Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More Damning Evidence on Torture

Last month the Senate armed services committee received new material from Condoleezza Rice, the first cabinet-level official to confirm high-level involvement in discussions on interrogation techniques. "I participated in a number of meetings in 2002 and 2003 ... at which issues relating to detainees in US custody, including interrogation issues, were discussed," she said. Those present at such meetings included Rumsfeld, attorney general John Ashcroft, Colin Powell, Paul Wolfowitz and CIA director George Tenet. The meetings, which concerned the CIA programme, "occurred inside the White House". Rice confirmed she was aware of the existence of, but did not read, the justice department legal advice of August 1 2002 that abandoned the international definition of torture and replaced it with a definition drawn from a US Medicare statute.

Buried away in this testimony lies the most dangerous material of all: evidence which may establish that abuses on detainees in Iraq in September 2003, in the period perhaps including the events at Abu Ghraib, were the result of decisions taken at the highest levels of the administration. The administration has long proclaimed it did not allow aggressive interrogations in Iraq, since the Geneva conventions applied. Last month we learned this was false: not everyone had protection under Geneva. If you were considered to be a terrorist, you had no protection at all. A senior US intelligence officer visited Iraq in September 2003. He witnessed abusive interrogation techniques that violated Geneva and complained. The response? He was told the techniques "were pre-approved by DoD GC or higher". DoD GC is the general counsel at the department of defence, Jim Haynes. Who could be higher? His boss: Rumsfeld.

I have testified before Congress on these issues, and have been asked if there should be criminal investigations and prosecutions. At the very least, the next US president must ensure the full facts are established. It will then be for others to decide what follows. But if the US doesn't get its own house in order and restore its reputation for the rule of law, others will surely step in.

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