Thursday, May 08, 2008

Tortured Thinking, Part I - the Players

By Carol Gee

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary/Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, held an important hearing on "Detainee Interrogation Rules" May 6. (The above opening link is to the committee's news release with good highlights of the hearing's testimony). The committee also authorized a subpoena for Bush administration lawyer David Addington, who actually may be willing to testify, though he might not say very much.

Judiciary Committee Chairman, John Conyers D-MI, laid the groundwork for finding out more about the role of senior government lawyers in the development of the legal opinions authorizing interrogation methods via a series of so-called torture memos:

  1. 8-1-02, the Bybee memo to Alberto Gonzales containing a narrow definition of torture -- allowed interrogation methods. Withdrawn in 2004.
  2. 12-2-o2, DOD Secy. Rumsfeld approved the harsher interrogation methods used at Guantanamo Bay, which may have echoed the earlier memo.
  3. 3-14-03, DOJ John Yoo memo, also involved Jim Haynes, the DOD's attorney for Rumsfeld. It was similar to 8-1-02 but more extreme. This is the memo withdrawn by DOJ lawyer Jack Goldsmith.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, swore in a panel of witnesses who gave a more in-depth picture than we have previously known of our nation's recent history of "severe interrogation," what some call torture. Witnesses included British law Professor Phillipe Sands and Georgetown Professor David Luban. Other witnesses were former administration Counsel's Office lawyer David B. Rivkin and Professor Marjorie Cohn, President of the National Lawyers Guild. Hat tip to "SmileySam" at Daily Kos for his interesting article on the hearing, including some very good links. Also, this Kos blogger borrows from Dan Froomkin's well-linked blog at the WaPo: "Torture Showdown Coming."

Republicans on the Committee who asked questions included Ranking Member, Rep.Trent Franks of Arizona, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, Rep. Mike Pense of Indiana, and Rep. Steve King of Iowa. Rep. Issa was true to form, picking a fight early with Chairman Nadler over limiting members' opening statements. When denied he demanded a roll call vote on the chair's ruling, resulting in 4 "yes," 2 "no," 1 (Issa) "Hell, no" votes.

Later the Republicans were relatively thoughtful in their questioning. Rep. Franks made a point about the Yoo memo "trying to get specific," asking Professor Luban about the term "severe pain." Luban replied that to him it refers to ideas such as a dentist's drill with no anesthetic or a broken bone. He described water-boarding as "suffering." Rep. Pence discussed his idea that our methods need to be kept secret so that "terrorists could not train themselves to resist specific methods." And he wanted to find out, after 9/11 with addition American lives perhaps on the line, how you gain information from detainees who will not respond to relationship-building techniques, what he termed "the Oprah Winfrey methods." Rep. Issa supports a ban on torture. His question to David Rivkin produced the witness' opinion that, "investigations can "degenerate into a witch hunt." Rep Steve King believes that focusing on the "narrow exceptions" of U.S. torture, rather than our "long history" of justice does a disservice to the country. In asking Professor Sands to give an instance of "when our enemies were more moral that we were," King fell into a delicious trap that provoked wry smiles as he back-peddled from Sands' answer. Sands (a British citizen) said, to paraphrase, "The United States has long been the historical moral leader of the world. And, as I spent the past year working on my investigation of what happened after 9/11, I met many military leaders of whom I had a very favorable impressions. Things went wrong under the political appointees."

To be continued with "Tortured Thinking, Part II - the Witnesses." In the meantime boys and girls, your homework is to read Phillipe Sands' "Green Light." For extra credit you can watch the hearing on C-SPAN television or watch the video posted at the House Judiciary website. (links below)


  • The hearing is available in full at C-SPAN: House Hearing on Guantanamo Bay and Interrogation Rules: Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) presides over a a House Judiciary Constitution, Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Subcmte. hearing on detainee treatment and interrogation techniques at facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They voted to authorize a subpoena for Vice President Cheney?s chief of staff and former legal counsel, David S. Addington to appear at a later hearing. 5/6/2008: WASHINGTON, DC: 2 hr. 22 min.

  • The Senate Committee on the Judiciary -- Committee website

  • " The Green Light." Professor Phillipe Sands wonderful new article this month (should be required reading) in Vanity Fair Magazine, Intro:
    As the first anniversary of 9/11 approached, and a prized Guantánamo detainee wouldn’t talk, the Bush administration’s highest-ranking lawyers argued for extreme interrogation techniques, circumventing international law, the Geneva Conventions, and the army’s own Field Manual. The attorneys would even fly to Guantánamo to ratchet up the pressure—then blame abuses on the military. Philippe Sands follows the torture trail, and holds out the possibility of war crimes charges.

  • Representative Nadler writes at the Huffington Post (11/15/07), "No More Clever Word-play on Torture," on the torture-banning legislation subsequently vetoed by our current president: The Orderly and Responsible Iraq Redeployment Appropriations Act.

  • Nov. 8, 2007 -- Hearings by the same committee on water-boarding torture at Guantanamo Bay.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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