Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values
Phillipe Sands book brings together a lot that was already known with some new information provided by interviews. This book was valuable in that it places the information in a coherent narrative. Sands lets his Interviewees speak for themselves and succeeds in not judging them personally, nor questioning their motives, but only points out where the International and US law may be used to judge them and their possible guilt. He interviews Jim Haynes, General Hill, Doug Feith, Diane Beaver, General Myers and others, devoting a chapter to each interview. The overall effect of these interviews is at times startling.
Sands focuses his main argument on the fact that lawyers were not guided by law in their memos and advice to the President, VP, Secretary of Defense, and others, but were subservient to the policy choices of our leaders. To use a phrase of Vice President Cheney, the Pentagon and Justice Department lawyers tried to write the law from the "dark side." We the readers are the jury who will decide if they stayed within the bounds of the rule of law.
I think Sands does show, in disagreement with Alberto Gonzalez, General Myers, and Jim Haynes that the mistreatment of prisoners in Guantanamo was not in response to a request for guidance from below but was the premeditated, concerted effort of the lead Principals and Lawyers in the Bush Administration to bypass Army FM 34-52. The timeframe of the discussions, memos and interrogation policies of Guantanamo all support that conclusion. There can be no question of coincidental connections.
Phillipe Sands convincingly connects the dots in my opinion. President Bush and his advisors made two momentous decisions. First, they set aside the Geneva Conventions and second, they augmented FM 34-52 with 18 interrogation techniques used separately and in concert. These interrogations left Al-Qahanti, the first target of this new policy, in the words of one Army interrogator, with "eyes, black as coals."
In his interview with Dr Abigail Seltzer, psychiatrist, and medical expert who has had extensive experience with torture survivors, we learn that deciding whether techniques are torture, a lot can be gleaned from the reaction of the victim. The interview, based on the actual interrogation logs of Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Detainee 063, is chilling, to say the least.
Critics may find that Sands spends too much time on Mohammed al-Qahtani Detainee 063 and exaggerates the importance of the treatment of one detainee, but I believe he shows how the part reveals the whole. Philippe Sands is very thorough in his analysis of detainee 063's case. He speaks with lawyers and medical experts to determine whether the treatment of 063 crossed the line into torture. His concentration, primarily on one case, did not detract from his book but strengthened it in my opinion. Sands also makes the point that illegal activity in regards to violations of Geneva Art. 3 can be imputed to a defendant based on only one case.
In one interview with an International Judge and Prosecutor, Sands quotes them as saying the Administration Principals and lawyers' attempt in the Military Commissions Act to immunize themselves from prosecution in the treatment of detainees before the passage of the Act was stupid and may come back to haunt them. In rejecting U.S. courts oversight of their cases they open themselves up to judgment by International Commissions and Courts. It could lead to a tap on the shoulder if the Principles visit other countries, much in the same way that Pinochet was arrested in Britain for crimes committed while he was the leader in Argentina.
Underlining the seriousness of this book and its charges, Sands quotes Justice Anthony Kennedy who wrote that acts against Geneva Art 3 are war crimes. The Supreme Court, in Hamdan vs Rumsfeld, overturned the President's decision and OLC and Pentagon lawyers' position that Geneva Conventions did not apply to Al Qaeda.
Critics are not going to like his drawing on the Nuremburg trials with inference that the US leaders and lawyers can be compared to Nazis. Sands is very careful to note that it is not his intention to make such a comparison, but only to use the legal principles derived from that era that are still applicable today. Mr. Sands does all this without swamping the average readers with a lot of legalese and jargon. Anyone with a patience and openness can follow his common sense approach.
Sadly this story is not over and much more is to come about meetings and involvement of top officials in the US government with torture. The Torture Team will provide an excellent bridge to future revelations and responses.
Postcript: On May 19th, Phillipe Sands revealed in the Manchester Guardian that the Pentagon has dropped all charges against Mohammed Al-Qahtani Detainee 063.
Postscrpt 2 Jan 14, 2009 "We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani," said Susan J. Crawford, in her first interview since being named convening authority of military commissions by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in February 2007. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that's why I did not refer the case" for prosecution.
Crawford, a retired judge who served as general counsel for the Army during the Reagan administration and as Pentagon inspector general when Dick Cheney was secretary of defense, is the first senior Bush administration official responsible for reviewing practices at Guantanamo to publicly state that a detainee was tortured.