The Torture Question
  • home
  • watch online
  • faqs
  • paper trail
  • interviews
  • discussion
detainees behind a fencev

analysis

What caused Abu Ghraib ... the new rules in a new kind of war ... Guantanamo's detainees ... more

That is the lingering question, despite 12 investigations to date that have been conducted by the Defense Department. Was it just a few lower-level bad apples who were responsible for Abu Ghraib or does accountability go far higher up the chain of command? Here are the views of Mark Danner, author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror; Michael Ratner, a human rights lawyer and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Gen. Janis Karpinski, former commander of the 800th Military Police Brigade; Gen. Jack Keane, former U.S. Army chief of staff; Dana Priest, Washington Post reporter; and former CIA agent Michael Scheuer.

An Aug. 1, 2002 Justice Department memo, known as the "torture memo," parsed the language of a 1994 statute that ratified the United Nations Convention against Torture and made the commitment of torture a crime. The memo narrowly defined what comprised torture, stating that physical pain must be "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." And inflicting that severe pain, according to the memo, must have been the "specific intent" of the defendant to amount to a violation of the statute. It also asserted that the U.S. ratification of the 1994 torture statute could be considered unconstitutional because it would interfere with the president's power as commander in chief. Discussing here this extraordinary memo are: Dana Priest, Washington Post reporter; Jane Mayer, staff writer at The New Yorker; John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general, Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel 2001-2003; Bradford Berenson, associate White House counsel from 2001 to 2003; and Mark Danner, author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror.

What was the rationale behind the Bush administration's 2002 decision that the Geneva Conventions' guidelines on treating prisoners of war don't apply in America's fight against foreign terrorists like Al Qaeda? Who in Washington opposed this decision -- and why? Commenting here are: Bradford Berenson, associate White House counsel, 2001-2003; John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general, 2001-2003; William Howard Taft IV, legal adviser to Secretary of State Colin Powell, 2001-2005; Cmd. Sgt. Maj. John Van Natta, GTMO Prison Superintendent, 2002-2003; Gen. Rick Baccus, MP commander at Guantanamo, 2002; Lt. Col. Thomas S. Berg, JAG, U.S. Army Reserve; and Marc Jacobson, policy planning, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2002-2003.

From the start, the Geneva Conventions was an issue for the Bush administration's war on terror. For more than half a century, the Conventions have laid out clear, inflexible standards on the detention and interrogation of prisoners and detainees in a war. And these guidelines have long been interpreted as covering any detainee, whether combatant or civilian.

But that would not be the case in America's war on terror. Here, Mike Wiser, associate producer of FRONTLINE's "The Torture Question" summarizes how President Bush's Feb. 2002 decision to set aside Geneva in fighting terrorists led to ever-deepening confusion and contradictory messages for U.S. military forces on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq.

More than 750 prisoners have been sent to Guantanamo since 2002. Bush administration officials have repeatedly referred to these Al Qaeda and Taliban "unlawful combatants" as "the worst of the worst." Nearly 250 detainees have been released; according to the Pentagon, at least 10 of them rejoined the fight. How dangerous are these unlawful combatants? And what do we know about the intelligence they're providing? Here are the views of Lt. Col. Thomas Berg, who served as a military lawyer at Guatanamo until August 2002; Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus and Sgt. Maj. John Van Natta, who supervised detentions at Guantanamo from March 2002 to October 2002 and October 2002 to September 2003 respectively; Mark Jacobson, who worked for the Defense Department's Prisoner Policy Team; Washington Post reporter Dana Priest; and Michael Scheuer, who headed the CIA's Osama bin Laden desk from 1996 to 1999.


home + introduction + watch online + is torture ever justified? + paper trail + analysis
interviews + behind the wire + discussion + faqs + teacher's guide + readings & links
producer's chat + tapes & transcript + press reaction + credits + privacy policy
FRONTLINE home + WGBH + PBS

 

posted oct. 18, 2005

FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of wgbh educational foundation.
photo copyright ©2005 corbis
web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

NEXT ON FRONTLINE

Losing IraqJuly 29th

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS