The Torture Memos is a term that refers to several legal memoranda drafted by John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and others. The purpose of these documents was to advise President Bush and the CIA on the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques. In particular, the documents claimed that
- acts widely regarded as torture might be legally permissible under an expansive interpretation of presidential authority during the “War on Terror“
- federal laws against torture, assault, maiming and “cruel and unusual punishment’ do not apply to the overseas interrogation of terror suspects
- the Geneva Conventions or the Torture Convention do not apply to unlawful enemy combatants.
I’ll show you just a couple of memos, and although this may seem long and tedious at first sight, I recommend that you have a look at them. They are real eye-openers and proof of how far even one of the most democratic governments on earth can go when faced with a crisis. Also, please don’t think this is of historical concern only. Most of the people who have been subjected to the torture regime described in the memos are still in captivity.
The primary torture memo is this one (the highlights are mine):
It’s written by Jay Bybee and addressed to Alberto Gonzales, then counsel to the president, and it’s infamous for defining torture in such a way that only the gravest acts of torture can be labelled as such.
Another torture memo describes the specific case of Abu Zubaydah. Zubaydah is still in US custody in Guantanamo Bay today. And he has been for more than 10 years, four-and-a-half of them in the CIA secret prison network.
President George W. Bush originally bragged about his capture [in 2002], as the CIA thought he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda. They transferred him among prisons in various countries as part of their extraordinary rendition program. During interrogation in the Bush administration years, Zubaydah was water-boarded 83 times and subjected to numerous other enhanced interrogation techniques including forced nudity, sleep deprivation, confinement in small dark boxes, deprivation of solid food, stress positions, and physical assaults. These have been prohibited by the Obama administration. Videotapes of some of Zubaydah’s interrogations are amongst those destroyed by the CIA in 2005. (source)
Below is a print of parts of the memo that authorized his “enhanced interrogation” (again, the highlights are mine). There was much administration opposition to releasing this memo to the public, and the first release was almost completely redacted. By now, the U.S. government has admitted that Abu Zubaydah wasn’t even a member of al Qaeda, let alone a high value detainee who could provide important information and prevent terrorist attacks. It’s worth reading these three pages in full:
Torture memo, August 1 2002, by the Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee and his assistant John Yoo, addressed to CIA acting General Counsel John A. Rizzo. The purpose of the memo was to describe and authorize specific enhanced interrogation techniques to be used on Abu Zubaydah.
Here’s another, more general memo, approved by then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, covering interrogation and “counter-resistance techniques” at Guantanamo:
By the way, the term “enhanced interrogation techniques” is a clear euphemism for torture. Of special interest is the similarity with a well-known Gestapo euphemism: the Gestapo spoke of “Verschärfte Vernehmung”, German for “enhanced interrogation”. Here is a clipping from an English translation of a Gestapo document that describes techniques very similar to those validated by the Bush Torture Memos:
Here’s another memo, written by Alberto Gonzales (White House Counsel at the time) for President Bush, arguing that captured al-Qaida and Taliban members are not prisoners of war and hence cannot profit from the protections offered by the Geneva Conventions (again, my highlights).
Among other things, the Geneva Conventions aim to protect prisoners of war against “outrages upon personal dignity” and “inhuman treatment”.
And finally, here’s a damning December 2004 CIA background paper, providing
a detailed official account of the CIA’s detention, interrogation and rendition programs – from a detainee’s initial apprehension, to his transfer to a CIA “black site,” to his interrogation – and describes the use of abusive interrogation techniques including forced nudity, sleep deprivation, dietary manipulation and stress positions. (source)
More posts in this series are here.