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Stephen Colbert on Chuck Todd and torture investigations
Amazingly, reports that Eric Holder is considering commencing an investigation into Bush-era torture crimes has created extreme consternation in multiple Beltway circles despite how narrow and limited those investigations would be. As I wrote last week, numerous reports indicate that Holder wants to replicate the Abu Ghraib travesty by investigating only low-level interrogators who exceeded the torture limits approved by John Yoo and George Bush, and not investigate the high-level policy makers who instituted the criminal torture regime or the DOJ lawyers who authorized it.
Since then, the Newsweek reporter who first printed what DOJ officials told him about Holder's intentions, Daniel Klaidman, confirmed in an interview on The Young Turks that Holder intends to confine any investigations only to "rogue" interrogators who exceeded John Yoo's torture permission slips while shielding high-level Bush officials who acted in accordance with Yoo's decrees. Proving yet again that there is nothing more difficult than satirizing our rotted political culture, here is what I wrote about Holder's intentions last week:
Holder's plan, at least at the moment, is -- from the start -- to confine the prosecutors' authority to investigate to CIA agents who went beyond what John Yoo and George Bush decreed could be done ("he used more water than Yoo said he could"; "he tied him up for longer than Yoo authorized"; "the room was colder and the freezing water icier than Yoo allowed"). At least if these reports are accurate (and, for several reasons, that's unclear), anyone who "merely" did what John Yoo said was legal -- meaning everyone who matters -- will be shielded and immunized...Read the complete Salon.com article here
New York Times
April 19, 2009
The Torturers' Manifesto
To read the four newly released memos on prisoner interrogation written by George W. Bush's Justice Department is to take a journey into depravity.
Their language is the precise bureaucratese favored by dungeon masters throughout history. They detail how to fashion a collar for slamming a prisoner against a wall, exactly how many days he can be kept without sleep (11), and what, specifically, he should be told before being locked in a box with an insect -- all to stop just short of having a jury decide that these acts violate the laws against torture and abusive treatment of prisoners.
In one of the more nauseating passages, Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general and now a federal judge, wrote admiringly about a contraption for waterboarding that would lurch a prisoner upright if he stopped breathing while water was poured over his face. He praised the Central Intelligence Agency for having doctors ready to perform an emergency tracheotomy if necessary.
These memos are not an honest attempt to set the legal limits on interrogations, which was the authors' statutory obligation. They were written to provide legal immunity for acts that are clearly illegal, immoral and a violation of this country's most basic values.
In the days after the attacks of September 11, 2001, and after agreement by the highest government officials, the United States began to torture prisoners. Beginning as far back as late 2002, and especially after the Abu Ghraib photographs were revealed in the spring of 2004, this torture has increasingly become public. Americans have tortured, they had done so officially, and they know they have done so. The question that remains is how the polity - American citizens as a community - will cope with these actions and with their knowledge of them. We have tortured. Now: What is to be done?
Mark Danner is a writer and reporter who for 25 years has written on politics and foreign affairs, focusing on war and conflict. Recently, he broke a story based on a secret document from the International Committee of the Red Cross that concluded that the Bush administration knowingly allowed treatment of prisoners that "constituted torture." Danner is Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs, Politics and the Humanities at Bard College. markdanner.com
New York Review of Books: "U.S. Torture: Voices from the Black Sites"
Today, London-based journalist and author of "The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison," releases the first definitive list of the 779 prisoners held in the United States prison of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The list, which is the result of three years' research and writing about GuantÃ¡namo, provides details of the 533 prisoners who have been released, and includes, for the first time ever, accurate dates for their release. It also provides details of the 241 prisoners who are still held, including the 59 prisoners who have been cleared for release. Although some stories are still unknown, the stories of nearly 700 prisoners are referenced either by links to Andy's extensive archive of articles about GuantÃ¡namo, or to the chapters in "The GuantÃ¡namo Files"
where they can be found.
Andy Worthington underscores:
"It is my hope that this project will provide an invaluable research tool for those seeking to understand how it came to pass that the government of the United States turned its back on domestic and international law, establishing torture as official US policy, and holding men without charge or trial neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trial in a federal court, but as 'illegal enemy combatants.'
"I also hope that it provides a compelling explanation of how that same government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, established a prison in which the overwhelming majority of those held -- at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total -- were either completely innocent people, seized as a result of dubious intelligence or sold for bounty payments, or Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism."
Links to the list are included below:
Part 1 (ISNs 002 to 200):
Part 2 (ISNs 201 to 496):
Part 3 (ISNs 497 to 732):
Part 4 (ISNs 743 to 10030):
Propelling prisoners' heads into concrete walls by means of towels wrapped around their necks, savage beatings with fists and rifles that left prisoners crippled, hanging prisoners by the arms with their arms strung up behind them, depriving prisoners of sleep for weeks on end, which has been thought the worst torture possible for 500 years, causing prisoners to freeze -- sometimes to death, and waterboarding are but a partial list of the torture methods ordered by America's highest officials. In the "Preliminary Memorandum of the Justice Robert H. Jackson Conference on Federal Prosecutions of War Criminals," law school Dean Lawrence Velvel, the founder of the Jackson Conference, details the full spectrum of tortures performed in wholesale combinations -- not one torture by itself -- on detainees around the world. His Preliminary Memorandum is a precursor to a formal legal complaint to be filed with the Justice Department this spring.
Memorandum identifies 31 culprits and details the war crimes they
committed, the laws they broke, and the many fulsome warnings they received
regarding their actions from numerous governmental lawyers and officials high
and low, including the Judge Advocate Generals of all the armed services. The
culprits who should be prosecuted include Bush, Cheney, Gonzales, Addington,
Tenet, Bybee, Yoo, Haynes, Chertoff and others. Furthermore, the Preliminary Memorandum calls the Bush administration's illegal acts "an attempted
constitutional revolution that succeeded for years." It began six days
after 9/11, when Bush secretly gave the CIA permission to "murder . . .
people all over the world." It continued in a series of secret, wholly
specious legal memos authorizing torture, electronic eavesdropping, wholesale
violations of law, and Presidential usurpation of the role of Congress.
Public pressure eventually forced the administration to declassify a few of the memos. These purported to authorize war crimes outlawed by the Geneva Conventions and
President Obama has failed an early test of his commitment to break with Bush administration policies by blocking the public disclosure of descriptions of torture and abuse suffered by a terror suspect. It's hard to tell if this is a wrongheaded effort to protect the Bush administration from embarrassment or if the Obama team is still just getting its footing. Let's hope it's the latter.
Binyam Mohamed was captured by U.S. and British intelligence officials in Pakistan in 2002, rendered to Morocco and is now a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay. All the charges against Mohamed have been dropped. He says that confessions were tortured out of him. But a statement provided by the United States to British intelligence about Mohamed's mistreatment won't be made part of an opinion by the British High Court because the Bush administration threatened to end intelligence-sharing if it was included. And the Obama administration is going along with that position.
How is it that Obama, who made a dramatic public showing of reversing the Bush administration's terror suspect treatment policies in his first days in office, would continue to use faux claims of national security to keep the public in the dark about the abuses inflicted on prisoners?
According to the British court, the disclosure would have involved "seven very short paragraphs amounting to about 25 lines," summarizing reports on Mohamed's treatment by the United States. The passages, the court said, would have given credence to Mohamed's allegations. There was no danger of compromising intelligence information, the court noted, as all names had been redacted from the documents.
This is not the way to fulfill a campaign promise to return us to the rule of law. What we did to Mohamed needs to be publicly acknowledged. Moving on does not mean covering up.
Another test comes on Monday, when oral arguments are scheduled in a case involving President Bush's rendition policy. The five men who brought suit, including Mohamed, were seized and removed to countries known to torture prisoners or to overseas secret CIA-run prisons -- a policy that CIA Director nominee Leon Panetta vowed to end in his confirmation testimony on Thursday. His claim the next day that he didn't know if rendition for the purpose of abusive interrogation was Bush administration policy is hardly credible and once again suggests Obama administration waffling.
The litigants suffered medieval tortures, including one who was deliberately cut all over and then had stinging liquid poured into his wounds. They are suing a subsidiary of Boeing Co., Jeppesen Dataplan, that allegedly arranged the flights.
The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals is being asked to rule on the "state secrets privilege," a tactic that the Bush administration widely employed to avoid answering serious allegations of lawless conduct.
The Bush administration would simply claim that the suit jeopardizes "state secrets" and, like magic, the case would go away. The case Monday is an appeal of a federal district court's decision to dismiss the torture victims' suit on state secrets grounds.
We'll have to see whether the Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder continues to use this legal maneuver to avoid judicial review of the outrages against humanity committed during the Bush era. So far, the department has not given any indication it will alter its posture in the case.
When our government devastates the lives of human beings and acts in direct contravention of our laws and Constitution, it should not be allowed to hide from justice behind a shield of national secrets.
Federal judges are perfectly capable of reviewing classified evidence, and there are long-standing procedures to guard the nation's secrets in lawsuits. To suggest otherwise means that the executive branch can act with impunity whenever foreign intelligence matters are at issue.
In the Senate, the State Secrets Protection Act would end the blanket immunity the executive branch now claims under the state secrets privilege, and it would be comforting if Obama would throw his support behind it.
Obama is saying all the right things to put America back on the path of right. Now he has to follow up the talk with the walk.
The prospect of revenge and justice against the kidnappers and torturers of the Bush administration have been prime drivers for many Obama activists which explains the huge cloud of disillusionment that is spreading across Washington. The activists could stand a rollback on the Iraqi withdrawal, a troop build up in Afghanistan, even the unwillingness to seek the impeachment of Bush and Cheney. But the final straw has come with the confirmation hearing of Leon Panetta, the incoming head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
It was the CIA who kidnapped people off the streets of foreign capitals, hid them away in secret prisons where they were tortured or sent them to third countries where other brutal regimes could do the torturing on America's behalf. When Leon Panetta was announced as the nominee for the CIA, there was cheering among the rank and file and a frisson of fear at CIA headquarters at Langley. After all, Panetta had been one of the fiercest critics of the torture and rendition program which he described repeatedly as clearly illegal. Here, at last, the activists thought, someone would be held accountable. But at his confirmation hearings last week Panetta said that no action will be taken against anyone who might have carried out what he and others considered illegal acts in the Bush years.
This has produced sighs of relief in the intelligence community where many feared they might become embroiled in a long and legally expensive witch hunt that would derail their careers and jeopardize their freedoms.
Panetta also made clear that much of the torture business will continue
as usual and nobody from the Bush years will be held accountable. While
waterboarding has been banned, CIA agents will still be allowed to
kidnap suspects and hold them for an undefined time without trial. The
Red Cross will be given access to the suspects but when and under what
circumstances is not clear.
Continue reading here.
Claims of Torture Abroad Face Test Monday in Court
The hearing grows out of a lawsuit filed on behalf of an Ethiopian native,Binyam Mohamed, and four other detainees against a subsidiary of the Boeing Company. The suit maintains that the subsidiary, Jeppesen Dataplan, helped arrange rendition flights that took the detainees to nations where, they say, they were tortured.
The suit was filed by theÂ American Civil Liberties UnionÂ in the Federal District Court in San Francisco in May 2007. It was dismissed last February after the Bush administration asserted the "state secrets privilege," claiming that the disclosure of information in the case could damage national security.
In the appeal, to be heard Monday by a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the civil liberties union argues that the government has engaged in an inappropriate blanket use of the privilege and that the case should be allowed to proceed.
"Every single torture case filed against a U.S. official has been thrown out without any adjudication of law or facts" because of the early and broad use of the state secrets privilege, said Ben Wizner, an A.C.L.U. lawyer.
The practical effect, Mr. Wizner said, is that detainees are blocked from the courts, and so "there aren't any checks and balances over the conduct."
In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the A.C.L.U., noted that as a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama pledged to break with the past on the issues of rendition and torture. His Justice Department, however, has not yet signaled whether it will continue to assert the broad state secrets claim, alter it or simply ask for more time to consider its options.
"The baton has been passed," Mr. Romero said. "The runner must run in the same direction or change course."
A spokesman for the Justice Department, Charles Miller, declined to comment on the case, as did a White House spokesman, Ben LaBolt.
But whatever the government's lawyer says on Monday will speak volumes about the administration's views, Mr. Wizner said.
"If he repeats the Bush administration's argument that this case must be dismissed at the outset," Mr.Wizner said, "then we'll know that despite the change of administration, the policy of the United States that torture victims be shut out of the courtroom has continued."
Senator Whitehouse Supports Call for Investigation into Use of Torture by U.S.
, Rhode Island news
PROVIDENCE -- U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, speaking at a conference for health and medical professionals at Brown University yesterday, made the case for holding the Bush administration accountable for changing the nation's policy on torture.
"We need to follow this thing into those dense weeds and shine a bright light into what was done," said the state's junior senator. "We can paper it over if we choose, but the blueprint is still lying there for others to do it all over again. ... It's important that we not let this moment pass."
Whitehouse, a Democrat, spoke at the close of the first of two days of the Physicians for Human Rights' National Student Conference, an annual gathering of medical, public health, nursing and undergraduate school students.
Challenging the former administration's use of torture has been one of the key areas of advocacy for the D.C.-based organization, and its leaders passed on to Whitehouse a petition signed by conference goers calling for Congress to form a committee to investigate the federal government's use of torture and other coercive methods of interrogation.
Nearly 400 students from 75 schools across the nation were at yesterday's conference.
Whitehouse focused his remarks on why the nation, despite the daunting challenges it faces on the economic front, must confront the issue of torture early in the Obama administration.
Under Bush, "the U.S. government took part in inhumane, brutal interrogation techniques that were torture," he said. "The question is, what does it mean when a country as a whole heads down a road like this? It is an important story to tell to understand the way democracy works."
The former state attorney general and former U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island has become a vocal figure nationally on issues of torture and abuse as a member of the Senate Judiciary and the Senate Intelligence committees.
Whitehouse explained how in 2002, the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel issued a memo that became the standard for how the federal government under Bush would define acts of torture -- as those acts that caused organ failure or death in their subjects.
"They got that standard, from all places, from health-care reimbursement law," said Whitehouse. "The words happened to be useful to them, but they were taken out of context."
Whitehouse pointed out that the Department of Justice in the 1980s prosecuted a county sheriff in Texas for using waterboarding (the practice of simulating drowning by covering a victim's face with a towel and dousing him or her with water) to coerce confessions from suspects.
Even then, the U.S. government had deemed waterboarding as torture, he said.
"It's beyond malpractice," said Whitehouse of the 2002 ruling. "It raises the specter that these things were overlooked" purely for political ends, he said.
Some have argued that digging into the actions of the Bush administration would open deep wounds at a time when the nation is trying to heal. But those at the conference, including Whitehouse, disagreed.
"It's an issue of accountability," said John Bradshaw, chief policy officer for the Physicians for Human Rights. "We need to re-establish the fact that no one is above the law."
Oral arguments inÂ
95 Seventh Street
Posted by Suzanne Ito, ACLUÂ
On his first full day in office, President Obama addressed his senior staff and cabinet secretaries withÂ remarks that included the following:
The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is make it transparent so that the American people can know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made, and whether their interests are being well served.
[...]Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency."
As in ourÂ previous extraordinary rendition case on behalf of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, the district court in the Jeppesen case allowed the government--then under the Bush administration -- to invoke theÂ state secrets privilege, and accepted its claim that hearing the case in open court would jeopardize national security.
Well, the ACLU will return to court next month, and the Washington Independent's Daphne Eviatar penned anÂ excellent articleÂ about how the upcoming oral arguments in this case will test the Obama administration's commitment to transparency, and opposition to torture. Eviatar writes:
The test of those commitments will come soon in key court cases involving CIA "black sites" and torture that the Bush administration had quashed by claiming they would reveal state secrets and endanger national security. Legal experts say that the Bush Department of Justice used what's known as the "state secrets privilege" -- created originally as a narrow evidentiary privilege for sensitive national security information -- as a broad shield to protect the government from exposure of its own misconduct.Mark your calendars: Oral arguments in Jeppesen are scheduled for February 9. When Eviatar contacted the Justice Department about whether they would change their position in the case, they declined to comment. So it's wait-and-see time: we're hoping for a complete 180 from the new DOJ, and that our clients will finally see their day in court.
On Tuesday, January 13th, 2009, House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers released a 486-page report Tuesday that called for a wide-ranging probe into the Bush Administration's broad assertion of executive powers. In the report, Conyers referred to a previously unpublished Oct. 23, 2001 Justice Department memorandum authored by John Yoo and sent to then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon General Counsel William Haynes. The memo provided President George W. Bush with various scenarios that would allow him to sidestep Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Eleven days after 9/11, John Yoo, a former deputy in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, drafted a 20-page memorandum that offered up theories on how the Bush administration could sidestep Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures in the event the U.S. military used "deadly force in a manner that endangered the lives of United States citizens."
Yoo came up with a number of different scenarios. He suggested shooting down a jetliner hijacked by terrorists; setting up military checkpoints inside a U.S. city; implementing surveillance methods far more superior than those available to law enforcement; or using military forces "to raid or attack dwellings where terrorists were thought to be, despite risks that third parties could be killed or injured by exchanges of fire," says a copy of the little known Sept. 21, 2001 memo.
Yoo is the author of an August 2002 legal opinion, widely referred to as the "Torture Memo," that gave interrogators the legal authority to use brutal methods against suspected terrorists.
He drafted the Sept. 21, 2001 memo in response to a question posed by Timothy E. Flanigan, the former deputy White House counsel, who wanted to know "the legality of the use of military force to prevent or deter terrorist activity inside the United States,'' according to a copy of Flanigan's memo.Yoo wrote that his ideas would likely be seen as violating the Fourth Amendment. But he said the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and the prospect that future attacks would require the military to be deployed inside the U.S. meant President Bush would "be justified in taking measures which in less troubled conditions could be seen as infringements of individual liberties."
"We think that the Fourth Amendment should be no more relevant than it would be in cases of invasion or insurrection," Yoo's memo stated.
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