15 June 2005

Pentagon Minutes: Gitmo=War Crimes

This just came up on ABC News this evening.  Apparently they got leaked some minutes of a Pentagon meeting in early 2003.  The fact that interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay would be considered torture under US law was raised, as was the prospect of prosecution for war crimes.
June 15, 2005 -- The interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in 2002 triggered concerns among senior Pentagon officials that they could face criminal prosecution under U.S. anti-torture laws, ABC News has learned.


Notes from a series of meetings at the Pentagon in early 2003 -- obtained by ABC News -- show that Alberto Mora, General Counsel of the Navy, warned his superiors that they might be breaking the law.

This development doesn't seem to have been reported anywhere else in the news, nor here on dKos. [note: this was originally a kos diary - zeke]


I think it is worth bringing to everyone's attention.

During a January 2003 meeting involving top Pentagon lawyer William Haynes and other officials, the memo shows that Mora warned that "use of coercive techniques ... has military, legal, and political implication ... has international implication ... and exposes us to liability and criminal prosecution."


Mora's deep concerns about interrogations at Guantanamo have been known, but not his warning that top officials could go to prison.


In another meeting held March 8, 2003, the group of top Pentagon lawyers concluded -- according to the memo -- "we need a presidential letter approving the use of the controversial interrogation to cover those who may be called upon to use them."


No such letter was issued.

Well hold on a minute on that last one - how do we know that no such letter was issued?  Some of the FBI emails we already know about referred to an executive order that may have been classified, but so far we haven't seen any meaningful analysis of whether such an order was issued or not.  I'm not inclined to simply take the administration's word for it the way ABC seems to be.


Let's remember though that even if an executive order was issued, torture is still illegal.  All the order would prove is that the president not only had full knowledge that torture was being used, he actually approved it.


There's a bit more:

In another internal memo obtained by ABC News, a Navy psychologist observing the interrogation warned that the tactics used against Mohammed al Qahtani -- dubbed "the 20th hijacker" -- revealed "a tendency to become increasingly more aggressive without having a definite boundary."


Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld said on Tuesday that interrogating al Qahtani had produced results.

This is exactly what was said in the broadcast, and it's exceptionally poor journalism.  I can't make out what that last bit means - are they trying to say that the torture used on al Qahtani escalated in brutality unchecked?  Or that the torture backfired because he became progressively more obstinate.


As for MacnaRummy's comments, well they're clearly not worth the spittle in the air they were carried on.

[PS] This whole thing seems kind of strange - almost like they were trying to bury the story. It was toward the top of the news, but there was no announcement of or promotion of the story - even though they're featuring it as an "exclusive." Then they took pains to say that there was no presidential authorization, even though they have no way of knowing that, and then to parrot Rummy's comments that at least one interrogation yielded results, even though there's no supporting evidence for that claim.

Wouldn't a news organization normally trumpet getting a juicy leak like this to get people watching?

The other thing that is very odd is that the text of the minutes is not available. Just a couple of heavily redacted quotes and a vague summary.

Sounds almost like some investigative reporter scored this internal document, but then the producers said, "Torture? War crimes? Yeah whatever. We'll put it on right after the Jackson trial segment. Um, and good work kid."

Update [2005-6-15 21:24:5 by zeke L]:Looks like Rimjob also mentioned this in an update to his breaking news diary.

Here's more info on Mora's questions in a much more in-depth article in the Boston Globe (link from commenter in Rimjob's diary):

Abuse led Navy to consider pulling Cuba interrogators

A top Navy psychologist reported to his supervisor in December 2002 that interrogators at Guantanamo were starting to use ''abusive techniques." In a separate incident that same month, the Defense Department's joint investigative service, which includes Navy investigators, formally ''disassociated" itself from the interrogation of a detainee, after learning that he had been subjected to particularly abusive and degrading treatment.

The two events prompted Navy law enforcement officials to debate pulling out of the Guantanamo operation entirely unless the interrogation techniques were restricted. The Navy's general counsel, Alberto Mora, told colleagues that the techniques were ''unlawful and unworthy of the military services."

The previously undisclosed events were disclosed at a hearing of the Senate Armed Forces Committee yesterday...Senator Carl Levin... said the events are outlined in the largely classified report on military detention and interrogation operations delivered last week by Navy Vice Admiral Albert T. Church... the Navy's expressions of outrage prompted ... Rumsfeld's decision in January 2003 to revoke an aggressive interrogation policy for Guantanamo detainees... Rumsfeld then convened a Pentagon working group to examine interrogation issues more thoroughly. It came up with a more restricted interrogation policy in April 2003.

Specifically, the chain of events began when Dr. Michael Gelles, the chief psychologist of the Navy Criminal Investigative Service, or NCIS, completed a study of Guantanamo interrogations in December 2003 that included extracts of interrogation logs. Gelles reported to the service director, David Brant, that interrogators were using ''abusive techniques and coercive psychological procedures."

The major source of Church's findings, Levin said at the hearing, is a memo Mora wrote in July 2004. At about the same time, FBI agents wrote a series of e-mails, recently made public, about abusive interrogations they said they witnessed.

The FBI memos described ''torture techniques" that it said included shackling detainees into painful positions, forced nakedness, deafening music, temperature extremes, and sexual humiliation by female interrogators.

...Southcom has recalled to active duty four reservists who had served as interrogators because they may have to face courts-martial for their handling of prisoners...

Rumsfeld tapped Church to review the military's detention-and-interrogation operations after the disclosure of the Abu Ghraib photographs in May 2004. Church concluded there was no policy, ''written or otherwise," by which top officials sanctioned abuses. He attributed abuses to battlefield stress and insufficient oversight.

Boston Globe, 16 March 2005

So a couple more questions based on this info...

Sounds like the Boston Globe has also seen Mora's complaints. Is this the same thing, or is the Globe report based on a memo, while the ABC report is based on minutes of meeting where Mora raises the concerns. Is the text of either out there and publicly accessible?

The Pentagon working group came up with a more restricted policy in April 2003. Does anyone recall when General Geoffrey Miller was sent to Abu Ghraib to whip their interrogations into shape? Also, I presume that the new policy only applied to the military (to make the Navy happy) but not to the CIA or their "contractors." AFAICT, any changes made since the Abu Ghraib revelations or listed here have only limited applicability, so there is really no policy in effect that says we are not still torturing people at Gitmo or any of the other camps. All that has probably changed is which command the interrogators are attached to.

Is this Gelles study with the interrogation logs out there somewhere? Does anyone know if something like that is in the FOIA dump that SusanHu has folks researching?

That last bit is something I hadn't noted about the Church report, but it pretty much tells you right there that it is a whitewash. Church had these records of torture being used in interrogations, but attributed it to "battle stress." Exactly what battle were the interrogators at Gitmo involved in? Maybe Fidel's been running skirmishes and nobody told us. Everything coming from the Pentagon and White House on this is so transparently a crock.

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