The Monster & The Constitution

I had heard the reports before about torture and abuse of those captured by Americans after 9/11, but I had never heard it directly as I did today. I am attending a preliminary hearing for Omar Khadr who has been accused of killing an American soldier during a firefight in Khost, Afghanistan in the summer of 2002.

Some may question whether the tactics are torture. We know the past euphemisms of "enhanced interrogation techniques." In court, the government is using the term "nontraditional interrogation." Whatever the term, you decide.

Damien Corsetti testified that there was "always at least one person in air lock with their hands handcuffed above their head with a hood on and shackles on their feet." He said the purpose was to inflict pain.

Mr. Corsetti testified that an interrogation technique used at Bagram, Afghanistan was the "fear of rape." He explained that the rules did not allow interrogators to "directly threaten" a prisoner, but to "plant the seed" of fear in the minds of the detainees.

Defense counsel asked Mr. Corsetti whether he had ever heard detainees screaming in pain. He said, "continually." The screams of pain were heard by the other prisoners, if they had any doubt that their turn might be next.

Mr. Corsetti had very little training on how to conduct lawful interrogations. He had been in tactical operations, but was retrained two weeks before deployment to Afghanistan as an interrogator. He was given another week to observe actual interrogations when he arrived at Bagram, and then he was set loose. He explained that the "only clear rule" for interrogators was "not to strike the prisoner." The pressure to produce was enormous. He stated that interrogators had to produce 20-40 interrogation reports every week or headquarters would call. Corsetti's nickname was "The Monster."

Mr. Khadr claims that he was tortured and that any incriminating statements produced through coercive interrogation should be thrown out. The government claims that Mr. Khadr was treated well and faced no abusive interrogations. Mr. Corsetti shed no light on these allegations as he was not one of the persons who interrogated Mr. Khadr. Mr. Corsetti, though, paints a grim picture of what life was like for many prisoners at Bagram, and it raises doubt about the pattern and practice of interrogation at the facility.

Pivot now to Mr. Khadr. Mr. Corsetti saw the defendant as he arrived at the hospital severely wounded from the firefight with American troops. He said Mr. Khadr "seemed like a typical fifteen year-old child." Except for the life threatening wounds.

The troops nicknamed Mr. Khadr "Buckshot Bob" because his face was peppered with shrapnel. Mr. Corsetti described a wound on Mr. Khadr's back as large enough to stick a can of Copenhagen chewing tobacco inside. An opthamologist testified that the cornea in his left eye was shredded and that there were additional shrapnel wounds in both eyes. Mr. Khadr is blind in his left eye. Despite the grievous injuries and multiple surgeries, Mr. Khadr was discharged from the military hospital to the detention center in about fifteen days.

It is not clear at this stage whether the child soldier is guilty of the charges against him or innocent, or whether he was tortured or not. It is clear, though, from the photos at Abu Ghraib in Iraq to the testimony here at Guantanamo, that the environment during our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was ripe for abusive interrogations: from the lack of training and skilled technicians to the techniques of water boarding approved at the highest levels of our government.

Terrorists want us to fear. They want us to be so afraid that we will abandon reason, violate our laws and Constitution, and disregard our institutions and values. We saw the fearmongering again yesterday in Congress as Members are arguing in the aftermath of the attempted bombing at Times Square that we should strip Americans accused of terrorism of their citizenship and their rights. We should presume guilt before innocence, militarize investigations and abandon our effective federal courts.

On the contrary, this is what terrorists are hoping for--that we will stoop to their level. But if we abandon our own laws and values, then we become no better than them, and they have won a significant part of their battle. By abandoning our own rule of law we lose the support of our own citizens and allies, and at the same time support al Qaeda's most powerful recruitment strategy.

No nation has ever defeated terrorism by embracing its tactics.

The Monster & The Constitution

I had heard the reports before about torture and abuse of those captured by Americans after 9/11, but I had never heard it directly as I did today. I am attending a preliminary hearing for Omar Khadr who has been accused of killing an American soldier during a firefight in Khost, Afghanistan in the summer of 2002.

Some may question whether the tactics are torture. We know the past euphemisms of "enhanced interrogation techniques." In court, the government is using the term "nontraditional interrogation." Whatever the term, you decide.

Damien Corsetti testified that there was "always at least one person in air lock with their hands handcuffed above their head with a hood on and shackles on their feet." He said the purpose was to inflict pain.

Mr. Corsetti testified that an interrogation technique used at Bagram, Afghanistan was the "fear of rape." He explained that the rules did not allow interrogators to "directly threaten" a prisoner, but to "plant the seed" of fear in the minds of the detainees.

Defense counsel asked Mr. Corsetti whether he had ever heard detainees screaming in pain. He said, "continually." The screams of pain were heard by the other prisoners, if they had any doubt that their turn might be next.

Mr. Corsetti had very little training on how to conduct lawful interrogations. He had been in tactical operations, but was retrained two weeks before deployment to Afghanistan as an interrogator. He was given another week to observe actual interrogations when he arrived at Bagram, and then he was set loose. He explained that the "only clear rule" for interrogators was "not to strike the prisoner." The pressure to produce was enormous. He stated that interrogators had to produce 20-40 interrogation reports every week or headquarters would call. Corsetti's nickname was "The Monster."

Mr. Khadr claims that he was tortured and that any incriminating statements produced through coercive interrogation should be thrown out. The government claims that Mr. Khadr was treated well and faced no abusive interrogations. Mr. Corsetti shed no light on these allegations as he was not one of the persons who interrogated Mr. Khadr. Mr. Corsetti, though, paints a grim picture of what life was like for many prisoners at Bagram, and it raises doubt about the pattern and practice of interrogation at the facility.

Pivot now to Mr. Khadr. Mr. Corsetti saw the defendant as he arrived at the hospital severely wounded from the firefight with American troops. He said Mr. Khadr "seemed like a typical fifteen year-old child." Except for the life threatening wounds.

The troops nicknamed Mr. Khadr "Buckshot Bob" because his face was peppered with shrapnel. Mr. Corsetti described a wound on Mr. Khadr's back as large enough to stick a can of Copenhagen chewing tobacco inside. An opthamologist testified that the cornea in his left eye was shredded and that there were additional shrapnel wounds in both eyes. Mr. Khadr is blind in his left eye. Despite the grievous injuries and multiple surgeries, Mr. Khadr was discharged from the military hospital to the detention center in about fifteen days.

It is not clear at this stage whether the child soldier is guilty of the charges against him or innocent, or whether he was tortured or not. It is clear, though, from the photos at Abu Ghraib in Iraq to the testimony here at Guantanamo, that the environment during our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was ripe for abusive interrogations: from the lack of training and skilled technicians to the techniques of water boarding approved at the highest levels of our government.

Terrorists want us to fear. They want us to be so afraid that we will abandon reason, violate our laws and Constitution, and disregard our institutions and values. We saw the fearmongering again yesterday in Congress as Members are arguing in the aftermath of the attempted bombing at Times Square that we should strip Americans accused of terrorism of their citizenship and their rights. We should presume guilt before innocence, militarize investigations and abandon our effective federal courts.

On the contrary, this is what terrorists are hoping for--that we will stoop to their level. But if we abandon our own laws and values, then we become no better than them, and they have won a significant part of their battle. By abandoning our own rule of law we lose the support of our own citizens and allies, and at the same time support al Qaeda's most powerful recruitment strategy.

No nation has ever defeated terrorism by embracing its tactics.

The Monster & The Constitution

I had heard the reports before about torture and abuse of those captured by Americans after 9/11, but I had never heard it directly as I did today. I am attending a preliminary hearing for Omar Khadr who has been accused of killing an American soldier during a firefight in Khost, Afghanistan in the summer of 2002.

Some may question whether the tactics are torture. We know the past euphemisms of "enhanced interrogation techniques." In court, the government is using the term "nontraditional interrogation." Whatever the term, you decide.

Damien Corsetti testified that there was "always at least one person in air lock with their hands handcuffed above their head with a hood on and shackles on their feet." He said the purpose was to inflict pain.

Mr. Corsetti testified that an interrogation technique used at Bagram, Afghanistan was the "fear of rape." He explained that the rules did not allow interrogators to "directly threaten" a prisoner, but to "plant the seed" of fear in the minds of the detainees.

Defense counsel asked Mr. Corsetti whether he had ever heard detainees screaming in pain. He said, "continually." The screams of pain were heard by the other prisoners, if they had any doubt that their turn might be next.

Mr. Corsetti had very little training on how to conduct lawful interrogations. He had been in tactical operations, but was retrained two weeks before deployment to Afghanistan as an interrogator. He was given another week to observe actual interrogations when he arrived at Bagram, and then he was set loose. He explained that the "only clear rule" for interrogators was "not to strike the prisoner." The pressure to produce was enormous. He stated that interrogators had to produce 20-40 interrogation reports every week or headquarters would call. Corsetti's nickname was "The Monster."

Mr. Khadr claims that he was tortured and that any incriminating statements produced through coercive interrogation should be thrown out. The government claims that Mr. Khadr was treated well and faced no abusive interrogations. Mr. Corsetti shed no light on these allegations as he was not one of the persons who interrogated Mr. Khadr. Mr. Corsetti, though, paints a grim picture of what life was like for many prisoners at Bagram, and it raises doubt about the pattern and practice of interrogation at the facility.

Pivot now to Mr. Khadr. Mr. Corsetti saw the defendant as he arrived at the hospital severely wounded from the firefight with American troops. He said Mr. Khadr "seemed like a typical fifteen year-old child." Except for the life threatening wounds.

The troops nicknamed Mr. Khadr "Buckshot Bob" because his face was peppered with shrapnel. Mr. Corsetti described a wound on Mr. Khadr's back as large enough to stick a can of Copenhagen chewing tobacco inside. An opthamologist testified that the cornea in his left eye was shredded and that there were additional shrapnel wounds in both eyes. Mr. Khadr is blind in his left eye. Despite the grievous injuries and multiple surgeries, Mr. Khadr was discharged from the military hospital to the detention center in about fifteen days.

It is not clear at this stage whether the child soldier is guilty of the charges against him or innocent, or whether he was tortured or not. It is clear, though, from the photos at Abu Ghraib in Iraq to the testimony here at Guantanamo, that the environment during our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was ripe for abusive interrogations: from the lack of training and skilled technicians to the techniques of water boarding approved at the highest levels of our government.

Terrorists want us to fear. They want us to be so afraid that we will abandon reason, violate our laws and Constitution, and disregard our institutions and values. We saw the fearmongering again yesterday in Congress as Members are arguing in the aftermath of the attempted bombing at Times Square that we should strip Americans accused of terrorism of their citizenship and their rights. We should presume guilt before innocence, militarize investigations and abandon our effective federal courts.

On the contrary, this is what terrorists are hoping for--that we will stoop to their level. But if we abandon our own laws and values, then we become no better than them, and they have won a significant part of their battle. By abandoning our own rule of law we lose the support of our own citizens and allies, and at the same time support al Qaeda's most powerful recruitment strategy.

No nation has ever defeated terrorism by embracing its tactics.

The OPR Report Is Only the Beginning

In reporting on the long-delayed release of the Justice Department's ethics report on the work of Bush administration lawyers who approved the torture of detainees, The New York Timeson Saturday wrote that it "brings to a close a pivotal chapter in the debate over the legal limits of the Bush administration's fight against terrorism and whether its treatment of Qaeda prisoners amounted to torture."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, said the report represents "the end of a 5-year internal battle" at the Justice Department.

In fact, the Office of Professional Responsibility report is just the beginning of a bigger and more important battle. Legal ethics investigators concluded that former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee committed "professional misconduct" in advising the Bush administration that it was not against the law to torture, humiliate and abuse detainees despite longstanding domestic and international prohibitions against doing so. The battle now will be over whether the U.S. government will meet its obligations to thoroughly investigate what happened and hold the perpetrators accountable.

The final OPR report chastises the two OLC lawyers for reaching bizarre legal conclusions that were wholly unsupported by the law. For example, one of their memos claimed that torture was legal so long as an interrogator's goal was to obtain information rather than to inflict severe pain or suffering - even if he knew he would inflict severe pain or suffering in the process. As one OLC lawyer commented on the memo at the time: "The way it reads now makes you wonder whether this is just an anti-sadism statute."

Meanwhile, the memo's now-infamous definition of "severe pain" as necessarily "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" not only relied on an irrelevant medical benefits statute for its definition, which the OPR report calls "illogical," but actually misquoted the language of that statute so as "to add further support to their 'aggressive' interpretation of the torture statute," the OPR report concludes. Ultimately, the definition could lead an interrogator to believe, the OPR found, "that pain could be inflicted as long as no injury resulted." It's the "leave no marks" theory of torture.

The list of twisted and inexplicable legal conclusions is long and impressive. In another instance, the lawyers relied on extremely narrow interpretations of the international Convention Against Torture proposed by the Reagan administration that the U.S. had never adopted. And they completely ignored far more relevant sources of law on torture, such as federal court cases interpreting the Torture Victims Protection Act, which found torture had occurred in situations far less severe than the brutal interrogation techniques being contemplated in these memos. In one case, for example, a federal court held that imprisonment for five days under bad conditions while being threatened with bodily harm, interrogated and held at gunpoint amounted to torture.

David Margolis, the Deputy Associate Attorney General ultimately overrode the recommendations of the ethics office to refer the lawyers to state bar associations for disciplinary proceedings, because he decided that the OLC's standards for referral were unclear. But the report of the investigators who actually read and analyzed the memos that authorized such brutal conduct as "waterboarding" (controlled drowning), slamming prisoners' heads repeatedly against a wall ("walling"), weeks of sleep deprivation, stress positions, and confinement in a cramped box with insects provides an astonishing look at how the lawyers tasked with providing objective legal advice to the White House on its most sensitive policies completely contorted ordinary logic and legal reasoning to reach the conclusions desired.

Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin at one point asked John Yoo why he included a wholly unsubstantiated section in one of the memos that concluded that the president of the United States, as commander in chief, can completely ignore any law he wanted - such as the prohibition against torture. Yoo said it was in the memo because "they want it in there" -- "they" presumably being whoever had requested the opinion. The memo never explained how the prohibition against torture could be construed in any reasonable way so as to conflict with the president's authority as commander in chief.

Whether John Yoo and Jay Bybee face professional sanctions (that's now up to their respective state bars) is far less important than whether we get to the bottom of what really happened at the Bush White House: who ordered these lawyers to come up with legal reasoning to justify torture? The OPR report suggests that David Addington, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, played a significant role. Who was he getting his orders from?

The OPR report is just another piece of the slowly-emerging puzzle of how the country plunged into what Dick Cheney has aptly called "the Dark Side," abandoning its most basic belief in human dignity and the rule of law to zealously combat terrorism in a way that's ultimately backfired; we're now less safe, and mired in a vicious and protracted war.

In concluding that Yoo and Bybee exercised "poor judgment" rather than "professional misconduct", Margolis emphasizes that "his decision should not be viewed as an endorsement of the legal work that underlies these memoranda," which he notes were "seriously flawed" and represent "an unfortunate chapter in the history of the Office of Legal Counsel." In Yoo's case, his conclusions represented a "loyalty to his own ideology and convictions" which "clouded his view of his obligations to his client" and led him to author opinions reflecting "extreme" views of executive power.

Yoo was among the very small group of lawyers entrusted to write these opinions for the White House because he was already known to hold these extreme opinions. That he ignored or contorted opposing views should not have come as a surprise to his employers; that's what he'd been doing all along as an academic.

It's clear from the report, too, that that's what Yoo was expected to do. As John Bellinger, the Bush administration's legal advisor to the State Department told OPR: "Yoo was 'under pretty significant pressure to come up with an answer that would justify [the program]' and that, over time, there was significant pressure on the Department to conclude that the program was legal and could be continued, even after changes in the law in 2005 and 2006."

Some of those memos were also being demanded under very tight time frames to justify particular interrogations.

So who asked Yoo and Bybee to write these memos, and what exactly were the instructions given? Were they pressured to reach a particular conclusion and provide a "golden shield" for illegal conduct that the White House had already chosen to undertake? The report points out that the OPR investigators were not able to access most of John Yoo's e-mail messages from the time period: "most of Yoo's e-mail records had been deleted and were not recoverable." Why did Yoo delete those messages, and what did they say?

Even Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush, read the memos to ultimately function as a "blank check" for the military to engage in illegal and unauthorized interrogation techniques. If that's the case, then not only the lawyers but the officials who instructed them could be guilty of a criminal conspiracy.

The OPR report, then, hardly ends this chapter of history; it only begins to open the book. Before we can really reach the end of this sad saga and put it to rest, we need to know much more.

 

 

 

 

 

The OPR Report Is Only the Beginning

In reporting on the long-delayed release of the Justice Department's ethics report on the work of Bush administration lawyers who approved the torture of detainees, The New York Timeson Saturday wrote that it "brings to a close a pivotal chapter in the debate over the legal limits of the Bush administration's fight against terrorism and whether its treatment of Qaeda prisoners amounted to torture."

The Washington Post, meanwhile, said the report represents "the end of a 5-year internal battle" at the Justice Department.

In fact, the Office of Professional Responsibility report is just the beginning of a bigger and more important battle. Legal ethics investigators concluded that former Office of Legal Counsel lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee committed "professional misconduct" in advising the Bush administration that it was not against the law to torture, humiliate and abuse detainees despite longstanding domestic and international prohibitions against doing so. The battle now will be over whether the U.S. government will meet its obligations to thoroughly investigate what happened and hold the perpetrators accountable.

The final OPR report chastises the two OLC lawyers for reaching bizarre legal conclusions that were wholly unsupported by the law. For example, one of their memos claimed that torture was legal so long as an interrogator's goal was to obtain information rather than to inflict severe pain or suffering - even if he knew he would inflict severe pain or suffering in the process. As one OLC lawyer commented on the memo at the time: "The way it reads now makes you wonder whether this is just an anti-sadism statute."

Meanwhile, the memo's now-infamous definition of "severe pain" as necessarily "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" not only relied on an irrelevant medical benefits statute for its definition, which the OPR report calls "illogical," but actually misquoted the language of that statute so as "to add further support to their 'aggressive' interpretation of the torture statute," the OPR report concludes. Ultimately, the definition could lead an interrogator to believe, the OPR found, "that pain could be inflicted as long as no injury resulted." It's the "leave no marks" theory of torture.

The list of twisted and inexplicable legal conclusions is long and impressive. In another instance, the lawyers relied on extremely narrow interpretations of the international Convention Against Torture proposed by the Reagan administration that the U.S. had never adopted. And they completely ignored far more relevant sources of law on torture, such as federal court cases interpreting the Torture Victims Protection Act, which found torture had occurred in situations far less severe than the brutal interrogation techniques being contemplated in these memos. In one case, for example, a federal court held that imprisonment for five days under bad conditions while being threatened with bodily harm, interrogated and held at gunpoint amounted to torture.

David Margolis, the Deputy Associate Attorney General ultimately overrode the recommendations of the ethics office to refer the lawyers to state bar associations for disciplinary proceedings, because he decided that the OLC's standards for referral were unclear. But the report of the investigators who actually read and analyzed the memos that authorized such brutal conduct as "waterboarding" (controlled drowning), slamming prisoners' heads repeatedly against a wall ("walling"), weeks of sleep deprivation, stress positions, and confinement in a cramped box with insects provides an astonishing look at how the lawyers tasked with providing objective legal advice to the White House on its most sensitive policies completely contorted ordinary logic and legal reasoning to reach the conclusions desired.

Justice Department lawyer Patrick Philbin at one point asked John Yoo why he included a wholly unsubstantiated section in one of the memos that concluded that the president of the United States, as commander in chief, can completely ignore any law he wanted - such as the prohibition against torture. Yoo said it was in the memo because "they want it in there" -- "they" presumably being whoever had requested the opinion. The memo never explained how the prohibition against torture could be construed in any reasonable way so as to conflict with the president's authority as commander in chief.

Whether John Yoo and Jay Bybee face professional sanctions (that's now up to their respective state bars) is far less important than whether we get to the bottom of what really happened at the Bush White House: who ordered these lawyers to come up with legal reasoning to justify torture? The OPR report suggests that David Addington, Chief of Staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, played a significant role. Who was he getting his orders from?

The OPR report is just another piece of the slowly-emerging puzzle of how the country plunged into what Dick Cheney has aptly called "the Dark Side," abandoning its most basic belief in human dignity and the rule of law to zealously combat terrorism in a way that's ultimately backfired; we're now less safe, and mired in a vicious and protracted war.

In concluding that Yoo and Bybee exercised "poor judgment" rather than "professional misconduct", Margolis emphasizes that "his decision should not be viewed as an endorsement of the legal work that underlies these memoranda," which he notes were "seriously flawed" and represent "an unfortunate chapter in the history of the Office of Legal Counsel." In Yoo's case, his conclusions represented a "loyalty to his own ideology and convictions" which "clouded his view of his obligations to his client" and led him to author opinions reflecting "extreme" views of executive power.

Yoo was among the very small group of lawyers entrusted to write these opinions for the White House because he was already known to hold these extreme opinions. That he ignored or contorted opposing views should not have come as a surprise to his employers; that's what he'd been doing all along as an academic.

It's clear from the report, too, that that's what Yoo was expected to do. As John Bellinger, the Bush administration's legal advisor to the State Department told OPR: "Yoo was 'under pretty significant pressure to come up with an answer that would justify [the program]' and that, over time, there was significant pressure on the Department to conclude that the program was legal and could be continued, even after changes in the law in 2005 and 2006."

Some of those memos were also being demanded under very tight time frames to justify particular interrogations.

So who asked Yoo and Bybee to write these memos, and what exactly were the instructions given? Were they pressured to reach a particular conclusion and provide a "golden shield" for illegal conduct that the White House had already chosen to undertake? The report points out that the OPR investigators were not able to access most of John Yoo's e-mail messages from the time period: "most of Yoo's e-mail records had been deleted and were not recoverable." Why did Yoo delete those messages, and what did they say?

Even Jack Goldsmith, the former head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Bush, read the memos to ultimately function as a "blank check" for the military to engage in illegal and unauthorized interrogation techniques. If that's the case, then not only the lawyers but the officials who instructed them could be guilty of a criminal conspiracy.

The OPR report, then, hardly ends this chapter of history; it only begins to open the book. Before we can really reach the end of this sad saga and put it to rest, we need to know much more.

 

 

 

 

 

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