Eight years ago today, Jay S. Bybee, then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and now a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, signed two memos, largely written by OLC lawyer John Yoo, which purported to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA, and approved a number of known torture techniques — including waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning — for use on Abu Zubaydah, a supposed “high-value detainee” held in a secret CIA prison in Thailand.
The failure of the Obama administration to hold accountable those in the White House who solicited the torture memos, and those in the OLC who authorized torture (despite their obligation to provide impartial legal advice to the Executive branch) remains a disgraceful stain on America’s reputation, and was compounded in February this year when David Margolis, a career official in the Justice Department, prevented Bybee and Yoo from being held accountable for their actions, overriding the conclusions of a four-year internal investigation in to the memos — that Bybee and Yoo were guilty of “professional misconduct” — and insisting, instead, that they had merely demonstrated “poor judgment.”
While there are further moves to hold senior officials accountable for torture — through the chinks in Bybee’s recent Congressional testimony, for example, and through complaints filed against psychologists involved in implementing the torture program (Dr. James Mitchell, Col. Larry James and Maj. John Leso) — it is deeply distressing that those who solicited and approved the use of torture by US forces have not been held accountable for their actions, and that the illegal actions they approved have therefore become accepted by a significant proportion of the American public.
To mark the eighth anniversary of the signing of the “torture memos,” Coleen Rowley, Sue Skog and Steve Clemens have set up a “24 hour Fast Against Torture.” A Facebook page is here (where readers can sign up to take part, anywhere in the world), an article by Coleen on the Huffington Post is here, and, on FireDogLake, blogger youmayberight explained:
August 1 is the eighth anniversary of the John Yoo/Jay Bybee torture memos. Eight is enough! Join the 24-hour Fast Against Torture beginning at 6:00 p.m. that day. Go to your local federal building on Monday, August 2, for whatever time you can, to demand accountability. We in Minneapolis are having a 12-hour vigil that day. Call the U.S. Attorney in your area and ask: With all the allegations and confessions of torture from high government officials, why has no one ever been prosecuted for it? (The only person ever prosecuted under the Federal Torture Statute was Chuckie Taylor, and that was for torture done for the country of Liberia.) Contact President Obama and Attorney General Holder. Write a letter. Wear an “8” on your forehead on Aug. 1-2. Help us create a climate of accountability. Accountability is the ultimate in anti-war work. Let’s prevent the wars of future decades; they need not be inevitable.
The FireDogLake blog by youmayberight also established further context for the fast:
Accountability is pretty much off the radar of the anti-war movement. At the recent United National Peace Conference in Albany, no workshop dealt with the issue of holding accountable those who committed/are committing crimes in our names.
People sometimes ask me, “Why do you focus on torture? The wars are a much bigger issue; the drone attacks alone kill many more people.” Some point out that legal memos justifying aggressive wars were more damaging than memos “legalizing” torture. I’d respond that there’s something especially reprehensible about the one-to-one, face-to-face aspect of torture. Plus the political spectrum opposed to torture is much wider: those who want to protect our own soldiers, limited government advocates, law-and-order types, plus the human rights/anti-imperialist/peace activists […]
[W]e’re not going to lock up government officials for prosecuting aggressive wars. There’s no public appetite for such accountability yet. But the officially and proudly proclaimed policy of torture gives us just such a possibility. As Rahm Emanuel has said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do.” Don’t let the callousness of that statement blind us to some truth within it.
That’s why accountability for torture is vital. We can create this mindset of accountability that may make future warmongers think twice.
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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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 July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Cross-posted on Eurasia Review.
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), Torture Whitewash: How “Professional Misconduct” Became “Poor Judgment” in the OPR Report (February 2010), Judges Restore Damning Passage on MI5 to the Binyam Mohamed Torture Ruling (February 2010), What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not “Poor Judgment” (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Diary (March 2010), Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies (March 2010), Protests worldwide on Aafia Siddiqui Day, Sunday March 28, 2010 (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah: Tortured for Nothing (April 2010), Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims (April 2010), Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture (April 2010), How Binyam Mohammed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part One): Torture and the “Black Prison” (June 2010), New Report Reveals How Bush Torture Program Involved Human Experimentation (June 2010), UN Secret Detention Report (Part One): The CIA’s “High-Value Detainee” Program and Secret Prisons, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Three): Proxy Detention, Other Countries’ Complicity, and Obama’s Record (all June 2010), Abu Zubaydah and the Case Against Torture Architect James Mitchell (June 2010), The Torture of Abu Zubaydah: The Complaint Filed Against James Mitchell for Ethical Violations (June 2010), Calling for US Accountability on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 2010), How Jay Bybee Has Approved the Prosecution of CIA Operatives for Torture (July 2010). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.
[…] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Vegan Panda. Vegan Panda said: RT @GuantanamoAndy: Today: Fast Against Torture on 8th Anniversary of “Torture Memos” by Bybee/Yoo. Join 24-hour fast for accountability: http://bit.ly/a2Y7aK […]
Hey Andy, I participated in the fast, although I didn’t make it to any courthouse. But I facebooked it, maybe a couple people thought about torture because of it. I try to remember, change comes from within. When enough people have changed, past torturers will be judged and future torture will be impossible. Keep it up!
PS I just subscribed to your RSS feed and the huge footer is included. Not a big deal but you should be able to control how much of the post is fed.
PPS Any updates on how many letters were sent to detainees?
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: