News Release

“A Nation of Laws”? Presidential Authority, Immunity and Torture


“The torture and mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison was the predictable result of the Bush administration’s decision to circumvent international law,” Human Rights Watch said in a new report. Brody is special counsel with Human Rights Watch and author of that report, titled “The Road to Abu Ghraib.” He said today: “The report examines how the Bush administration adopted a deliberate policy of permitting illegal interrogation techniques and then spent two years covering up or ignoring reports of torture and other abuse by U.S. troops…. The only exceptional aspect of the abuse at Abu Ghraib may have been that it was photographed.”
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Normand is the executive director of the Center for Economic and Social Rights, which has just released the report “Beyond Torture: U.S. Violations of Occupation Law in Iraq.” He said today: “Torture is only the tip of the iceberg. From unlawful killings, mass arrests, and collective punishment to outright theft and pillage, the U.S. is violating almost every law intended to protect civilians living under foreign military occupation. Our report finds that these crimes are so entrenched in U.S. policies towards Iraq that they will end only when the occupation itself is ended.”
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JOHN C. BONIFAZ, [via Blanca Oliviery]
Bonifaz is an attorney and author of the book Warrior-King.

Key background:

* Washington Post, 6/8/04: “In August 2002, the Justice Department advised the White House that torturing al Qaeda terrorists in captivity abroad ‘may be justified,’ and that international laws against torture ‘may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations’ conducted in President Bush’s war on terrorism, according to a newly obtained memo…”

* Wall Street Journal, 6/7/04: “Bush administration lawyers contended last year that the president wasn’t bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn’t be prosecuted by the Justice Department…. The March 2003 report … lays out defenses that government officials could use should they be charged with committing torture, such as mistakenly relying in good faith on the advice of lawyers or experts that their actions were permissible…. The working-group report elaborated the Bush administration’s view that the president has virtually unlimited power to wage war as he sees fit, and neither Congress, the courts nor international law can interfere…. [The report argues that the] authority to set aside the laws is ‘inherent in the president.'”,

* Newsweek, 5/17/04: “The concern about possible future prosecution for war crimes — and that it might even apply to Bush administration officials themselves — is contained in a crucial portion of an internal January 25, 2002, memo by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales obtained by Newsweek… One key advantage of declaring that Taliban and al Qaeda fighters did not have Geneva Convention protections is that it ‘substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act,’ Gonzales wrote.”

* AP in USA Today, 5/23/04: “‘There was a news report published May 23, 2004, which suggests that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq was aware of, and in some instances, present at Abu Ghraib while detainee abuse was occurring,’ the U.S. military said in a statement. ‘This report is false.’ Sanchez stands by his testimony before Congressional committees that he was unaware of the abuses until he ordered an investigation into the allegations in January, according to the statement.”

* Washington Post, 6/12/04: “Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the senior U.S. military officer in Iraq, borrowed heavily from a list of high-pressure interrogation tactics used at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and approved letting senior officials at a Baghdad jail use military dogs, temperature extremes, reversed sleep patterns, sensory deprivation, and diets of bread and water on detainees whenever they wished, according to newly obtained documents.”

* Testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 5/19/04:

Sen. Mark Dayton (D), Minnesota: “Then the police were to put a hood on his head and take him to an isolated cell through a gauntlet of barking dogs. There the police were to strip-search him and interrupt his sleep for three days with interrogations, barking and loud music, according to Army documents. The plan was sent to you — is that one of the 25 requests for additional interrogation techniques that you approved?”

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, Commander, Multinational Force-Iraq: “… I never approved any interrogation methods other than continued segregation.”

* Red Cross report from February 2004 obtained by the Wall Street Journal:
“… Military intelligence officers told the ICRC that in their estimate between 70 percent and 90 percent of persons deprived of their liberty in Iraq had been arrested by mistake.”

* Bush news conference at the end of the G-8 Summit, 6/10/04:

Q: “What we’ve learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law. So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that’s not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?”

BUSH: “Look, I’m going to say it one more time. Maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We’re a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at these laws. And that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions from me to the government.”

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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; David Zupan, (541) 484-9167