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Report: Bush-era torture orders enforced by top officials

Agence France-Presse
Published: Saturday April 18, 2009

The first use of waterboarding and other harsh treatment against suspected Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was ordered by senior Central Intelligence Agency officials over objections from his interrogators, The New York Times reported Saturday.

Citing unnamed former intelligence officials and a footnote in a newly released legal memorandum, the newspaper said the harsh interrogation techniques had been ordered despite the belief of interrogators that the prisoner had already told them all he knew.

Former president George W. Bush had publicly described Zubaidah, who was captured in 2002, as Al-Qaeda’s chief of operations while other top officials called him a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden and a major figure in the planning of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The especially brutal interrogation tactics against Zubaydah, including confining him in boxes and slamming him against the wall, was ordered by officials at CIA headquarters based on a highly inflated assessment of his importance, the paper said.

According to The Times, Zubaydah provided much valuable information under less severe treatment, and the harsher handling produced no breakthroughs.

Instead, watching his torment caused great distress to his captors, the paper said.

Even for those who believed that brutal treatment could produce results, one of the officials is quoted as saying, “seeing these depths of human misery and degradation has a traumatic effect.”

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Robert Parry | Consortiumnews.com, April 17, 2009

Almost as disturbing as reading the Bush administration’s approved menu of brutal interrogation techniques is recognizing how President George W. Bush successfully shopped for government attorneys willing to render American laws meaningless by turning words inside out.

The four “torture” memos, released Thursday, revealed not just that the stomach-turning reports about CIA interrogators abusing “war on terror” suspects were true, but that the United States had gone from a “nation of laws” to a “nation of legal sophistry” – where conclusions on law are politically preordained and the legal analysis is made to fit.

You have passages like this in the May 10, 2005, memo by Steven Bradbury, then acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel:

“Another question is whether the requirement of ‘prolonged mental harm’ caused by or resulting from one of the enumerated predicate acts is a separate requirement, or whether such ‘prolonged mental harm’ is to be presumed any time one of the predicate acts occurs.”

As each phrase in the Convention Against Torture was held up to such narrow examination, the forest of criminal torture was lost in the trees of arcane legal jargon. Collectively, the memos leave a disorienting sense that any ambiguity in words can be twisted to justify almost anything.

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‘These People Fear Prosecution’: Why Bush’s CIA Team Should Worry About Its Dark Embrace of Torture

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted April 11, 2009.

The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer discusses the fallout from the Red Cross’ shocking report on CIA torture and its serious legal implications.

On the night of April 6, a long-secret document was published — in its entirety for the first time — that provided a clear, stark look at the CIA torture program carried out by the Bush administration.

Dated Feb. 14, 2007, the 41-page report describes in harrowing detail the “ill treatment” of 14 “high-value” detainees in U.S. custody, as recounted by the prisoners in interviews with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Besides listing the various kinds of harsh interrogation tactics undertaken by the CIA — among them “suffocation by water,” “prolonged stress standing,” “beatings by use of a collar,” “confinement in a box,” “prolonged nudity,” “threats,” “forced shaving” and other methods — the report reveals the disturbing role of medical professionals in the torture of suspects, which included using doctors’ equipment to monitor their health, even as torture was carried out.

Just as Americans have known about Bush-era torture for years, lawyers and human rights activists have long known about the ICRC report and its contents. Both are due in large part to the work of journalists and the sources who have brought to light the many post-9/11 abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism.

In February 2005, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker magazine published a story called “Outsourcing Torture: The Secret History of America’s ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ Program,” which reported in intricate detail the sordid mechanisms of the Bush administration’s kidnap-and-torture program — a practice so violent and dramatic that it inspired a major Hollywood film a few years later.

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Gitmo Detainee’s ‘Genitals Were Sliced With A Scalpel,’ Waterboarding ‘Far Down The List Of Things They Did’»

Think Progress- By Ben Armbruster at 11:13 am

Last week, two British High Court judges ruled against releasing documents describing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident who is currently being held at Guantanamo Bay. The judges said the Bush administration “had threatened to withhold intelligence cooperation with Britain if the information were made public.”

But The Daily Telegraph reported over the weekend that the documents actually “contained details of how British intelligence officers supplied information to [Mohamed’s] captors and contributed questions while he was brutally tortured.” In fact, it was British officials, not the Americans, who pressured Foreign Secretary David Miliband “to do nothing that would leave serving MI6 officers open to prosecution.” According to the Telegraph’s sources, the documents describe particularly gruesome interrogation tactics:

The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed’s genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, “is very far down the list of things they did,” the official said.

Another source familiar with the case said: “British intelligence officers knew about the torture and didn’t do anything about it.”

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Nasir @13:50 CET

By Julio Godoy | Inter Press Service

BERLIN, Feb 2 (IPS) – Now that former U.S. president George W. Bush is an ordinary citizen again, many legal and human rights activists in Europe are demanding that he and high-ranking members of his government be brought before justice for crimes against humanity committed in the so-called war on terror.

“Judicial clarification of the crimes against international law the former U.S. government committed is one of the most delicate issues that the new U.S. president Barack Obama will have to deal with,” Wolfgang Kaleck, general secretary of the European Centre for Human and Constitutional Rights told IPS.

U.S. justice will have to “deal with the turpitudes committed by the Bush government,” says Kaleck, who has already tried unsuccessfully to sue the former U.S. authorities in European courts. “And, furthermore, the U.S. government will have to pay compensation to the innocent people who were victims of these crimes.”

Kaleck and other legal experts consider Bush and his highest-ranking officials responsible for crimes against humanity, such as torture.

Many agree that the evidence against the U.S. government is overwhelming. U.S. officials have admitted some crimes such as waterboarding, where a victim is tied up and water is poured into the air passages. Also, human rights activists have gathered testimonies by innocent victims of torture, especially some prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

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Torture Lover John Yoo Excoriates Obama For Banning Torture»

Think Progress- By Ali Frick at 12:04 pm

John Yoo, infamous author of the Bush administration legal memos authorizing the use of torture on suspected terrorists, slams President Obama for banning torture in a Wall Street Journal op-ed today, gravely warning that Obama “may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on U.S. soil.”

Throughout the article, Yoo insists that torture is America’s most effective weapon against terrorists and warns that without it, the U.S. will be incapable of intelligence-gathering:

Eliminating the Bush system will mean that we will get no more information from captured al Qaeda terrorists. Every prisoner will have the right to a lawyer (which they will surely demand), the right to remain silent, and the right to a speedy trial. […]

Relying on the civilian justice system not only robs us of the most effective intelligence tool to avert future attacks, it provides an opportunity for our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.

Considering the Bush administration repeatedly insisted its use of coercive techniques was “limited,” it would be a far stretch even for loyal Bushies to suggest that torture is not the one and only method to obtaining information. And as ThinkProgress has made clear again and again, numerous intelligence experts and real interrogators agree that, far from being “the most effective intelligence tool,” torture simply doesn’t work.

Yoo continues his screed by making up facts about Obama’s ban:

The CIA must now conduct interrogations according to the rules of the Army Field Manual, which prohibits coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines used in police stations throughout America. … His new order amounts to requiring — on penalty of prosecution — that CIA interrogators be polite.

Yoo has no idea what he’s talking about. Nothing requires anyone to “be polite” — although the rapport building method has often proved to be interrogators’ most effective technique. And the notion that good-cop/bad-cop would be banned is simply false, Media Matters pointed out earlier this week:

In fact, the Army Field Manual explicitly permits good cop-bad cop interrogations under the name of “Mutt and Jeff” interrogations, which involve two interrogators “display[ing] opposing personalities and attitudes toward the source.” The Field Manual says the “goal of this technique is to make the source identify with one of the interrogators and thereby establish[ing] rapport and cooperation.”

It’s no secret that Yoo is an ardent torture enthusiast: He famously said that only those techniques that inflict pain equivalent to “death, organ failure or permanent damage resulting in a loss of significant body functions” constitute torture, and last year refused to agree that the president could not order a detainee buried alive. With Obama signaling a clean break from the Bush administration’s terrorism policies, it’s no wonder Yoo is desperate to restore his crumbling torture regime.

Update- Yoo also makes it perfectly clear that Bush himself directly and explicitly ordered torture, including the waterboarding of at least three detainees:

What is needed are the tools to gain vital intelligence, which is why, under President George W. Bush, the CIA could hold and interrogate high-value al Qaeda leaders. On the advice of his intelligence advisers, the president could have authorized coercive interrogation methods like those used by Israel and Great Britain in their antiterrorism campaigns. (He could even authorize waterboarding, which he did three times in the years after 9/11.)

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Civil rights group to Obama: Release secret Bush memos

Raw Story- Mike Sheehan
Published: Wednesday January 28, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling on the Justice Department to release Bush administration documentation pertaining to torture, surveillance and other controversial national security policies.

The civil rights watchdog sent a letter today to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the same office that provided legal advice to the White House under George W. Bush.

The secret memos were essentially the legal foundation for many of the Bush adminstration’s questionable practices, says the ACLU in a news release received by Raw Story.

The Bush White House vigorously fought the release of such revealing (some would say, damning) documentation in the interests, it insisted, of protecting national security and other factors.

The ACLU’s filing of the Freedom of Information Act request follows President Obama’s recent directive to minimize federal secrecy and “usher in a new era of open government.”

The request is seen as a test of the freshly inaugurated president’s transparency policy. “The ACLU now sees a new opening,” writes Marisa Taylor of McClatchy Newspapers.

The new policy is a promise by Obama that the rights group hopes he follows through with. “President Obama should be commended” for his commitment to openness, said an ACLU director. “We’re eager to see this commitment put into practice.”

The release of the secret documentation will help the nation–and the world–move on from the “lawless conduct” of the Bush administration, the ACLU argues.

More details on the ACLU’s pursuit of the information release is here. Excerpts from their press release today follow…

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Gonzales: I don’t think anyone is going to prosecute me.»

Think Progress- By Faiz Shakir at 1:32 pm

In his confirmation hearings, Attorney General nominee Eric Holder declared “waterboarding is torture,” worrying conservatives that he might pursue criminal prosecutions of officials involved in detainee interrogations. In an interview with NPR today, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said he doesn’t believe he’ll be prosecuted:

On the question of prosecuting officers who employed any of the “extreme tactics” that the Bush administration has acknowledged, without admitting to any “torture” of detainees: “I don’t think that there’s going to be a prosecution, quite frankly.” Gonzales said. “Because again, these activities…. They were authorized, they were supported by legal opinions at the Department of Justice.”

When Holder is confirmed – with a vote expected Wednesday – he “will have to make a decision as to whether or not move forward with an investigation or a prosecution,” Gonzales said. “But under those circumstances, I find it hard to believe…

“Nonetheless, the very discussion about it is extremely discouraging,” the former attorney general said.

Gonzales recently wondered, “What is it that I did so fundamentally wrong?” As ThinkProgress noted, he politicized the Justice Department, approved torture, lied about warrantless wiretapping, and distorted pre-war intelligence.

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Holy Cow: Top Dems Are Serious About Investigating Bush’s Criminal Acts

By Jason Leopold, Consortium News. Posted January 26, 2009.

To the surprise of progressives and anger of the GOP, leading Dems support investigations.

As President Barack Obama reverses some of ex-President George W. Bush’s most controversial “war on terror” policies, a consensus seems to be building among Democratic congressional leaders that further investigations are needed into Bush’s use of torture and other potential crimes.

On Wednesday – the first working day of the Obama administration – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he would support funding and staff for additional fact-finding by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which last month released a report tracing abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib to Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, decision to exclude terror suspects from Geneva Convention protections.

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, who issued that report, echoed Reid’s comments, saying “there needs to be an accounting of torture in this country.” Levin, D-Michigan, also said he intends to encourage the Justice Department and incoming Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate torture practices that took place while Bush was in office.

Two other key Democrats joined in this growing chorus of lawmakers saying that serious investigations should be conducted.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, a former federal prosecutor and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a floor speech, “As the President looks forward and charts a new course, must someone not also look back, to take an accounting of where we are, what was done, and what must now be repaired.”

Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland told reporters: “Looking at what has been done is necessary.”

On Jan. 18, two days before Obama’s inauguration, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed support for House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers’s plan 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.”

In an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, Pelosi specifically endorsed a probe into the politicization of the Justice Department, but didn’t spell out a position on Conyers’s plan to examine the Bush administration’s torture and rendition policies, which could prove embarrassing to Pelosi and other Democratic leaders who were briefed by the CIA about these tactics.

Still, when Wallace cited Obama’s apparent unwillingness to investigate the Bush administration, Pelosi responded: “I think that we have to learn from the past, and we cannot let the politicizing of the — for example, the Justice Department, to go unreviewed. Past is prologue. We learn from it. And my views on the subject — I don’t think that Mr. Obama and Mr. Conyers are that far apart.”

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Official: UN may prosecute Bush administration, regardless of US action

Raw Story- David Edwards
Published: Thursday January 22, 2009

The UN’s special torture rapporteur called on the US Tuesday to pursue former president George W. Bush and defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld for torture and bad treatment of Guantanamo prisoners.

“Judicially speaking, the United States has a clear obligation” to bring proceedings against Bush and Rumsfeld, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak said, in remarks to be broadcast on Germany’s ZDF television Tuesday evening.

He noted Washington had ratified the UN convention on torture which required “all means, particularly penal law” to be used to bring proceedings against those violating it.

“We have all these documents that are now publicly available that prove that these methods of interrogation were intentionally ordered by Rumsfeld,” against detainees at the US prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Nowak said.

“But obviously the highest authorities in the United States were aware of this,” added Nowak, who authored a UN investigation report on the Guantanamo prison.

Bush stepped down from power Tuesday, with Barack Obama becoming the 44th president of the United States.

Asked about chances to bring legal action against Bush and Rumsfeld, Nowak said: “In principle yes. I think the evidence is on the table.”

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