Sunday, June 13, 2004

Bad Apple-in-Chief 

Game over. From Newsweek:
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was America's first big trophy in the war on terror: a senior Qaeda operative captured amid the fighting in Afghanistan. What is less known is that al-Libi, who ran Qaeda training camps, quickly became the subject of a bitter feud between the FBI and the CIA over how to interrogate terror suspects . . . .

With al-Libi, too, the initial approach was to read him his rights like any arrestee, one former member of the FBI team told NEWSWEEK. "He was basically cooperating with us." But this was post-9/11; President Bush had declared war on Al Qaeda, and in a series of covert directives, he had authorized the CIA to set up secret interrogation facilities and to use new, harsher methods. The CIA, says the FBI source, was "fighting with us tooth and nail."

The handling of al-Libi touched off a long-running battle over interrogation tactics inside the administration. It is a struggle that continued right up until the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April—and it extended into the White House, with Condoleezza Rice's National Security Council pitted against lawyers for the White House counsel and the vice president. Indeed, one reason the prison abuse scandal won't go away—-two months after gruesome photos were published worldwide—-is that a long paper trail of memos and directives from inside the administration has emerged, often leaked by those who disagreed with rougher means of questioning.
UPDATE: Tom Engelhardt has posted a terrific essay on America's Room 101. It's so full of good stuff that we will content ourselves with swiping the epigraphs:
"Congress lacks authority … to set the terms and conditions under which the president may exercise his authority as commander in chief to control the conduct of operations during a war…Congress may no more regulate the president's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield. Accordingly, we would construe [the law] to avoid this difficulty and conclude that it does not apply to the president's detention and interrogation of enemy combatants." -- From a 56-page memo, "Detainee Interrogation in the Global War on Terrorism" written by a legal team for the Secretary of Defense on the eve of the Iraq War.

"Congress shall have the power . . . to declare war and make rules concerning captures on land and water . . . to define offenses against the law of nations [and] to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces." -- From the Constitution, David G. Savage and Richard B. Schmitt, "Lawyers Ascribed Broad Power to Bush on Torture," the Los Angeles Times

"We need to have a less-cramped view of what torture is and is not." -- A military official explaining the approach of the team writing the above memo, Jess Bravin, "Pentagon Report Set Framework For Use of Torture," The Wall Street Journal

"It's a very cowboy kind of affair." -- Lt. Col. Steven L. Jordan, who controlled the Joint Interrogation and Debriefing Center at Abu Ghraib prison, speaking of the actions of the CIA unit there, R. Jeffrey Smith, "Soldier Described White House Interest," the Washington Post
UPDATE II: The Washington Post has just published the full text of another document John Ashcroft refused to hand over to Congress last week: the Aug. 1, 2002, memorandum "Re: Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A," from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel for Alberto R. Gonzales. The memo states that torture "may be justified." Dana Priest adds:
President Bush spoke on the issue of torture Thursday, saying he expected U.S. authorities to abide by the law. He declined to say whether he believes U.S. law prohibits torture. Here is a link to the White House transcript of the president's press conference, which included questions and answers on torture.

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us