The Whole Story: “Techniques” are Torture

Bipartisan Report: “Indisputable That The United States Engaged In The Practice Of Torture.” According to the New York Times, “A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that ‘it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture’ and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it. The sweeping, 600-page report says that while brutality has occurred in every American war, there never before had been ‘the kind of considered and detailed discussions that occurred after 9/11 directly involving a president and his top advisers on the wisdom, propriety and legality of inflicting pain and torment on some detainees in our custody.’” [New York Times, 4/13/13]

2002 Bush Legal Memorandum: War on Terror “Renders Obsolete Geneva’s Strict Limitations On Questioning Of Enemy Prisoners.” According to the Baltimore Sun, “The low-key [ White House counsel Alberto] Gonzales, a longtime Bush loyalist who often is mentioned as a potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee, rarely breaks the public surface in his work. But he now faces high-profile questions about whether his legal advice in the aftermath of Sept. 11 opened the door for the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers. At issue is a Jan. 25, 2002, memorandum to the president in which Gonzales outlined the legal argument for exempting Taliban and al-Qaida fighters from Geneva Convention protections, noting as one factor the ability to quickly extract intelligence from prisoners. ‘In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners,’ Gonzales wrote. The memo, marked ‘draft,’ also said the war on terror ‘renders quaint’ provisions such as supplying detainees with ‘commissary privileges (or) athletic uniforms.’ The White House rejected suggestions that the 2-year-old document cleared the way for mistreatment of war prisoners in Iraq. But its blunt conclusions touched off a series of questions that drew the White House back into the still-churning abuse scandal and clouded the possibility of Gonzales one day serving as the Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice.” [Baltimore Sun, 5/22/04]

Bush Later Nominated Gonzales To Head The Justice Department. According to CNN, “President Bush on Wednesday nominated his White House legal counsel, Alberto Gonzales, to be the next U.S. attorney general, replacing John Ashcroft. ‘His sharp intellect and sound judgment have helped shape our policies in the war on terror,’ Bush said at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. ‘He always gives me his frank opinion; he is a calm and steady voice in times of crisis. He has an unwavering principle of respect for the law.’” [CNN, 11/11/04]

2002 Bush Legal Memorandum: Geneva Conventions Did Not Apply For Detainees In War On Terror. According to the New York Times, “A series of memorandums from the Justice Department, many of them written by John C. Yoo, a University of California law professor who was serving in the department, provided arguments to keep United States officials from being charged with war crimes for the way prisoners were detained and interrogated. The memorandums, principally one written on Jan. 9, provided legal arguments to support administration officials’ assertions that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees from the war in Afghanistan.” [New York Times, 6/9/04]

Yoo Later Said The “President Could Crush The Testicles Of A Child To Make His Father Talk.” According to an Esquire profile of Yoo, “He is a young Justice Department lawyer — thirty-four at the time — who wrote the Bush administration’s first decisions on prisoner detention, interrogation, habeas corpus, military commissions, and the Geneva Conventions. He is the man who defined torture as pain equivalent to “death or organ failure,” who said that the president could crush the testicles of a child to make his father talk, who picked the lock on Pandora’s box and unleashed the demons of Abu Ghraib.” [Esquire, June 2008]

2003 Bush Legal Memorandum: President Has “Authority As Commander In Chief To Approve Any Technique Needed To Protect The Nation’s Security.” According to the New York Times, “A memorandum prepared by a Defense Department legal task force drew on the January and August memorandums to declare that President Bush was not bound by either an international treaty prohibiting torture or by a federal anti-torture law because he had the authority as commander in chief to approve any technique needed to protect the nation’s security. The memorandum also said that executive branch officials, including those in the military, could be immune from domestic and international prohibitions against torture for a variety of reasons, including a belief by interrogators that they were acting on orders from superiors ‘except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful.’” [New York Times, 6/9/04]

Top State Department Official: Torture Authorized “Well Before The Justice Department Had Rendered Any Legal Opinion.” According to Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, “[W]hat I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.” [Washington Note, 5/13/09]

Bush Administration Official Admitted Detainee Was Tortured. According to the Washington Post, “The top Bush administration official in charge of deciding whether to bring Guantanamo Bay detainees to trial has concluded that the U.S. military tortured a Saudi national who allegedly planned to participate in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, interrogating him with techniques that included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, leaving him in a ‘life-threatening condition.’ ‘We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani,’ said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. ‘His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case’ for prosecution. Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.” [Washington Post, 1/14/09]