Stop Torture

The Harvard Anti-Torture Coalition

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Scalia Comes Out in Favor of Torture

Posted by stoptorture on February 12th, 2008

Justice Antonin Scalia gave a radio interview in Britain in which he suggested that “smacking someone in the face” should be legally justified in certain cases. Justice Scalia posed a hypothetical in which he claimed not allowing “so-called torture” would be “absurd.”

See the BBC report on the interview here. Check out a trascript on IntLawGrrls here. The full audio is available here.

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 32 Comments »

Attorney General Refuses to Rule Out Beatings, Shocks, or the Rack & Screw; Does Not Say Whether Waterboarding U.S. Citizen Would Be Illegal

Posted by stoptorture on February 7th, 2008

Remember how water(boarding)gate all began because Michael Mukasey, then nominee for Attorney General, refused to categorically say that waterboarding was torture back in October 2007? Well, today, Mukasey apparently added beatings, electric shocks, and the rack and screw to his moral and legal ambivalence list. Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee on February 7, 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey reached a new low, refusing to say whether even the “beating” of detainees would be unlawful and criminal. Watch the video of Mukasey posted by us by clicking on the image below left.

Today, Mukasey also refused to answer whether a U.S. interrogator could use the rack and screw or electric shocks. Finally, Mukasey did not respond whether it would be illegal for a foreign government to subject a U.S. citizen to waterboarding. Watch the video of that exchange posted by us by clicking below right.

[Welcome Michael Moore readers]

Mukasey refuses to rule out beating of detainees

Mukasey does not rule out shocks, rack & screw. Does not answer whether waterboarding U.S. citizens would be illegal.

 

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 96 Comments »

Mukasey Rejects Investigation Into CIA Torture; Invokes Nuremberg Defense

Posted by stoptorture on February 7th, 2008

Water(boarding)gate continues…

Attorney General Michael Mukasey testified before the House Judiciary Committee (HJC) this morning.

According to the live blog of the hearing at EmptyWheel, Chairman John Conyers asked Mukasey whether he was ready to start an investigation into the CIA’s admitted use of waterboarding in the past. Mukasey replied no. Below is a partial paraphrase (probably not directly quoted) of Mukasey’s response as transcribed by EmptyWheel:

John Conyers: Any additional comments about waterboarding now that Hayden confirmed it?

Michael Mukasey: Do you have a particular question?

John Conyers: Are you ready to start a criminal investigation?

Michael Mukasey: That’s a direct question. No, I am not. Whatever was done as part of the CIA program, was part of DOJ opinion, through OLC, permissible under law as it existed then. For me to use occasion of disclosure that that was once an authorized part of the CIA program would be for me to tell that they will now be subject to criminal investigation. That would put into question not only that opinion, but also any other opinion from DOJ. That’s not something that would be appropriate and not something I would do.

Ladies and gentlemen, behold the Nuremberg defense (“Don’t punish me for my atrocity. I was only following orders.”). Mukasey has already been accused of invoking the Nuremberg defense on behalf of the Bush torturers by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

The HJC hearing continues this afternoon live at http://boss.streamos.com/real-live/judiciary/17223/56_judiciary-coj_2141_070212.ram

The stream linked to above is provided “By Direction of the Chairman” John Conyers, according to the HJC website. Curiously, we currently could not find a webcast of the hearing on C-SPAN, despite the obvious importance and interest in the meeting.

UPDATE:

  • The Associated Press reports that CIA Chief Hayden says of waterboarding that “it is not certain that that technique would be considered to be lawful under current statute.”
  • The Nuremberg defense cannot help those who tortured or authorized torture. Reliance on an unreasonable legal opinion should not be sufficient to insulate an individual who committed a crime. Furthermore, the person who authored the legal opinion may also be criminally liable. Also, according to the Miami Herald, the Department of Justice (DOJ) itself is currently prosecuting a lawyer for having issued supposedly erroneous legal opinions that supposedly to further a criminal conspiracy.  Regardless of the merits of this case, it shows that the DOJ believes it is legitimate to prosecute lawyers for having issued legal opinions that it believes formed part of criminal activity.  Why then won’t the DOJ prosecute John Yoo, Steven Bradbury, or Jay Bybee?  Just because they were/are DOJ lawyers?  Are DOJ lawyers asserting that they can enforce the law but are themselves above the law?

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 27 Comments »

Water(boarding)gate Continues; U.S. Condemned Internationally; Still No Prosecution Announced

Posted by stoptorture on February 6th, 2008

  • U.N. Special Rapportuer on Torture Manfred Nowak publicly condemns the U.S. on waterboarding for trying to “justify what is unjustifiable.”
  • The White House continues to push for the confirmation of torture memo author Stephen Bradbury to the Justice Department.

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 10 Comments »

DOJ Lawyers Approved Waterboarding; May Be Liable for Torture, War Crimes

Posted by stoptorture on February 6th, 2008

CORRECTED: The transcript of the White House press briefing is out now. Assuming that transcript to be correct, White House spokesperson Tony Fratto stated that Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyers approved waterboarding, but not necessarily, as the Associated Press had reported, that “waterboarding’s use in the past was also approved by the attorney general.” Regardless of whether John Ashcroft himself approved the torture (and he may well have since important opinions of the Office of Legal Council should get reviewed by the Attorney General), DOJ lawyers apparently did, making them potentially liable for torture and war crimes.

Fratto made this admission about the DOJ lawyers as part of the White House’s recent push to publicly defend waterboarding as both legal and justified. However, in doing so, Fratto has confirmed that the administration’s defense of the CIA’s use of torture is based upon the fact that the waterboarding was approved at the highest levels (maybe the president signed off on it too?). As Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) noted when questioning Attorney General Michael Mukasey last week, this amounts to nothing more than the Nuremberg defense (i.e. claiming that what one did was not illegal simply because one was ordered to do it). The Nuremberg defense was rejected at the time of the Nazi trials. In U.S. and international law, no one is required to follow an unlawful order. On the contrary, an unlawful order must be resisted.

Yesterday, CIA chief Michael Hayden told Congress in an open session that three detainees had been waterboarded by his agency. Human Rights Watch’s terrorism and counterterrorism director, Joanne Mariner, described Hayden’s testimony as an explicit admission of criminal activity and called for an investigation. Senator Richard Durbin (IL) has also called for an investigation. As argued in a previous post, Congress must push for a special prosecutor if it wants the investigation conducted seriously, since Mukasey has demonstrated his lack of will and ability to take on the issue of torture responsibly.

UPDATE: Amnesty International is now also calling for a full, independent, and prompt criminal investigation.

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 34 Comments »

Senator Durbin Calls for Investigation into CIA’s Admitted Waterboarding

Posted by stoptorture on February 6th, 2008

Water(boarding)gate continues

Senator Richard Durbin (IL), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey yesterday demanding, among other things, that he open an investigation into the CIA’s use of waterboarding on three detainees, after CIA Chief Michael Hayden had publicly confirmed the use of this torture method to Congress on the same day.

Senator Durbin’s letter can be found with his press release here and also reproduced in full below. The letter is so good, it needs no commentary.

February 5, 2008

The Honorable Michael Mukasey
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
Dear Attorney General Mukasey:

I will object to proceeding with the nomination of Judge Mark Filip to be Deputy Attorney General until you respond to my inquiries regarding the Administration’s torture policies and practices. In light of the Justice Department’s continued non-responsiveness to Congress on the issue of torture, including your disappointing testimony on waterboarding last week, I have reluctantly concluded that placing a hold on Judge Filip’s nomination is my only recourse for eliciting timely and complete responses to important questions on torture.

Some suggested that your confirmation was an opportunity to turn a new page after Attorney General Gonzales’s troubled tenure, but your failure to take a position on waterboarding raises questions about whether your leadership will bring significant changes to the Justice Department. Your silence does tremendous damage to America’s values and image in the world and places Americans at risk of being subjected to waterboarding by enemy forces. If the United States does not explicitly and publicly condemn waterboarding, it will be more difficult to argue that enemy forces cannot waterboard American prisoners.

Last week, you testified that waterboarding is not currently authorized by the Administration but you refused to comment on whether waterboarding has been authorized in the past or will be authorized in the future. In other words, your assurance that the Administration does not use waterboarding was good for the day you testified and no longer.

Today Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden testified to the Senate Select Intelligence Committee that, “Waterboarding has been used on only three detainees.” In light of your testimony that, “There are circumstances where waterboarding is clearly unlawful,” the Justice Department should investigate the instances in which the Administration has used waterboarding to determine whether any laws were violated. You suggested during last week’s hearing that you would not investigate these incidents because waterboarding was authorized by the Administration: “It’s a question of telling agents out there that we are investigating the CIA based on speculation about what happened and whether they got proper authorizations.” Needless to say, a Justice Department investigation should explore whether waterboarding was authorized and whether those who authorized it violated the law. Please respond to this question: Will the Justice Department investigate the Administration’s use of waterboarding to determine whether any laws were violated?

While the United States has considered waterboarding to be a war crime for decades, last week you testified that it is unclear whether waterboarding is illegal because it is not explicitly prohibited by the Military Commissions Act and the Detainee Treatment Act. While I disagree with your analysis of the MCA and the DTA, you did not address whether waterboarding is prohibited by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which you have acknowledged applies to all detainees in U.S. custody. Common Article 3 states that “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment” are absolutely prohibited. The Judge Advocates General, the highest-ranking attorneys in each of the four military services, told me unequivocally that waterboarding and several other abusive interrogation techniques are illegal and violate Common Article 3. On August 2, 2007, I sent then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales the attached letter asking him, among other things whether it would be legal for enemy forces to subject an American citizen to these same techniques. Please respond to this letter.

During last week’s hearing, you repeatedly referenced the Justice Department’s prosecution of CIA contractor David Pasarro as evidence that the Department would not permit detainee abuses. However, you neglected to mention that, following the indictment of Mr. Passaro by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina, then Attorney General John Ashcroft assigned all pending detainee abuse cases to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia on June 17, 2004. It has been over three and a half years since then and in that time there has not been a single indictment. On January 10, 2008, I sent you the attached letter requesting an update on the Justice Department’s handling of detainee abuse allegations. Please respond to this letter.

During last week’s hearing, you refused to comment on the scope of the Justice Department’s investigation of the CIA’s destruction of detainee interrogation videos. We have now learned that there may be video or audio recordings of detainees whom the CIA transferred to other countries to be interrogated. According to the Chicago Tribune, in February 2003 the CIA detained a man named Abu Omar in Italy. The CIA then took Abu Omar to Egypt and turned him over to the Egyptian government. Abu Omar claims he was tortured and that his Egyptian interrogators recorded “the sounds of my torture and my cries.” On December 12, 2007, I sent you a letter asking you to expand the Justice Department’s inquiry into the CIA’s torture tapes to cover recordings of detainees whom the CIA rendered to foreign countries. Please respond to this letter.

During last week’s hearing, we discussed the nomination of Steven Bradbury to be the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. I have repeatedly urged President Bush to withdraw this nomination because of Mr. Bradbury’s involvement in authorizing some of the Administration’s most controversial policies, including torture techniques that are inconsistent with American values and law and warrantless surveillance of innocent Americans.

Prior to your confirmation, you pledged to me in writing that you would personally review all OLC opinions regarding surveillance, interrogation techniques and detention standards to determine whether each of these opinions can be provided to Congress and to determine whether the legal analyses and conclusions of each of these opinions are correct. However, at last week’s hearing, you acknowledged that you had not reviewed all of these opinions, including an opinion, reportedly authored by Mr. Bradbury, on so-called “combined effects,” which authorized the CIA to use multiple abusive interrogation techniques in combination. According to The New York Times, then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales approved this opinion over the objections of then Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who said the Justice Department would be “ashamed” if the memo became public. As you committed prior to your confirmation, please review all OLC opinions regarding surveillance, interrogation techniques and detention standards and notify me whether each of these opinions can be provided to Congress and whether you believe the legal analyses and conclusions of each of these opinions are correct.

Mr. Bradbury is currently the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General of OLC. There is no Acting Assistant Attorney General, so Mr. Bradbury is the effective head of OLC. During last week’s hearing, you acknowledged that Mr. Bradbury is the “principal person” in OLC. Under the Vacancies Reform Act, after a nomination is returned to the President a second time, the nominee may continue to serve as acting head of the office for only 210 days. Mr. Bradbury was first nominated in June 2005 and his nomination was returned to the President for the second time on September 29, 2006, well over a year ago. The fact that Mr. Bradbury continues to serve as the effective head of OLC appears to be an attempt to circumvent the confirmation process in order to install a controversial nominee in a key Justice Department post. Please respond to the following question: Does Steven Bradbury’s continued service as the “principal person” in OLC violate the Vacancies Reform Act?

In sum, I will object to proceeding with the nomination of Mark Filip to be Deputy Attorney General until I receive responses to the following:

  1. Will the Justice Department investigate the Administration’s use of waterboarding to determine whether any laws were violated?
  2. My letter, dated August 2, 2007, asking then Attorney General Alberto Gonzales whether it would be legal for enemy forces to subject an American citizen to waterboarding and other abusive interrogation techniques.
  3. My letter, dated January 10, 2008, asking you for an update on the Justice Department’s handling of detainee abuse allegations.
  4. My letter, dated December 12, 2007, asking you to expand the Justice Department’s inquiry into the CIA’s torture tapes to cover recordings of detainees whom the CIA rendered to foreign countries.
  5. Will you provide Congress with all OLC opinions regarding surveillance, interrogation techniques and detention standards? Do you believe the legal analyses and conclusions of each of these opinions are correct?
  6. Does Steven Bradbury’s continued service as the “principal person” in OLC violate the Vacancies Reform Act?

You testified that, “The continued wait for Senate-confirmed officials creates a tentative atmosphere that is not in the interest of the Department or of the country.” That well describes the situation created by your refusal to condemn waterboarding and answer other important questions on torture. I respect Judge Filip and do not object to his continued public service but at some point you must accept your responsibility under our Constitution to acknowledge the role of Congress. I look forward to your timely response.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
Richard J. Durbin

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 18 Comments »

CIA Confirms Its Torture of Three Detainees; Special Prosecutor Needed

Posted by stoptorture on February 5th, 2008

CIA chief Michael Hayden testified before Congress today that the CIA waterboarded three detainees. The CIA’s first official public acknowledgment that three detainees were waterboarded indisputably triggers the need for an investigation and prosecution for the commission and for the authorization of torture and war crimes. Waterboarding is torture, and the United States has prosecuted waterboarding as a war crime for over a century.

Unfortunately, Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s testimony before Senator Sheldon Whitehouse confirms he cannot be trusted to start or oversee such an investigation. There is good reason to believe that the Department of Justice (DOJ) under Mukasey has secretly already decided that waterboarding is not per se torture, as law professor and former DOJ Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) attorney Marty Lederman points out (see Scott Horton agreeing with Marty Lederman). And given that Stephen Bradbury–who authored the memo giving a green light to subjecting detainees to waterboarding coupled with “head slapping” and “frigid temperatures” (i.e. hypothermic conditions)–is still in charge of the OLC, and that Mukasey has said “Steven Bradbury is one of the finest lawyers I’ve ever met,” there can be no real hope of the current DOJ determining waterboarding to have been a war crime either. Though Mukasey promised to review the legality of the Bradbury torture memos after his confirmation as Attorney General, he recently admitted to not having reviewed the opinions when question by Senator Richard Durbin on January 30, 2008. It all smells of torture and cover up, right on the five year anniversary of one of the most infamous cover ups of our time.

Congress should appoint a special prosecutor without delay. To do anything less is to condone torture and war crimes done in their name.

UPDATE: Ask your representative on the House Judiciary Committee to press Attorney General Mukasey to support the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the CIA’s admitted waterboarding of three detainees. The Committee will hold an oversight hearing with Mukasey this Thursday, February 7, 2008 at 10A.M. For Massachussetts, all those in the 10th District, contact Representative Bill Delahunt. For New York, all those in the 8th District (much of Manhattan and Brooklyn), contact Representative Jerrold Nadler, and all those in the 9th District (much of Brooklyn and Queens), contact Representative Anthony Weiner.

Many other states are represented on the House Judiciary Committee.

  • See a list of House Judiciary Committee members here.
  • Find out your complete postal code here.
  • Find out who is your Congressperson here.

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 39 Comments »