Constitutional lawyer: Bush 'ordered war crimes'

Nick Juliano
Published: Friday April 4, 2008

This week's revelation of another secret Bush administration memo that seemed to eliminate any boundaries on the treatment of detainees added to the already substantial evidence that US military and intelligence interrogators have abused and perhaps even tortured prisoners rounded up during the "war on terror."

Former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo wrote in 2003 that Bush's seemingly supreme authority in wartime trumped federal laws "prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes," as the Washington Post reported. For constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley, the latest memo should be more than enough reason for Congress to begin some serious investigations, but hesitance to really dig into Bush-authorized "war crimes" have precluded them from doing so, he says.

"It is really amazing because Congress -- including the Democrats -- have avoided any type of investigation into torture because they do not want to deal with the fact that the president ordered war crimes," Turley told MSNBC's Keith Olbermann Thursday night. "But evidence keeps on coming out.... What you get from this is this was a premeditated and carefully orchestrated torture program. Not torture, but a torture program."

Gitmo commander 'sick of' torture talk
All this talk about detainee mistreatment and torture has the current commander of US forces at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, fed up. Brig. Gen. Gregory J. Zanetti told American Legion members this week that the mission of Gitmo guards is "misunderstood" and called the secluded prison, purposefully established off of US soil, "the most transparent detention facility in the world."

"Quit talking to me about abuse and torture," he said. "Frankly, I'm sick of it."

Zanetti must be hearing quite a lot of complaints, or have a rather short fuse, to grow sick of torture lamentations so quickly. He's been commanding forces at Guantanamo for just two months (since Feb. 4).

Detainees rounded up as part of the War on Terror, launched just after 9/11, began arriving in Guantanamo Bay in January of 2002. Documents obtained last year by the American Civil Liberties Union "describe prisoners shackled in excruciating 'stress positions,' held in freezing-cold cells, forcibly stripped, hooded, terrorized with military dogs, and deprived of human contact for months."

Zanetti told BlogTalkRadio that the only abuse he witnessed is "detainee on the guards."

Regarding "the charges of mistreatment, abuse, torture," he said, "I'll just say this. On my watch, I haven't seen anything like that, nor would I stand for it. And we're not going to allow that."

Gitmo tactics partly inspired Yoo memo
So while two of the last 64 months Guantanamo has been operating may have been torture-free, the Post notes that Yoo's recently disclosed memo was drafted at least in partly in response to techniques that had been used at the notorious prison camp.
Yoo's 2003 memo arrived amid strong Pentagon debate about which interrogation techniques should be allowed and which might lead to legal action in domestic and international courts. After a rebellion by military lawyers, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in December 2002 suspended a list of aggressive techniques he had approved, the most extreme of which were used on a single detainee at the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prisoner, military investigators later would determine, was subjected to stress positions, nudity, hooding, exposure to dogs and other aggressive techniques. Largely because of Yoo's memo, however, a Pentagon working group in April 2003 endorsed the continued use of extremely aggressive tactics. The top lawyers for each military service, who were largely excluded from the group, did not receive a final copy of Yoo's March memo and did not know about the group's final report for more than a year, officials said.
Turley said the memo had little basis in accepted legal theory and was little more than thinly veiled "spin" to cover for the president to do whatever he wants.

"The president and his aides were very, very careful to go to the lawyers first so they could make a claim they were acting under some assumption of actual authority," he said. "There really is none."

This video is from MSNBC's Countdown, broadcast April 3, 2008.

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