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Daniel Dell’Orto.Daniel Dell’Orto. [Source: US Department of Defense]Shortly after the Supreme Court rules that the Geneva Conventions apply to detainees suspected of terrorist affiliations (see June 30, 2006), the Bush administration publicly agrees to apply the Conventions to all terrorism suspects in US custody, and the Pentagon announces that it is now requiring all military officials to adhere to the Conventions in dealing with al-Qaeda detainees. The administration says that from now on, all prisoners in US custody will be treated humanely in accordance with the Conventions, a stipulation that would preclude torture and “harsh interrogation methods.” Until the ruling, the administration has held that prisoners suspected of terrorist affiliations did not have the right to be granted Geneva protections (see February 7, 2002). Lawyer David Remes, who represents 17 Guantanamo detainees, says, “At a symbolic level, it is a huge moral triumph that the administration has acknowledged that it must, under the Supreme Court ruling, adhere to the Geneva Conventions. The legal architecture of the war on terror was built on a foundation of unlimited and unaccountable presidential power, including the power to decide unilaterally whether, when and to whom to apply the Geneva Conventions.” But in the wake of the ruling the administration is pressuring Congress to introduce legislation that would strip detainees of some of the rights afforded them under the Conventions, including the right to free and open trials, even in a military setting. “The court-martial procedures are wholly inappropriate for the current circumstances and would be infeasible for the trial of these alien enemy combatants,” says Steven Bradbury, the acting chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. Bradbury and Daniel Dell’Orto, the Defense Department’s principal deputy attorney general, have repeatedly urged lawmakers to limit the rights of detainees captured in what the administration terms its war on terrorism. Dell’Orto says Congress should not require that enemy combatants be provided lawyers to challenge their imprisonment. Congressional Democrats have a different view. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says, “I find it hard to fathom that this administration is so incompetent that it needs kangaroo-court procedures to convince a tribunal of United States military officers that the ‘worst of the worst’ imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay should be held accountable” for crimes. “We need to know why we’re being asked to deviate from rules for courts-martial.” [Washington Post, 7/12/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, US Supreme Court, US Department of Defense, Patrick J. Leahy, Al-Qaeda, Daniel J. Dell’Orto, David Remes, Geneva Conventions, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Steven Bradbury

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

Wisconsin Department of Administration supervisor Georgia Thompson (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) is sentenced to 18 months in prison for allegedly steering a state travel contract to a firm whose executives contributed $20,000 to the campaign of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see October 19, 2005, October 2005, and January 24, 2006). She was convicted of misapplying government funds and of defrauding the state of its right to honest services. Aside from her prison term, Thompson is sentenced to pay $4,000 in fines and serve three years of supervised release. The jury concluded that the firm, Adelman Travel, would not have been awarded a $750,000 contract had Thompson not manipulated the selection process. “People are deserving of good and honest government,” says District Judge Rudolph T. Randa. “There has been too much of this recently; people tend to lose confidence.” Thompson is appealing the conviction. The judge and attorneys for both sides have acknowledged the political nature of the case. Wisconsin Republican Party chairman Rick Wiley has already used Thompson in attack ads targeting Doyle for the upcoming election, with one ad saying, “Jim Doyle has rigged contracts for cash, he’s rigged votes to make political attacks, and by failing to protect our electoral process, this election is ripe for fraud once again.” Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Joe Wineke says of the ads, “For months, Republicans have been trying to use the Georgia Thompson case for their own political advantage and to smear Governor Doyle.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 9/22/2006]

Entity Tags: Georgia Lee Thompson, Adelman Travel, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Joe Wineke, Rudolph T. Randa, Rick Wiley

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal court of appeals overturns the conviction of former Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson, who was convicted of two felony counts of manipulating a state bidding process to favor a Wisconsin travel agency whose executives had made campaign donations to Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI—see June 13, 2006). The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals vacates the conviction and orders Thompson released from jail (see September 22, 2006) immediately. US Attorney Steven Biskupic, who prosecuted Thompson, says he will most likely not appeal the decision. The three-judge panel finds Thompson was wrongfully convicted after oral arguments were presented by both Biskupic’s office and Thompson’s attorney, not waiting for written submissions. Judge Diane T. Wood called the evidence submitted by Biskupic “beyond thin,” telling prosecutors: “I have to say, in comparison to some of the cases this court has seen, that’s a pretty thin set of facts to show some sort of tight political relationship. Am I missing something?” Judge William Bauer wondered why others were not prosecuted, asking why, if prosecutors felt Doyle and others were complicit in the alleged crimes, only Thompson was left to “carr[y] the sack.” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook noted Adelman Travel had the lowest bid and assailed math used to score competing bids. “Because they flunked high school math doesn’t mean a felony was committed,” he said. Doyle, a former state attorney general, says the court did an “extraordinary thing” by entering an order finding Thompson innocent and ordering her immediate release. Decisions like this usually take weeks or months to be rendered. Doyle says Thompson did nothing wrong, calls her “an innocent woman who was used as a political football,” and says she deserves her job back and to be awarded back pay. “She was doing her job, and then she got caught up in all of this,” he says. Doyle defeated gubernatorial challenger Mark Green (R-WI) in the November 2006 elections; Green attempted to make the Thompson “Travelgate” affair a centerpiece of his campaign, and repeatedly accused Doyle and his administration of corruption. Thompson’s attorney, Stephen Hurley, argued in oral presentations that Thompson did not personally profit from the contract going to Adelman Travel, contending that her actions did not constitute “dishonest gain,” a criteria many courts have applied to corruption cases. Hurley says that as a result of her conviction, she lost “her job, her life savings, her home, and her liberty; and it cost Georgia her good name.… At sentencing, the government urged a longer period of incarceration because Georgia did not accept responsibility. Today, the government ought to accept responsibility for the consequences of its acts.” Wisconsin Republican Party director Mark Jefferson says Thompson’s exoneration means nothing, and the Doyle administration should still be investigated regarding the contract process. [Associated Press, 4/5/2007; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/5/2007] Wisconsin lawyer Chris Van Wagner later says of the appeals court’s decision: “That is more than a legal ruling; it’s a slap in the face. This, no question about it, is a major affront to the government in many ways. Most significantly, it said you should have never brought this case.… Two or three cases out of 100 are vacated. This case wasn’t just vacated and sent back for a retrial, but rather the judges ordered an acquittal.” [Christopher T. Van Wagner, 4/2007] Law professor Michael O’Hear agrees that the decision is unusual. “If this was a finding of insufficient evidence, what they’re saying is it’s unjust that Georgia Thompson has been in prison the last few months,” he says. [Wisconsin State Journal, 4/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Frank Easterbrook, Diane T. Wood, Adelman Travel, William Bauer, Steven M. Biskupic, Stephen Hurley, Michael O’Hear, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Georgia Lee Thompson, Mark Jefferson, Chris Van Wagner, Mark Andrew Green

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Critics say that the legal pursuit of former Wisconsin state purchasing official Georgia Thompson, whose conviction on corruption charges was overturned by a federal appeals court (see April 5, 2007), may have been politically motivated. State Representative David Travis (D-Westport) says Thompson was persecuted by US Attorney Steven Biskupic, a Bush administration appointee. “I think it’s right out of the Karl Rove playbook,” he says, referring to White House political chief Karl Rove. “I never thought I’d see a prosecution like this. That woman is innocent. He’s ruined her life.” Republicans used Thompson’s prosecution and conviction (see June 13, 2006) as a centerpiece of their attempt to thwart the re-election attempts of Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who survived a 2006 challenge by Mark Green (R-WI), who accused Doyle of corruption throughout the campaign. Representative Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) calls on Congress to investigate the prosecution, saying the prosecution ties into Congress’s investigation into the firing of eight US Attorneys (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Congress should also look into whether partisan politics influenced, or even dictated, the investigations conducted by the US Attorneys’ offices in order to stay in the [Bush] administration’s good graces,” Baldwin says. “The 7th Circuit acquittal of Georgia Thompson, after a widely publicized pre-election prosecution, certainly raises serious questions about the integrity and motivation of the prosecutor.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asks Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to turn over all of the Justice Department’s records in the Georgia Thompson case to the committee, “including any communications between the Justice Department, the White House, and any other outside party, including party officials.” Leahy, joined by Wisconsin’s two senators Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Russell Feingold (D-WI), also asks Gonzales to turn over records related to voter fraud investigations in Wisconsin (see Early 2005) and any records pertaining to Biskupic’s possible firing. Wisconsin Democrats have long considered Thompson’s prosecution an attempt to besmirch Doyle before the 2006 election, and have accused Biskupic of mounting a politically motivated pursuit of an innocent government official. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007] Feingold says in a statement that Thompson was the victim of a “miscarriage of justice,” and adds, “In light of ongoing concerns about the politicization of US Attorneys’ offices around the country, I am seeking further information from the Department of Justice on how this case and voter fraud cases after the 2004 election came about and whether there was improper political pressure to pursue them.” [Federal Document Clearing House, 4/10/2007]
Denials of Political Motivations - Biskupic’s First Assistant US Attorney (FAUSA) Michelle Jacobs says that the prosecution of Thompson was not politically motivated, and the office received no contact from the White House or the Justice Department. “They acted on the evidence as they found it, convinced a jury of 12 that there was criminal conduct, convinced a judge who has been sitting on a state and federal bench for 33 years that the verdict was sound,” Jacobs says. “But we just did not convince the court of appeals, and we’ll respect the court of appeals decision.” Andy Gussert, president of the state employees union AFT-Wisconsin, says Congress should look into the Thompson case because servants should “not become political footballs to be kicked around.” He adds: “This prosecution raises additional questions that resonate with concerns about the recent firings of US Attorneys. If people are to have faith in our judicial system, those questions will need answers.” Former State Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager, who was involved in the Thompson investigation, says the investigation was not politically motivated. Lautenschlager is a Democrat, but is considered a political enemy of Doyle’s.
Thompson Nearly Destitute - Thompson’s lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says Thompson has been left almost entirely penniless by the case. She lost her $77,300-a-year state job, about $60,000 in back wages, and owes somewhere between $250,000 and $400,000 in legal fees. She was forced to cash in her state pension and sell her $264,700 condominium, which she had paid off entirely. Travis says the federal government should pay her lost wages and legal costs, and compensate her for her time in prison. State officials say they are prepared to offer Thompson her old job or a similar position at the same salary, and are investigating whether they can reimburse her back wages and pay her legal bills. Thompson says she does not want her old job back, but would like another job in the same division. She is very concerned with staying out of the public spotlight. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007; Associated Press, 4/10/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Unbeknownst to Congress or the press, Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of people to be fired. Biskupic himself will soon claim that he did not prosecute Thompson for political purposes (see April 14, 2007).

Entity Tags: David Travis, Andy Gussert, Tammy Baldwin, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Stephen Hurley, Russell D. Feingold, Steven M. Biskupic, Patrick J. Leahy, Herbert Kohl, Georgia Lee Thompson, James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Michelle Jacobs, Karl C. Rove, Peg Lautenschlager, Mark Andrew Green

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An editorial by Adam Cohen in the New York Times concurs that Wisconsin state employee Georgia Thompson was the victim of a politically motivated prosecution. Thompson’s conviction on corruption charges was recently overturned (see April 5, 2007), and critics are now alleging that state Republicans used the Thompson case to help defeat incumbent Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), who defeated a Republican challenger in November 2006 (see April 7-10, 2007). “The entire affair is raising serious questions about why a United States Attorney put an innocent woman in jail,” Cohen writes. Cohen implies that US Attorney Steven Biskupic of Wisconsin may have pursued the Thompson allegations in order to avoid being fired in the 2006 US Attorney purge (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). “Members of Congress should ask whether it was by coincidence or design that [Biskupic] turned a flimsy case into a campaign issue that nearly helped Republicans win a pivotal governor’s race,” he writes. The appeals court that overturned Thompson’s conviction was “shocked,” Cohen writes, at the lack of evidence against Thompson. Moreover, Biskupic, the US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin, took over the case even though it originated in Madison, in the Western District. And he spoke to reporters about the investigation, in apparent defiance of Justice Department guidelines saying federal prosecutors can publicly discuss investigations before an indictment only under extraordinary circumstances. Cohen says the scheduling of the prosecution “worked out perfectly for the Republican candidate for governor. Mr. Biskupic announced Ms. Thompson’s indictment in January 2006. She went to trial that summer, and was sentenced in late September, weeks before the election.” While Biskupic has denied that the timing of the prosecution was “tied to the political calendar,” it was, says Wisconsin Democratic Party chair Joe Wineke, “the No. 1 issue” in the governor’s race. Cohen then writes: “Most of the eight dismissed prosecutors came from swing states, and Democrats suspect they may have been purged to make room for prosecutors who would help Republicans win close elections. If so, it might also mean that United States Attorneys in all swing states were under unusual pressure. Wisconsin may be the closest swing state of all.” President Bush lost Wisconsin by a vanishingly small margin of 12,000 votes in 2004, and by an even narrower margin in 2000. Wisconsin politicians say that Karl Rove, the White House’s political chief, told them Wisconsin was his highest priority, because he believed that having a Republican win the 2006 gubernatorial race would help Republicans win in the 2008 presidential election. Cohen concludes by pointing out the irony of one element of the prosecution: Biskupic charged that Thompson committed the alleged crime to obtain “political advantage for her superiors” and to improve her own “job security.” Cohen writes, “Those motivations, of course, may well describe why Mr. Biskupic prosecuted Ms. Thompson. [New York Times, 4/16/2007]
Biskupic Considered for Firing - Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of attorneys under consideration for removal.

Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Adam Cohen, Georgia Lee Thompson, Karl C. Rove, Steven M. Biskupic, Joe Wineke, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

US Justice Department official Craig Donsanto, the director of the election crimes branch, sends an email to a colleague expressing his incredulity that the US Attorney for Eastern Wisconsin, Steven Biskupic, brought a case against Wisconsin procurement official Georgia Thompson. Thompson was released in April by an appeals court which overturned her conviction and found that Biskupic’s prosecution was based on extraordinarily sketchy evidence (see April 5, 2007). Many critics now believe that the case was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). “Bad facts make bad law. How in heck did this case get brought?” Donsanto writes in an email to Justice Department official Raymond Hulser. The press will not report on Donsanto’s consternation until September 2007, when it will be turned over to the House Judiciary Committee, involved in an investigation of the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006). Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) will say in a statement: “This email demonstrates that even Justice Department insiders thought the Thompson case was seriously flawed. This only underscores the need for further investigation into the administration’s alleged role in politicizing prosecutions.” Biskupic was once named on a list of US Attorneys to be fired (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later testify that he does not know why Biskupic was considered for removal or why he was taken off the list. [Associated Press, 9/6/2007]

Entity Tags: John Conyers, Alberto R. Gonzales, Craig Donsanto, House Judiciary Committee, Raymond Hulser, US Department of Justice, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Former Wisconsin procurement officer Georgia Thompson, wrongly convicted of corruption in 2006 (see 2001 and June 13, 2006) and freed by an appeals court in 2007 (see April 5, 2007) amid speculation that her prosecution was politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007), was pressured by federal prosecutors to turn on high-ranking Democrats in Wisconsin state government, according to officials involved in the case. In return, prosecutors promised leniency or dropping the charges in their entirety. Her lawyer, Stephen Hurley, says prosecutors wanted her to testify against Governor Jim Doyle (D-WI), the then-Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, and other elected officials. The pressure came from US Attorney Steven Biskupic and others in his office, according to Hurley and co-counsel Marcus Berghahn. “I began to get the impression that the indictment was being used to squeeze her,” says Hurley, saying that these attempts continued even after Thompson’s sentencing (see September 22, 2006), with offers to seek a reduced sentence if Thompson produced evidence that Doyle or others in his administration had broken the law. Hurley, who has been a criminal defense attorney for over 30 years, says: “It was the only time in my career that, after the person was sentenced, the prosecutor has called to renew the discussion. I’ve never had that happen before.” Reporter Bill Lueders writes, “These offers, though not necessarily indicative of improper conduct, suggest that Biskupic and his staff prosecuted Thompson as part of a larger agenda, with potential political overtones.” Biskupic has denied any political motivations behind the prosecution (see April 14, 2007) and refuses to discuss any plea offers with Lueders. Former Dane County assistant district attorney John Burr, a past president of the Association of State Prosecutors, says of Biskupic’s plea offers: “You can’t tell me it was not politically motivated. The powers that be over there thought they were going to go all the way to the governor.” Biskupic’s office, says Burr, prosecuted Thompson to get to Doyle and others. And, “[w]hen they didn’t find anything, they were stuck with it. It blew up in their faces.” Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Green (R-WI) used the Thompson prosecution as the centerpiece of his campaign against Doyle in the 2006 elections, accusing Doyle of running a corrupt administration. Doyle defeated Green in the election. Many have speculated that the case can be tied to the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006), with Biskupic pursuing the Thompson case to curry favor with the Bush administration and keep himself from being fired. Biskupic was considered for firing in 2005 (see March 2, 2005), but was later removed from the list of those being considered for firing. Biskupic insisted throughout the prosecution that the case was entirely about Thompson, and not about Doyle or other elected officials, but in his closing arguments, he cited Doyle, Marotta, and others as “players” in the affair, saying: “She’s the link. She’s the one who made this happen. What a terrible coincidence for her that she is in the middle of all this.” One juror later said that “nobody in the jury room had any doubt whatsoever” that Doyle and others were involved, though there is no evidence to support such a conclusion. Former US Attorney Frank Tuerkheimer says there is nothing untoward or unusual about Biskupic trying to “flip” Thompson to get information about higher-ups. “In principle, there is nothing wrong with it,” he says. “There’s no question in my mind that Biskupic was after Thompson to get higher-ups.” The problem was, Tuerkheimer adds, that “Biskupic had a theory of criminality that was ridiculous”—that Thompson was acting at others’ behest. “It just bothers you ‘cause the woman got screwed.” Tuerkheimer notes that Biskupic had Thompson jailed pending her appeal, which was unusual for such a case. She had no criminal history, was not a flight risk, and had a legitimate case for appeal. Most people in her position would have been allowed to stay out of jail pending the appeal. Why did Biskupic insist on having her jailed? Tuerkheimer replies, “It appeared to me that they were trying to pressure her to talk.” [Madison Isthmus, 5/18/2007] Doyle says he is alarmed by the reports that Biskupic and others tried to pressure Thompson into testifying against members of his administration. “The story is pretty alarming, particularly given that she had testified under oath that nobody had ever asked her to do anything inappropriately,” Doyle says. “Even after… testifying under oath they were still trying to get her to give information that just wasn’t true.” Doyle refuses to say directly that the prosecution was politically motivated, but asks rhetorically, “Does anybody really think that Georgia Thompson, if it hadn’t been an election year, that this would have ever happened to her?” Biskupic’s chief assistant Michelle Jacobs denies that the prosecution had any political components to it, saying: “We would never, and have never, encouraged a defendant to lie to us. To suggest that it is somehow untoward or unusual to approach a post-trial defendant, even a defendant who has testified, about cooperating with us, it’s just not unusual.” [Associated Press, 5/18/2007]

Entity Tags: James E. (“Jim”) Doyle, Bush administration (43), Bill Lueders, Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Mark Andrew Green, Michelle Jacobs, Marc Marotta, John Burr, Frank Tuerkheimer, Stephen Hurley, Marcus Berghahn

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

CIA Director Michael Hayden and Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell testify to a Senate committee that US officials had indeed waterboarded three terrorist suspects (see May 2002-2003, Mid-May 2002 and After, (November 2002), and After March 7, 2003). Hayden and McConnell, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, say that while the CIA banned the use of waterboarding (see Between May and Late 2006), the agency might authorize it again if circumstances warranted. Hayden says that the CIA found it necessary to waterboard the three suspects—alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida, and al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri—because the US believed they had information about an imminent attack, and because it needed information about al-Qaeda immediately. “Those two circumstances have changed,” says Hayden. McConnell calls waterboarding a “lawful technique” that could be used again if needed. Hayden says the CIA has held fewer than 100 detainees, and of those, less than a third were put through what he calls “enhanced techniques.” Hayden also admits that “private contractors” took part in subjecting detainees to those “enhanced techniques,” which many call torture. He says he is not sure if any contractors were involved in waterboarding anyone. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) calls for an immediate Justice Department investigation into whether waterboarding is a criminal act. [Wall Street Journal, 2/6/2008] Two days later, Attorney General Michael Mukasey announces his decision not to investigate the US’s use of waterboarding (see February 7, 2008).

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Abu Zubaida, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mike McConnell, Senate Intelligence Committee, Michael Mukasey, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The Justice Department is investigating four cases of alleged selective prosecution, including the prosecution and overturned conviction of Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson by former US Attorney Steven Biskupic (see April 5, 2007). The department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) informs the House Judiciary Committee of the investigations, in a letter signed by OPR chief H. Marshall Jarrett. Since Thompson’s conviction was overturned over a year ago, her prosecution has been widely criticized as giving the appearance of being politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). Committee members John Conyers (D-MI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Linda Sanchez (D-CA) are spearheading the committee’s probe into the Thompson prosecution. Many suspect that Biskupic prosecuted Thompson in order to avoid being fired in the 2006 US Attorney purge (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006). Biskupic has denied knowing he was being considered for termination before he opened his prosecution of Thompson (see March 2, 2005), though he has also admitted to learning about being on the “purge” list after the fact (see April 14, 2007). After he opened that investigation, his name disappeared from the list. [WisPolitics Courtwatch Blog, 5/23/2008; Capital Times, 5/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Office of Professional Responsibility, Georgia Lee Thompson, H. Marshall Jarrett, Linda Sanchez, Tammy Baldwin, John Conyers, US Department of Justice, Steven M. Biskupic

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The House Judiciary Committee releases a May 5 letter written to Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR—see May 5, 2008). The letter advises Conyers that OPR is investigating “allegations of selective prosecution relating to the prosecutions of Don Siegelman, Georgia Thompson, and Oliver Diaz and Paul Minor.” The House and Senate Judiciary Committees are investigating widespread allegations of politically-driven prosecutions by the Justice Department under the Bush administration. Former Governor Don Siegelman (D-AL) is facing bribery charges. Georgia Thompson is a former Wisconsin state employee convicted of corruption by US Attorney Steven Biskupic (see April 14, 2007), but who was set free after an appeals court found the case against her irreparably flawed. Diaz, a former Mississippi State Supreme Court justice, and Minor, a Mississippi lawyer, were both prosecuted by US Attorney Dunn Lampton, and the cases for both are being investigated by the House Judiciary Committee as being possibly driven by partisan political interests. [TPM Muckraker, 2/25/2008; TPM Muckraker, 5/22/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011]

Entity Tags: John Conyers, Bush administration (43), Don E. Siegelman, House Judiciary Committee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Steven M. Biskupic, Oliver Diaz, Paul Minor, Dunn O. Lampton

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

An internal Justice Department (DOJ) audit by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) that found the department’s hiring practices were politically motivated in some instances has led critics to renew charges that DOJ officials, including US Attorneys, may have brought groundless charges against Democrats in order to affect elections. The audit, the results of which were recently made public, found that Bush administration officials implemented a policy in 2002 to screen out applicants with liberal or Democratic affiliations. The audit found that such disqualifications “constituted misconduct and also violated the department’s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring based on political or ideological affiliation.” Former Governor Don Siegelman (D-AL), convicted of bribery charges that he has said were politically motivated, says, “[The audit] validates and verifies what we all knew was taking place, and that is that under [the Bush administration] the Justice Department has been politicized and used as a political tool.” The OPR is investigating several cases, including Siegelman’s, along with charges filed against Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz Jr. and Wisconsin state procurement official Georgia Thompson (see May 5, 2008 and May 22, 2008). Federal prosecutors have denied the cases were filed for any political reasons, prompting House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) to say, “The department’s bald denials that politics never affected the cases under investigation simply cannot be taken at face value.” Thompson’s attorney Stephen Hurley says: “What they’ve said is politics played a role in personnel decisions. The question is did it play any role in decisions to prosecute? The latter is a much more serious issue.” He says he is ready to speak with officials from OPR. “I’d be glad if somebody called me because I have facts they might want to know,” Hurley says. [Associated Press, 6/25/2008]

Entity Tags: Office of Professional Responsibility, Bush administration (43), Don E. Siegelman, John Conyers, Oliver Diaz, US Department of Justice, Georgia Lee Thompson, Stephen Hurley

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

In his first exit interview after the November 2008 elections, Vice President Dick Cheney unapologetically acknowledges that the US used waterboarding on suspected terrorists, and says that the Guantanamo Bay prison should remain open until terrorism has been eradicated. Methods such as waterboarding were indeed used on at least one subject, suspected 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see May 2002-2003, Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003, March 7 - Mid-April, 2003, After March 7, 2003, and May 2003), Cheney says, but he goes on to claim that those methods do not constitute torture. “On the question of so-called torture, we don’t do torture,” he says. “We never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. I think those who allege that we’ve been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don’t know what they’re talking about.” Asked if he authorized the waterboarding of Mohammed, Cheney says: “I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared, as the agency [CIA] in effect came in and wanted to know what they could and couldn’t do. And they talked to me, as well as others, to explain what they wanted to do. And I supported it.” Cheney says that waterboarding Mohammed produced critically important information: “There was a period of time there, three or four years ago, when about half of everything we knew about al-Qaeda came from that one source. So it’s been a remarkably successful effort. I think the results speak for themselves.” Cheney adds that the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were justified regardless of whether that nation possessed weapons of mass destruction. The only thing US intelligence got wrong, he says, “was that there weren’t any stockpiles. What they found was that Saddam Hussein still had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. He had the technology, he had the people, he had the basic feed stock.” [ABC News, 12/15/2008; ABC News, 12/15/2008] In the US, waterboarding has been considered a war crime at least as far back as World War II (see 1947, January 21, 1968, and November 29, 2007); in 2007, a judge concurred (see November 4, 2007). A former senior Justice Department official determined that waterboarding is torture (see Late 2004-Early 2005), as did a former deputy secretary of state who was subjected to waterboarding as part of his military training (see January 21, 2009) and a US senator who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam (see April 20, 2009). The CIA suspended the use of waterboarding in 2005 after determining that the technique was most likely ineffective and certainly illegal (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005), and banned it entirely in 2006 (see Between May and Late 2006); the CIA’s Inspector General determined that the practice was torture (see March 6, 2009). The FBI and DIA have forbidden their agents from using the technique (see May 13, 2004 and February 7, 2008). The US military banned its use in 2006 (see September 6, 2006). The king of Saudi Arabia will accuse the Bush administration of torturing prisoners in its custody (see April 24, 2009). The information derived from torturing Mohammed and other prisoners is widely considered unreliable (see August 6, 2007, April 16, 2009, December 18, 2008, and March 29, 2009), and may well have been initially designed to elicit false confessions (see April 22, 2009).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Saddam Hussein, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Former US Attorney Steven Biskupic is cleared of any wrongdoing in his failed prosecution of Wisconsin government official Georgia Thompson. Since Thompson’s conviction was overturned in 2007 (see April 5, 2007), her prosecution has been widely criticized as giving the appearance of being politically motivated (see April 7-10, 2007, April 16, 2007, and April 24, 2007). Biskupic left his position in 2008 and is now in private practice at a Milwaukee law firm. In 2008, the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) was investigating Biskupic and his prosecution of Thompson (see May 5, 2008). OPR reports that it “found no evidence that Mr. Biskupic was ever told his job was in jeopardy and no evidence that department personnel involved in the decision to remove certain United States Attorneys knew anything about the Thompson investigation.” The information is given to the House Judiciary Committee by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Welch. The committee had requested the investigation into Biskupic. “OPR also found that Mr. Biskupic took special measures to ensure that politics did not play a role in the case by enlisting the support and assistance of state officials who were Democrats, including using state investigative resources,” Welch adds. “Accordingly, OPR concluded that Mr. Biskupic did not breach any professional obligation in this matter, but rather, acted appropriately under the circumstances.” Biskupic says: “I’ll let the letter speak for itself.… I spent almost 20 years in the department. I remain proud of the work I did under multiple administrations.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/28/2010; Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 5/28/2010] After the OPR releases its findings, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel publishes an editorial praising the findings and saying that Biskupic’s integrity “should [never] have been in doubt.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 6/1/2010]

Entity Tags: Georgia Lee Thompson, Steven M. Biskupic, Office of Professional Responsibility, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Ronald Welch

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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