Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Torture Investigations and Gitmo Developments

Last week, the US house judiciary began hearings into the evolution of the Bush administration's decision-making related to the approval of torture ("enhanced interrogation methods"). David Rivkin, a former Reagan justice department official, testified that the idea of prosecuting anyone involved in crafting the policies was "madness" while fellow panelist, law professor and head of the National Lawyers Guild Marjorie Cohn, reminded the committee that if the US fails to appropriately investigate and prosecute these war crimes (which Bush has already admitted to), there are more than a few countries waiting in the wings to act on those prosecutions. She also laid out the legal case under current US laws and treaties.

Phillipe Sands, who also testified before the committee and who recently authored the book Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values said he's already been contacted by officials in other, unnamed countries who plan to use the contents of his book to further their investigations that could well lead to those criminal indictments Rivkin thinks are "madness".

Sands' book, which I have yet to read, follows the case of the so-called "20th hijacker", Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose case interestingly enough was dropped on Monday. Coincidence? Probably not.

The attorney said he could not comment on the reasons for the dismissal until discussing the case with lawyers for the other five defendants. Officials previously said al-Qahtani had been subjected to a harsh interrogation authorized by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Critics of the tribunals have faulted a rule that allows judges to decide whether to allow evidence that may have been obtained with "coercion." U.S. authorities have acknowledged that Mohammed was subjected to waterboarding by CIA interrogators and that al-Qahtani was treated harshly at Guantanamo.

Al-Qahtani last fall recanted a confession he said he made after he was tortured and humiliated at Guantanamo.

The alleged torture, which he detailed in a written statement, included being beaten, restrained for long periods in uncomfortable positions, threatened with dogs, exposed to loud music and freezing temperatures and stripped nude in front of female personnel.

And that's just one blow of at least 3 that I know of that the farcical military tribunals process has suffered during the past week alone.

In the continuing saga of Canadian child soldier, Omar Khadr, Liberal senator Romeo Dallaire on Tuesday, in the harshest terms uttered to the Conservative minority government yet due to its unwillingness to bring Khadr home, had this to say:

“The minute you start playing with human rights, with conventions, with civil liberties, in order to say that you're doing it to protect yourself and you are going against those rights and conventions, you are no better than the guy who doesn't believe in them at all,” he said.

That prompted a heated exchange with Conservative MP Jason Kenney, who asked Mr. Dallaire if what he meant was that Canada's failure to act to protect Mr. Khadr was equivalent to recent al-Qaeda atrocities in Iraq.

“Is it your testimony that al-Qaeda strapping up a 14-year-old girl with Down's Syndrome and sending her into a pet market to be remotely detonated is the moral equivalent to Canada's not making extraordinary political efforts for a transfer of Omar Khadr to this country?” he asked. “Is that your position?”

Dallaire was adamant.

“If you want a black and white, and I'm only too prepared to give it to you, Absolutely,” he said. “You're either with the law or not with the law. You're either guilty or you're not.”

Khadr alleges he's been tortured by US officials and his lawyers find it suspicious that some of his records are now missing:

GUANTANAMO BAY–The Pentagon disputes claims that political pressure prematurely halted an investigation into the alleged abuse of Omar Khadr when he was detained in Afghanistan.

Pentagon spokesperson Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon said army investigators did not substantiate the allegations of harsh interrogations at the U.S. base in Bagram.

Following a court hearing Thursday at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Khadr's military lawyer accused the government of a cover-up since the investigation appeared to stop in October 2006 – the same month U.S. President George W. Bush signed the military law under which Khadr is charged.

During that hearing, the judge also threatened to suspend Khadr's trial because the US government was withholding documents related to his Gitmo imprisonment.

Attorneys for Omar Khadr say details of his interrogations and mental health could provide grounds to suppress self-incriminating statements at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba. Khadr is accused of killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.

At a pretrial hearing, Judge Peter Brownback, an Army colonel, criticized the prosecution team led by Marine Maj. Jeffrey Groharing for demanding an expedited trial despite failing to obtain the documents from the detention center.

"I have been badgered, beaten and bruised by Maj. Groharing since the 7th of November to set a trial date," Brownback said. "To get a trial date, I need to get discovery done."

His frustration highlights the dueling interests of two military entities at Guantanamo — the tribunal system, which airs the backgrounds of terror suspects in detail, and the Joint Task Force, which tightly restricts information about inmates whom officials describe as some of America's most dangerous enemies.

Brownback said he understands the military's worry that the documents might identify prison officials who fear retribution. But he ordered the government to provide the records of Khadr's day-to-day confinement by May 22, in complete or edited form, or he will suspend proceedings.

It almost looks like the so-called military tribunals system is falling apart.

On top of that, in the Hamdan case:

(CNN) -- A military judge's ruling that a Pentagon lawyer improperly pressured prosecutors could hurt efforts to try top al Qaeda suspects held at the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, a defense lawyer said Monday.

The ruling called allegations that Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the legal adviser to the Office of Military Commissions, exerted improper influence on the case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan "troubling" and ordered Hartmann to stay out of the prisoner's prosecution.

Defense attorney Charles Swift said the ruling is likely to stall the pending case against Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's driver and bodyguard, and complicate the prosecutions of other al Qaeda figures before the military courts set up by the Bush administration.

"It would seem that they need to go back to Square 1 wherever the HVD [high-value detainee] charges are concerned or risk the fact that they may be so tainted from the start that they will never survive," said Swift.

With Bushco in its last throes and so desperate to get a big conviction of someone - anyone - before they finally leave the White House they've so severely soiled and in order to boost McCain's bid for the presidency, the next few months will be crucial. But it seems their legal house of cards is finally crumbling to the point where the fates of the remaining Gitmo prisoners may be suspended indefinitely or at least until te next president is chosen.

Are the Gitmo judges finally fighting back against the political pressure or have they concluded that to be involved in a faux, extra-legal process might also mean complicity in war crimes? At this point, while they still operate under the thumb of the Bush administration, it's impossible to know.

One thing is certain though. It's absolutely unacceptable for the remaining presidential candidates to simply parrot the Bush line "the US does not torture" especially when the CIA continues to operate all over the world under the public radar. Torture is a subject they don't seem to want to touch except in terms of useless platitudes. That's not enough.

As was also stated during last week's committee hearings there is also a case that can be made against the lawyers involved in drafting the now infamous torture memos since they could end up being charged with complicity to violate the US and international laws against torture.

On June 26th, Cheney's chief of staff is supposed to appear before the committee after being subpoenaed to do so but Cheney is citing "executive privilege" to stop that from happening. You'd think that if what they did was all legal, they'd have nothing to hide.

Also scheduled to testify in the future are John Yoo, John Ashcroft and Douglas Feith. As far as I know, former Pentagon lawyer (and new corporate counsel to Chevron), William Haynes, whose political interference at Gitmo is now legend has not yet been called. Philippe Sands urged the committee to get his testimony as well since he is a vital piece in the torture policy puzzle.

When this all comes down - and it will, if not in the US but in some other country - the potential number of defendants and the ensuing spectacle may well rival that of the Nuremberg trials in scope but there will always be suspicion when anyone in power tries to ensure the American public and the world that "the US does not torture". And so there should be.


Bill Moyers' May 9th interview of Phillipe Sands

C-SPAN video of the house judiciary committee hearing

Center for Constitutional Rights Supports National Lawyers Guild Call for Dismissal and Prosecution of John Yoo

The Cult of the Presidency - a look at the evolution of the imperial presidency. The question for this year's presidential candidates is: just how much of that power are they willing to give up so they'll once again be accountable to the people? No one has answered that one sufficiently yet and in the face of the war crimes perpetrated by the Bush administration, it is perhaps the most critical question of all.


Accused September 11 planners set for court on June 5

Is Bushco hoping for executions just in time for the November elections? Or will the judge involved derail the cases, especially the one against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, on grounds that torture was used to coerce their confessions? Stay tuned.

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