In June 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a notorious memo from August 2002 was leaked. It was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and it claimed to redefine torture and to authorize its use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” I had no idea at the time that its influence would prove to be so long-lasting.
Ten years and four months since it was first issued, this memo — one of two issued on the same day, which will forever be known as the “torture memos” — is still protecting the senior Bush administration officials who commissioned it (as well as Yoo, and his boss, Jay S. Bybee, who signed it).
Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of these men should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under US domestic law, and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 states, unequivocally, “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 of torture.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last November, a war crimes tribunal established in Malaysia “found George Bush and Tony Blair guilty of ‘crimes against peace’ and other war crimes for their 2003 aggressive attack on Iraq, as well as fabricating pretexts used to justify the attack,” as Glenn Greenwald explained at the time. The seven-member Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, established in 2007 by Mahathir bin Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, “has no formal enforcement power,” as Greenwald also explained, “but was modeled after a 1967 tribunal in Sweden and Denmark that found the US guilty of a war of aggression in Vietnam, and, even more so, after the US-led Nuremberg Tribunal held after World War II.”
The tribunal “ruled that Bush and Blair’s name should be entered in a register of war criminals, urged that they be recognized as such under the Rome Statute, and also petitioned the International Criminal Court “to proceed with binding charges.” Though symbolic, the purpose was hugely important, as a Malaysian lawyer explained at the time, saying, “For these people who have been immune from prosecution, we want to put them on trial in this forum to prove that they committed war crimes.” In other words, as Greenwald stated, “because their own nations refuse to hold them accountable and can use their power to prevent international bodies from doing so, the tribunal wanted at least formal legal recognition of these war crimes to be recorded and the evidence of their guilt assembled.”
Greenwald also noted, “That’s the same reason a separate panel of this tribunal will hold hearings later this year on charges of torture” against senior US officials, and last week this second tribunal convened, hearing from three witnesses — former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, and Abbas Abid and Jameela Abbas, both victims of US torture in Iraq, as well as receiving written submissions from other victims. Read the rest of this entry »
Last summer, I wrote an article reviewing ten years of Guantánamo for the Future of Freedom Foundation, for whom I write a weekly column for their online Email Update. This article, however, was for their monthly magazine, Freedom Daily. It was published in the January 2012 issue, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11, 2012, and was published online on April 12, and I’m cross-posting it here in the hope that it will provide other readers with an understanding of the depth of the lawlessness that has prevailed at Guantánamo for the last ten years.
When the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba opened on January 11, 2002 as part of the Bush administration’s global “war on terror,” in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was not immediately apparent that it was a dangerous aberration from recognized laws and treaties that would tarnish America’s name forever.
There had been hints that this was the case — primarily, the fact that a war had been declared when a crime had taken place, and the military order issued by the President in November 2001, “Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism,” in which he stated that members of al-Qaeda or those who harbored them could be held by the US military and, if required, subjected to military trials.
Also worrying, when Guantánamo opened, were the photos of the first prisoners to arrive at the prison, shackled in orange jumpsuits, and subjected to sensory depravation, with their eyes and ears closed with blackout goggles and headphones. The photos shocked many of America’s supporters, if not Americans themselves, who were used to orange jumpsuits from their domestic prisons, and had been primed relentlessly since the 9/11 attacks to enthuse over Wild West-style vengeance, and not to ask too many questions. Read the rest of this entry »
Last month, when I visited the US to campaign for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, I was so busy flying from city to city and from event to event that I did not have time to take in — and in some cases to cross-post — articles of interest that were published at the time.
In the hope of keeping alive some of that spirit of awareness about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo that flickered briefly to life around the anniversary, I’m planning to cross-post some of these articles, and I’m beginning with an article written for the National Law Journal by the military defense attorney Todd Pierce, someone I regard as both a friend and a colleague. I have met up with Todd on my visits to Washington D.C. in November 2009, in January 2011 and last month, and we have also communicated by email, regarding his involvement in the military commissions at Guantánamo, first under George W. Bush, and now under Barack Obama.
Specifically, Todd was involved in the case of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who received a life sentence in November 2008 for producing a video for al-Qaeda, after a one-sided trial in which he refused to mount a defense, and he was one of the lawyers involved in appealing the ruling, arguing that it was an assault on the First Amendment, which, if left unchecked, could lead to all manner of foreigners — including, for example, investigative journalists like me — also being targeted. Read the rest of this entry »
Last month was the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and as this year progresses it is appropriate to remember that there will be other grim 10-year anniversaries to note.
Last week, one of those 10-year anniversaries passed almost unnoticed. On February 7, 2002, as Andrew Cohen noted in the Atlantic, in the only article marking the anniversary:
President George W. Bush signed a brief memorandum [PDF] titled “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al- Qaeda Detainees.” The caption was a cruel irony, an Orwellian bit of business, because what the memo authorized and directed was the formal abandonment of America’s commitment to key provisions of the Geneva Convention. This was the day, a milestone on the road to Abu Ghraib, that marked our descent into torture — the day, many would still say, that we lost part of our soul. Read the rest of this entry »
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