President Obama Officially Halts GITMO Show Trials

President Obama has ordered an abrupt halt in the Gitmo Show Trials. From Peter Finn at the Washington Post:

In one of its first actions, the Obama administration instructed military prosecutors late Tuesday to seek a 120-day suspension of legal proceedings involving detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba — a clear break with the approach of the outgoing Bush administration.

The instruction came in a motion filed late Tuesday with a military court handling the case of five defendants accused of organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The motion called for "a continuance of the proceedings" until May 20 so that "the newly inaugurated president and his administration [can] review the military commissions process, generally, and the cases currently pending before military commissions, specifically."

In the legal field, this is known as an act taken "in the interests of justice". An incredibly welcome move by an administration literally only hours into its initial term. You have to hand it to President Obama, Guantanamo is a sensitive topic, especially with the neocon screechers, yet he proved the courage of his convictions and acted immediately upon being sworn in.

It appears that the action was foreshadowed at Camp Delta, as Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy already had reported, even before Obama was sworn in, that the trial of Omar Khadr had been put on hold:

A military judge on Tuesday postponed next week’s trial of Canadian captive Omar Khadr, easing pressure on the new occupant of the White House to make a swift decision on military commissions.

Until Tuesday, the Khadr case was shaping up to be an early test of Obama’s pledge to close the prison camps.

But Parrish’s indefinite delay — he set no new trial date — also derailed Pentagon plans to airlift a jury panel of U.S. military officers to this remote base this weekend.

The stay of all proceedings at Guantanamo for at least 120 days is, as stated, wonderful news; however, the better question is what it portends for the future disposition of the legal cases of the detainees including Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-defendants accused of organizing the 9/11 attacks.

Notably, the defense teams do not appear quite as thrilled as one might would expect by the move, citing fears that the government is simply trying to clean up the tribunal process minimally in order to continue on. Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, who represents Read more

Coach Bush is 3-23 In Real Courts On Gitmo Show Trials; Katyal, The Hero Of Hamdan, To Join Obama Administration

If your local football coach was 3 wins and 23 losses for the season, you could rest assured of two things; one, you are a Detroit Lions fan and, two, the coach is getting fired. Well, there was an interesting little article that was published in today’s New York Times, and the upshot is that 3 and 23 is exactly what the Bush/Cheney regime’s record is when their Guantanamo Detainee cases see the sunshine of a real court. Clearly we have pretty much been endlessly detaining a lot of innocuous people on unsubstantiated evidence.

Describing the release last weekend of Haji Bismullah, an Afghan detainee held at Guantánamo Bay for nearly six years, the Times notes:

The decision was part of a pattern that has emerged in the closing chapter of the administration. In the last three months, at least 24 detainees have been declared improperly held by courts or a tribunal — or nearly 10 percent of the population at the detention camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where about 245 men remain.

While Mr. Bismullah’s case was decided by a military panel, the rulings for the other 23 detainees occurred in habeas corpus hearings in federal court. Since a Supreme Court decision in June gave detainees the right to have their detentions reviewed by federal judges in habeas cases, the government has won only three of them.

Get that?? 3 and 23. Not. Real. Good. Certainly puts the lie to Cheney and Bush’s promises that they were holding only the "worst of the worst" after all these years doesn’t it?

The cases provide a snapshot of the intelligence collected by the government on the suspects and suggest that there was little credible evidence behind the decision to declare some of the men enemy combatants and to hold them indefinitely.

“The government’s failure in case after case after case to be able to prove its case calls into question everybody who is there,” said Susan Baker Manning, a lawyer for 17 Uighur detainees from western China who were ordered released by a federal judge in October. The Justice Department has appealed that order from a federal district judge, Ricardo M. Urbina, and the men are still at Guantánamo.

Well, I guess, as shocking as it is, this is not exactly breaking news anymore. The brittle patina of legitimacy and credibility, to the extent there ever was any, began to crack with the first major Read more

Obama, The Crawford Torture Admission & The Army Field Manual Lie

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In an earlier post I discussed the startling direct admission that the United States tortures terror detainees made public in last Wednesday’s blockbuster Bob Woodward piece in the Washington Post. As the Bush Administration’s hand picked convening authority for the military tribunals, otherwise known as the "Gitmo Show Trials", Susan Crawford’s admission carries the binding mark of credibility.

In this post, I want to explain the troublesome ramifications Crawford’s admission carries for the provisions in the Army Field Manual regarding the treatment and interrogation of detainees. And the Army Field Manual is a singularly important frame of reference because President-Elect Barack Obama famously staked his claim to being a torture reformer during the election by promising to restrict US detainee interrogation techniques to those contained in the Army Field Manual. President-Elect Obama is holding true to his word.

The proposal Obama is considering would require all CIA interrogators to follow conduct outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, the officials said.

However, Obama’s changes may not be absolute. His advisers are considering adding a classified loophole to the rules that could allow the CIA to use some interrogation methods not specifically authorized by the Pentagon, the officials said.

This is where Susan Crawford’s stark admission comes into play. As Crawford admits, most all of the techniques used on al-Qahtani were actually permissible, but the layering of techniques compounded them into unmistakable torture.

Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani’s health led to her conclusion. "The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge" to call it torture, she said.

Crawford has exposed to bright sunlight the lie that is Barack Obama’s, and other politicians’, simple minded reliance on the Army Field Manual as cover for their torture reform credentials. Interrogators can stay completely within the Army manual and still be engaging in clear, unequivocal torture under national and international norms, laws and conventions. Read more

The US Torture Regime – Where Is The Swift Justice?

Earlier, Marcy and Spencer wrote about the somewhat startling admission today by Susan Crawford that the United States tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani. From Woodward and the Washington Post:

"We tortured [Mohammed al-]Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.

The entire article is worth a read just so that the bare facts of what the United States does in your name can set in. But the real thing that strikes me about Crawford’s admission is the unequivocal starkness of it. "We tortured". "Met the legal definition of torture".

Well okay then. What more could we ask for? Maybe that the statement was made by a Bush Administration official, in a position of authority, someone that actually speaks for and might could bind the government to the admission. Well, as convening authority for the military commissions, Susan Crawford darn well ought to suffice for that.

Sounds like what we have here is what the legal profession, and specifically the criminal justice portion thereof, calls an "admission against interest".

An admission against interest is an exception to the hearsay rule which allows a person to testify to a stament of another that reveals something incriminating, embarassing, or otherwise damaging to the maker of the statement. It is allowed into evidence on the theory that the lack of incentive to make a damaging statement is an indication of the statement’s reliability.

In criminal law, it is a statement by the defendant which acknowledges the existence or truth of some fact necessary to be proven to establish the guilt of the defendant or which tends to show guilt of the defendant or is evidence of some material fact, but not amounting to a confession.

Tonight, on MSNBC’s Countdown, former Navy JAG attorney Charles Swift laid out the background and implications of what our country has done and become (Attached are both the portion with Charlie Swift as well as a followup portion). What we have done is not good. It is not right. And it is not justified. It is a war crime under 18 USC § 2441.

For her next trick, perhaps Susan Crawford can tell us when the war crime prosecutions will be starting.

What about Abu Zubaydah?

While I’m glad that Susan Crawford has acknowledged publicly what we all know–that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured (see Spencer’s take here)–I’m just as interested in the questions that "crack reporter" Bob Woodward didn’t ask.

Such as, "Is that the same reason Abu Zubaydah was not charged along with the other 9/11 plotters?"

The answer to that question might raise all sorts of uncomfortable answers, though. After all, Qahtani was not in the same category as the other 9/11 plotters, in either the treatment he received (since it came at Gitmo rather than in black sites overseas, and came while under DOD custody rather than CIA custody), or in his actions (that is, he was stopped short of participating in 9/11, if that was indeed his intent). 

But Abu Zubaydah’s treatment resembles Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s: while in CIA custody at a black site, he was waterboarded, not just once, but a bunch of times.

So if you admitted that Abu Zubaydah had been tortured–and therefore could not be tried–then it would raise questions about why KSM can be charged.

And if those questions were asked, you might have to differentiate between KSM and Zubaydah. KSM–as was made clear in his appearance in the Gitmo show trials–still has his wits about him. Zubdaydah, from all reports, does not.

Or, just as importantly, KSM will happily admit to having done the things we accuse him of. But Zubaydah appears to have been over-sold as the mastermind of the attacks. In fact, if you admitted that Abu Zubaydah admitted to stuff he didn’t really do after having been broken through torture, then you’d have the beginning of the pattern–with Qahtani and Zubaydah–proving that torture doesn’t work.

I’m glad Susan Crawford has finally admitted that we tortured Qahtani and because of that he can’t be charged. But will she have the courage (and the clearance) to admit that about Abu Zubaydah, too?

The WSJ's Curious Picture of Congress and Torture

I was overly optimistic about the head cold fog I’m in today. But a couple of details from the WSJ editorial Christy linked to yesterday are stuck in my craw.

The editorial is an attempt to warn Congressional Democrats against pushing for a (as the WSJ calls it) "Truth Commission" to investigate the Bush Administration’s torture policies.

In particular, at [Panetta’s and Bair’s] nomination hearings they’re likely to be asked to support a "truth commission" on the Bush Administration’s terrorist interrogation policies. We hope they have the good sense to resist. And if they need any reason to push back, they could start by noting the Members of Congress who would be on the witness list to raise their right hands.

It then lists the Democrats it believes would serve as witnesses in such an investigation: it names Pelosi specifically, it deals with Jane Harman’s public objections to torture, and also invokes Intelligence Committee leadership and–after 2006–membership more generally.

Now, I’ll come back to this individualized focus in a second. But here’s the paragraph that has really got me thinking.

The real — the only — point of this "truth" exercise is to smear Bush Administration officials and coax foreign prosecutors into indicting them if Mr. Obama’s Justice Department refuses. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees already possess the relevant facts, and Senator Carl Levin and his staff have spent two-and-a-half years looking at mountains of documents — with nothing to show for it.

Carl Levin, the editorial claims, spent two-and-a-half years looking at documents, with nothing to show for it.

What a remarkable claim, given that the Executive Summary of that not-quite-two-year investigation (since Levin took over as SASC Chair in 2007–the WSJ can’t even get its dates right) lists this as its first conclusion:

On February 7, 2002, President George W. Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. Following the President’s determination, techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions, used in SERE training to simulate tactics used by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions, were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.

And this as unlucky conclusion 13:

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there. Read more

Turnabout Would Be Fair Play: US Seeks 147 Year Torture Sentence

This report from MSNBC is almost sublimely ironic:

U.S. prosecutors want a Miami judge to sentence the son of former Liberian President Charles Taylor to 147 years in prison for torturing people when he was chief of a brutal paramilitary unit during his father’s reign.

A recent Justice Department court filing describes torture — which the U.S. has been accused of in the war on terror — as a "flagrant and pernicious abuse of power and authority" that warrants severe punishment of Taylor.

"It undermines respect for and trust in authority, government and a rule of law," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Caroline Heck Miller in last week’s filing. "The gravity of the offense of torture is beyond dispute."

Elise Keppler, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch, said Monday that the organization has long pressed for investigations and prosecution of those responsible for torture around the world. The Emmanuel conviction is a big step forward, she said.

"This whole process has sent a message that when it comes to the most serious crimes, there cannot be impunity," Keppler said. "Without a penalty that fits the gravity of the crime, it risks sending a message that these crimes will be tolerated."

Huh. Go figure. I wonder who will prosecute the the denizens of the Bush Administration for the same acts?

The Holder Delay, the OLC Delay, the SJC Delay

I suggested last week that the Republicans have suddenly decided to challenge Eric Holder’s nomination in an attempt to postpone the time when AG Holder (if he is approved) would review the OLC opinions supporting warrantless wiretapping and torture.

It turns out that Patrick Leahy is also worried that BushCo are sitting on OLC opinions it has promised to the Senate Judiciary Committee (h/t Secrecy News).

Even in the final days of the Bush administration, the Department of Justice continues to stonewall congressional subpoenas for documents from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), according to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Friday underscored the Department’s continued obstruction and hit the Department on going back on its word to provide the Committee with copies of six documents related to a subpoena issued in October for OLC documents.

In a letter dated November 14, Justice Department officials said the Department was "prepared to make available for Committee staff review at the Department" two national security-related OLC opinions subpoenaed on October 21. The Department also wrote that it was "prepared to provide the Committee with copies of additional OLC memoranda on November 17, 2008." Upon receipt of the letter, followed by a verbal assurance on November 17 that the documents were being delivered to the Committee, Leahy postponed the return date of the subpoena, which was scheduled for November 18. To date, the Department has provided the Committee with copies of just two documents, one of which was not listed in the October 21 subpoena and was already widely available in the public domain. The remaining six documents have been made available at the Department only for staff review.

Here’s a list of the OLC opinions the Administration has been playing games with:

A. Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, Re "Protected Persons" in Occupied Iraq (March 18,2004).

B. Any final OLC memorandum or written legal advice concerning applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention in Iraq, including but not limited to Article 49, including any March 19, 2004 memorandum, Re: Applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention in Iraq, including but not limited to Article 49.

Read more

Another 16 Words: Boumediene Bites Bush Again

images3.thumbnail.jpegLaura Rozen rocks, and today she rolls up more jaw dropping malevolence and fraud on the part of the Bush/Cheney Administration.

A potentially explosive new court filing by the lawyers for Lakhdar Boumediene and five other Guantanamo detainees suggests that the Bush administration ordered the Bosnian government to arrest and hold the men after an exhaustive Bosnian investigation had found them innocent of any terrorism related activity and had ordered their release, in order to use them as props in Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech.

The filing–"Lakhdar Boumediene, et al., Petitioners, v. George W. Bush, President of the United States, et al., Respondents, Petitioners’ Public Traverse to the Government’s Return to the Petition for Habeas Corpus"–lays out the case that the Bush administration threatened at the highest levels to withdraw diplomatic and military aid to the Balkan nation if Bosnia released the men, which its own three-month investigation had found innocent of any terrorism charges in the days leading up to Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union.

Faced with the threats of the withdrawal of aid and that if it released the men, the White House would order NATO troops to detain them, Bosnia transferred the men under duress to the custody of the US government in January 2002. Ten days later, Bush used sixteen words to warn Americans that, in "cooperation" with the Bosnian government, it had captured terrorists who had planned to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo: "Our soldiers, working with the Bosnian government, seized terrorists who were plotting to bomb our embassy," Bush told the nation.

But, six years later, the detainees’ petition says, after the US Supreme Court has sided with the detainees and ordered the US to give the detainees habeas corpus rights, the Bush administration has failed to repeat the embassy plot charges that Bush used in his State of the Union address, or to produce credible evidence of why the men should be held as enemy combatants.

It is hard to be shocked by these kind of revelations anymore, there has been so much criminal depravity on the part of the Bush/Cheney crew in relation to their torture and sadistic gulag detention programs that it just dulls the senses after a while. And it is not like we didn’t know that the case against Lakhdar Boumediene was bogus; that was evident from the prior litigation that led to the original Supreme Court Boumediene decision. The pleading containing the new allegations is here (pdf). For those of you perplexed by the title of the pleading, a "traverse" pleading is nothing more than a somewhat archaic term for a reply pleading.

The revelation that Boumediene has been, from the outset, about yet another 16 word intentional lie to the American public, and indeed the world, in the hallowed State of the Union Speech, in order to fraudulently gin up the basis for an illegal and immoral war of aggression, is heart stopping and hard to stomach. Read more

Who Signed the Explicit Authorization to Torture?

The WaPo reveals that in June 2003, and again in July 2004, the CIA sought and got a memo explicitly authorizing the torture methods used in interrogation.

The Bush administration issued a pair of secret memos to the CIA in 2003 and 2004 that explicitly endorsed the agency’s use of interrogation techniques such as waterboarding against al-Qaeda suspects — documents prompted by worries among intelligence officials about a possible backlash if details of the program became public. 

The article explains that Tenet felt he needed such memos to make sure the CIA had "top cover" for its actions.

The repeated requests for a paper trail reflected growing worries within the CIA that the administration might later distance itself from key decisions about the handling of captured al-Qaeda leaders, former intelligence officials said.

[snip]

A. John Radsan, a lawyer in the CIA general counsel’s office until 2004, remembered the discussions but did not personally view the memos the agency received in response to its concerns. "The question was whether we had enough ‘top cover,’ " Radsan said. 

[snip]

The CIA’s anxiety was partly fueled by the lack of explicit presidential authorization for the interrogation program.

[snip]

By the spring of 2004, the concerns among agency officials had multiplied, in part because of shifting views among administration lawyers about what acts might constitute torture, leading Tenet to ask a second time for written confirmation from the White House.

But at that point, the story gets all vague. What the CIA was seeking, obviously, was a document signed by someone other that John Yoo, someone whose ass would be on the line along with the CIA if the torture program became public. That document would presumably implicate at least top aides to Bush, if not Bush himself. But the WaPo doesn’t describe who that person is.

Days later, he got what he wanted: a brief memo conveying the administration’s approval for the CIA’s interrogation methods, the officials said. Administration officials confirmed the existence of the memos, but neither they nor former intelligence officers would describe their contents in detail because they remain classified. 

[snip]

Finally, in mid-July, a memo was forwarded to the CIA reaffirming the administration’s backing for the interrogation program. Tenet had acquired the statement of support he sought. 

I’ve updated the torture timeline, and the timing is fascinating (the second memo came, for example, just after Goldsmith and Olson left DOJ, Read more

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