zubaydah using torture techniques including [...]

  55. yahoo.com says...

    Ur blog post, Room Darkening Shades “What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not “Poor Judgment” | Andy Worthington” was well worth writing a comment on! Simply just wished to point out you truly did a fantastic work.

    Many thanks ,Fanny

  56. All Guantánamo Prisoners Were Subjected to “Pharmacological Waterboarding” by Andy Worthington | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] memos prepared in August 2002 by former DoJ attorneys Jay Bybee and John Yoo for the CIA’s torture program permitted the use of drugs for interrogations. The authority was […]

  57. By One Vote, US Court OKs Torture and “Extraordinary Rendition” | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] in a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of five men subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture, is one such story. The men — Binyam Mohamed, Ahmed Agiza, Abou Elkassim Britel, Mohamed Farag […]

  58. On Bush’s Waterboarding Claims, UK Media Loses Its Moral Compass by Andy Worthington | Dandelion Salad says...

    […] of the Spanish Inquisition as “tortura del agua” can be repackaged, with the advice of corrupt lawyers in the Justice Department, as an “enhanced interrogation technique” that is legally permissible. In addition, […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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