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Report Says White House Rejected All Advice from Government Agencies That Torture Was Illegal


President Bush and his aides repeatedly ignored warnings that their torture plans were illegal from high State Department officials as well as the nation’s top uniformed legal officers, the Judge Advocates General of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, a new published report states.

“These warnings of illegality and immorality given by knowledgeable and experienced (government) persons were ignored by the small group of high Executive officers who were determined that America would torture and abuse its prisoners and who had the decision-making power to secretly require this to be done,” said Lawrence Velvel, chairman of the “Steering Committee of the Justice Robert H. Jackson Conference On Planning For The Prosecution of High Level American War Criminals.” Velvel is a noted reformer in the field of American legal education.

“Far from American officials and lawyers authorizing or engaging in torture because it was lawful, they authorized and engaged in it because they wanted to (and) kept their actions secret from interested officials for as long as they could lest there be strong opposition to the torture and abuse they were perpetrating,” Velvel said. “They deliberately ignored repeated warnings that the torture and abuse were illegal and could lead to prosecutions, and they ignored these warnings even when they came from high level civilian and military officers.”

A preliminary Report by the Steering Committee seeking Federal prosecution of American officials “who ordered, authorized, approved or committed war crimes,” released January 9th, 2009, says they are guilty of “wholesale” violations of statutes that include Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the Federal War Crimes Act, the Convention Against Torture, plus numerous other violations of U.S. and international laws.

The Report said prisoners were subjected to savage beatings, sleep deprivation, slow drowning, hanging by chains, being slammed head-first into concrete walls, temperature extremes, food deprivation, burial alive in coffin-like boxes for extended periods, and even threats against their families.

Among other things, the Report charges the General Counsel of the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA), knowingly approved of at least 117 renditions to torture and that such renditions were “personally encouraged by President George W. Bush…”

In addition to President Bush, those named for prosecution by the Steering Committee include:

Vice President Dick Cheney and his former chief of staff and legal counsel David Addington, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her predecessor Colin Powell, former Attorneys-General John Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzales, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and his aide Alice Fisher, former deputy assistant Attorney General; and Tim Flanigan, a deputy White House attorney.

Also named by the Steering Committee is I. Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, former assistant to President Bush. Libby was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to Federal investigators in the Valerie Plame affair. President Bush commuted Libby’s 30-month prison sentence. Additionally, Douglas Feith, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; Defense Undersecretary Stephen Cambone, General Michael Dunlavey, and Major General Geoffrey Miller, former commander of Guantanamo prison, Cuba.

CIA officials cited in the Report are former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet; Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center; James Pavitt, former CIA Deputy Director for Operations; General Counsel Scott Muller; Acting General Counsel John Rizzo; David Becker; contract officer James Mitchell, and an unidentified woman that formerly headed the CIA’s Al Qaeda unit and also briefed President Bush.

Among the lawyers guilty of war crimes are former Assistant Attorneys General Jay Bybee and John Yoo; Defense Department chief legal officer Jim Haynes; Robert Delahunty, special counsel with Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice; Patrick Philbin, deputy assistant Attorney General; Steven Bradbury, head of the White House’s Office of Legal Counsel; Lt. Col. Diane Beaver, a former Staff Judge at Guantanamo; Mary Walker, General Counsel of the Air Force and Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice.

“Torture and abuse were discussed at meetings of the so-called Principals Committee, where George Tenet presented graphic details of interrogations to a Committee which included some of Bush’s highest associates, including Rice, Powell, Rumsfeld, Ashcroft and Cheney and, at times, John Yoo.

The above-mentioned Bush officials were involved in shaping or carrying out torture policies despite written and/or verbal warnings given by high government officials in the Pentagon, State Department, FBI, and other agencies. Among these objectors were:

# William Howard Taft IV, the Legal Advisor to the State Department whose 40-page memo of January 11, 2002 warned Bush’s claim the Geneva Conventions were not applicable to prisoners held by the U.S. could subject Bush to prosecution for war crimes. State Department lawyer David Bowker further warned “there is no such thing” as a person that is not covered by the Geneva Conventions.

# The Defense Department’s own Criminal Investigative Task Force headed by Col. Brittain Mallow warned Haynes that tactics used at Guantanamo could be illegal. His warning were ignored by Haynes, whose position was based on statements of Yoo and Chertoff.

# FBI Director Robert Mueller barred FBI agents from participating in coercive CIA interrogations, “a warning-fact well known to many in the Executive,” the Steering Committee Report said. Also, Marion Bowman, head of the FBI’s national security law section in Washington called lawyers in Jim Haynes’ office in the Pentagon to express his concern but said he never heard back.

# David Brant, head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service learned about the torture and abuse at Guantanamo and took the position that “it just ain’t right” and expressed his concern to Army officials in command authority over military interrogators at Guantanamo but “they did not care,” the Report said.

# A senior CIA intelligence analyst that visited Guantanamo in 2002 reported back that the U.S. was committing war crimes there and that one-third of the detainees had no connection to terrorism. The report alarmed Rice’s lawyer John Bellinger and National Security Council terrorism expert General John Gordon but their concerns were “flatly rejected and ignored” by Addington, Flanigan and Gonzales, as well as by Rumsfeld’s office.

# Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora carried his concern over Guantanamo torture to Haynes and to Mary Walker, head of a Pentagon working group that was drafting a DOD memo based on Yoo’s work that authorized torture. Mora said what was occurring at Guantanamo was “at a minimum cruel and unusual treatment, and, at worst, torture.” His warning was ignored.

“The Judge Advocates General of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are the country’s top uniformed legal officers,” appointed to Walker’s working group, “were appalled at what they were seeing, and each wrote a memo of dissent to torture and abuse,” the Steering Committee’s Report said.

“Their memos warned not just that what was being approved was contrary to the legal and moral training American servicemen have always received, and not just that there would be international criticism, but also that interrogators and the chain of command were being put at risk of criminal prosecutions abroad.” But these warnings by the nation’s top uniformed legal officers were ignored.

“If Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and others are not prosecuted,” Velvel said, “the future could be threatened by additional examples of Executive lawlessness by leaders who need fear no personal consequences for their actions, including more illegal wars such as Iraq.”

Besides Velvel, members of the Steering Committee include:

Ben Davis, a law Professor at the University of Toledo College of Law, where he teaches Public International Law and International Business Transactions. He is the author of numerous articles on international and related domestic law.

Marjorie Cohn, a law Professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, Calif., and President of the National Lawyers Guild.

Chris Pyle, a Professor at Mount Holyoke College, where he teaches Constitutional law, Civil Liberties, Rights of Privacy, American Politics and American Political Thought, and is the author of many books and articles.

Elaine Scarry, the Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University, and winner of the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism.

Peter Weiss, vice president of the Center For Constitutional Rights, of New York City, which was recently involved with war crimes complaints filed in Germany and Japan against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others.

David Swanson, author, activist and founder of coalition, of Charlottesville, Va.

Kristina Borjesson, an award-winning print and broadcast journalist for more than twenty years and editor of two recent books on the media.

Colleen Costello, Staff Attorney of Human Rights, USA, of Washington, D.C., and coordinator of its efforts involving torture by the American government.

Valeria Gheorghiu, attorney for Workers’ Rights Law Center.

Andy Worthington, a British historian and journalist and author of books dealing with human rights violations.

Initial actions considered by the Steering Committee, Velvel said, are as follows:

# Seeking prosecutions of high level officials, including George Bush, for the crimes they committed.

# Seeking disbarment of lawyers who were complicitous in facilitating torture.

# Seeking termination from faculty positions of high officials who were complicitous in torture.


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