17 Years Since the Notorious Yoo-Bybee “Torture Memos,” the US Still Finds Itself Unable to Successfully Prosecute the Men It Tortured

John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and prisoners on a rendition plane.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

August 1 was the 17th anniversary of a particularly grotesque and dispiriting event in modern US history, one that has ramifications that are still being felt today, even though it was completely unnoticed — or ignored — by the US media. 

On August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, then the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the branch of the Justice Department responsible for advising the executive branch on what is, and what is not legal, signed off on two blatantly unlawful memos written by OLC lawyer John Yoo, which attempted to re-define torture, and approved its use on Abu Zubaydah, a prisoner of the “war on terror” that the US declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who was being held in a secret prison — a “black site” — run by the CIA.

The memos remained secret until June 2004, when, in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when photos were leaked of torture in a US-run prison in Iraq, one of the Yoo-Bybee memos was also leaked, provoking widespread disgust, although Yoo and Bybee escaped the criticism unscathed. For his services, Bybee was made a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while Yoo kept his job as a law professor at the University of Berkeley. 

Read the rest of this entry »

The Messed-Up Trial of the Century: Lawdragon’s Exhaustive Report on the 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearings at Guantánamo

The co-defendants in the painfully slow-moving and contentious 9/11 trial at Guantanamo. From top to bottom: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi) and Walid bin Attash.The military commissions at Guantánamo, as I have been reporting for ten years, are a shamefully deficient excuse for justice, a system dreamt up in the heat of America’s post-9/11 sorrow, when hysteria and vengeance trumped common sense and a respect for the law, and it was decided, by senior Bush administration officials and their lawyers, that prisoners seized in the “war on terror” and subjected to torture should be tried in a system that allowed the use of information derived through the use of torture, and swiftly found guilty and executed.

Military prosecutors, however, soon turned against the system and pointedly resigned, and in 2006 the Supreme Court ruled the whole system illegal. Nevertheless, the Bush administration, with the enthusiastic support of Congress, revived the commissions in the fall of 2006, followed by further resignations (see here and here), and a third version of the commissions ill-advisedly emerged under President Obama in his first year in office (see here and here). The commissions have been tweaked to be less unjust, but they are still a Frankenstein’s Monster facsimile of a working trial system, full of so many holes that it is difficult for them to function at all, and at their heart is the specter of torture, which the government endlessly tries to hide, while the prisoners’ defence teams, of course, try constantly to expose it, as no fair trial can take place without it being discussed.

In recent years, my coverage of the commissions has been less thorough than it was between 2007 and the summer of 2014, largely because it seemed to me that the commissions were so broken and were going round and round in circles so pointlessly that it was no longer even worth trying to follow what was — or, more often, what wasn’t — happening. In one way, this was a fair reflection of the futility of the commissions’ efforts to secure anything resembling justice, but the more fundamental reality was that, however broken the proceedings may have been, pre-trial hearings were still taking place, however little they were being reported, which, one day, would constitute a damning indictment of America’s post-9/11 flight from justice and the law, and its embrace of torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. As a result, the commissions really ought not to be allowed to drop off the radar. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture: The Elephant in the Room at Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

For seven and a half years now, I have watched as the United States has tried and failed to make its trial system at Guantánamo — the military commissions — function in a way that has any kind of legitimacy.

That, however, is impossible, because the trials involve made-up war crimes, invented by Congress, and, as we see on a regular basis when pre-trial hearings are held in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, because there is an unresolvable tension at the heart of the most serious trials — those involving the “high-value detainees,” like KSM and his co-defendants, and also Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another “high-value detainee” charged with involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, all of whom were held — and tortured — in secret “black sites” run by the CIA in countries including Thailand and Poland.

This tension was highlighted in “You Can’t Gag Somebody and Then Want to Kill Them,” an article for the Huffington Post last week by Katherine Hawkins, a researcher and lawyer who recently worked as the Investigator for the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, whose powerful report I discussed here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. 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 (The State of London).
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