Ten Years of Torture: Marking the 10th Anniversary of John Yoo’s “Torture Memos”

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 »

On the 10th Anniversary of Yoo and Bybee’s “Torture Memos,” Col. Morris Davis Reminds Americans About Justice and the Law

Exactly ten years ago, two memos written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were signed by his immediate boss, Jay S. Bybee. In these two memos, Yoo, also a law professor at UC Berkeley, attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” seized in the “war on terror,” even though the US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the use of torture under any circumstances.

These two memos, generally known as the Bybee memos, but forever known to anyone with a conscience as the “torture memos,” marked the start of an official torture program that will forever be a black mark on America’s reputation — as well as providing cover for torturers worldwide, and turning America into such a dubious and lawless nation that President Obama and his administration have shied away form holding any of their predecessors accountable for their actions, and have swallowed the Bush administration’s rhetoric about a “war on terror” to such an extent that, although torture has been officially repudiated, the administration has presided over a massive increase in the use of unmanned drones to assassinate those regarded as a threat, without any judicial process, and in countries with which the US is not at war, including US citizens.

In an article to follow soon, I will examine this anniversary more closely, but for now I wanted to make sure that I marked it in some manner, having been away at the WOMAD world music festival for most of the run-up to it, and I’m delighted to use the occasion to cross-post an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times written by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned five years ago, when he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and one of the main drivers of the torture program. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Report into the Drugging of Guantánamo Prisoners Is Released

Ten and a half years into the Guantánamo experiment, as it becomes ever harder for those who are still appalled by the prison’s existence, and by the failures of all three branches of the US government — under Barack Obama — to close it, my friends and colleagues Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold are to be commended for not giving up, and for digging away at the secrets that still shroud Guantánamo, and that, moreover, are still capable of providing a shock when uncovered, even if they are generally ignored by the mainstream media.

On Wednesday, the mainstream media decided to pay attention for a change, and Jeff and Jason’s report on a drugging scandal at Guantánamo, published on Truthout, where Jason is the lead investigative reporter and Jeff, a full-time psychologist, is also a regular contributor, was picked up by mainstream media outlets including the Associated Press, AFP and Britain’s Daily Mail.

Their article was based on the release of a Pentagon report, “Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees” that they requested through Freedom of Information legislation two years ago, and it paints a depressing story of prisoners at Guantánamo being given given powerful anti-psychotic medication and then, on occasions, interrogated, even though they were in no fit state to answer questions competently. Read the rest of this entry »

Still No Accountability for Torture

Last week, the bad news from the Supreme Court was not just manifested in the court’s decision to abdicate its responsibilities towards the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by turning down appeals submitted by seven of the 169 men still held, although that was a dreadful decision, establishing, as it did, that the D.C. Circuit Court could continue in its mission to extinguish the habeas corpus rights that had been granted to the prisoners by the Supreme Court in June 2008.

However, it was also accompanied by a refusal to consider an appeal by Jose Padilla, the US citizen held as an “enemy combatant” in a military brig on the US mainland for three and half years from June 2002 to November 2005, and tortured, particularly through the use of prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation.

On May 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, reversed a lower court decision (PDF) allowing Padilla to pursue a lawsuit against John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who wrote the notorious “torture memos,” in which he cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA. Padilla — and his mother, Estela Lebron — sought to hold Yoo “liable for damages they allege they suffered” during his “unlawful” detention, which was “in violation of his constitutional and statutory rights,” but the court disagreed. As Scott Horton explained for Harper’s Magazine: Read the rest of this entry »

Torture: The Bush Administration on Trial

Law-abiding US citizens have been appalled that Jose Rodriguez, the director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service until his retirement in 2007, was invited onto CBS’s “60 Minutes” program last weekend to promote his book Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, in which he defends the use of torture on “high-value detainees” captured in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” even though that was — and is — illegal under US and international law.

Rodriguez joins an elite club of war criminals — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — who, instead of being prosecuted for using torture, or authorizing its use, have, instead, been allowed to write books, go on book tours and appear on mainstream TV to attempt to justify their unjustifiable actions.

All claim to be protected by the “golden shield” offered by their inside man, John Yoo, part of a group of lawyers who aggressively pushed the lawlessness of the “war on terror.” Abusing his position as a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, whose mandate is to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo instead attempted to redefine torture and approved its use — including the use of waterboarding, an ancient torture technique and a form of controlled drowning — on an alleged “high-value detainee,” Abu Zubaydah, in two memos, dated August 1, 2002, that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Permanent Injustice of Guantánamo

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.

The Permanent Injustice of Guantánamo
By Andy Worthington, Freedom Daily, January 2012

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 »

George W. Bush’s Torture Program Began Ten Years Ago

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 »

Ten Years After 9/11, America Deserves Better than Dick Cheney’s Self-Serving Autobiography

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 »

The Baha Mousa Inquiry: A Good Day for British Justice, A Bleak Day for the British Army and Their US Mentors

Yesterday, the publication of the final report of the Baha Mousa Inquiry demonstrated that, occasionally, when something truly monstrous has occurred, the British government can do the right thing, and hold a proper inquiry.

Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist in Basra, Iraq, was killed by British soldiers in September 2003, his brutalized body bearing 93 separate injuries, after two days of what the judge in the three-year inquiry, Sir William Gage, described as “serious, gratuitous violence” that leaves “a very great stain on the reputation of the Army.”

As the Independent explained in an editorial today, the report is “damning.” The judge found that the “savagery meted out to Mr. Mousa and fellow detainees in Basra in 2003 were not the actions of a few ‘bad apples,'” but were, instead, “the result of systemic, ‘corporate’ failures that meant neither the abusive soldiers, nor their superiors, were aware that forcing detainees to wear hoods and adopt excruciating stress positions contravened both British law and the Geneva Convention.”

The Independent noted, “That any British soldier is unclear about what constitutes torture is disgraceful enough. That there were others who saw what was happening and allowed it to continue is truly shameful.” Read the rest of this entry »

More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq

Three weeks ago, my colleague Jeffrey Kaye, a full-time psychologist in California who also manages to find time to pursue a second career as a blogger producing important work on America’s torture program, wrote an article for Truthout about the use of water torture at Guantánamo, which pulled together information that was previously available, but scattered around a number of different sources, and which, I’m delighted to note, secured a wide audience online, also attracting interest in the mainstream media.

As a follow-up, Jeff recently wrote another article for Truthout, providing further examples of the use of water as a torture technique, not only in Guantánamo, but also in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to mark my return to work after two weeks away in Greece, I’m cross-posting his latest article as my own follow-up, because I cross-posted his earlier article just before my departure for Athens and Agistri, and I hope that making both articles available here will ensure that they reach new readers who have not yet come across Jeff’s work.

More Evidence of Water Torture “Depravity” in Rumsfeld’s Military
By Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout, August 18, 2011

There have been a number of cases of detainees held by the Department of Defense (DoD) who have been subjected to water torture, including some that come very close to waterboarding, according to an investigation by Truthout. The prisoners have been held in a number of settings, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantánamo Bay.

In a number of settings, DoD spokespeople in the past — most notably former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld — have denied the use of waterboarding by DoD personnel. But as examples of DoD water torture have multiplied, it appears government denials about “waterboarding” were overly legalistic, and that behind them, DoD personnel were hiding torture involving similar methods of choking, suffocation or near-drowning by water. 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.
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