Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzales / Democracty Now – 2006-09-10 00:09:53
ACTION ALERT: Bush Keeps the Door Open for Prisoner Torture
Jill Savitt / Human Rights First
If you read between the lines of President Bush’s speech on Wednesday, you’ll find some extremely troubling proposals with regard to the treatment of detainees in US custody. While the President purports to strengthen our national security, he is in fact undermining it by violating a host of international and domestic laws that protect our troops.
The White House’s approach is plain wrong. It opens the door to Abu Ghraib-like interrogation techniques, and invites other nations to treat our own soldiers in the same abusive manner.
To our nation’s detriment, President Bush is ignoring the advice of top military lawyers, a key decision from the Supreme Court, our nation’s laws, and public outcry. But now the decision is in Congress’s hands, and as a constituent, you can make a difference.
• Tell Congress to reject the President’s misguided proposal – Click here.
The bill would permit use of evidence obtained by abusing prisoners. It would decriminalize war crimes, so that U.S. personnel who engaged in abuse – and senior officials who authorized abuse – would be let off the hook. Moreover, it would undercut the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the landmark case Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which found that President Bush is bound by the Geneva Conventions.
Congress is considering the Administration’s proposal right now. Your elected representatives need to know that the proposed legislation is legally and morally unacceptable.
We urgently need you, as constituents, to speak up and counterbalance the pressure applied by the White House.
The Online Letter
On Wednesday the White House announced extremely troubling proposals with regard to treatment of detainees in U.S. custody. President Bush is asking you to not only permit the use of coerced evidence but also to provide immunity to those who have abused or authorized the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody.
As a concerned constituent, I urge you to reject the Administration’s proposal. This is clearly the wrong approach. It violates Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions and evades the recent Hamdan v. Rumsfeld Supreme Court ruling.
I hope you make every effort to ensure this legislation never comes to pass. Our nation has complied with the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit cruel and degrading treatment, for over a century.
Please don’t let the Bush Administration’s plan signal the start of a dangerous new era. Not only would you be sacrificing our nation’s reputation, you would be sacrificing the safety of our troops. By condoning abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, we are inviting other nations to do the same when our own soldiers are taken captive. There is too much at stake.
I am counting on you, as my elected representative, to put America back on the right course and make sure torture never again happens in America’s name.
Together, we can build the public pressure we need to prevent this proposal from becoming law.
Jill Savitt is the Director of Campaigns for Human Rights First
Bush Admits to Secret Prisons; Vows to Circumvent Supreme Court
Amy Goodman, Juan Gonzales. Barbara Olshanky / Democracy Now
AS CIA DETAINEES ARE TRANSFERRED TO GUANTANAMO, PRESIDENT BUSH ADMITS THE EXISTENCE OF SECRET PRISONS, TRIES TO BYPASS SUPREME COURT DECISIONS
(September 7, 2006) — On Wednesday, President Bush acknowledged for the first time that the CIA has been operating a secret network of overseas prisons. President Bush made the admission as he ordered 14 prisoners previously held by the CIA to be transferred to Guantanamo Bay where they could be tried by a military tribunal. The prisoners include alleged 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheik Muhammad. Bush said the CIA is no longer holding any detainees but that the secret prisons may be re-opened.
He denied the US ever uses torture but he admitted the CIA had used what he described as “alternative procedures” to force some prisoners to talk. Bush also urged Congress to authorize the use of military tribunals and to amend the War Crimes Act. The president said new laws were needed because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June in the Hamdan case.
We will be getting an analysis of this important story from Barbara Olshansky, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. She is also the author of “Secret Trials and Executions: Military Tribunals and the Threat to Democracy.” And she is the co-author, with David Lindorff, of “The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office.”
HERE IS THE TRANSCRIPT OF OUR ON-AIR INTERVIEW WITH BARBARA OLSHANKY.
JUAN GONZALEZ: On Wednesday, President Bush acknowledged for the first time that the CIA has been operating a secret network of overseas prisons.
(JUAN PLAYS THIS STATEMENT BY) PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Many specifics of this program, including where these detainees have been held and the details of their confinement, cannot be divulged. Doing so would provide our enemies with information they could use to take retribution against our allies and harm our country. I can say that questioning the detainees in this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives by helping us stop new attacks.
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush made the admission as he ordered 14 prisoners previously held by the CIA to be transferred to Guantanamo Bay, where they could be tried by a military tribunal. The prisoners include alleged 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheik Muhammad. Bush said the CIA is no longer holding any detainees, but that the secret prisons may be reopened.
(JUAN PLAYS THIS STATEMENT BY) PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: But as more high ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical, and having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information.
JUAN GONZALEZ: President Bush denied the US ever uses torture, but he admitted the CIA had used what he described as alternative procedures to force some prisoners to talk. Bush also urged Congress to authorize the use of military tribunals and to amend the War Crimes Act. The President said new laws were needed because of the Supreme Court’s ruling in June in the Hamdan case.
(JUAN PLAYS THIS STATEMENT BY) PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as Common Article 3 applies to our war with al-Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit outrages upon personal dignity and humiliating and degrading treatment. The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article 3 are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by an American or foreign judges. And some believe our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act, simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way.
AMY GOODMAN:That was President Bush, speaking yesterday [on Wednesday, 9/6/06]. Now Barbara Olshansky joins us in the studio today. She’s an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, and author of “Secret Trials and Executions: Military Tribunals and the Threat to Democracy.” Welcome to Democracy Now, Barbara!
BARBARA OLSHANSKY:Thank you for having me, Amy!
AMY GOODMAN:Please give us your response to President Bush’s address.
BARBARA OLSHANSKY:You know, there are several. The President’s speech came along with a series of documents: a Department of Defense directive; a new Army field manual that was revised; and this bill. If you put them all together, it says some very interesting things. First, there is his admission, like you said, of the existence of secret prisons, which we knew, and which they have categorically denied, all across Europe and all across the United States. But this idea of the CIA program in that language that the President used, we know that that program is a codeword for the use of torture. There’s just no doubt about it, because we know how badly people were tortured in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Guantanamo. And we know this not only from detainees’ testimony, but also from the testimony of FBI officials and CIA officials. Lots of people have come forward.
And the President then is asking the American public and Congress to approve a program of torture going forward. And when he says the United States doesn’t torture and I never authorize torture, that is a very interesting word play, because all of the government’s documents, and all of the White House documents, go to this issue of redefining torture in a way that we don’t define it in the United States or in the world. And that new definition says: “torture only occurs when someone is at the risk of immediate full organ failure or death.” So that’s the definition of the word “torture” that the president is using. That’s NOT our constitutional definition of torture. That’s NOT the international definition of torture. And you know what? That’s NOT the American people’s definition of torture.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And what about this whole issue of the War Crimes Act and having Congress revisit that?
BARBARA OLSHANSKY:Well, that one is really in the same arena. It is retroactive immunity for everyone that engaged in torture. And the fact is that US torture policy really did specifically come down from the highest of the high. In fact, the President, in his speech yesterday, admitted just that — that he authorized it, and that Rumsfeld put it into effect. And so now we know everyone who did it. They said it. SO THE IDEA THAT TORTURE WAS BEING AUTHORIZED FROM THE TOP DOWN, WELL, NOW WE KNOW THAT THIS HAPPENED.
It doesn’t exonerate any soldiers who follow a policy that violates the law because — you know what? — that idea of “they told me to do it,” that’s a defense that was ruled out in the Nuremburg Tribunal after the Second World War, when it was used by Nazi soldiers. SO WE DON’T ABIDE BY THE DEFENSE THAT SAYS, “MY SUPERIOR MADE ME DO IT.”
JUAN GONZALEZ: Why did all of this come now, this coordinated decision to bring this bill to the forefront now, and to try to push it through Congress at this stage?
BARBARA OLSHANSKY:I think that it is really fundamentally a political move. I think this is an administration that is very scared. There’s an election coming up. I think the numbers for this president have been extremely low. I think there have been case after case in the US Supreme Court, where the justices — and these are conservative justices — have said, “You can’t do this. You don’t get a blank check. You don’t get to work outside the Constitution, outside the rule of law.”
And they said it in RASUL v. BUSH, about challenging the indefinite detentions. They said it in HAMDI v. RUMSFELD, about giving someone the most basic due process. And they said it in HAMDAN v. RUMSFELD, about what our due process requires in any kind of court that we hold. AND SO NOW YOU HAVE THIS HUGE 86-PAGE BILL THAT IS AN ATTEMPT TO OVERRULE EVERY SUPREME COURT DECISION THAT’S COME DOWN IN THE WAR ON TERROR.
AMY GOODMAN:In what way?
BARBARA OLSHANSKY:Well, it says that the Detainee Treatment Act fulfills all of our requirements under the Geneva Conventions to outlaw cruel and inhuman treatment. But the Detainee Treatment Act PROHIBITS anyone from enforcing its prohibition. We can’t ever go into court to stop cruel treatment or torture. So the idea that it fulfills our Geneva obligations is just unbelievable nonsense! And then it says the Geneva Conventions can NEVER be enforced by an individual in court. None of our courts have ever said that. And no country around the world has ever said that.
What if we can’t go into court to enforce our individual rights? This means your right to a fair and speedy trial, your right not to be treated brutally, all of those are individual rights. If we say people can’t go into court to enforce them, what’s going to happen to our soldiers in every other country where they are captured? They won’t get to invoke those protections either. How blind could this administration be to the bad effects on our own guys in uniform everywhere they’re fighting?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, in the conversation we had before we went on the air, you also mentioned that THE BILL ADDRESSES THIS whole ISSUE as to WHETHER PEOPLE WHO ARE AMERICAN CITIZENS CAN BE HELD AS “ENEMY COMBATANTS”, AND BE TRIED IN MILITARY TRIBUNALS, VERSUS BEING TRIED IN REGULAR AMERICAN COURTS.
BARBARA OLSHANSKY:Yeah. And this was something that we really have had a number of conversations about with people on Capitol Hill, and some people in the White House: about the fact that a Bush administration bill that was leaked to the public included the word “PEOPLE” instead of the word “ALIENS,” because the President’s November 13th military order back in 2001 specifically said “non-citizens.”
Well, NOW the language says “AN UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT CAN BE ANY INDIVIDUAL.” And it’s very clear that THIS MEANS AMERICANS TOO. It can mean anyone in the world. THERE IS NO EXCLUSION FOR AMERICANS. And the language stating who can be an “enemy combatant” has been tremendously expanded. So it is open-ended: it could be not only al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, but also other associated forces, and just others in general who are unnamed.
And NOW its language says “ANY HOSTILE ACT,” which is NOT necessarily a MILITARY ACT. For instance, AM I ENGAGING IN HOSTILE ACT BY TALKING ABOUT WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS, BY SITTING HERE WITH YOU? HOW ARE WE GOING TO KNOW THAT? AND THEN I END UP IN GUANTANAMO, TRIED BEFORE A MILITARY COMMISSION, WHERE THE DEATH PENALTY CAN RESULT? THIS IS ASTOUNDING STUFF!
AMY GOODMAN:The legislation that President Bush is proposing would limit the ability of prisoners to gain access all of the evidence. The Republicans who are challenging the proposal are very significant people. I mean, you’ve got Senator John McCain, who was a prisoner of war himself. You’ve got Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former military lawyer, still serving in the Air National Guard as a reserve judge. And you’ve got Senator John Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
BARBARA OLSHANSKY:Yeah. I think these are people who are so familiar with our military justice system that they SHOULD know, and I think what they are saying means they DO know, that we already have an existing military justice system that’s worked for more than 50 years. It’s incredibly effective! It is a well-thought-out, well-established, well-ruled system that everyone in the military believes in. AND PEOPLE CAN’T SEE ANY REASON FOR PERMITTING THE PRESIDENT THIS NEW POWER TO CREATE ANOTHER SYSTEM WHOLLY OUTSIDE OF EVERYTHING ELSE, AN ENTIRELY NEW UNIVERSE WITH NEW WORDS, AND NEW TERMS, AND NEW OFFENSES, THAT ARE OUTSIDE THE EXISTING RULE OF LAW, AND THAT HE HAS JUST FABRICATED.
AMY GOODMAN:At the same time, the military held a news conference, with the Pentagon talking about new rules. What are they?
BARBARA OLSHANSKY:Well, there are MANY MORE RULES in here than were spelled out before. So they talked about some of the offenses for the first time, because in the first go-around, no offenses were set forth. So as a defendant, you had no idea what you would be tried for. And in fact, you’d be designated for a military trial, and then a whole year later, they’d finally say, “We think you did a, b, and c.” So they sort of went back and crafted the crime based on what they thought you did. Now, there are some crimes that are specified in the bill. THE PROBLEM IS, THERE ARE MANY NEW CRIMES THAT ARE NOT RECOGNIZABLE IN THE LAWS OF WAR.
SO WHY ARE THEY STILL FABRICATING THINGS OUT OF WHOLE CLOTH, MAKING THEM UP, WHEN WE ALREADY HAVE A MILITARY JUSTICE SYSTEM THAT SPECIFIES WHAT CRIMES PEOPLE COMMIT WHEN THEY ARE IN THE MILITARY?
And why is that necessary when, for people who are not military soldiers, for civilians, we already know what we can accuse them of: every kind of regular criminal act, including things like war crimes, and crimes against humanity like genocide. We can already go after terrorists for all of those things. AND THIS IS THAT FUNDAMENTAL DIVIDE THAT WE COME TO ONCE AGAIN, WHICH IS THAT THE EXISTING CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM IS ALREADY A PERFECTLY VALID SYSTEM IN WHICH TO TRY TERRORISTS.
And in the United Kingdom, what happened just recently in London demonstrates exactly that point. The British government did an investigation. They stopped anything those people were planning before it happened. And those people are going to be tried in the existing courts. There is nothing that is fundamentally tricky about any of this. WHAT IS TRICKY IS WHEN YOUR GOVERNMENT HOLDS PEOPLE IN INDEFINITE DETENTION, AND IN SECRET PRISONS, AND TORTURES THEM.
AMY GOODMAN:Barbara Olshansky, I want to thank you very much for joining us on Democracy Now! Barbara is an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, the author of the book, “Secret Trials and Executions: Military Tribunals and the Threat to Democracy,” and the co-author of “The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush from Office.” To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program, please call us at: 1 (888) 999-3877.
RELATED ARTICLES AND ESSAYS:
•  Adam Liptak’s 9-8-06 Common Dreams/New York Times article, “Interrogation Methods Rejected By Military Win Bush’s Support”: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines06/0908-10.htm
•  Ray McGovern’s 9-7-06 Common Dreams/Tom Paine essay, “The Torturer’s Apprentice”: http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0907-23.htm
•  Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith’s 9-5-06 Common Dreams/The Nation essay, “Bush Aims To Kill The War Crimes Act” [To retroactively exempt himself and other high officials from prosecution from the war crimes they all know they’ve committed.]: http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0905-32.htm
•  Paul Craig Roberts’ 8-29-06 LewRockell.com essay, “Bush Seeks Retroactive Laws To Protect Himself From War Crimes Prosecution”: http://www.lewrockwell.com/roberts/roberts169.html
•  Thom Hartmann’s 8-28-06 Common Dreams essay, “Reclaiming The Issues: Islamic Or Republican Fascism?”: http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0828-23.htm
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