One of the Pentagon's top civilian lawyers repeatedly challenged the Bush administration's policy on the coercive interrogation of terror suspects, arguing that such practices violated the law, verged on torture and could ultimately expose senior officials to prosecution, a newly disclosed document shows.
The lawyer, Alberto J. Mora, a political appointee who retired Dec. 31 after more than four years as general counsel of the Navy, was one of many dissenters inside the Pentagon. Senior uniformed lawyers in all the military services also objected sharply to the interrogation policy, according to internal documents declassified last year.
But Mr. Mora's campaign against what he viewed as an official policy of cruel treatment, detailed in a memorandum he wrote in July 2004 and recounted in an article in the Feb. 27 issue of The New Yorker magazine, made public yesterday, underscored again how contrary views were often brushed aside in administration debates on the subject.
"Even if one wanted to authorize the U.S. military to conduct coercive interrogations, as was the case in Guantanamo, how could one do so without profoundly altering its core values and character?" Mr. Mora asked the Pentagon's chief lawyer, William J. Haynes II, according to the memorandum.
The above is from Tim Golden's "Senior Lawyer at Pentagon Broke Ranks on Detainees" in this morning's New York Times. The New Yorker article? (Yes, Golden's summarizing another publication.) Did it write itself? No, but once again, the Times thinks Jane Mayer is The New Yorker. (See Feb. 19, 2005's "New York Times breaks shocking industry story: Jane Mayer is the New Yorker!"-- they just don't like mentioning her by name. Maybe it's because she used to write with Jill? I have no idea.)
From Mayer's "THE MEMO: How an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted:"
Back in Haynes's office, on the third floor of the Pentagon, there was a stack of papers chronicling a private battle that Mora had waged against Haynes and other top Administration officials, challenging their tactics in fighting terrorism. Some of the documents are classified and, despite repeated requests from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, have not been released. One document, which is marked "secret" but is not classified, is a twenty-two-page memo written by Mora. It shows that three years ago Mora tried to halt what he saw as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruelty toward terror suspects.
The memo is a chronological account, submitted on July 7, 2004, to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It reveals that Mora's criticisms of Administration policy were unequivocal, wide-ranging, and persistent. Well before the exposure of prisoner abuse in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, in April, 2004, Mora warned his superiors at the Pentagon about the consequences of President Bush's decision, in February, 2002, to circumvent the Geneva conventions, which prohibit both torture and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." He argued that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward U.S.-held terrorist suspects was an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also challenged the legal framework that the Bush Administration has constructed to justify an expansion of executive power, in matters ranging from interrogations to wiretapping. He described as "unlawful," "dangerous," and "erroneous" novel legal theories granting the President the right to authorize abuse. Mora warned that these precepts could leave U.S. personnel open to criminal prosecution.
In important ways, Mora's memo is at odds with the official White House narrative. In 2002, President Bush declared that detainees should be treated "humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles" of the Geneva conventions. The Administration has articulated this standard many times. Last month, on January 12th, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, responding to charges of abuse at the U.S. base in Cuba, told reporters, "What took place at Guantánamo is a matter of public record today, and the investigations turned up nothing that suggested that there was any policy in the department other than humane treatment." A week later, the White House press spokesman, Scott McClellan, was asked about a Human Rights Watch report that the Administration had made a "deliberate policy choice" to abuse detainees. He answered that the organization had hurt its credibility by making unfounded accusations. Top Administration officials have stressed that the interrogation policy was reviewed and sanctioned by government lawyers; last November, President Bush said, "Any activity we conduct is within the law. We do not torture." Mora's memo, however, shows that almost from the start of the Administration’s war on terror the White House, the Justice Department, and the Department of Defense, intent upon having greater flexibility, charted a legally questionable course despite sustained objections from some of its own lawyers.
Mora had some victories. "America has a lot to thank him for," Brant, the former head of the N.C.I.S., told me. But those achievements were largely undermined by a small group of lawyers closely aligned with Vice-President Cheney. In the end, Mora was unable to overcome formidable resistance from several of the most powerful figures in the government.
It's an important article and one everyone will be talking about. Here's another section:
Much of Brant’s information had been supplied by an N.C.I.S. psychologist, Michael Gelles, who worked with the C.I.T.F. and had computer access to the Army’s interrogation logs at Guantánamo. Brant told me that Gelles "is phenomenal at unlocking the minds of everyone from child abusers to terrorists"; he took it seriously when Gelles described the logs as shocking.
The logs detailed, for example, the brutal handling of a Saudi detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whom an F.B.I. agent had identified as the "missing twentieth hijacker"--the terrorist who was supposed to have been booked on the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Qahtani was apprehended in Afghanistan a few months after the terrorist attacks.
Qahtani had been subjected to a hundred and sixty days of isolation in a pen perpetually flooded with artificial light. He was interrogated on forty-eight of fifty-four days, for eighteen to twenty hours at a stretch. He had been stripped naked; straddled by taunting female guards, in an exercise called "invasion of space by a female"; forced to wear women's underwear on his head, and to put on a bra; threatened by dogs; placed on a leash; and told that his mother was a whore. By December, Qahtani had been subjected to a phony kidnapping, deprived of heat, given large quantities of intravenous liquids without access to a toilet, and deprived of sleep for three days. Ten days before Brant and Mora met, Qahtani’s heart rate had dropped so precipitately, to thirty-five beats a minute, that he required cardiac monitoring.
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