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the torture question

» Student Handout: Tracing the History of Interrogation Policy


  1. Go to http://slate.com/features/whatistorture/introduction.html and click on "The Legal Memos" at the top of the screen. Find the memos in the scroll box on the left.

  2. Research each memo on the list by taking notes in the appropriate places on the chart below. Also leave room for your own comments or remarks.

  3. Answer the Chart Review question you were assigned and discuss your findings with members of your group. Be sure to download the original memo from the Web site to find information to answer the question. Then present your findings to the class.

  4. Follow the teacher's directions for participating in the "fishbowl" activity.
Memo Key Issues Key Legal Advice Given Your Remarks
Memorandum for William J. Haynes II, General Council, Department of Defense
By John Yoo
January 9, 2002
Memorandum for the President, Subject: Decision to Re Application of the Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War to the Conflict with Al Qaeda and the Taliban
By Alberto Gonzales
January 25, 2002
Draft Decision Memorandum for the President on the Applicability of the Geneva Convention to the Conflict in Afghanistan
By Colin Powell
January 26, 2002
The President, The White House, Washington, DC
By John Ashcroft
February 1, 2002
Humane Treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees
By George W. Bush
February 7, 2002
Memorandum for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President, RE: Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A
By Jay Bybee
August 1, 2002
Memorandum for Commander USSouthcom, Subject: Counter-Resistance Techniques
By Donald Rumsfeld
January 15, 2003
Working Group Report on detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism: Assessment of Legal, Historical, Policy, and Operation Considerations
By DOD Legal Taskforce
March 6, 2003
Memorandum for the Commander, USSouthern Command, Subject: Counter-Resistance Techniques in the War on Terrorism
By Donald Rumsfeld
April 16, 2003

PART II: Chart Review Questions:

In your group, review the memo linked on the Web site to answer your assigned question below and be prepared to share your findings with the class.

  1. Review the "Articles of the Geneva Convention" handout. Comment on the reasoning of John Yoo's memo stating the Geneva Conventions don't apply to Al Qaeda. Do you agree or disagree with his conclusions and why? (Access John Yoo's memo.)

  2. What was the concern of Secretary of State Colin Powell's memo for the President on the "Applicability of the Geneva Convention to the Conflict in Afghanistan"? Do you agree with his conclusions or feel, as did Alberto Gonzales, that the war on terror is a "new kind of war"? Explain your answer.

  3. What conclusions did President Bush make in his memo "Humane Treatment of Al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees" about the different treatment for these detainees in and out of Afghanistan? In what ways do parts of this memo reflect the opinion of Colin Powell's earlier memo? Do you feel these parts are in line with the Presidents' overall conclusions? Why or why not?

  4. Describe the definition of torture in Jay Bybee's memo "Standards of Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A." In your view, how do these compare with the Geneva Convention Article 3? Combined with the earlier memos from Yoo, Gonzales, and Ashcroft, what message does this send to military personnel regarding their treatment of prisoners of war and detainees?

  5. Review the "Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations" memo and explain the main purpose of this document. The report defines torture according to the 1994 UN Convention against Torture. Describe the different ways the Group Report attempts to absolve the U.S. handling of Guantanamo detainees from potential accusations of torture.

  6. Donald Rumsfeld's April 16, 2002 memo entitled "Counter-Resistance Techniques in the War on Terrorism" provides detail on 24 interrogation techniques permitted at Guantanamo Bay. Review the 24 techniques in the memo and compare these with articles 3, 17, and 87 of the Geneva Conventions. Assess whether you believe any of these interrogation methods constitute torture.

PART III: "Fishbowl" Activity Discussion Questions

  1. Do you feel that responsibility for the actions at Abu Ghraib lies solely with a rogue group of convicted military personnel or that people of higher rank (both military and civilian) should also be held responsible for the abuses? If so, who else should be held responsible? Why or why not?

  2. On September 11, 2001 the United States was attacked in New York and Washington, D.C. by a group known as Al Qaeda. This group had no direct ties to another country and in the view of the Justice Department and President Bush, did not fall under Geneva Conventions protections. Considering this, should the U.S. military, in order obtain crucially needed information, be allowed to treat people associated with such groups and responsible for terror actions differently than Geneva Conventions rules require? Why or why not?

  3. Did the policies for interrogation of detainees at Guantanamo, established prior to the invasion of Iraq, lead to the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib? Why or why not?

  4. How do you gauge the reliability of information obtained by methods of torture?

  5. If foreign countries believe the United States committed acts of torture on Abu Ghraib prisoners, what do you think their reaction might be? Would this reaction be justified? Why or why not?

  6. What should United States policy be for interrogating prisoners of war and detainees? Should this policy be different for members of groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban at Guantanamo than for the insurgency prisoners in Iraq at Abu Ghraib? Explain your answer.

  7. Question for All Groups: Do you feel further investigations are needed to determine the answers to many of these questions? Why or why not?

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