The Torture Question
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michael ratner


Ratner is a human rights lawyer and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He argues that the Bush administration's actions in the war on terror have rejected 200 years of constitutional rights. "The idea that you can simply imprison someone indefinitely without a trial, without any access to attorneys, incommunicado in a place outside the law, Guantanamo, should be anathema to all of us," he says. "That's the beginning of the end of rule of law in the United States." He is the lawyer for a group of British detainees known as the "Tipton Three." Here, he tells the story of how these men were transferred from Afghanistan to Guantanamo. U.S. intelligence believed it had seen the three men in a video of Osama bin Laden at an Al Qaeda training camp; after a year and a half of coercive interrogation, the men admitted to being at the camp. But the British government later found information revealing the men had been in Britain at the time they were supposedly at the training camp and they were released. Ratner says his clients' story proved to him that "the way people were picked up in Afghanistan and in Pakistan was relatively arbitrary. You didn't pick up the worst of the worst or the most dangerous." This is the edited transcript of an interview conducted on Aug. 4, 2005.

How did you get involved?

In January 2002, I read that the United States was going to be sending people to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the U.S. naval station there. I'd been familiar with it because I'd represented Haitian refugees in Guantanamo in the early '90s, and I realized the underlying issue at Guantanamo was the U.S. believed there should be no access to any court for anybody imprisoned in Guantanamo. Whether refugee or otherwise, no law applied. So when I saw that David Hicks was an Australian, was being sent to Guantanamo, I thought, this is real trouble.

And that, of course, had been pursuant to a U.S. presidential order of November 2001, which said the president could pick up a non-citizen anywhere in the world and detain them indefinitely without trial. So that was November 2001; January 2002, Hicks is the first person mentioned in the paper. I say to my office: "We're going to represent this guy. I may have nothing in common with him; I may disagree with everything. For all I know he's a terrorist." But the idea that you can simply imprison someone indefinitely without a trial, without any access to attorneys, incommunicado in a place outside the law, Guantanamo, should be anathema to all of us. That's the beginning of the end of rule of law in the United States.

Sometime after Sept. 11 and before that November, that important November, a lot of decisions start to come down, start to be written. A lot of law starts to be pulled off the shelf and brought forward or sandpapered. What happened?

Well, after Sept. 11, it seems to me in that two- or three-month period, a whole set of laws were changed or modified, laws that really, [as] a lawyer for 30 years, that I'd sort of depended on. One was first they began a series of internal detentions in the United States and picked up non-citizens and kept them in jail for long, long periods of time.

A second thing that happened is they decided very quickly that people picked up in Pakistan or Afghanistan or in the so-called global war against terror were not going to be treated as either potential criminal defendants or suspects, or treated as people under the Geneva Conventions as normal soldiers would be treated. And instead, they sort of set up what I would call a third way of going about it that wasn't familiar to me.

It wasn't civil law; it wasn't criminal law; it wasn't military law. It was really saying: "This is a war. The president has maximum power in a war, and we don't worry about the checks and balances of our Constitution. We don't worry that we're going to have to take people into court and justify the detentions." ...

They could have done this in a real way, in a lawful way, without this kind of torture and indefinite disappearances. I don't feel safer because of what they've done.

For example, normally [when] you picked up somebody, as the United States has done in the past, an international terrorist who allegedly bombed something, you would bring them to trial in the United States or another country. In this case, they decided: "We're not going to try them. We're simply going to hold people indefinitely, and our main goal being to get information out of them, and therefore we'll keep him detained." In addition, not only were they physically located [so that there was] the lack of due process and trial, they decided they were going to treat people differently than they had before in the sense that normally you can't torture a person; you can't treat a person against the prohibition of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.

And the early memos that came out in that period of 2001-2002 all tried to make legal arguments about why the president in the so-called war on terror was exempt from the prohibition on torture. In other words, if the president ordered torture, lower-level officials from the CIA, from soldiers, from generals, those people could use torture, because if the president had said it was OK, they would have a defense at a trial if they were tried for torture. So the big breaks here were, one was deciding that you could hold people indefinitely in jail forever without bringing them to trial; and secondly, you could treat them in a way that was inhumane, essentially a way that allowed torture and cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment.

When you first heard about this, what did you think was going on?

... The administration tried to say: "Well, this is what you can do in a military campaign anyway. You can take a prisoner of war and put him in a camp and hold him until the end of the conflict." So they tried, in a way, to bring elements of military law into their ideas, but in a way that had no real relationship to military law. Wars are normally over in a few years. This war, according to [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld, could last for 50 years or more, so that meant you could hold people forever. Normally, prisoners of war are acknowledged as to who they are, as to where they are. They're allowed communications and packages. So they took elements out of the military law and went off the charts with regard to that. So that's the first thing we heard about.

And then to make sure that people like me and other civil liberties lawyers and human rights lawyers couldn't challenge them, they put them into a place -- Guantanamo -- or hid them somewhere in which no court in the world would have jurisdiction if you believed what the government was saying. So that's the first element.

The second element, which is the idea that the president could authorize torture in the name of national security, or that non-citizens held outside the United States could be treated in a way that constitutes torture or cruel and inhumane and degrading treatment -- both things are shocking, but that stuff was amazing to me, because when I in the 1970s opposed the torture that was going on in a country like Chile under Pinochet, what was Pinochet's justification? In the name of national security, he has to use torture and essentially disappearances as a way of making sure the state can continue against whatever he called them, leftists or communists.

So here was the United States, which has, as long as I could remember, issued human rights reports condemning places like Chile, condemning torture, is actually tearing a page out of Pinochet's book and saying, "Now, in the name of national security, when the U.S. is threatened, we in the United States can use torture and cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment, and we can disappear people." Utterly shocking.

So you ask me where it came from. This seems to me at this point, when countries seem threatened, what seems to happen is their officials are willing to go off the books, off the charts, reject in this case 200 years of fundamental civil rights in this United States and constitutional rights, and simply say, "In the name of national security, we can do whatever we want." ...

So that when [former State Department coordinator for counterterrorism] Cofer Black says, for instance, in front of the Senate, "The gloves are off; there was a pre-9/11, and there was a post-9/11"; when Dick Cheney on Meet the Press says, "We're going to have to go to the dark side now," what does all of that say to you?

Well, all of that says to me that this is no longer a country of law. It says to me that we are going to take human beings, put them into hidden detention facilities, which we have now been able to reveal to some extent. And "take the gloves off" literally means take the gloves off and punch the heck out of the guy. So it means cruel and inhuman and degrading treatment; it means torture; it means what we've already found -- at Guantanamo, everything from dogs to stripping to hooding, shackling, the whole business. And it means at Abu Ghraib, some of that stuff that we've seen. It means what they've authorized as techniques, such as water boarding, where you simulate drowning of people. "Taking the gloves off" means literally erasing the Constitution and the protections against torture. That's what it means.

Tell me about rendition. I know it goes all the way back to the mid-90s in the Clinton administration, but is this a new kind of rendition that's happening post-9/11?

Yes, there was rendition in earlier administrations. It was generally about bringing people for trial in another country or in our own country. The change that took place under the Bush II administration was to call it "extraordinary rendition." I call it "outsourcing torture." What it really means is in the so-called global war on terror, the U.S. picks up people anywhere in the world that it wants, and if it doesn't want to engage in the torture itself, or in the interrogation -- whatever term you want to use -- it will send them to another country that our intelligence agencies have a close relationship with. That can be Egypt; it can be Jordan. In one case where I'm representing someone, Maher Arar, it's Syria. It can be other countries where we have close relationships.

We turn the person over to that country's intelligence service, and that country carries out the "interrogation." When I say "quote," it's because that interrogation involves very rough going very often for people, including torture. And we will feed the questions into that country's intelligence service. For all I know, CIA people or others are actually at those interrogation sessions. We obviously aren't there. We've had a few people surface out of those sessions, and so we know something about it. But that's extraordinary rendition, or what we human rights lawyers call outsourcing torture. ...

A former high-ranking CIA official we've interviewed says, "Look, we don't do that. … If we do give them to another country, we give them to a country where they are wanted. We hand them to them because it's part of the legal process of that country. We make them sign a certificate that says they will not torture. We can't participate in it." He says: "My life was lawyered to death the entire time I was a CIA agent by general counsel and others inside the Central Intelligence Agency. But if you think the gloves are off, you're crazy. The gloves never came off. Even after 9/11, we were so watched and so careful." What do you say?

Well, first of all, CIA people and high officials particularly … are supposed to cover up what they do.

Secondly, the facts utterly contradict what that agent is saying. For example, one of my clients, Maher Arar, Canadian citizen [is] taken off a plane at Kennedy Airport [in New York], interrogated here in the U.S. for 10 days, then transported to Syria to an underground facility where the guy is tortured for a number of weeks and only released because of the big outcry in Canada after some 10 months.

CIA facility, [in] that case, what do they say? They say, "Well, we got assurances from the Syrian government he wouldn't be mistreated; he wouldn't be tortured." And I ask you, does anybody in their right mind believe that from Syria? The United States human rights reports for 10 years in a row have said that Syria routinely uses torture in its security facilities. And worse than that, we know that he was actually turned over to Syria so that he could be tortured and interrogated under that kind of torture, because the U.S. wanted to know what he knew, and the U.S. actually fed the Syrian intelligence the questions. So what the CIA guy is telling you is just plain false, period. ...

Now, if you look at what really happened here from the time of 9/11 going until today, the CIA has been, in my view, the agency most engaged in these secret detention facilities and then this torture, and that's what we've heard from our various clients, as well as some of these commissions. One of the reasons that it's come out, or all of these memos came out of our government from [then-White House counsel to the president Alberto] Gonzales, working groups on detention, all this stuff about authorizing torture, those memos were in part written to protect CIA agents when they engaged in this kind of practice. So I don't know what the CIA guy is thinking or saying, but he's clearly lying.

He would of course say, "Maybe I am, but something really big is at stake here." These people flew a couple of airplanes into buildings right down the street, and they might do it again. The head of the White House lawyers says this president, especially this president, was not going to stand in front of the American people and say, ... "Well, we're wending our way through the courts with this, and we have some good arrests, and we think we'll make some cases, and we're sorry that the Mall of America went down, but we've got to adhere to the rule of law." What's your response to that?

Well, my response is what they've really done is counterproductive in a number of different ways. It's counterproductive because they're putting a huge amount of resources into interrogating people who may be completely innocent of anything, whereas those people should be tracking down, arresting and dealing with people who really want to harm the United States. Secondly, torture, including inhuman and degrading treatment -- water boarding, electroshock -- you're not going to get the truth about anything. You're just going to get a bunch of fairy tales, and people are going to be chasing their own tail.

Thirdly, even if you get some information, what is really going to happen is people in the world find out about what the U.S. is doing. It seems to me -- and Abu Ghraib, I think, was a good example to me -- that after those photos came out and that kind of information about the torture that took place in Iraq and maybe in many places still continuing, but what does that do but anger a tremendous swath of the Muslim world? People get angry when they see people from their fellow religion in those situations, and they go and attack us again. In fact, some of the people, even before they execute people, put them in orange jumpsuits like Guantanamo. So this is bad stuff. They could have done this in a real way, in a lawful way, without this kind of torture and indefinite disappearances. I don't feel safer because of what they've done.

I look at the paper trail in this period, whenever, [and Bush administration lawyer] John Yoo writes a very broad definition of torture. Are they actually aware of this and writing memos and stuff to protect themselves?

I think almost foremost in their mind was protecting themselves. ... I think that these memos basically were a way of telling the people who were going to actually order torture or order that "[If] you don't comply with the Geneva Conventions or order inhumane treatment, we will protect you; what you're doing is legal." So that if you get into a trial [and] someone wants to prosecute you, you can say, "I had some reasonable belief; some Harvard Law graduate" -- which is Gonzales in this case -- "in fact has said the president has the authority to let us do this. "

The first memo that came out on this was actually Alberto Gonzales' memo of January 2002. It's the memo in which he writes to the president that you don't have to comply with the Geneva Conventions and particularly their restrictions against inhumane treatment. He gives a number of reasons, but what comes out of that memo is -- I'm sort of paraphrasing the memo -- if you violate the Geneva Conventions, just remember that there is a war crime statute that makes any violation of the Geneva Conventions a war crime. And while we don't consider what we do war crimes, some prosecutor in the future may think that what we're doing here violated Geneva Conventions and is a war crime under U.S. law.

Well, that's a worry, and the best way to protect against that worry is to simply say Geneva Conventions don't apply, and then you can't violate it. So you see this already by January 2002, a tremendous concern within the administration over people being prosecuted for inhumanely treating detainees. ...

There's a kind of intense intramural squabble that takes place, it seems to me: the struggle between Defense, State and the White House. That is, you get down to some moment where people like the JAGs [judge advocates general], people like the uniformed military, things like Geneva, they were conservative brakes -- and I don't mean conservative in the political sense -- but they were slowing down what we want to do. And my reading of it [is that] between the Gonzales memo in January and that summer [is] where the sides are all kind of sorted out.

Well, those international human rights agreements, the Constitution, were definitely looked at as brakes on what the administration could do. But in a deeper way, they were also looked at as brakes on the U.S. as a hegemonic power, because those things are always saying, "Well, you can't just invade another country; you can't just cross the borders; your soldiers can't do whatever they want." And so they looked at it, yes, as 9/11 is the precipitating act that they could begin to dissolve all of these so-called brakes or what I call laws that make us into a civilized world. ...

What you see here is the State Department being completely sidelined. I mean, Colin Powell was the head of the State Department, and he writes the memo counter to Gonzales in January 2002 saying: "What are we doing here? It's 100 years of U.S. complying with Geneva Conventions. What's going to happen to American soldiers? We can't do this." And that memo is basically given short shrift by a guy who's a dozen years out of Harvard Law School, Alberto Gonzales, who has the ear of the president, saying: "Forget it, Colin Powell. You may be the head of the State Department, but that's not where this thing is being run from." You're seeing this thing really being run out of the White House and out of Cheney's office and out of a small group of people who decided, "We're not only going to change how we do 9/11; we're going to change how the U.S. is perceived in the world." ...

And if Powell is pushing back in the State Department, where is in all of this [the Department of Defense] and the uniformed services?

Well, they seem to be very close to the Cheney group that did it, very close to the White House group that did it. And Rumsfeld actually, you could argue, was one of the key architects of this stuff. Rumsfeld seems to be split from many of the members of the uniformed services. Rumsfeld is saying, "I'm going to do it this way. Here's what we need to do. This is a global war on terror," whereas then you have other people within the uniformed services, the people I know on the lower level, the guys who were assigned to either defend some of the alleged terrorists, saying: "What are we doing here? I've been trained in Geneva Conventions, I've been trained in courts-martial, and now you're telling me the Geneva Conventions don't apply? Now you're telling me that we're going to try people in some kind of military commissions that have no relationships to court-martial? We've set up a fair system for trying people; we've set a fair system under Geneva for treating people. How are American soldiers going to be treated?"

So my experience with the uniformed services has actually been very good in terms of saying, "We have the rule of law to adhere to; we have a decent military system; this is what we ought to be doing." Within the upper-level military, you've seen your upper-level generals and others saying: "We don't believe in this. We don't believe that we should be torturing people. We don't believe we should be using military commissions." So obviously you have Rumsfeld at one side, and you have some people clearly within the military system saying, "We don't like what Rumsfeld's telling us to do." ...

So what is Guantanamo at that time?

Well, it's a 45-square-mile military base on the southern tip of Cuba that has been owned by the United States since the 1890s. When I went there in the 1990s, it's essentially a desert, a desert divided by a bay. That's as hot as I've ever been. In the prison camps that I saw, refugee camps, [they] were just awful. I remember describing them and saying, "These are like Dante's Ninth Circle of Hell." They were set out on a bluff at that point, desert all around them, barbed wire everywhere. Really a place outside the world. Very hard access, you got to take some small plane for four hours over the Caribbean, very difficult to get to.

And you're getting off a plane, you're hooded. You don't know where you are, you just know you're in some desert island somewhere, you don't even know it's an island maybe, because I don't know what you see. And initially, of course, in the early days they got put into what were essentially dog cages or dog runs. They were these sort of open chain linked fences that have concrete floors in which the heat -- because I remember it was just awful. There were all kinds of bugs there, there are scorpions, there's a large animal called the banana rat. There's driving rain sometimes, a pretty, pretty terrible conditions. And these guys, at least for a long period of that time, were either hooded or shackled, exercise, almost none. And that's even before the interrogation began. …

At this exact time, the desire for actionable information, the imperative from Washington must have been intense down there?

I think that's right. We don't know what was going on in other parts of the world. Certainly it was intense at Guantanamo. It was December 2002 when Rumsfeld authorizes what I consider to be inhuman techniques of interrogation because they're obviously not getting actionable intelligence. Now, they never looked to ask the question, "Maybe we're not getting actionable intelligence because these guys don't have any actionable intelligence. Sure, we have incompetent translators, we have incompetent interrogators, but maybe we've got the wrong guys. Maybe the bribery stuff to [Afghan warlord Rashid] Dostum and people in Afghanistan, maybe grudge stuff, people being picked up, maybe we just got the wrong guys." …

What is Rumsfeld asked to authorize?

This information about what Rumsfeld authorized at Guantanamo came out in 2004; it's Exhibit E of the Schlesinger report. And what's in there is a series of interrogation techniques that are authorized to be used at Guantanamo. As I recall, there's a dozen of them or so that really stand out for me. ... One, it says stress positions. ... One of the memos said, "We can use stress positions for four hours." Rumsfeld in his own handwriting writes: "Why only four hours? I stand 10 hours a day." ...

A second one is hooded, which means basically during interrogation, you put a hood over the person for the period of time. A third one says ...[e]xploit phobias; e.g., dogs. What is that saying except during interrogations you can use dogs against human beings sitting there stripped, because a fourth one of these says you can have stripping. So you're sitting there chained in a stress position, according to a Rumsfeld memo, hooded, naked, and maybe they take off the hood to show you the dog, and a dog is allowed to be used against you.

A fifth one says remove comfort items. ... And that's where you get into the Koran abuse, because what they mean by that is take away the prayer rug, take away the Koran, exploit religious sensibility. So those are some examples of the half a dozen or so that Rumsfeld himself, in his own hand, essentially, approved for interrogation at Guantanamo.

Now, what's interesting to me is this came out late in 2004, as I recall. I interviewed the Tipton Three, the three Englishmen who had been taken to Guantanamo, and they were released in March or so, February or so, of 2004. I interviewed them in England. This is before I knew anything about what Rumsfeld had authorized, before the Rumsfeld techniques had come out, before the Schlesinger report.

They told me the story. They said: "Well, we were taken into these small interrogation cells. We were chained to the floor, sometimes 18 hours a day. We were put into isolation for month after month. But we were stripped. On one occasion they brought a dog in." And then they told me they had heard stories of women interrogators taking off their tops. That didn't happen to them, I don't think, but they told me those stories. They told me other stories like that.

And I sat there, really, in this room -- it was in Oxford, in England -- and I actually didn't believe them. I said: "This doesn't sound right to me. I know you were in indefinite detention, but dogs and use of sexual humiliation and things like that?" I said, "I'm not sure about this." That's March 2004 when I did the interview. And then by December, we're seeing that Rumsfeld has actually authorized these very techniques. And what's interesting to me about the Tipton guys is they didn't exaggerate. They didn't say, "We were raped." They didn't say anything like that. I went through the testimony that they gave me, and it just tracked exactly the Rumsfeld stuff that came out six months later. So this is what Rumsfeld authorized.

In April of 2004, the Abu Ghraib -- Sy Hersh's stuff starts to show up in The New Yorker. The Abu Ghraib pictures appear -- dogs, nudity, sexual humiliation. Does it ring a bell to you?

Well, April 28 the report comes out on TV. Hersh's article comes out a couple days later. And yes, it rings a bell to me. I see those pictures of dogs. And again, it's before we know what Rumsfeld authorized, but it just seemed to me that the techniques that were being used in Abu Ghraib -- if you want to call those torture or use of dogs or whatever you want to call them -- had been used in Guantanamo, and it says to me that my guys were not lying to me. My guys were not making it up. The Tipton guys were being completely forthright. ...

And they prove what?

Well, they proved to me a number of things. One is the way people were picked up in Afghanistan and in Pakistan was relatively arbitrary. You didn't pick up "the worst of the worst" or the most dangerous. And that had they been given some kind of hearings initially, due-process hearings, those people wouldn't have gone to Guantanamo, wouldn't have suffered what they did at Guantanamo, and the U.S. wouldn't have wasted a lot of resources in going after people it shouldn't have.

They secondly proved to me the importance of having court review of cases in Guantanamo, or of any case, because then you don't have innocent people sitting down there forever.

Thirdly, they proved to me the interrogation techniques that involved chaining to the floor, stripping, hooding, possibly the use of dogs, that those things don't work to get at real information; that what you get when you use those kinds of techniques -- and those aren't even the worst techniques -- you get people willing to say anything because they want the torture or the inhuman treatment to end. And that's what they did. ...

So there's the Abu Ghraib revelations. It's April, it's May 2004; the world lights on fire [when] we see these pictures. What, to experienced eyes like yours, do you see, do you witness, and are you shocked by in the next year, six months?

... The first reaction I had to the photos, when they came out -- they were really horrendous. This isn't even the worst, I think, of what there is out there, but they were really horrendous. And the dog photo, of course, I immediately put together with what happened to the Tipton guys, and it made their story very believable.

It's a story that somehow the American people have a huge ability to digest and accept what the administration line is on it, which is these are just a few bad apples in the American military, and the rest of us are fine, and we're all doing great, and none of this was authorized, and these were either due to management failures or -- they used all kinds of euphemisms for saying, "should have had better management." And they've done, I don't know what the number of investigations now, is eight or 10, but in the end, none of them are going to the actual authorization for this kind of conduct. ...

Tell me the circumstances under which, as you understand them, requests for FOIAs [Freedom of Information Act] are made. What is the hint of what you might find? What does everybody go looking for? How does it finally start to crack, and how do we get ourselves to where we are today, with what we know today?

The Center for Constitutional Rights, the American Civil Liberties Union, [Physicians for] Human Rights, made an FOIA request for all documents that the federal government was holding, but [for] particular agencies -- CIA, FBI, State Department, military, Department of Defense -- [all documents] that they had related to any kind of abuse or torture in any U.S. detention facility. We made that [request] way before the photos came out on April 28 of 2004. I'm sure it was around the Tipton time. It may have been before that, probably before then we made that, right after The Washington Post stories, probably in 2002. ...

So the agencies come back. They have to come back in a certain number of days, and they -- particularly under this administration, but most administrations -- they don't give you a lot to start with. They give you a few little pieces of paper. And then they really want to see if you're serious about it, and you have to go to court. And so in this case, the major Freedom of Information Act case that we're addressing, which has revealed a lot of allegations about torture and mistreatment, we've had to go to court. We got a judge who has issued very favorable rulings on behalf of the requesters, the organizations, the Center and the ACLU, and given us waves and waves and waves of documents. Many of them, of course, have big black parts that are redactions where we don't get the information. But he's ordered the FBI, the CIA, the Department of Defense to start turning over some 35,000 pages of documents.

They're in many different categories. Some come out of Guantanamo and probably the most important of those have been the FBI documents, in which FBI agents say, "We have seen the following and we don't like it." … So you saw FBI agents revealing stories and complaining to their superiors about what they considered unlawful interrogation and inhumane interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo.

Now, someone might ask, "Well, why did you get these documents? Why did the FBI do this?" Probably goes back to the issue of the FBI is unhappy with the way these interrogations are being carried out. Maybe a turf dispute over who should be doing them, but in part it's because the FBI is trained in not using these kind of techniques in humane treatment, and they're seeing another agency doing it and they are going to complain, because they are down at Guantanamo, supposedly cooperating and helping to get intelligence, and they're seeing things that are going off the charts that are not only against their training but they think is counterproductive. So one set of documents really concerns one agency of this federal government criticizing another agency for what it's doing. ...

A second request we've had, which, again, the judges ordered but we have not yet gotten the documents, is for more of the photographs and some of the videos of what went on in Abu Ghraib. We've got the original number that were released at Abu Ghraib, but there's some 1,200 more, all on the Darby disk. [Army Sgt. Joseph] Darby was this U.S. soldier who was the one who first brought to public attention the torture at Abu Ghraib because he had them on a disk. The public's only seen some of those. Our Freedom of Information Act request asks for the rest of those, as well as some videos. Apparently, there's four videos. They may be very short videos. I don't know how they were taken, I don't know what they're of, but apparently some pretty gruesome stuff. While we've agreed to have the faces taken out of those pictures, the federal government has yet to turn those over to us.

What it seems to me the Freedom of Information Act request is showing is one, how widespread the abuses are; secondly, how there was knowledge within a broad range of U.S. federal agencies about what was going on -- the FBI, the CIA, these things went up to Rumsfeld's office where he himself or underlings [saw them] -- so secondly, a broad range of knowledge about what's going on; and thirdly, that what we've seen may only be the tip of the iceberg in terms of the level of abuse and the level of inhumanity that we have shown towards other people. ...

One of the findings of the 12 or so reports about what happened in Iraq at Abu Ghraib, all say failure of command, failure of command, failure of command. Thus far, the people who have been removed of command and disciplined, are Pappas, the colonel, and Janis Karpinski, who's the National Guard general. And of course, many people lower than that, noncommissioned officers. [Why hasn't anyone of a higher rank been held accountable?]

Well, I think that the Bush administration, wants to at least give up some people, lower level soldiers and some other less important people to at least make it appear as if there's a real investigation going on here and we're really disciplining the right people. And these are why this was caused. As soon as you go higher than that, you're talking about serious officials in the U.S. administration who authorized this stuff. And obviously, they don't want that to happen.

So what do you see happen? First, Gen. Miller after he did what he did at Guantanamo and Gitmoizes Iraq, he is then sent to be in charge of all the prisons in Iraq after this. So instead of actually reprimanding him or demoting him, they actually give him a promotion, essentially. So what does that tell you? Either A, they like his job, they like the fact that he was using interrogation techniques that were severe and inhumane, or they want to make sure that this guy is not going to talk and they want to protect not just him, but protect others up the chain of command.

Let's take a look at Gen. Sanchez, a three-star general sitting over there in Iraq in charge of everything, supposedly authorized the use of dogs and some other techniques. You know, there's a big debate going on now about giving that guy a fourth star. So what are they doing with him but promoting him. So you go up the chain of command a little higher. You give Rumsfeld another four years as secretary of defense, the guy who did the Rumsfeld techniques of interrogation. Or you go to Alberto Gonzales, president's counsel promoted to the attorney general of the United States.

So not only is there an attempt to cabin or keep very small the people they look at, the low level soldiers, recruits, a few officers… Karpinski and Pappas are not standing trial as lower level soldiers are. They're just reprimanded or they're not going to get promoted or whatever else is going to happen. They're not standing trial. So you get those people being looked at. But the people who actually put this policy in place have gotten promotions.

[How will we ultimately find out who is accountable?]

What's really happened right now, [for] the Center for Constitutional Rights and other humans rights organizations, is we've all been struggling with how do you get accountability for this torture scandal or whatever? How do you get an investigation up the chain of command? What do you do in a democracy when really, the avenues are cut off, when the attorney general is implicated, Rumsfeld is implicated, [and] Congress won't do anything?

The Center for Constitutional Rights, the ACLU, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, have all tried to figure out ways of getting accountability. We've made demands: We've asked for a special prosecutor in some cases; we asked for an independent 9/11-type investigation. Again, neither of those are proceeding. And we've also used lawsuits to do it. So for example, the Center for Constitutional Rights has a lawsuit against the private interrogators in Iraq who we allege were involved in some of the Abu Ghraib scandals and some of the torture in Iraq. The ACLU and Human Rights First have a private damage case on behalf of people in Iraq against Rumsfeld and some other officials to try and get accountability.

Another effort the Center made was under a concept that people who commit war crimes, or are alleged to commit war crimes, can be tried anywhere in the world, because those crimes are considered so heinous that any country has an interest in trying people, and that's what the Geneva Conventions says. The Center tried to go to another country to at least begin an investigation of some of the people involved in Abu Ghraib. We went to Germany to do that and filed a 160-page complaint against Rumsfeld, against Pappas, against Gonzales, against Karpinski, various other people, who were we believe involved in the Abu Ghraib tortures. ...

I think Europe gets it, whereas people in the United States don't. Europe has lived through a period in which they have seen torture, disappearances, detention without trial, coming out of the Second World War, obviously much worse. But in some level, they get it. And it was a big story in much of Europe, not much of a story here. And unfortunately, the case got dropped in Germany by the prosecutor. It's a different system there. The prosecutor actually has to write a reason for not prosecuting, and you can go into a court. ...

The world knows what's happened here, and it's not just that I have a thing about getting these guys and getting them accountable. What's really happened here is here you have the most powerful country in the world, the country that should be the absolute leader for human rights and has stood for something throughout the world against torture, against special tribunals, against disappearances, and has stood for something, basically no longer standing for that. And it's really torn to pieces the structure of human rights that has allowed us to say that we are human beings and that we are something in this world that really is willing to uphold these kind of prohibitions. And that's very serious when the most important country in the world does that.

When Nigeria does it, it's important to the people of Nigeria; it's important in the world. But people aren't going to look to Nigeria as the example of how to behave. When the United States does it -- and I've heard this from my foreign friends all over the world -- what do we then say to our countries when they start torturing people? We can no longer say, "Look, you should be like the United States." In fact, now the country is saying, "Well, if the United States can do it, we can do it, too." This is serious, serious stuff. ...

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posted oct. 18, 2005

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