Tuesday, January 13, 2009

USA does torture Obama!

Thousands of Pages of Documents Suggest Bush Officials Committed War Crimes

Written by Jason Leopold -- Monday, 12 January 2009 10:19

The debate as to whether Bush administration officials may have committed war crimes has played out over the past month in a series of interviews with major media in which Vice President Dick Cheney admitted that he .signed off. on requests by CIA interrogators to waterboard three alleged high-level terrorist detainees held at Guantanamo Bay. Cheney has staunchly defended the decision and maintained that it was not illegal.

Earlier this week, in an interview with the Associated Press, Cheney said he doesn.t see any reason for President George W. Bush to issue preemptive pardons to CIA officials who carried out the interrogations because they did not do anything illegal.

"I can't -- you know, I can't speak for everybody in the administration, but my view would be that the people who carried out that program -- intelligence surveillance program, the enhanced interrogation program, with respect to al Qaeda captives -- in fact were authorized to do what they did, and we had the legal opinions that -- and in effect said what was appropriate and what wasn't,. Cheney said. "And I believe they followed those legal opinions and I don't have any reason to believe that they did anything wrong or inappropriate..

President-elect Barack Obama has been under intense pressure, as a result Cheney.s public statements, by numerous human rights and civil liberties organizations since he was elected president last November to aggressively probe the Bush administration.s torture and domestic surveillance policies and to prosecute officials who may have violated anti-torture and civil liberties laws. Obama has selected some outspoken critics of the Bush administration.s torture policies for positions at the Department of Justice and the CIA.

On Friday, in officially announcing retired admiral Dennis Blair as his director of national intelligence and former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency, Obama vowed to break with past practices that took place under Bush.

"I was clear throughout this campaign, and have been clear throughout this transition that under my administration, the United States does not torture, we will abide by the Geneva conventions, that we will uphold our highest values and ideals," Obama said.

Several high-ranking members of Obama.s transition team told me this week that the president-elect will not authorize the Justice Department to initiate a criminal investigation into the Bush administration.s interrogation practices nor will the agency scrutinize any individual officials for approving such policies.

Instead, these aides, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Obama will review and possibly reverse some of Bush.s executive orders and withdraw some legal opinions that gave the president broad powers in the global war on terror. Additionally, the advisers on Obama.s transition team said the president-elect would support and encourage Congress to take its own steps to probe the White House.s controversial policy decisions, particularly decisions related to brutal interrogations.

On Sunday, during an appearance on ABC News's "This Week" with George Stephanopolous, Obama responded to Fertik's question saying he'd rather "look forward as opposed to looking backwards."

"We.re still evaluating how we.re going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions, and so forth. And obviously we.re going to be looking at past practices and I don.t believe that anybody is above the law. On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards. . My orientation is going to be moving forward."

Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights said it's simply unacceptable to allow Bush administration officials to go unpunished for their role in implementing torture policies.

"This is not Latin America; this is not South Africa. We are not trying to end a civil war, heal a wounded country and reconcile warring factions. We are a democracy trying to hold accountable officials that led our country down the road to torture. And in a democracy, it is the job of a prosecutor and not the pundits to determine whether crimes were committed," Ratner said in an article published in the magazine The Progressive.

Newspaper Warns Obama Officials

Ratner also said anything less than a full-scale criminal investigation -- a substitute like a Truth Commission assigned simply to ascertain the facts -- would be unacceptable.

The Wall Street Journal agreed but for different reasons.

Last Monday, the Journal.s editorial page issued a stern warning to Panetta and Blair that they would best be served if they resisted "the left-wing crusade to purge their agencies of anyone who had anything to do with "torture." Moreover, the Journal lectured the intelligence nominees about supporting the formation of a "Truth Commission. to probe the Bush administration.s interrogation policies, saying the initiatives were backed by Democratic leaders.

"Beginning in 2002, Nancy Pelosi and other key Democrats (as well as Republicans) on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees were thoroughly, and repeatedly, briefed on the CIA's covert antiterror interrogation programs,. says the WSJ editorial. "They did nothing to stop such activities, when they weren't fully sanctioning them. If they now decide the tactics they heard about then amount to abuse, then by their own logic they themselves are complicit. Let's review the history the political class would prefer to forget.

"According to our sources and media reports we've corroborated, the classified briefings began in the spring of 2002 and dealt with the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, a high-value al Qaeda operative captured in Pakistan. In succeeding months and years, more than 30 Congressional sessions were specifically devoted to the interrogation program and its methods, including waterboarding and other aggressive techniques designed to squeeze intelligence out of hardened detainees like Zubaydah..

It.s worth noting that Journal.s editorial page writers are known for reprinting Bush administration talking points on the pages of the newspaper regardless of whether the information is accurate.

In July 2003, at the request of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney.s Chief of Staff, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz contacted the editorial department at the Wall Street Journal to leak the highly-classified National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq.s alleged attempts to acquire yellowcake uranium from Niger as a way of undermining former Ambassador Joseph Wilson who accused the Bush administration in an op-ed published in the New York Times that month of lying about the uranium issue in order to win support for war in Iraq.

Libby testified in his criminal trial related to the leak of Wilson.s wife, covert CIA operative Valerie Plame, that Cheney approved the leak to the Journal.

"The Vice President thought we should still try and get the [NIE] out. And so he asked me to talk to the Wall Street Journal. I don't have as good a relationship with the Wall Street Journal as Secretary Wolfowitz did, and so we talked to Secretary Wolfowitz about trying to get that point across [to the Journal], and he undertook to do so," Libby told a federal grand jury.

Wolfowitz faxed the Wall Street Journal a set of "talking points" about Wilson that the newspaper's editors could use to discredit Wilson in print, according to Libby's testimony. Wolfowitz also gave the newspaper a portion of the NIE.

The Journal printed Wolfowitz's talking points verbatim in a July 17, 2003, editorial, which misled its readers about the source of the information.

According to the editorial, "Yellowcake Remix," the Journal said the data the newspaper received about Iraq's interest in uranium "does not come from the White House" (although that is where it originated, albeit laundered through Wolfowitz at the Pentagon).

In other words, the Journal.s warnings to Panetta and Blair and Obama for that matter may turn out to be bogus and could have come directly from the White House.

Still, the Journal.s editorial did not scare off lawmakers. The very next day House judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers took a small step in that direction when he proposed legislation to create a blue-ribbon panel of outside experts to probe the "broad range" of policies pursued by the Bush administration "under claims of unreviewable war powers," including torture of detainees and warrantless wiretaps.

While Cheney and Attorney General Michael Mukasey believe there isn't evidence to warrant a criminal investigation or prosecution against administration officials and others who implemented and carried out the White House.s torture policies, a review of public documents released since 2004 certainly suggests that key officials, notably former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, may have acted unlawfully. Moreover, other documents that have received little coverage in the media appear to state that President George W. Bush played a bigger role in issues surrounding the torture of detainees than he has let on.

More Than 100,000 Pages of Documents

Much of what the public knows thus far about the Bush administration.s torture policies is due to the American Civil Liberties Union.s Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the government. Since 2004, the organization has obtained more than 100,000 pages of documents that show senior White House officials signed off on and authorized torture against detainees at Guantanamo Bay and at prisons in Iraq.

All of the documents have been posted on the ACLU.s website. But several hundred of the most explosive records were republished in the book Administration of Torture along with hard-hitting commentary by the ACLU.s Jameel Jaffer, who heads the group.s National Security Project, and Amrit Singh, a staff attorney with the organization.

In the book, the authors use the documents to show that the torture policies enacted by the White House began on Jan. 25, 2002, when then-White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised Bush in a memo to deny al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners protections under the Geneva Conventions. Gonzales.s memorandum says that by denying Geneva Conventions protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners it "substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act" and "provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."

Two weeks later, Bush signed an action memorandum dated Feb. 7, 2002, addressed to Vice President Dick Cheney, which denied baseline protections to al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners under the Third Geneva Convention. That memo, according to a recent report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Bush.s memo opened the door to "considering aggressive techniques," which were then developed with the complicity of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Bush.s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and other senior officials.

"The President.s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al-Qaeda or Taliban detainees," says the committee.s Dec. 11 report.

"While the President.s order stated that, as .a matter of policy, the United States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of the Geneva Conventions,. the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody."

The Supreme Court held in 2006, in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, that the prisoners were entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.

Rumsfeld Wanted a 'Product'

On Feb. 14, 2002, just one week after Bush signed the memo, Maj. Gen. Mike Dunlavey was contacted by Rumsfeld who asked him to attend a Defense Department meeting with Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and others on Feb. 21 or 22. At the meeting, Rumsfeld told Dunlavey he wanted him to oversee interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay naval facility in Cuba. Prisoners captured by U.S. military personnel had first arrived at Guantanamo a month earlier. Dunlavey was a Family Court Judge in Erie County Pennsylvania when he got the call from Rumsfeld and placed in charge of interrogations at Guantanamo.

Rumsfeld told Dunlavey, according to a witness statement he on March 17, 2005, to U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, who was investigating FBI complaints about abuse at Guantanamo, Rumsfeld said the Department of Defense had rounded up "a number of bad guys" and the Secretary of Defense "wanted a product and wanted intelligence now."

Rumsfeld "wanted to set up interrogation operations and to identify the senior Taliban and senior operatives and to obtain information on what they were going to do regarding their operations and structure," Dunlavey said, according to a copy of his witness statement. "Initially, I was told that I would answer to SECDEF (Secretary of Defense) and [U.S. Southern Command]. The directions changed and I got my marching orders from the President of the United States. I was told by the SECDEF that he wanted me back in Washington, DC every week to brief him.... The mission was to get intelligence to prevent another 9/11."

Dunlavey did not explain what he meant by "I got my marching orders from the president." But his comments suggest that Bush may have played a much larger role in the interrogation of prisoners than he has let on. Moreover, Dunlavey.s witness statement indicates that harsh interrogations, such as waterboarding, may have taken place earlier than previously known and may have preceded an Aug. 1, 2002 legal opinion issued by the Justice Department.s Office of Legal Counsel authorizing specific interrogation techniques to use against prisoners.

As early as June 2002, according to the documents obtained by the ACLU, high-ranking military officials began to implement an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime.

In June 2004, Gen. James Hill of Southern Command, the Defense Department.s command unit responsible for military operations in Central and South America and the Caribbean, held a press briefing and confirmed that interrogation techniques specifically authorized by Rumsfeld for use at Guantanamo derived from the SERE school. In October 2002, Dunlavey wrote to Hill to seek authorization that interrogators be granted the authority to use methods that strayed from the Army Field Manual in order to extract information from prisoners.

Dunlavey, in making his case to Hill for authority to use more aggressive techniques, attached a copy of Bush.s then classified Feb. 7, 2002 action memo along with an analysis that said, "since the detainees are not [Enemy Prisoners of War] the Geneva Conventions limitations that ordinarily would govern captured enemy personnel interrogations are not binding on U.S. personnel."

Hill sent Dunlavey.s request to Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Myers discussed it with William Haynes II, the Defense Department.s general counsel, who briefed Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith. The request ultimately ended up on Rumsfeld.s desk and he approved it, according to the documents.

"The documents establish that senior officials in Washington, including White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, constructed a legal framework that would permit the abuse and torture of prisoners," the ACLU.s Jaffer and Singh wrote in Administration of Torture. "They establish that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, relying on this legal framework, expressly authorized the use of interrogation methods.including SERE methods.that went far beyond those endorsed by the Army Field Manual. They establish that Rumsfeld and Gen. Geoffrey Miller oversaw the implementation of the newly authorized interrogation methods and closely supervised the interrogation of prisoners thought to be especially valuable."

FBI Objects

In early December 2002, FBI officials who had participated in some interrogations at Guantanamo complained to Miller that the methods used against prisoners at Guantanamo were unlawful. But Miller was not receptive. That led FBI officials to conclude that senior Bush administration officials and Rumsfeld were making decisions about interrogations in particular.

A Dec. 16, 2002 e-mail written by an FBI official expressed frustration that the Defense Department refused to budge from its controversial interrogation methods.

"Looks like we are stuck in the mud with the interview approach of the military vrs. law enforcement," the e-mail says.

In 2006, Miller received a Distinguished Service Medal for "exceptionally meritorious service." Dunlavey is an Erie County Judge.

On July 9, 2004, the FBI.s Office of Inspections distributed an e-mail asking its agents who were stationed at Guantanamo whether they had witnessed, "Aggressive treatment, interrogations or interview techniques...which were not consistent with FBI interview policy/guidelines."

More than two-dozen agents responded that they observed numerous instances of detainee abuse. One FBI agent wrote that, despite Rumsfeld.s public statements to the contrary, the interrogation methods "were approved at high levels w/in DoD." In addition to Rumsfeld, the FBI e-mails said Paul Wolfowitz, one Bush administration official who has largely escaped scrutiny in the torture debate, approved the methods at Guantanamo.

In May 2004, Miller told the Senate Armed Services Committee that he briefed Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone about his plan to "Gitmo-ize" the Abu Ghraib prison.

That month, an e-mail written by a senior FBI agent in Iraq in 2004 specifically stated that President George W. Bush had signed an Executive Order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.

The FBI e-mail--dated May 22, 2004--followed disclosures about abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison and sought guidance on whether FBI agents in Iraq were obligated to report the U.S. military.s harsh interrogation of inmates when that treatment violated FBI standards but fit within the guidelines of a presidential Executive Order.

According to the e-mail, Bush.s Executive Order authorized interrogators to use military dogs, "stress positions," sleep "management," loud music and "sensory deprivation through the use of hoods, etc." to extract information from detainees in Iraq.

The May 2004 FBI e-mail stated that the FBI interrogation team in Iraq understood that despite revisions in the Executive Order that occurred after the furor over the Abu Ghraib abuses, the presidential sanctioning of harsh interrogation tactics had not been rescinded.

"I have been told that all interrogation techniques previously authorized by the Executive Order are still on the table but that certain techniques can only be used if very high-level authority is granted," the author of the FBI e-mail said.

"We have also instructed our personnel not to participate in interrogations by military personnel which might include techniques authorized by Executive Order but beyond the bounds of FBI practices."

The White House had emphatically denied that any such presidential Executive Order existed, calling the unnamed FBI official who wrote the e-mail "mistaken."

Simply put, these documents demonstrate that Bush, Rumsfeld and, by his own admission Cheney, may have acted unlawfully in authorizing torture.

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