Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Torture Conspiracy

The McClatchy newspapers—the only major media group that has even pretended to employ investigative reporters to question Bush administration policies—has done it again. This time, in a June 18 article by Tom Lasseter, it has pointed out that the “framework under which detainees were imprisoned for years without charges at Guantanamo and in many cases abused in Afghanistan,” was an organized attempt to circumvent U.S. laws and treaties “to prevent anyone…from being held accountable.” Five White House lawyers, all of them familiar to anyone who has been following this, are identified as part of the so-called “War Council:” David Addington, now chief of staff to VP Cheney; Alberto Gonzalez, one-time Attorney General; John Yoo, one-time counsel in the Justice Department;  William J. Haynes II, former Pentagon general counsel; and Timothy E. Flanigan, former deputy to Gonzalez. This “War Council” met every few weeks in the office of Gonzalez or Haynes to plot their nefarious policies—policies that resulted directly in depriving arrested suspects of all legal rights, and in torture. The members of this council were, in every sense of the word, a torture conspiracy, and worse, one that “created an environment in which it was nearly impossible to prosecute soldiers or officials for alleged crimes committed in U.S. detention facilities.”
            Lasseter’s article lists the memos, the direct result of the conspiracy, that did the dirty work.
            Jan. 9, 2002: Yoo sent a memo to Haynes, saying that the Geneva Convention’s Common Article Three prohibiting “humiliating and degrading treatment and torture of prisoners” did not cover al Quaeda or Taliban suspects.
            Jan. 25, 2002: Gonzalez sent a follow-up memo to President Bush, asserting that eliminating prisoner rights under Geneva (the Yoo memo) set up a “solid defense against prosecutors or independent counsels” who might some day want to pursue war-crimes charges.
            Feb. 7, 2002: Bush then followed up these memos with a memo of his own, asserting that al-Quaeda or Taliban suspects were not considered prisoners of war, and wouldn’t be given Common Article Three protections. (i.e., the memos resulted in almost immediate action.)
            Aug. 1, 2002: Gonzalez requests a memo from the Justice Department, which Yoo writes, defining torture so narrowly—injury such as death, or organ failure deriving from “extreme acts”—that it could excuse almost any abuse.
            March 14, 2003: Yoo writes a memo for Haynes (who was getting heat from his military lawyers about the abuses going on) asserting that even if some interrogation amounted to war crimes, the perpetrators still couldn’t be prosecuted because they were operating under Bush’s constitutional authority to wage war. “In wartime,” Yoo wrote, “it is for the president alone to decide what methods to use to best prevail against the enemy.”
            The conspiracy, in short, provided the legal bases for Americans to use torture, and the legal structure whereby they could escape prosecution for their crimes. These legal opinions resulted in direct and foreseeable and planned actions—first the President’s memo declaring captured detainees beyond the reach of U.S. and international laws, and then the license to interrogators to use techniques normally considered to be war crimes because the President, in his role as commander during a war, had given them sanction. Evidence exists confirming that U.S. interrogators did, in fact, use the once-forbidden techniques, i.e. torture.
            Of course, what we now know is that the Justice Department itself, under new head of Office of Legal Counsel Jack Goldsmith, found John Yoo’s Aug. 2002 and March 2003 opinions so legally abhorrent, that it reversed them. We also know that the Supreme Court first, in 2006, rebuked the Bush lawyers by ruling that Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions DID apply to Guantanamo prisoners; and it also recently reversed the Bush administration’s contention that so-called enemy combatants do not have habeas corpus rights (the right to challenge the reason for their detention), by ruling that, in fact, they DO. We also now know that even within the administration—especially in the Judge Advocate General’s office at the Pentagon—military lawyers and officials were horrified at what they saw being perpetrated in their names, and tried to protest. But, as Lasseter makes clear, the War Council simply shut out these protesting voices.
            Now those voices are coming back to haunt them. In a Boston Globe article on June 18, Bryan Bender writes that the group “Physicians for Human Rights” has now found medical evidence corroborating the stories of eleven former Guantanamo prisoners that they were tortured. The evidence includes scars such as cheek wounds on a prisoner who says he was stabbed with a screwdriver, and burns and other scars which tend to support allegations of electrical shock and forced sodomy.
            This evidence was convincing enough to General Antonio Taguba (who wrote the first report on Abu Ghraib) to induce him to write in the report’s preface: “This report tells the largely untold human story of what happened to detainees in our custody when the commander in chief and those under him authorized a systematic regime of torture.” General Taguba, now retired, then added an even harsher judgment:
            “There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes.”
            Does this not complete the circle? White House lawyers engaged in a conspiracy to circumvent the laws against torture, and to provide cover for those who employed torture. The President put that conspiracy into action by asserting that those captured had no rights and so could be held indefinitely without charges and treated in any way their interrogators could devise, short of murdering them (although there are up to one hundred torture deaths alleged by researchers like Alfred McCoy.) The members of the United States armed forces and other official and non-official organizations then implemented those executive orders by treating all captives as if they were guilty, subhuman, and deserving of torture. And their actions were hidden, for as long as possible, from neutral watchdog authorities like the International Red Cross.
            What more is needed, now, to begin pursuing those responsible for war crimes?
            What could possibly prevent the impeachment of this President, indeed, as Vincent Bugliosi has written in a recent book, from PROSECUTING this President and all his henchmen for nothing less than a sustained conspiracy to commit war crimes?
Lawrence DiStasi

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