Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, October 04, 2007

  The CIA's black sites are back

Today's New York Times reveals that there have been even more Bush administration torture memos than the notorious 2002 torture-brief written by John Yoo. The new memos (which I'm tempted to call Yoo Two) have received plenty of attention. What hasn't been widely noted is the explicit statement in the NYT that the infamous and semi-secret "black sites" are back in use around the globe.

Torture Inc. was just off on vacation, as many of us suspected all along.

Here's what the Times has to say:

But in July [of 2007], after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas.

"Black sites" are the hell-holes in which the CIA had been torturing prisoners until George Bush ordered them closed last year, and the prisoners transferred to Guantanamo. At least, that's what Bush appeared to say that he had done. Here's the BBC's interpretation of Bush's Sept. 6, 2006 speech, which was typical of how journalists interpreted Bush's statements:

Mr Bush said there were now no terrorist suspects under the CIA programme.

Mr Bush said he was making a limited disclosure of the CIA programme because interrogation of the men it held was now complete and because a US Supreme Court decision had stopped the use of military commissions for trials...

All suspects will now be treated under new guidelines issued by the Pentagon on Wednesday, which bring all military detainees under the protection of the Geneva Convention.

All suspects? Forever into the future? Here is what Bush actually said:

I'm announcing today that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and 11 other terrorists in CIA custody have been transferred to the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. They are being held in the custody of the Department of Defense. As soon as Congress acts to authorize the military commissions I have proposed, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans on September the 11th, 2001, can face justice...

As we prosecute suspected terrorist leaders and operatives who have now been transferred to Guantanamo, we'll continue searching for those who have stepped forward to take their places. This nation is going to stay on the offense to protect the American people. We will continue to bring the world's most dangerous terrorists to justice -- and we will continue working to collect the vital intelligence we need to protect our country. The current transfers mean that there are now no terrorists in the CIA program. But as more high-ranking terrorists are captured, the need to obtain intelligence from them will remain critical -- and having a CIA program for questioning terrorists will continue to be crucial to getting life-saving information.

Some may ask: Why are you acknowledging this program now? There are two reasons why I'm making these limited disclosures today. First, we have largely completed our questioning of the men -- and to start the process for bringing them to trial, we must bring them into the open. Second, the Supreme Court's recent decision has impaired our ability to prosecute terrorists through military commissions, and has put in question the future of the CIA program. In its ruling on military commissions, the Court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as "Common Article Three" applies to our war with al Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article Three are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges. And some believe our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act -- simply for doing their jobs in a thorough and professional way.

This is unacceptable.

The speech seemed to me to be tip-toeing around the very thing that reporters were happy to assume: That in the future the military would take charge of holding and interrogating all terrorist suspects captured overseas. That inference had no basis in the speech, as far as I could see, aside that is from the fact that the military had just taken custody of a small group of CIA prisoners, whom Bush identified.

The part of the speech that I put into bold (above), in particular, seemed to suggest that the CIA very likely would be back into the torture racket soon enough, whenever new suspects had been seized somewhere.

In August 2007, Jane Mayer published a good history of the CIA black sites in the New Yorker. She surmised, among other things, that the wording of a new Executive Order from Bush suggested that Torture Inc. was not in fact out of business, as so many had assumed.

The program was effectively suspended last fall, when President Bush announced that he was emptying the C.I.A.’s prisons and transferring the detainees to military custody in Guantánamo. This move followed a Supreme Court ruling, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which found that all detainees—including those held by the C.I.A.—had to be treated in a manner consistent with the Geneva Conventions. These treaties, adopted in 1949, bar cruel treatment, degradation, and torture. In late July, the White House issued an executive order promising that the C.I.A. would adjust its methods in order to meet the Geneva standards. At the same time, Bush’s order pointedly did not disavow the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” that would likely be found illegal if used by officials inside the United States. The executive order means that the agency can once again hold foreign terror suspects indefinitely, and without charges, in black sites, without notifying their families or local authorities, or offering access to legal counsel.

The C.I.A.’s director, General Michael Hayden, has said that the program, which is designed to extract intelligence from suspects quickly, is an “irreplaceable” tool for combatting terrorism. And President Bush has said that “this program has given us information that has saved innocent lives, by helping us stop new attacks.”

It came as little surprise today, then, to see the NYT report that the black sites are back in the business of cruelly treating, degrading, and torturing prisoners.

* *

The rest of the Times' story is highly important as well. It chronicles how the Justice Department secretly reversed its public disavowal (in late 2004) of John Yoo's torture memo. Shortly after Alberto Gonzales was appointed Attorney General in Feb. 2005, he endorsed another (heretofore secret) memo written by the new head of the OLC, Steven Bradbury.

It appears that Bradbury was brought in to the job specifically to put down the revolt by top Justice Department's lawyers (led by Deputy AG James Comey) against some of the national-security excesses being committed by the Bush administration. He quickly produced a memo that authorized a variety of vicious CIA interrogation techniques, including waterboarding and hypothermia. Later in 2005, while Congress was considering legislation to prohibit "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment of prisoners, Bradbury issued another secret brief declaring that none of the CIA's methods were cruel, inhuman, or degrading.

The Times states that "most lawmakers" did not know the latter memo even existed. I'd like to know which lawmakers did know. That knowledge would seem to make them a party to crimes against international law.

crossposted from

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