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 »
In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered, authorized or were complicit in the Bush administration’s torture program, every avenue has been shut down within the US by the Obama administration, the Justice Department and the courts, and the only hope lies elsewhere in the world, and specifically Poland, one of three European countries that hosted secret CIA prisons, where “high-value detainees” were subjected to torture.
Whereas the other two countries — Romania and Lithuania — have either refused to accept that a secret prison existed, or have opened and then prematurely shut an investigation, Poland has an ongoing official investigation, which began four years ago and shows no sign of being dismissed, even if numerous obstacles to justice have been erected along the way.
Last week, two US news outlets — the Los Angeles Times and ABC News — reported the latest claim by Senator Jozef Pinior, who, as ABC News explained, told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that prosecutors “have a document that shows a local contractor was asked to build a cage at Stare Kiekuty,” the Polish army base that was used by the CIA as its main prison for “high-value detainees” from December 2002 (when the previous prison in Thailand was closed down) until September 2003, when, for six months, the main “high-value detainees” were held in a secret prison within Guantánamo, before being transferred back to facilities in Europe and Morocco. 14 “high-value detainees” were eventually returned to Guantánamo, as military prisoners, in September 2006. Read the rest of this entry »
Since November 2005, when the Washington Post first reported that the CIA had held “high-value detainees” in its “war on terror” in secret prisons in eastern Europe, and Human Rights Watch then revealed that prisons were located in Poland and Romania, concerned politicians and organizations have worked hard to expose the truth about these prisons (and another that was later discovered in Lithuania).
No one in a position of authority in these countries admitted that these prisons had existed, but important work confirming their existence was done within the EU and the Council of Europe, and of great significance, in June 2006 and June 2007, were two Council of Europe reports (2007 PDF), and a European Parliament report, in January 2007 (PDF). In the 2007 CoE report, Swiss Senator Dick Marty concluded that, after two years’ research and interviews with over 30 current and former members of the intelligence services in the United States and Europe, stated that he had enough “evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania.” Marty also identified both sites, and explained how the flights were disguised using fake flight plans.
One of the MEPs who worked on the EU investigation was Józef Pinior, a former member of the Solidarity movement, who was an MEP from 2004 to 2009, and was first a member, and then the Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee of Human Rights. Pinior has always claimed that, during his investigations, he was told about a document signed by Leszek Miller, Poland’s Prime Minister at the time the CIA prison was in operation, providing information regulating the operations of the prison – in a military intelligence training base in Stare Kiejkuty in north eastern Poland – including information about how, if necessary, to deal with corpses inside the facility. Read the rest of this entry »
Ten years ago, on the evening of March 28, 2002, the Bush administration officially embarked on its “high-value detainee” program in the “war on terror” that had been declared in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, when Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn (more commonly identified as Abu Zubaydah), was captured in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan.
For the next four and half years, Abu Zubaydah, described on his capture as a senior al-Qaeda operative, was held in secret prisons run by the CIA, until, with 13 other “high-value detainees,” he was moved to Guantánamo, in September 2006, where he remains to this day.
After his capture, Abu Zubaydah was taken to a secret prison in Thailand, and it was there, in August 2002, that he was subjected to an array of torture techniques, including waterboarding (an ancient form of torture, which involves controlled drowning). The torture allegedly only began after John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is supposed to provide impartial advice to the executive branch, wrote two memos (the “torture memos,” signed by his boss, Jay S. Bybee), which purported to redefine torture, and authorized the CIA to use ten techniques — including waterboarding — on Zubaydah. He was subsequently waterboarded 83 times. Read the rest of this entry »
At Guantánamo on Wednesday, one of the most notorious torture victims of the Bush administration — Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — was arraigned for his trial by Military Commission, charged with masterminding the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, off the coast of Yemen, which killed 17 US sailors and wounded 39 others. Al-Nashiri is also one of three “high-value detainees” who, under the Bush administration, was subjected to waterboarding, an ancient form of torture that involves controlled drowning.
Appearing publicly for the first time in nine years, al-Nashiri, a millionaire and a merchant before his capture, who is now 46 years old, was clean-shaven, and responded politely when asked by the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, whether he understood the proceedings, and whether “he accepted the services of his Pentagon-paid defense team.” As the Miami Herald described it, he replied, “At this moment these lawyers are doing the right job.”
For those who support George W. Bush’s attempts to twist the law out of shape in an attempt to claim that torture was not torture, and then to use it on “high-value detainees” in a series of despicable torture dungeons located in other countries, the trial of al-Nashiri at Guantánamo is something of a triumph, although it is difficult to see how the torture apologists reach this conclusion. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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