Karen Greenberg, Joshua Dratel and the Cambridge University Press have produced a valuable resource for anyone interested in the controversy surrounding the United States' detention and interrogation of terrorists, suspected terrorists and other combatants in the War on Terror.
The introduction by Anthony Lewis and essays by Ms. Greenberg and Mr. Dratel argue that the memorandums, legal briefs, reports and interviews compiled in this volume conclusively prove President Bush and his administration systematically sought to circumvent US and international laws, conventions and treaties, with the ultimate goal of actively sanctioning and engaging in activities that any reasonable person would view as torture. As stated in the preface, "...this volume document[s] the systematic attempt...to authorize the way for torture techniques and coercive interrogation practices, forbidden under international law..." While strictly true, this statement is also misleading. It's clear that some of the interrogation techniques extensively documented and admitted by the military and administration violate some "international" laws, such as human rights conventions adopted by the member states of the European Union. That these techniques violate international treaties and conventions to which the US is signatory is somewhat less clear. This book provides no new information to bring that debate to a close, although the documents will reinforce the opinions of those driven by ideology to the presumption of guilt.
Messrs. Lewis' and Dratel's essays are direct and somewhat vitriolic in their criticism. Mr. Lewis labels the US prosecution of the War on Terror as "the cause of evil", firmly establishing the ideological prism through which he views the torture controversy. Mr. Dratel, who is representing detainees at Guantanamo, makes the arguments you would expect from a lawyer attempting to paint his client in the best light (and, by extension, their antagonist in the worst light). He makes an interesting point when he refers to the "[un-American]...antipathy and distrust of our civilian and military justice system..." Clearly, many in the Bush administration share a concern that the courts could be abused to the detriment of US national security, and are wary of the judiciary encroaching into what they feel is the realm of the executive, although whether you feel such scepticism is "un-American" will depend largely on your political leanings. Ms. Greenberg is more circumspect in her language, if no less direct in her criticism. There are flaws in the arguments of all three essays, including extensive innuendo, assumptions, and quotes taken out of context. However, the essays are thankfully brief, and the reader has the benefit of access to the source material in the same volume.
The extensive compilation of documents related to the controversial interrogation techniques approved for use by the Bush administration makes this book a truly valuable resource. Here you'll find the tortured legalese of the infamous Bybee memo, the Gonzales memos, Secretary Rumsfeld's direction to combatant commanders on the treatment of detainees in Afghanistan, the transcripts of MGen Tugaba's interrogation of the main players at Abu Ghraib and his ensuing report on the abuses, the Schlesinger report and reports on treatment of detainees from the ICRC and other humanitarian groups. Even though, with a little searching, all these resources can be found for free on the internet, the editors have done an outstanding job in compiling them into an easily readable format. The documents are provided in a chronological order that lays out, in a way individual news reports can't, how American leaders wrestled with fighting a new type of war that couldn't be neatly reconciled with existing conventions and treaties governing the conduct of armed conflict. The information is presented for the reader to study and draw their own conclusions. Anyone interested in the cause of justice and human rights, especially an American concerned that injustice may have been committed in their name, owes it to themself to become familiar with this record.
This book does not present, except in the legal memos from within the administration, any arguments that Pres Bush's decision not to apply the Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War to the Taliban and Al Qaeda shouldn't be considered controversial, either by precedent or a common sense reading of the convention. Despite the title, you also won't find a clear chain of causation between the administration's decisions and what went on at the prison, unless you've already decided Pres Bush bears ultimate culpability for the travesty. However, you will get to see BGen Karpinski, the brigade commander at Abu Ghraib, throwing barbs up and down her chain of command in her deposition to MGen Tugaba. It's left to the reader to decide where the breakdown in command occurred.