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Context of 'January 29, 2009: Former Bush Lawyer Says US Must Continue Detaining, Torturing Terror Suspects'

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Informant Emad Salem, pictured bent over in a green shirt, enables the FBI to take surveillance footage like this of the plotters making a bomb.Informant Emad Salem, pictured bent over in a green shirt, enables the FBI to take surveillance footage like this of the plotters making a bomb. [Source: National Geographic]Eight people are arrested, foiling a plot to bomb several New York City landmarks. The targets were the United Nations building, 26 Federal Plaza, and the Lincoln and Holland tunnels. This is known as the “Landmarks” or “Day of Terror” plot. The plotters are connected to Ramzi Yousef and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. If the bombing, planned for later in the year, had been successful, thousands would have died. An FBI informant named Emad Salem had infiltrated the group, gathering information that leads to arrests of the plotters (see April 23, 1993). [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Abdul-Rahman will eventually be sentenced to life in prison for a role in the plot. Nine others will be given long prison terms, including Ibrahim El-Gabrowny and Clement Rodney Hampton-El. [New York Times, 1/18/1996] Siddig Siddig Ali, who was possibly the main force behind the plot (see April 23, 1993), will eventually be sentenced to only 11 years in prison because he agreed to provide evidence on the other suspects [New York Times, 10/16/1999]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Siddig Siddig Ali, Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, Clement Rodney Hampton-El, Emad Salem, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

One of Ramzi Yousef’s timers seized by Philippines police in January 1995.One of Ramzi Yousef’s timers seized by Philippines police in January 1995. [Source: Peter Lance]Responding to an apartment fire, Philippine investigators uncover an al-Qaeda plot to assassinate the Pope that is scheduled to take place when he visits the Philippines one week later. While investigating that scheme, they also uncover Operation Bojinka, planned by the same people: 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef and 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Many initial reports after 9/11 will claim the fire was accidental and the police discovery of it was a lucky break, but in 2002 the Los Angeles Times will report that the police started the fire on purpose as an excuse to look around the apartment. In the course of investigating the fire, one of the main plotters, Abdul Hakim Murad, is arrested. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] The plot has two main components. On January 12, Pope John Paul II is scheduled to visit Manila and stay for five days. A series of bombs along his parade route would be detonated by remote control, killing thousands, including the Pope. Yousef’s apartment is only 500 feet from the residence where the Pope will be staying. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 78; Lance, 2006, pp. 138] Then, starting January 21, a series of bombs would be placed on airplanes. [Insight, 5/27/2002] Five men, Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Abdul Hakim Murad, Abd al-Karim Yousef (a.k.a., Adel Anon, Yousef’s twin brother), and Khalid Al-Shaikh (thought to be an alias for KSM) would depart to different Asian cities and place a timed bomb on board during the first leg of passenger planes traveling to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Honolulu, and New York. They would then transfer to another flight and place a second bomb on board that flight. In all, 11 to 12 planes would blow up in a two day period over the Pacific. If successful, some 4,000 people would have been killed. [Agence France-Presse, 12/8/2001; Insight, 5/27/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] According to another account, some of the bombs would be timed to go off weeks or even months later. Presumably worldwide air travel could be interrupted for months. [Lance, 2003, pp. 260-61] A second wave of attacks involving crashing airplanes into buildings in the US would go forward later, once the pilots are trained for it (see February-Early May 1995).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Karim Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ramzi Yousef, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Operation Bojinka, Al-Qaeda, Abdul Hakim Murad

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Diana Dean.Diana Dean. [Source: Seattle Times]Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the US with components of explosive devices. One hundred and thirty pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonator components are found inside his rental car. He subsequently admits he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999. [New York Times, 12/30/2001] Alert border patrol agent Diana Dean stops him; she and other agents nationwide had been warned recently to look for suspicious activity. Ressam’s bombing would have been part of a wave of attacks against US targets over the New Year’s weekend (see December 15-31, 1999). He is later connected to al-Qaeda and convicted. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Diana Dean, Ahmed Ressam, Los Angeles International Airport, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Yoo, a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and a member of Vice President Cheney’s ad hoc legal team tasked to radically expand the power of the presidency, writes a legal brief declaring that President Bush does not need approval from Congress or the federal courts for denying suspected terrorists access to US courts, and instead can be tried in military commissions (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two other team members, Cheney’s chief of staff David Addington and White House deputy counsel Timothy Flanigan, have decided that the government bureaucrats need to see that Bush can and will act, in the words of author Craig Unger, “without their blessing—and without the interminable process that goes along with getting that blessing.” Yoo’s opinion is a powerful object lesson. Yoo later says that he saw no need to seek the opinion of the State Department’s lawyers; that department hosts the archives of the Geneva Conventions and its lawyers are among the government’s top experts on the laws of war. “The issue we dealt with was: Can the president do it constitutionally?” Yoo will say. “State—they wouldn’t have views on that.” Neither does Yoo see a need to consult with his own superiors at the Justice Department. Attorney General John Ashcroft is livid upon learning that the draft gives the Justice Department no say in which alleged terrorists will be tried in military commissions. According to witnesses, Ashcroft confronts Cheney and David Addington over the brief, reminding Cheney that he is the president’s senior law enforcement officer; he supervises the FBI and oversees terrorism prosecutions throughout the nation. The Justice Department must have a voice in the tribunal process. He is enraged, participants in the meeting recall, that Yoo had recommended otherwise as part of the White House’s strategy to deny jurisdiction to the courts. Ashcroft talks over Addington and brushes aside interjections from Cheney: “The thing I remember about it is how rude, there’s no other word for it, the attorney general was to the vice president,” one participant recalls. But Cheney refuses to acquiesce to Ashcroft’s objections. Worse for Ashcroft, Bush refuses to discuss the matter with him, leaving Cheney as the final arbiter of the matter. In the following days, Cheney, a master of bureaucratic manipulation, will steer the new policy towards Bush’s desk for approval while avoiding the usual, and legal, oversight from the State Department, the Justice Department, Congress, and potentially troublesome White House lawyers and presidential advisers. Cheney will bring the order to Bush for his signature, brushing aside any involvement by Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, or National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see November 11-13, 2001). [Unger, 2007, pp. 222-223; Washington Post, 6/24/2007]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Craig Unger, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, US Department of State, Timothy E. Flanigan, US Department of Justice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ)

Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals Patrick Philbin and John Yoo send a memorandum to Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes offering the legal opinion that US courts do not have jurisdiction to review the detention of foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Therefore detentions of persons there cannot be challenged in a US court of law. The memo is endorsed by the Department of Defense and White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales. [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The memo addresses “the question whether a federal district court would properly have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of an alien detained at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” The conclusion of Philbin and Yoo is that it cannot, based primarily on their interpretation of a decision by the US Supreme Court in the 1950 Eisentrager case, in which the Supreme Court determined that no habeas petition should be honored if the prisoners concerned are seized, tried, and held in territory that is outside of the sovereignty of the US and outside the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the US. Both conditions apply to Guantanamo according to Philbin and Yoo. Approvingly, they quote the US Attorney General in 1929, who stated that Guantanamo is “a mere governmental outpost beyond our borders.” A number of cases, quoted by the authors, “demonstrate that the United States has consistently taken the position that [Guantanamo Bay] remains foreign territory, not subject to US sovereignty.” Guantanamo is indeed land leased from the state of Cuba, and therefore in terms of legal possession and formal sovereignty still part of Cuba. But Philbin and Yoo acknowledge a problem with the other condition: namely that the territory is outside the US’s jurisdiction. They claim with certainty that Guantanamo “is also outside the ‘territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States.’” However, the Supreme Court should not have made a distinction between jurisdiction and sovereignty here; the wording of the decision is really, Philbin and Yoo believe, an inaccurate reflection of its intent: “an arguable imprecision in the Supreme Court’s language.” For that reason, they call for caution. “A non-frivolous argument might be constructed, however, that [Guantanamo Bay], while not be part of sovereign territory of the United States, is within the territorial jurisdiction of a federal court.” [US Department of Justice, 12/28/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Alberto R. Gonzales, Patrick F. Philbin, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

John Yoo, a neoconservative lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel serving as deputy assistant attorney general, writes a classified memo to senior Pentagon counsel William J. Haynes, titled “Application of Treaties and Law to al-Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” [New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Yoo: Geneva Conventions Do Not Apply in War on Terror - Yoo’s memo, written in conjunction with fellow Justice Department lawyer Robert Delahunty, echoes arguments by another Justice Department lawyer, Patrick Philbin, two months earlier (see November 6, 2001). Yoo states that, in his view, the laws of war, including the Geneva Conventions, do not apply to captured Taliban or al-Qaeda prisoners, nor do they apply to the military commissions set up to try such prisoners.
Geneva Superseded by Presidential Authority - Yoo’s memo goes even farther, arguing that no international laws apply to the US whatsoever, because they do not have any status under US federal law. “As a result,” Yoo and Delahunty write, “any customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds, as a legal matter, the president or the US armed forces concerning the detention or trial of members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.” In essence, Yoo and Delahunty argue that President Bush and the US military have carte blanche to conduct the global war on terrorism in any manner they see fit, without the restrictions of law or treaty. However, the memo says that while the US need not follow the rules of war, it can and should prosecute al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees for violating those same laws—a legal double standard that provokes sharp criticism when the memo comes to light in May 2004 (see May 21, 2004). Yoo and Delahunty write that while this double standard may seem “at first glance, counter-intuitive,” such expansive legal powers are a product of the president’s constitutional authority “to prosecute the war effectively.” The memo continues, “Restricting the president’s plenary power over military operations (including the treatment of prisoners)” would be “constitutionally dubious.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002; US Department of Justice, 6/9/2002 pdf file; Newsweek, 5/21/2004; New York Times, 5/21/2004]
Overriding International Legal Concerns - Yoo warns in the memo that international law experts may not accept his reasoning, as there is no legal precedent giving any country the right to unilaterally ignore its commitment to Geneva or any other such treaty, but Yoo writes that Bush, by invoking “the president’s commander in chief and chief executive powers to prosecute the war effectively,” can simply override any objections. “Importing customary international law notions concerning armed conflict would represent a direct infringement on the president’s discretion as commander in chief and chief executive to determine how best to conduct the nation’s military affairs.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 146] The essence of Yoo’s argument, a Bush official later says, is that the law “applies to them, but it doesn’t apply to us.” [Newsweek, 5/21/2004] Navy general counsel Alberto Mora later says of the memo that it “espoused an extreme and virtually unlimited theory of the extent of the president’s commander-in-chief authority.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 181]
White House Approval - White House counsel and future Attorney General Alberto Gonzales agrees (see January 25, 2002), saying, “In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” [Mother Jones, 1/9/2002]
Spark for Prisoner Abuses - Many observers believe that Yoo’s memo is the spark for the torture and prisoner abuses later reported from Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see Evening November 7, 2003), Guantanamo Bay (see December 28, 2001), and other clandestine prisoner detention centers (see March 2, 2007). The rationale is that since Afghanistan is what Yoo considers a “failed state,” with no recognizable sovereignity, its militias do not have any status under any international treaties. [Newsweek, 5/21/2004; Newsweek, 5/24/2004]
Resistance from Inside, Outside Government - Within days, the State Department will vehemently protest the memo, but to no practical effect (see January 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Patrick F. Philbin, Robert J. Delahunty, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, John C. Yoo, Colin Powell, Geneva Conventions, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Alberto Mora, US Department of State, Alberto R. Gonzales, William J. Haynes

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), signs off on a secret opinion that approves a long, disturbing list of harsh interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA. The list includes waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that some consider mock execution, and which has been prosecuted as a war crime in the US since at least 1901. The list only forbids one proposed technique: burying a prisoner alive (see February 4-5, 2004). Yoo concludes that such harsh tactics do not fall under the 1984 Convention Against Torture (see October 21, 1994 and July 22, 2002) because they will not be employed with “specific intent” to torture. Also, the methods do not fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court because “a state cannot be bound by treaties to which it has not consented”; also, since the interrogations do not constitute a “widespread and systematic” attack on civilian populations, and since neither Taliban nor al-Qaeda detainees are considered prisoners of war (see February 7, 2002), the ICC has no purview. The same day that Yoo sends his memo, Yoo’s boss, OLC chief Jay Bybee, sends a classified memo to the CIA regarding the interrogation of al-Qaeda members and including information detailing “potential interrogation methods and the context in which their use was contemplated” (see August 1, 2002). [US Department of Justice, 8/1/2002; Washington Post, 6/25/2007; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file] Yoo will later claim that he warns White House lawyers, as well as Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, that it would be dangerous to allow military interrogators to use the harshest interrogation techniques, because the military might overuse the techniques or exceed the limitations. “I always thought that only the CIA should do this, but people at the White House and at [the Defense Department] felt differently,” Yoo will later say. Yoo’s words are prophetic: such excessively harsh techniques will be used by military interrogators at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Convention Against Torture, Donald Rumsfeld, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), US Department of Justice, John C. Yoo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri.Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. [Source: Slate]A month before he is slated to go on trial for bank and credit card fraud charges (see February 8, 2002), the federal government drops all criminal charges against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been held without legal representation, and in solitary confinement, since 2001 (see December 12, 2001). [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005; Progressive, 3/2007]
'Grave Danger' - President Bush says al-Marri “represents a continuing, present, and grave danger” to the country, and the government designates al-Marri as an “enemy combatant,” alleging that he helped al-Qaeda operatives settle in the US. “Mr. Al-Marri possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al-Qaeda,” Bush continues, and adds that gaining access to it “would aid US efforts to prevent attacks by al-Qaeda.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] The presidential order says he “engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism.” His detention is necessary, the order claims, to prevent him from participating in terrorist activities against the US. The order in effect precludes a pretrial hearing scheduled for July 2 and the start of a formal trial on July 22. [CNN, 6/24/2003]
Alleged Sleeper Agent - The government declaration for al-Marri says he worked as an “al-Qaeda sleeper agent” who was planning to “hack into the computer systems of US banks,” and possibly facilitate a follow up to the 9/11 attacks. For its part, the Defense Department says al-Marri trained at a terror camp in Afghanistan before 9/11, personally met Osama bin Laden, and volunteered for an unspecified “martyr mission.” [CNN, 12/13/2005] Attorney General John Ashcroft will later claim that al-Marri refused repeated offers to cooperate with the FBI; “consequently,” Ashcroft will write, Bush declares him an enemy combatant. Ashcroft will claim that under the laws of war, an enemy combatant can be killed out of hand. Instead, the government will hold al-Marri “without charge or trial until the end of the war.” [Slate, 11/30/2006]
Transferred to Navy Brig - Instead, the “enemy combatant” designation takes al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and legal US resident, out of the civilian criminal justice system and places him under the control of the Defense Department, which immediately transfers him into detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina. He could face a military tribunal or remain in detention indefinitely, without trial. He is only the third person to be publicly named as an enemy combatant, along with US citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.
Fingered by KSM - According to a Justice Department official, al-Marri was “positively identified” as being part of a planned second wave of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks by an “al-Qaeda detainee in a position to know.” Justice officials imply that the detainee to finger al-Marri is senior 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [CBS News, 6/23/2003] Another suspected al-Qaeda operative, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001), is also said to have mentioned him. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Alice Fisher, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, says the department did not drop the criminal charges against al-Marri because the case was weak: “We are confident we would have prevailed on the criminal charges. However, setting the criminal charges aside is in the best interests of our national security.” The criminal charges—lying to banks, lying to the FBI, and credit card fraud—could have given al-Marri up to 60 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Pleaded Not Guilty - Al-Marri’s lawyer Mark Berman says that his client pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges (see May 29, 2003), and the case was proceeding to trial. “I definitely got the sense they were reluctant to try the case in court,” Berman says. “They’d rather be in a forum where defendants aren’t represented by counsel.” Al-Marri’s wife and five children have left the US. The Saudi Arabian government granted the family passports in February, in spite of a State Department request not to issue the passports, as department officials wanted al-Marri’s wife, who is Saudi, to be available to the FBI for questioning. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] Al-Marri’s lawyers say they are preparing a legal challenge to Bush’s decision. [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, John Ashcroft, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Mark Berman, Alice Fisher, George W. Bush, Jose Padilla, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yaser Esam Hamdi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Bush administration relents in its opposition to the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which would ban torture of prisoners by US personnel (see July 24, 2005 and After and December 30, 2005). President Bush meets with the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and John Warner (R-VA), chairman of the Senate Armed Service Committee, in a press conference to praise the bill. McCain says after the conference that the bill “is a done deal.” The bill still faces some opposition from Congressional Republicans such as House Armed Services Committee chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who says he won’t vote for the bill unless it can be amended to ensure that the nation’s ability to gather intelligence is not diminished. Both the House and Senate have voted by veto-proof margins to accept the bill, which is actually an amendment to a defense appropriations bill. McCain says after the conference with Bush and Warner, “We’ve sent a message to the world that the United States is not like the terrorists. We have no grief for them, but what we are is a nation that upholds values and standards of behavior and treatment of all people, no matter how evil or bad they are.” Bush says the ban “is to make it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture, whether it be here at home or abroad.” McCain has been the target of months of vilification and opposition from the White House over the bill, which argued that the bill would limit Bush’s authority to protect the US from terrorist attacks, and that the bill is unnecessary because US officials do not torture. [CNN, 12/15/2005]
Loopholes - But the bill contains key loopholes that some experts believe significantly waters down the bill’s impact. Author Alfred McCoy, an expert on the CIA, notes that the bill as revised by White House officials does not give any real specifics. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will assert that the only restrictions on prisoner interrogations are the ban on “severe” psychological or physical pain, “the same linguistic legerdemain that had allowed the administration to start torturing back in 2002” (see August 1, 2002). Gonzales also implies that practices such as waterboarding are not prohibited. [TomDispatch (.com), 2/8/2006]
Legal Cover - A provision of the bill inserted after negotiation with White House officials says that CIA and military officials accused of torture can claim legal protection by arguing that they were simply following the orders of their superiors, or they have a reasonable belief that they are carrying out their superiors’ wishes. McCain dropped the original provision that all military personnel must follow the stringent guidelines for interrogation laid out in the Army Field Manual; the bill now follows the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which says that anyone accused of violating interrogation rules can defend themselves if a “reasonable” person could conclude they were following a lawful order. McCain resisted pressure from the White House to include language that would afford interrogators accused of torture protection from civil or criminal lawsuits. [CNN, 12/15/2005; Associated Press, 12/15/2005]
Controversial Amendment - Perhaps even more troubling is an amendment to the bill that would essentially strip the judiciary’s ability to enforce the ban. The amendment, originally crafted by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and added to by Carl Levin (D-MI), denies Guantanamo detainees the right to bring legal action against US personnel who torture or abuse them—effectively denying them the fundamental legal right of habeas corpus. It also gives the Defense Department the implicit ability to consider evidence obtained through torture or inhumane treatment in assessing detainees’ status. Human Rights Watch (HRW) says that the DTA marks the first time in history that Congress would allow the use of evidence obtained through torture. HRW’s Tom Malinowski says, “With the McCain amendment, Congress has clearly said that anyone who authorizes or engages in cruel techniques like water boarding is violating the law. But the Graham-Levin amendment leaves Guantanamo detainees no legal recourse if they are, in fact, tortured or mistreated. The treatment of Guantanamo Bay detainees will be shrouded in secrecy, placing detainees at risk for future abuse.… If the McCain law demonstrates to the world that the United States really opposes torture, the Graham-Levin amendment risks telling the world the opposite.” [Human Rights Watch, 12/16/2005] Geoffrey Corn, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and Judge Advocate General lawyer, agrees. In January 2006, he will write that the “recent compromise inclusion of an ‘obedience to orders’ defense… has effectively undermined the goal Senator John McCain fought so long to achieve. Instead of sending a clear message to US forces that cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of detainees is never permissible, the compromise has validated President Bush’s belief that the necessities of war provide the ultimate ‘trump card’ to justify ‘whatever it takes’ in the war on terror.” [Jurist, 1/6/2006]

Entity Tags: Tom Malinowski, Lindsey Graham, US Department of Defense, Jon Kyl, Uniform Code of Military Justice, John McCain, John W. Warner, Geoffrey Corn, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), Alfred McCoy, Carl Levin, Detainee Treatment Act, Central Intelligence Agency, Human Rights Watch, Duncan Hunter

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999.Salim Ahmed Hamdan in 1999. [Source: Pubic domain via the New York Times]In the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, the Supreme Court rules 5-3 to strike down the Bush administration’s plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions. Ruling in favor of detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan (see November 8, 2004), the Court rules that the commissions are unauthorized by federal statutes and violate international law. Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens says, “The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law that prevails in this jurisdiction.” The opinion throws out each of the administration’s arguments in favor of the commissions, including its assertion that Congress had stripped the Supreme Court of the jurisdiction to decide the case. One of the major flaws in the commissions, the Court rules, is that President Bush unilaterally established them without the authorization of Congress. [New York Times, 6/30/2006] During the oral arguments three months before, Hamdan’s lawyer, Neal Katyal, told the Court: “The whole point of this [proceeding] is to say we’re challenging the lawfulness of the tribunal [the military commissions] itself. This isn’t a challenge to some decision that a court makes. This is a challenge to the court itself, and that’s why it’s different than the ordinary criminal context that you’re positing.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 274-275]
Major Defeat for Bush Administration - Civil libertarian and human rights organizations consider the ruling a shattering defeat for the administration, particularly in its assertions of expansive, unfettered presidential authority. Bush says in light of the decision, he will work with Congress to “find a way forward” to implement the commissions. “The ruling destroys one of the key pillars of the Guantanamo system,” says Gerald Staberock, a director of the International Commission of Jurists. “Guantanamo was built on the idea that prisoners there have limited rights. There is no longer that legal black hole.” The ruling also says that prisoners held as “enemy combatants” must be afforded rights under the Geneva Conventions, specifically those requiring humane treatment for detainees and the right to free and open trials in the US legal system. While some form of military trials may be permissible, the ruling states that defendants must be given basic rights such as the ability to attend the trial and the right to see and challenge evidence submitted by the prosecution. Stevens writes that the historical origin of military commissions was in their use as a “tribunal of necessity” under wartime conditions. “Exigency lent the commission its legitimacy, but did not further justify the wholesale jettisoning of procedural protections.” [New York Times, 6/30/2006] In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Five justices on the Supreme Court said Bush had broken the law.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 275]
Hardline Conservative Justices Dissent - Stevens is joined by Justices David Souter, Stephen Breyer, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Anthony Kennedy issues a concurring opinion. Dissenting are Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. Thomas, in a dissent signed by Scalia and Alito, calls the decision “untenable” and “dangerous.” Chief Justice John Roberts recused himself from the case because of his participation in a federal appeals court that ruled in favor of the administration (see November 8, 2004).
Not Charged for Three Years - Hamdan is a Guantanamo detainee from Yemen, captured in Afghanistan in November 2001 and taken to Guantanamo in June 2002. He is accused of being a member of al-Qaeda, in his function as driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. He was not charged with a crime—conspiracy—until mid-2004. [New York Times, 6/30/2006]

Entity Tags: Samuel Alito, US Supreme Court, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John G. Roberts, Jr, Al-Qaeda, Antonin Scalia, Bush administration (43), Center for Constitutional Rights, Anthony Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, David Souter, International Commission of Jurists, Gerald Staberock, Geneva Conventions, Clarence Thomas

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law.President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. [White House, 10/17/2006] The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. [CBS News, 10/19/2006] However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 319, 322]
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” [Washington Post, 10/19/2006] After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. [Savage, 2007, pp. 322]
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” [Consortium News, 10/19/2006]
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. [Jurist, 10/4/2006] Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. [Salon, 5/22/2007]
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. [FindLaw, 10/25/2006]
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. [Dean, 2007, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner, US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Military Commissions Act, John Dean, George W. Bush, Scott Horton, Geneva Conventions, Bruce Ackerman, Dennis Hastert, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Detainee Treatment Act, Arlen Specter, War Crimes Act, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Boehner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee.David Addington and John Yoo before the House Judiciary Committee. [Source: Washington Post]David Addington, the chief counsel for Vice President Cheney and one of the architects of the Bush administration’s torture policies (see Late September 2001), testifies before the House Judiciary Committee. He is joined by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, who authored or contributed to many of the legal opinions that the administration used to justify the torture and “extralegal” treatment of terror suspects (see November 6-10, 2001). Addington, unwillingly responding to a subpoena, is, in Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank’s description, “nasty, brutish, and short” with his questioners. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] He tells lawmakers that the world has not changed much since the 9/11 attacks: “Things are not so different today as people think. No American should think we are free, the war is over, al-Qaeda is not coming.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008]
Refusing to Define 'Unitary Executive' - Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) peppers Addington with questions about the Bush administration and its penchant for the “unitary executive” paradigm, which in essence sees the executive branch as separate and above the other two, “lesser” branches of government. Addington is one of the main proponents of this theory (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead of answering Conyers’s questions, he slaps away the questions with what Milbank calls “disdain.”
bullet Addington: “I frankly don’t know what you mean by unitary theory.”
bullet Conyers: “Have you ever heard of that theory before?”
bullet Addington: “I see it in the newspapers all the time.”
bullet Conyers: “Do you support it?”
bullet Addington: “I don’t know what it is.”
bullet Conyers (angrily): “You’re telling me you don’t know what the unitary theory means?”
bullet Addington: “I don’t know what you mean by it.”
bullet Conyers: “Do you know what you mean by it?”
bullet Addington: “I know exactly what I mean by it.”
Open Contempt - He flatly refuses to answer most questions, and treats the representatives who ask him those questions with open contempt and, in Milbank’s words, “unbridled hostility.” One representative asks if the president is ever justified in breaking the law, and Addington retorts, “I’m not going to answer a legal opinion on every imaginable set of facts any human being could think of.” When asked if he consulted Congress when interpreting torture laws, Addington snaps: “That’s irrelevant.… There is no reason their opinion on that would be relevant.” Asked if it would be legal to torture a detainee’s child (see After September 11, 2002), Addington answers: “I’m not here to render legal advice to your committee. You do have attorneys of your own.” He offers to give one questioner advice on asking better questions. When asked about an interrogation session he had witnessed at Guantanamo, he replies: “You could look and see mouths moving. I infer that there was communication going on.” At times he completely ignores questions, instead writing notes to himself while the representatives wait for him to take notice of their queries. At other times, he claims an almost complete failure of memory, particularly regarding conversations he had with other Bush officials about interrogation techniques. [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] (He does admit to being briefed by Yoo about an August 2002 torture memo (see August 1, 2002), but denies assisting Yoo in writing it.) [Los Angeles Times, 6/27/2008] Addington refuses to talk more specifically about torture and interrogation practices, telling one legislator that he can’t speak to him or his colleagues “[b]ecause you kind of communicate with al-Qaeda.” He continues, “If you do—I can’t talk to you, al-Qaeda may watch C-SPAN.” When asked if he would meet privately to discuss classified matters, he demurs, saying instead: “You have my number. If you issue a subpoena, we’ll go through this again.” [Think Progress, 6/26/2008; Washington Post, 6/27/2008]
Yoo Dodges, Invokes Privilege - Milbank writes that Yoo seems “embolden[ed]” by Addington’s “insolence.” Yoo engages in linguistic gymnastics similar to Addington’s discussion with Conyers when Keith Ellison (D-MN) asks him whether a torture memo was implemented. “What do you mean by ‘implemented’?” Yoo asks. Ellison responds, “Mr. Yoo, are you denying knowledge of what the word ‘implement’ means?” Yoo says, “You’re asking me to define what you mean by the word?” Ellison, clearly exasperated, retorts, “No, I’m asking you to define what you mean by the word ‘implement.’” Yoo’s final answer: “It can mean a wide number of things.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2008] Conyers asks Yoo, “Could the president order a suspect buried alive?” Yoo responds, “Uh, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think I’ve ever given advice that the president could order someone buried alive.” Conyers retorts: “I didn’t ask you if you ever gave him advice. I asked you thought the president could order a suspect buried alive.” Yoo answers, “Well Chairman, my view right now is that I don’t think a president—no American president would ever have to order that or feel it necessary to order that.” Conyers says, “I think we understand the games that are being played.” Reporter Christopher Kuttruff writes, “Throughout his testimony, Yoo struggled with many of the questions being asked, frequently delaying, qualifying and invoking claims of privilege to avoid answering altogether.” [Human Rights First, 6/26/2008; Truthout (.org), 6/27/2008]

Entity Tags: House Judiciary Committee, John C. Yoo, Al-Qaeda, David S. Addington, Dana Milbank, Christopher Kuttruff, Bush administration (43), John Conyers, Keith Ellison

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]

Entity Tags: Matthew Alexander, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Army, Central Intelligence Agency, Barack Obama, David Petraeus, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda in Iraq, George Casey

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

As one of his first official acts as president, Barack Obama orders that all military prosecutions of terrorist suspects at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be suspended for 120 days. The order comes during the inaugural ceremonies, and is issued by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the only Cabinet holdover from the Bush administration. “In the interests of justice, and at the direction of the president of the United States and the secretary of defense, the government respectfully requests the military commission grant a continuance of the proceedings in the above-captioned case until 20 May 2009,” the request reads. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Agence France-Presse, 1/21/2009] Obama promised repeatedly during and after the presidential campaign that he would close the detention facility at the Guantanamo Naval Base. This request does not go that far, but it does bring to a halt the planned prosecution of 21 detainees currently facing war crimes charges, including 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Jamil Dakwar, a representative for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at the base, calls the request “a good step in the right direction.” Gabor Rona, an observer for Human Rights Watch, also calls the order “a first step.” Rona continues, “The very fact that it’s one of his first acts reflects a sense of urgency that the US cannot afford one more day of counterproductive and illegal proceedings in the fight against terrorism.” Dakwar says the ACLU believes all charges against the prisoners should be dropped. “A shutdown of this discredited system is warranted,” he says. “The president’s order leaves open the option of this discredited system remaining in existence.” Major Jon Jackson, the lawyer for one of the 9/11 defendants, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001 and September 24, 2001-December 26, 2002), says, “We welcome our new commander in chief and this first step towards restoring the rule of law.” Approximately 245 detainees are currently housed at the camp; some 60 detainees have been cleared for release, but no country has agreed to take them. [CNN, 1/21/2009; Washington Post, 1/21/2009] Michele Cercone, spokesman for the European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, says the commission “has been very pleased that one of the first actions of Mr. Obama has been to turn the page on this sad episode of Guantanamo.” The request is accepted the day after (see January 21, 2009), and the Los Angeles Times writes that it “may be the beginning of the end for the Bush administration’s system of trying alleged terrorists.” [Associated Press, 1/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Jon Jackson, European Union Justice and Home Affairs Commission, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, American Civil Liberties Union, Gabor Rona, Jamil Dakwar, Los Angeles Times, Robert M. Gates, Michele Cercone, Human Rights Watch, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

President Barack Obama signs a series of executive orders mandating the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility within one year’s time, and declares that prisoners at that facility will be treated within the parameters of the Geneva Conventions. Obama’s order also mandates the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons overseas. Another element of those orders bans the practice of torture on detainees (see January 22, 2009). Obama calls the order the first move by his administration to reclaim “the moral high ground” vacated by the previous administration. Americans understand that battling terrorism cannot continue with a “false choice between our safety and our ideals,” he says. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “We can no longer afford drift, and we can no longer afford delay, nor can we cede ground to those who seek destruction,” he adds. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009] “We believe we can abide by a rule that says, we don’t torture, but we can effectively obtain the intelligence we need.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] The Washington Post reports that the orders essentially end the “war on terror” as it has been managed by the Bush administration, and writes, “[T]he notion that a president can circumvent long-standing US laws simply by declaring war was halted by executive order in the Oval Office.” However, Obama’s order does not detail what should be done with the detainees currently housed at Guantanamo. According to a White House summary, Obama’s orders “set… up an immediate review to determine whether it is possible to transfer detainees to third countries, consistent with national security.” If a prisoner cannot be transferred, “a second review will determine whether prosecution is possible and in what forum.” Obama says, “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals.” The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard,” he adds. The orders do not specifically ban the practice of “rendition,” or secretly transferring prisoners to the custody of other nations, some of which practice torture. “There are some renditions that are, in fact, justifiable, defensible,” says a senior Obama administration official. “There’s not going to be rendition to any country that engages in torture.”
Republicans, Conservatives Object - Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), a supporter of torture by the Bush administration, says Obama’s orders are imprecise and vague: “This is an executive order that places hope ahead of reality—it sets an objective without a plan to get there.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] “What do we do with confessed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his fellow terrorist conspirators.” Hoekstra asks, “offer them jail cells in American communities?” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009] Conservative news outlet Fox News tells its viewers, “The National Security Council told Fox that for now even [O]sama bin Laden or a high-ranking terrorist planner would be shielded from aggressive interrogation techniques that the CIA says produced lifesaving intelligence from… Mohammed.” [US News and World Report, 1/23/2009]
'A New Era for America' - Newly installed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has a different view. “I believe with all my heart that this is a new era for America,” she tells reporters as she assumes her duties at the State Department. [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009] Former Bush official John Bellinger, the National Security Council’s top legal adviser, praises Obama’s orders, calling them “measured” and noting that they “do not take any rash actions.” Bellinger adds: “Although the Gitmo order is primarily symbolic, it is very important. It accomplishes what we could never accomplish during the Bush administration.” [New York Times, 1/23/2009] Retired admiral John Hutson agrees. “It is a 180 degree turn,” says Hutson. “It restores our status in the world. It enables us to be proud of the way we are prosecuting the war.” Closing the Guantanamo prison camp and banning torture “is the right thing to do morally, diplomatically, militarily and constitutionally,” Hutson adds, “but it also makes us safer.” Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calls the move “a great day for the rule of law.” [Financial Times, 1/22/2009; New York Times, 1/23/2009]

Entity Tags: Peter Hoekstra, Hillary Clinton, John Bellinger, Obama administration, John D. Hutson, John Kerry, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Council, Fox News, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

John Yoo, the former Bush administration legal adviser who authored numerous opinions on the legality of torture, detentions without legal representation, and warrantless wiretapping (see November 6-10, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, August 1, 2002, and August 1, 2002, among others), writes an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal opposing the Obama administration’s intent to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see January 20, 2009 and January 22, 2009)) and restrict the CIA’s ability to torture detainees (see January 22, 2009). Yoo, now a law professor and a member of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, writes that while President Obama’s decision “will please his base” and ease the objections to the Bush “imperial presidency,” it will “also seriously handicap our intelligence agencies from preventing future terrorist attacks.” Yoo writes that the Obama decisions mark a return “to the failed law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that prevailed before Sept. 11, 2001.” Yoo recommends that Obama stay with what he calls “the Bush system” of handling terror suspects. Yoo fails to note that the US law enforcement system prevented, among others, the “millennium bombing” plot (see December 14, 1999), the plot to bomb New York City’s Lincoln and Holland Tunnels (see June 24, 1993), and Operation Bojinka (see January 6, 1995).
Obama Needs to be Able to Torture Prisoners Just as Bush Did, Yoo Declares - And by eschewing torture, Obama is giving up any chance on forcing information from “the most valuable sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda” currently in American custody. The Bush administration policies prevented subsequent terrorist attacks on the US, Yoo contends, and Obama will need the same widespread latitude to interrogate and torture prisoners that Bush employed: “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.)” It is noteworthy that Yoo refused to confirm that Bush ordered waterboarding of suspects during his previous Congressional hearings (see June 26, 2008).
Interrogations Must be 'Polite' - According to Yoo, in forcing the CIA and other US interrogators to follow the procedures outlined in the Army Field Manual, they can no longer use “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. Coercive measures are unwisely banned with no exceptions, regardless of the danger confronting the country.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] Yoo is incorrect in this assertion. The Army Field Manual explicitly countenances many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo says it bans. Further, the Field Manual says nothing about requiring interrogators to be “polite.” [Army, 9/2006] And actual field interrogators such as the Army’s Matthew Alexander have repeatedly said that torturing prisoners is ineffective and counterproductive, while building relationships and treating prisoners with dignity during interrogations produces usable, reliable intelligence (see November 30, 2008).
Shutting Down Military Commissions - Obama’s order to stay all military commission trials and to review the case of “enemy combatant” Ali Saleh al-Marri (see June 23, 2003) is also mistaken, Yoo writes. Yoo fears that Obama will shut down the military commissions in their entirety and instead transfer detainees charged with terrorist acts into the US civilian court system. He also objects to Obama’s apparent intent to declare terrorists to be prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, instead of following the Bush precedent of classifying terrorists “like pirates, illegal combatants who do not fight on behalf of a nation and refuse to obey the laws of war.” To allow terror suspects to have rights under Geneva and the US legal system, Yoo asserts, will stop any possibility of obtaining information from those suspects. Instead, those suspects will begin using the legal system to their own advantage—refusing to talk, insisting on legal representation and speedy trials instead of cooperating with their interrogators. “Our soldiers and agents in the field will have to run more risks as they must secure physical evidence at the point of capture and maintain a chain of custody that will stand up to the standards of a civilian court,” Yoo writes. [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009] In reality, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006), as well as the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 15, 2005) and the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), all mandate that detainees must be handled according to the Geneva Conventions.
Risk to Americans - Another effect of transferring detainees into the civilian justice system, Yoo claims, is to allow “our enemies to obtain intelligence on us.” Defense lawyers will insist on revealing US intelligence—information and methods—in open court, and will no doubt force prosecutors to accept plea bargains “rather than risk disclosure of intelligence secrets.”
Obama 'Open[ed] the Door to Further Terrorist Acts on US Soil' - Obama said in his inaugural speech that the US must “reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yoo calls that statement “naive,” and writes, “That high-flying rhetoric means that we must give al-Qaeda—a hardened enemy committed to our destruction—the same rights as garden-variety criminals at the cost of losing critical intelligence about real, future threats.” By making his choices, Yoo writes, “Mr. Obama may have opened the door to further terrorist acts on US soil by shattering some of the nation’s most critical defenses.” [Wall Street Journal, 1/29/2009]

Entity Tags: John C. Yoo, Barack Obama, American Enterprise Institute, Wall Street Journal, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

George W. Bush’s former political guru Karl Rove echoes incorrect statements made by former Bush lawyer John Yoo. In an op-ed, Yoo claimed that President Obama’s prohibition against torture, and the mandate for US interrogators to use the Army Field Manual as their guide, prevents interrogators from using long-established, non-invasive techniques to question prisoners (see January 29, 2009). In an address at Loyola Marymount University, Rove tells his listeners: “The Army Field Manual prohibits ‘good cop, bad cop.’ All that stuff you see on CSI—the Army Field Manual prohibits it.… If you stop collecting that information, you begin to make America more at risk.” [Torrance Daily Breeze, 2/3/2009] Both Rove and Yoo are wrong. The Army Field Manual explicitly permits many of the “coercive techniques, threats and promises, and the good-cop bad-cop routines” Yoo and Rove claim it bans. [Army, 9/2006]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

MSNBC host Keith Olbermann slams former Vice President Dick Cheney for Cheney’s recent warnings concerning the policies of President Obama (see February 4, 2009). Olbermann calls Cheney’s remarks a “destructive and uninformed diatribe… that can only serve to undermine the nation’s new president, undermine the nation’s effort to thwart terrorism, and undermine the nation itself.” Cheney said that the Obama administration seems “more concerned about reading the rights to an al-Qaeda terrorist than they are with protecting the United States against people who are absolutely committed to do anything they can to kill Americans.” Olbermann responds by asking: “What delusion of grandeur makes you think you have the right to say anything like that? Because a president, or an ordinary American, demands that we act as Americans and not as bullies; demands that we play by our rules; that we preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States; you believe we have chosen the one and not the other? We can be Americans, or we can be what you call ‘safe’—but not both?” Olbermann says that the Bush-Cheney policies—the so-called “Bush System,” as recently dubbed by former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo (see January 29, 2009)—“[s]tart[ed] the wrong war, detain[ed] the wrong people, employ[ed] the wrong methods, pursue[d] the wrong leads, utilize[d] the wrong emotions.” He continues: “We, sir, will most completely assure our security not by maintaining the endless, demoralizing, draining, life-denying blind fear and blind hatred which you so thoroughly embody. We will most easily purchase our safety by repudiating the ‘Bush System.’ We will reserve the violence for which you are so eager, sir, for any battlefield to which we truly must take, and not for unconscionable wars which people like you goad and scare and lie us into. You, Mr. Cheney, you terrified more Americans than did any terrorist in the last seven years, and now it is time for you to desist, or to be made to desist. With damnable words like these, sir, you help no American, you protect no American, you serve no American—you only aid and abet those who would destroy this nation from within or without.” [MSNBC, 2/5/2009]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Barack Obama, Bush administration (43), John C. Yoo, Keith Olbermann

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a 2008 contender for the Republican presidential nomination, tells an ABC audience that the US experienced “no domestic attacks” during the Bush administration. Giuliani is forgetting, or ignoring, the 9/11 attacks, the most lethal and costly terrorist attacks in US history, a curious omission considering Giuliani was mayor when two hijacked jetliners struck New York City’s World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001, eight months into the Bush administration. In recent months, two former Bush administration officials have also denied that 9/11 took place during the Bush presidency (see November 24, 2009 and December 27, 2009), as has a Nevada newspaper publisher just days ago (see January 3, 2010). Good Morning America host George Stephanopoulos begins by asking Giuliani about his opposition to trying suspected terrorists in civilian courts instead of in military tribunals (see November 13, 2001 and January 29, 2009). Giuliani asks “why stop” torturing suspects instead of putting them on trial, saying that the US may continue to get “good information” from them, presumably about plans for future terrorist attacks. Giuliani says that while Bush “didn’t do everything right” in the “war on terror,” what Obama “should be doing is following the right things [Bush] did. One of the right things he did was treat this as a war on terror, we had no domestic attacks under Bush, we had one under Obama.” Stephanopoulos notes that Obama has “stepped up” actions against terrorists, but does not correct Giuliani’s claim that the US “had no domestic attacks under Bush.” [Media Matters, 1/8/2010]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, ABC News, George Stephanopoulos, Bush administration (43), Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

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