Bush signed abuse memo: report

PTI | ByPress Trust of India, New York
May 17, 2004 06:04 PM IST

In yet another startling revelation, a news magazine has said George W Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft signed off a memo that opened the door for abuses.

In yet another startling revelation, a leading news magazine has said US President George W Bush, along with Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, had signed off a memo on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door for abuses of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison.

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While there is no telling where the scandal will bottom out, 'Newsweek' said US soldiers and CIA operatives could be accused of war crimes and of charges which could include homicide involving deaths during interrogations.

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The 'New Yorker' magazine had earlier reported that National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice and other top US officials had signed off on a secret plan allowing soldiers to interrogate Iraqi prisoners by using sexual humiliation and physical coercion. She had later dismissed the charges saying "there's really nothing to the story."

By January 25, 2002, according to a memo obtained by 'Newsweek,' it was clear that President Bush had already decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply at all, either to the Taliban or Al Qaeda.

In the memo written to Bush, White House counsel Alberto Gonzales laid out the argument that the Geneva Conventions were obsolete in the new paradigm.

"As you have said, the war against terrorism is a new kind of war," Gonzales wrote to Bush and concluded in stark terms: "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

In the months after September 11 attacks, the magazine said a small band of conservative lawyers within the Bush administration staked out a forward-leaning legal position in which the rules of war, international treaties and even the Geneva Conventions did not apply.

These positions were laid out in secret legal opinions drafted by lawyers from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and then endorsed by Department of Defence and ultimately Gonzales, according to copies of the opinions and other internal legal memos obtained by the magazine.

The Bush administration's emerging approach was that America's enemies in this war were "unlawful" combatants without rights.

One Justice Department memo, written for the CIA late in the fall of 2001, put an extremely narrow interpretation on the international anti-torture convention, allowing the agency to use a whole range of techniques-including sleep deprivation, the use of phobias and the deployment of "stress factors" -- in interrogating Qaeda suspects.

The only clear prohibition was "causing severe physical or mental pain" -- a subjective judgment that allowed for "a whole range of things in between," one former administration official familiar with the opinion told 'Newsweek.'

On December 28, 2001, the magazine said, the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel weighed in with another opinion, arguing that US courts had no jurisdiction to review the treatment of foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. More

The appeal of Guantanamo Bay from the start was that, in the view of administration lawyers, the base existed in a legal twilight zone -- or "the legal equivalent of outer space," as one former administration lawyer described it.

And on January 9, 2002, Newsweek said, John Yoo of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel co-authored a sweeping 42-page memo concluding that neither the Geneva Conventions nor any of the laws of war applied to the conflict in Afghanistan.

When State Department lawyers first saw the Yoo memo, "we were horrified," said one. Two days after the Yoo memo circulated, the State Department's chief legal adviser, William Howard Taft IV, fired a memo to Yoo calling his analysis "seriously flawed."

Similarly, when Secretary of State Colin Powell read the Gonzales memo, he "hit the roof," a State source told the magazine. Desperately seeking to change Bush's mind, Powell fired off his own blistering response the next day, January 26, and sought an immediate meeting with the president.

On February 7, 2002, the White House announced that the US would indeed apply the Geneva Conventions to the Afghan war -- but that Taliban and Qaeda detainees would still not be afforded prisoner-of-war status.

The White House's halfway retreat, also set the stage for the new interrogation procedures ungoverned by international law. With the legal groundwork laid, Bush signed a secret order granting new powers to the CIA.

Newsweek quoted knowledgeable sources as saying the president's directive authorized the CIA to set up a series of secret detention facilities outside the US, and to question those held in them with unprecedented harshness.

Washington then negotiated novel "status of forces agreements" with foreign governments for the secret sites. These agreements gave immunity not merely to US government personnel but also to private contractors.

Asked by the magazine about the directive last week, a senior administration official said, "We cannot comment on purported intelligence activities."

The administration, it says, also began "rendering" -- or delivering terror suspects to foreign governments for interrogation.

At a classified briefing for Senators not long after 9/11, CIA Director George Tenet was asked
whether Washington was going to get governments known for their brutality to turn over Qaeda suspects to the US.

Congressional sources told 'Newsweek' that Tenet suggested it might be better sometimes for such suspects to remain in the hands of foreign authorities, who might be able to use more aggressive interrogation methods.

By 2004, the United States was running a covert charter airline moving CIA prisoners from one secret facility to another, sources say. It was judged impolitic (and too traceable) to use the US Air Force.

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