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 »
Exactly ten years ago, on August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, who, at the time, was the Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, signed two memos (see here and here) that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Also known as the Bybee memos, because of Bybee’s signature on them, they were in fact mainly written by John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley, who worked as a lawyer in the OLC from 2001 to 2003.
Although the OLC is supposed to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo was not interested in being impartial. As one of six lawyers close to Vice President Dick Cheney — along with David Addington, Cheney’s Legal Counsel, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, White House Deputy Counsel Tim Flanigan, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and his deputy, Daniel Dell’Orto — he played a significant role in formulating the notion that, in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” prisoners could be held as “enemy combatants” without the traditional protections of the Geneva Conventions; in other words, without any rights whatsoever.
This position was confirmed in an executive order issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, and was not officially challenged until the Supreme Court reminded the government, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment,” applies to all prisoners seized in wartime. 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 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 »
On August 30, when In My Time, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s self-serving autobiography was published, the timing was pernicious. Cheney knows by now that every time he opens his mouth to endorse torture or to defend Guantánamo, the networks welcome him, and newspapers lavish column inches on his opinions, even though astute editors and programmers must realize that, far from being an innocuous elder statesman defending the “war on terror” as a robust response to the 9/11 attacks, Cheney has an ulterior motive: to keep at bay those who are aware that he and other Bush administration officials were responsible for authorizing the use of torture by US forces, and that torture is a crime in the United States.
As a result, Cheney knew that, on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that launched the “war on terror” that he is still so concerned to defend, his voice would be echoing in the ears of millions of his countrymen and women, helping to disguise a bitter truth: that, following the 9/11 attacks, Cheney was largely responsible for the abomination that is Guantánamo, and for the torture to which prisoners were subjected from Abu Ghraib to Bagram to Guantánamo and the “black sites” that littered the world.
Alarmingly, while Cheney has been largely successful in claiming that the use of torture was helpful, despite a lack of evidence that this was the case, what strikes me as even more alarming is that many Americans are still unaware of the extent to which the torture for which Cheney was such a cheerleader did not keep them safe from terrorist attacks, but actually provided a lie that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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