New Evidence of Bush Regime War Crimes

From Revolution Newspaper

Over the last few weeks new evidence has come to light about the extent to which top-level White House officials were directly and intimately involved in the decisions to authorize and use torture against prisoners held by the U.S. in the so-called "war on terror." An October 15 front page article in the Washington Post-"CIA Tactics Endorsed in Secret Memos"-revealed that in 2003 and 2004 the White House issued two memos which explicitly endorsed the CIA's use of waterboarding and other forms of torture.

The actual content of the memos, which remain classified, were not revealed by the Post's source. The source told the Post that the memos are the first "tangible expressions of the administration's consent for the CIA's use of harsh measures to extract information from captured al-Qaeda leaders." While much evidence has come to light revealing the role of high level government officials in the authorization, planning and implementation of torture, up until now the government has denied a direct role by officials at the highest levels. "As recently as last month," the Post writes in the article, "the administration had never publicly acknowledged that its policymakers knew about the specific techniques, such as waterboarding."

Now, these memos reveal direct knowledge and official White House approval of not only torture in general, but specific torture techniques. And in addition to the memos, other evidence has also recently come to light regarding the widespread use of torture, this time from an Air Force Colonel sent to instruct special forces troops in interrogating detainees. On September 25, Air Force Col. Steven Kleinman testified before a Congressional committee about the torture that he had witnessed while on a mission to Iraq in 2003. He described interrogations taking place in a former ammunition -bunker, which he described as "underground, cold and dark." According to his testimony, one detainee "was forced to kneel under a spotlight, flanked by guards toting iron bars, while interrogators shouted questions at him. Each answer automatically elicited a hard slap across the face-a pattern that was repeated without pause for 30 minutes." A second detainee interrogated in Kleinman's presence was subjected to sleep deprivation and painful stress positions. A third had all his clothes physically torn from his body and was ordered to stand continuously for 12 hours, "or until he passed out." ("Air Force Instructor Details Harsh Interrogations," Washington Post, September 26, 2008). This was happening around the same time as the torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib-which became infamous worldwide because of the leaked photos showing U.S. troops brutalizing and humiliating detainees.

The recent revelations come on top of exposures in April that the CIA's use of water-boarding and other forms of torture on detainees in the wake of September 11, 2001 were deliberately and meticulously planned by top White House officials in dozens of meetings. A source told ABC News that the tortures "were almost choreographed." The torture-planning cabal included Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, CIA head George Tenet, and Attorney General John Ashcroft. After the meetings were disclosed in April of this year, Bush told ABC News, "Yes, I'm aware our national security team met on this issue. And I approved."

In U.S. military detention centers (including Guantánamo) and secret CIA prisons around the world for the last seven years: Prisoners are beaten, sometimes to the point of death. They are forced to stand until they pass out. They are prevented from sleeping, kept in cells that are lit with bright lights 24 hours a day, and subjected to constant unbearably loud noise. They are threatened with dogs and snakes. They are kept naked and shivering in frigid cells. Their hands and feet are chained to a cell floor, or they are hung by their wrists from the walls of their cells, which results in slow and extremely painful dislocation of their shoulders. They are sexually humiliated. They are told their family members will be killed or raped. Some are subjected to "waterboarding," a medieval torture of controlled drowning. Some are kept in complete darkness and silence in sensory deprivation cells for weeks and months. Some are driven insane by this torture. Hundreds of Guantánamo detainees have been let free after years of abuse to live with the nightmares-others continue to be held in these conditions or face kangaroo trials at the hands of their torturers where the evidence extracted from their torture can be admitted.

This is how thousands of human beings have been treated by the U.S. government.

Not Enough "Top Cover"

The White House memos disclosed by the Post grew out of fears from the CIA that the government's torture program would be exposed and that CIA agents who participated in the torture could be charged with war crimes. The CIA had been carrying out the post-9/11 torture for more than a year before the first memo in 2003.

Bush regime lawyers had produced documents saying the torture was legal. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (who was later promoted to the position of Bush's Attorney General) wrote shortly after 9/11 that the Geneva Conventions against torture was "quaint" and didn't apply to the U.S. government's "war on terror."

And a team of lawyers in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel produced a series of infamous secret memos designed to give legal cover for the torturing of detainees under American control. One memo, written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and signed by his boss, Jay Bybee, declared that what CIA interrogators did to prisoners did not meet the legal definition of torture unless it was "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily functions or even death." (See "Controversy Over Berkeley Law School's Refusal to Fire Bush's "Enabler": Professor John Yoo Has Blood On His Hands!" in Revolution #130, May 25, 2008, available at revcom.us)

Recently disclosed testimony from John Bellinger, formerly the chief legal advisor to the National Security Council, disclosed that at the White House meetings where torture was discussed, Justice Department lawyers, in particular John Yoo, frequently gave guidance and approval to the CIA about the interrogations.

Despite all this, the CIA was apparently concerned that there wasn't enough of a direct paper trail authorizing the torture to cover their asses-because they knew that what was being done to the detainees was in clear violation of the Geneva Conventions and international laws against torture, as well as U.S. anti-torture laws. One top intelligence official told the Post, "It came up in the daily meetings. We heard it from our field officers. We were already worried that we were going to be blamed." A CIA lawyer said, "The question was whether we had enough "top cover."" The CIA requested the second torture-authorizing memo from the White House after the horrors of Abu Ghraib came to light in 2004.

The torture-and the justification of torture-continues. In 2006 Congress passed the Military Commissions Act which institutionalizes the use of torture by the U.S.-and gives retroactive immunity to government and military officials for torture that had already been carried out before then. In March of this year, Bush vetoed a Congressional bill that would have outlawed the CIA's use of waterboarding and certain other forms of torture.

"There Is No Mystery Here"

"What these recent revelations have really done is to begin to lay out the documentation of the crime and make it clear that there is no mystery here," Lynne Kates of the Center for Constitutional Rights told Revolution. "There's no question of who knew and when did they know. These aren't questions about -torture as a war crime committed at the highest levels of the administration and the highest levels of the government. In fact that's a question that can be answered with their own words and their own memos. Not only did they know all along but they planned it and they authorized it in a systematic way." This is beginning to create the evidentiary record that really speaks to the need for a prosecution of these people for the crimes that they have committed against humanity."

While the disclosure of the White House memos was on the front page of the Washington Post, overall the mainstream media has not made a big deal about top-level government involvement in torture, this hasn't become a big issue in the presidential election, and no mainstream politician is talking about impeaching the Bush regime for war crimes. As the evidence of war crimes and the role of the administration has mounted, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded to a question about impeachment, saying: "I took it off the table a long time ago. You can't talk about impeachment unless you have the facts." ("10 Questions for Nancy Pelosi," Time magazine, July 31, 2008). Pelosi herself was told of the government's torture policy in 2002 as the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and did nothing to oppose it.

Bush regime lawyers who gave legal cover for torture have gone on to top positions in academia and the courts: John Yoo is a professor of constitutional law at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jay Bybee was appointed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with bipartisan Congressional support.

The fact that there has been no society-wide uproar about the Bush team's authorization of torture speaks to how much the open use of torture by the U.S. has become legitimized in official American politics, policy, and discourse. This has been part of very dangerous moves by the U.S. rulers to set up new, fascistic norms.

*****

Back in the day, Bob Dylan wrote a song about the death of Emmett Till, a Black 14-year-old who was brutally murdered by racist whites in Money, Mississippi in 1955. Dylan sings of the murder and how the legal system let the killers go free. In the penultimate verse Dylan speaks to those who would turn their head on this great injustice:

If you can't speak out against this kind of thing, a crime that's so unjust,
Your eyes are filled with dead men's dirt, your mind is filled with dust.
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains, and your blood it must refuse to flow,
For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

Today, if anyone acts like they don't know that their government is torturing people systematically and on a widespread scale, they are choosing NOT to know. Too many people have learned to accept living under a state where inflicting extreme physical and mental pain on human beings has become the norm. For those who are speaking out and protesting, there is a challenge to mobilize many others to confront reality, act with moral clarity, and politically resist the horrendous crimes of the rulers.