Top UK Officials Doubt Bush Claims

Former President George Bush has spent the past week touring media outlets to promote the publication of his new memoir “Decision Points” in which he proudly admits that he authorized the CIA to subject terrorist suspects to “simulated drowning” in an attempt to get them to talk.

Speaking to the British newspaper The Times, Bush claimed that water-boarding had saved British lives by preventing attacks on a skyscraper in the East End of London and on Heathrow airport. His claims received an immediate rebuttal from a series of British politicians from across the political spectrum in the UK.

The former Director of Public Prosecutions during the period in question, Lord Macdonald of River Glaven, told the Daily Telegraph:

“I’ve never seen anything to substantiate these claims. It’s an easy claim to make, it’s much more difficult to prove. These claims are to be treated with a great deal of skepticism.”

Lord Goldsmith, the former Attorney General added:

“I know President Bush has made these claims. I don’t know what evidence there is for it. I didn’t hear that at the time.”

The former Chairman of the House of Commons Intelligence and Security Committee, Dr. Kim Howells, said that he doubted that “what we regard as torture actually produced information instrumental in preventing those plots coming to fruition.” Dr. Howells added in an interview with BBC:

“It is his claim and no doubt he will go on making it… he needs to try to justify what he did to the world. We think water-boarding is torture.”

David Davis, former Shadow Home Secretary and a former Special Forces soldier, also observed on the same BBC program:

“[President Bush] talks about being mortified about what he termed being false intelligence that led to the war in the Iraq. Do you know where that false intelligence came from – a large part of it – it came from the torture of a Mr. Al-Libi… That’s the problem with torture. People under torture tell you what you want to hear. If you want to hear that Saddam is supporting Al Qaeda, which plainly he wasn’t, that Saddam has weapons of mass destruction, which plainly he didn’t; then you’ll get that information by torture. You’ll get the wrong information.”

The British Prime Minster, David Cameron, reiterated his belief that the manner in which the United States had treated War on Terror detainees had made the West less, not more, safe.


Death at Camp Delta

On the evening of June 9, 2006, three inmates of the Guantanamo detention facility known as Camp Delta, Salah Ahmed al-Salami, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi and Yasser Tala al-Zahrani, were found dead in their cells.

All three men had died in a very similar and somewhat bizarre circumstances hung alone in their individual cells, with bound hands and feet, and with a rag stuffed down their throats.

Their bodies were not discovered for two hours despite supposedly being under surveillance from both circulating guards and static cameras.

Senior military commanders at Guantanamo described the deaths as “an act of asymmetrical warfare” perpetrated by the dead men. A military investigation pronounced the deaths suicides.

No disciplinary action was taken against any member of the guard force despite manifest breaches in the standard operating procedures in effect at the facility on the night in question.

In December 2009 Seton Hall University School of Law published a detailed review of the military investigation based on redacted documents disclosed as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request.

The report, Death in Camp Delta, found that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigation suffered from major shortcomings and raised “more questions than answers”.

Earlier this month an article written by Scott Horton for Harper’s Magazine appeared which went one step further. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Obama Drops Resistance to Investigating Torture

President Obama gingerly retreated Tuesday from his resistance to a Congressionally-authorized commission of inquiry to investigate US detention and interrogation practices.  During a photo-op with the King of Jordan, he acknowledged that it is up to Congress and the Attorney General, respectively, to decide whether to authorize a special investigatory commission, or initiate a criminal investigation of torture allegations.  The President moved closer to what Amnesty and other NGOs have long been advocating — namely, not a commission composed of members of Congress, but a truly independent body consisting of internationally-recognized experts with no partisan affiliation.

Amnesty has called for a commission to be composed of “credible experts, who will be seen to be independent, impartial and objective, who command public confidence, and whose expertise includes international human rights and humanitarian law.”  There are other criteria in Amnesty’s recommendations that are designed to ensure that the commission will be truly independent and nonpartisan and that it is properly resourced.   These are vital ingredients to ensuring that the commission is seen as above reproach, thereby giving it a real chance of helping to heal rather than exacerbating political divisions.  The President recognized this concern when he ruminated about the danger of a Congressional investigation dissolving into partisan backbiting.

Another reason the commission should be composed of nonpartisan experts is that Congress itself has arguably been complicit in the abuses that have come to light, or at the very least, has failed to conduct effective oversight.  Members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, for example, don’t even have the same recollections about the extent to which they were briefed or the content of their briefings on interrogation of terror suspects.  All the more reason for us to let our US Representatives and Senators know that we want them to support a nonpartisan commission of inquiry that meets Amnesty’s criteria.

Only by getting the whole truth out can we move forward by identifying how to prevent a future administration from violating our laws and treaty obligations barring torture.

Transparency Still an Unfulfilled Promise by President Obama

The Obama Administration has already taken several laudable steps to separate itself from illegal policies and practices of its predecessor, and I applaud them for it.  I’m glad Attorney General Holder released some of the shocking legal memoranda prepared by the Bush Office of Legal Counsel, which authorized blatantly unlawful and unconstitutional acts by the executive branch.  But I choked a bit on Mr. Holder’s statement that “Americans deserve a government that operates with transparency and openness.”  I agree wholeheartedly, but I find this sentiment glaringly at odds with some of the Justice Department’s own recent actions.

In several pending court cases that began before President Obama took office, summarized by blogger Glenn Greenwald, among others, the Obama Justice Department has recently taken positions that appear to embrace the Bush Justice Department’s expansive view of Presidential power.  For example, in a lawsuit brought against the Jeppesen company, a Boeing subsidiary, by five alleged victims of “extraordinary rendition,” the Obama administration invoked the “state secrets” doctrine to keep certain documents out of the hands of the plaintiffs, with the apparent aim of depriving them of their day in court.  In this and other recent cases where Eric Holder’s Justice Department has taken similar positions, no administration official has bothered to offer any explanation for doing so.  So much for transparency and openness!  Yet these actions cry out for an explanation because, on their face, they are so conspicuously at odds with President Obama’s and the Attorney General’s own declared values and promises.

It’s beginning to appear that what we have is a President who disagrees with many of the specific policies and practices of his predecessor but who reserves the right to adopt them himself — or other, possibly equally illegal practices — if he feels the need in the future.  This should serve as another sad reminder of the need to ensure that honoring our obligations under domestic and international law is not left up to the whim of whoever happens to be our President at any given time.  A good first step would be a thorough investigation by an impartial panel of experts into all US government counterterrorism practices since 9/11, in a manner that enables criminal prosecutions to be undertaken where warranted.  Only by demonstrating that lawlessness has serious consequences can we ensure that whether we have a government that obeys the law does not remain a matter of Presidential preference.

What Do O.J. Simpson and Attorney General Michael Mukasey Have in Common?

(c) Getty Images

(c) Getty Images

Consider the following two statements:

1.“I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I didn’t know I was doing anything wrong.”

2. [There is no evidence those involved. . . did what they did] “for any reason other than to protect the security in the country and in the belief that he or she was doing something lawful. In those circumstances, there is no occasion to consider prosecution. . .”

The first statement was made by O.J. Simpson in pleading for leniency as he was being sentenced for charges that included armed robbery and kidnapping in the course of attempting to recover sports memorabilia that he believed was rightfully his.  The second statement was made by Attorney General Michael Mukasey in response to a question about whether pardons were being considered for Bush administration officials who were involved in developing counterterrorism policies.

Comparing these two statements may, at first glance, seem like a stretch. After all, the underlying actions they were referring to – attempting to recover allegedly stolen personal property at gunpoint and defending the national security of the United States – are vastly different in character.  However, the two statements offer remarkably similar justifications for criminal, or potentially criminal, actions.

In Simpson’s case, he was chastised by Judge Jackie Glass of Clark County District Court for arguing, in essence, that because he believed he was not doing anything wrong, therefore no crime took place.  Yet that is exactly the reasoning advanced by Attorney General Mukasey regarding potentially criminal acts in the “war on terror.” No pardons need be considered, he argues, because there were no violations of law.  This is because those who developed policies on the treatment of terror suspects believed they were not doing anything wrong, but rather were acting out of the purest of motives.

What extraordinary reasoning this is from the chief law enforcement officer of the United States! Mr. Mukasey’s argument, like his refusal to condemn waterboarding, is a disgraceful attempt to shield from further investigation and prosecution those who justified and authorized illegal acts.  It is particularly outrageous because the Attorney General is more responsible than any other single person for upholding the rule of law in the United States.  As Amnesty International noted in commenting on Mr. Mukasey’s statement, ignorance of the law and defense of national security are no excuse for criminal behavior.  How very sad that our Attorney General has yet to understand that.