Secret Memos Connect
Bush and the Global Campaign of Torture

Revolutionary Worker #1242, May 30, 2004, posted at

In Washington, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld fumed that the "distraction" of Abu Ghraib prison has to end. This theme has been taken up by the Republican Right. One congressman said that he was "outraged over the outrage." Fox TV ranted that nothing the U.S. has done can compare with the "evil" of its opponents (past or present). Radio reactionary Rush Limbaugh pooh-poohed the pictures as no worse than a "fraternity hazing." When leading generals were called to testify before a Senate committee, Republican congressmen and TV pundits said this had all gone too far--these generals and the national discussion, they said, needed to focus again on winning this war.

At the same time the military command is carrying out heavy-handed actions to prevent any new "whistle- blowing." Units of former military prison guards have been restationed to remote desert locations to prevent leaks to reporters. A low-level Abu Ghraib prison guard has been sentenced to a year in prison, mainly for taking photos of the abuse -- a warning that other soldiers should destroy any pictures they may have taken. The military has also threatened Sgt. Samuel Provance, who told ABC News that there was a major coverup of the atrocities in Abu Ghraib prison. Provance may be charged by the military because, he was told, his comments were "not in the national interest."

Meanwhile many official "probes" have been launched. Most are "internal investigations" by the Pentagon and CIA that can be expected to find and destroy new evidence before it gets leaked to the public.

And in a public relations flurry of ridiculous "reforms," the U.S. military claims to be ending abuses. The general in charge of Iraq's military prisons says he has banned the use of hoods to cover detainees during transport. His innovation? Using "pressure bandages" or black goggles to blind the prisoners instead.

These are all attempts to end the scandal and suppress any future exposure. But meanwhile, the government admits it has over 1,800 slides and several videos that document extreme abuse (including rape and vicious beatings). And every day more incriminating documents come to light.

Torture: Global, Deadly, and Approved

Through all the scandal, the U.S. government leaders have insisted that Abu Ghraib was an isolated unauthorized incident--the action of a few low-level, freelance sadists. Day after day, new evidence is shredding this lie.

This evidence shows that the torture operations of Abu Ghraib employed the standard practices of the U.S. war machine--in Afghanistan, in Guantánamo, in Iraq and in all the still-secret CIA interrogation centers. In addition, it is now documented that the U.S. forces were repeatedly torturing people to death all over the world.

Two recently released pictures show the dead, battered body of an Iraqi prisoner, and over him crouch U.S. prison guards, grinning wildly and giving the thumbs up.

In a Pentagon briefing, the U.S. Army acknowledged at least 37 cases where prisoners died in custody -- 32 in Iraq and five in Afghanistan. Army medical examiners already admit that at least eight of these deaths were "possible homicides"--including "acts committed before or during an interrogation." Among the deaths being investigated is the treatment of one of Saddam Hussein's top generals who "died under interrogation" last November.

In addition the CIA has admitted that it too has a growing list of cases where prisoners "died under interrogation" by their agents.

There is every reason to believe that this is just the tip of a still-secret iceberg. Only a very select group of murder cases is being made public. The U.S. military is not publicly discussing the many killings of prisoners that they officially list as "escape attempts" or "suppression of riots." They are not questioning the mass execution of many hundreds of prisoners-of-war during their Afghanistan invasion of 2001. It has been reported by prison guards at Abu Ghraib that the professional CIA and military interrogators made sure that there were no records kept on many of the prisoners they brought in--so they could kill people under interrogation and dispose of their bodies without leaving a trace.

As extreme torture, rape and murder comes to light, some of the same rightwingers who say "don't dare compare us to our enemies" are also openly defending the torture, saying "Anything that might save a single American soldier's life is justified." And that is, after all, exactly what the civilian and military command have been telling their torturers and assassins in secret . Rumsfeld has released a once-secret list of Pentagon-approved interrogation methods--and is vigorously defending them.

The photos made the abuse of prisoners public, and now the scandal is forcing these imperialists to defend their fascist methods in public. And they are doing this because they have every intention of pressing ahead ruthlessly to do "whatever it takes to win"--to conquer Iraq, suppress the people, and carry out their larger agenda of global domination and "preemptive" war.

Paper Trail in the White House

The rules are `Grab whom you must. Do what you want.'

A former CIA official on global interrogation operations New Yorker , May 24

After September 11 the gloves came off.

Cofer Black, a former head of CIA Counter Terrorism, Senate testimony, September 26, 2002

Bush, along with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft, signed off on a secret system of detention and interrogation that opened the door to such methods. It was an approach that they adopted to sidestep the historical safeguards of the Geneva Conventions, which protect the rights of detainees and prisoners of war. they left underlings to sweat the details of what actually happened to prisoners in these lawless places.. These techniques entailed a systematic softening up of prisoners through isolation, privations, insults, threats and humiliation --methods that the Red Cross concluded were `tantamount to torture.'

Newsweek 's summary of its investigation, May 24

As we have reported in previous RW coverage, systematic torture was approved at the highest levels of the U.S. government-- including by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, CIA head George Tenet, Attorney General John Ashcroft and President Bush himself.

Now, secret memos have been leaked that show the details and inner workings of this White House approval. Newsweek (May 24) documents how the U.S. administration decided to ignore international laws on the interrogation of prisoners and how they debated the best legal ways to avoid later prosecutions for war crimes.

Key players of the Bush administration-- Vice President Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and his right hand man Paul Wolfowitz--argued, during the decade before Bush Jr. came to power, that since the U.S. was now "the world's only superpower" it no longer needed to respect international treaties, international organizations like the United Nations, or the demands of its allies.

In their view, all of this unnecessarily constrained U.S. superiority. They felt these agreements prevented the U.S. from exercising the global dominance that (they felt) this military superiority entitled them to.

September 11 was a historic turning point where these forces believed they could carry out the global strategies and military moves they had been advocating all along. So it should not be surprising that White House memos now show that, soon after September 11, it was openly argued that in its new wave of military actions, the U.S. should not stick to the "rules of war," international treaties and even the Geneva Conventions.

The Legal Equivalent of Outer Space

While waging war in the name of "freedom and democracy," the U.S. government worked systematically to declare itself and its agents outside any rule of law. Attorney General John Ashcroft's Office of Legal Counsel was turned into a Think-Tank of Fascist Justifications and Shameful Legal Double-Talk .

This Office of Legal Counsel produced secret legal opinions that said the opponents the U.S. was fighting should be considered "unlawful combatants" who did not deserve any legal rights under international law.

In fact, this was a plan to make the U.S. government "unlawful"--operating without regard to any law, whether international treaty or U.S. laws. Newsweek magazine writes that this Justice Department scheme was then "endorsed by the Department of Defense and ultimately by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, according to copies of the opinions and other internal legal memos obtained by Newsweek ."

On Dec. 28, 2001, this Office of Legal Counsel argued in a memo that U.S. courts and laws should not apply to prisoners held in Guantánamo Bay. One former administration lawyer said that the U.S. prison camp was turned into "the legal equivalent of outer space."

On Jan. 9, 2002, the Office of Legal Counsel signed a sweeping 42-page memo concluding that neither the Geneva Conventions nor any of the laws of war applied to the conflict in Afghanistan.

Newsweek writes: "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."

These decisions represented a obvious break with previous standards--and provoked opposition from the State Department and sections of the military's own legal staff.

A "smoking gun" memo written on January 25, 2003 by White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales documents that President Bush had already by then personally made the decision that the Geneva Conventions would not be followed.

Gonzales argues that the new global situation requires "a new kind of war" and ignoring international law would enable the U.S. president to "preserve his flexibility." Gonzales ends with this sentence: "In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions."

Gonzales also points out that there is a 1996 U.S. law that penalizes "war crimes," including "any grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. With that in mind, Gonzales argues that some careful legal footwork is needed to make sure that future "prosecutors and independent counsels" can't charge U.S. officials (including obviously the President himself) with war crimes (including the specific ones the White House was at that very moment actively planning to commit). Gonzales approves the official decision to declare that Afghani opponents are "illegal combatants," saying: "Your determination would create a reasonable basis in law that [the War Crimes Act] does not apply, which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."

Over the week following that January 25 memo, the inner circles of the government settled on the double-talk they were going to use to legally cover themselves: On Feb. 7, 2002, the White House announced that the United States would (formally) apply the Geneva Conventions to the Afghan war--but (a big BUT) Taliban and Qaeda prisoners would not be considered "prisoners of war" and so U.S. forces would not have to stick to Geneva rules when handling them.

Newsweek writes that this "set the stage for the new interrogation procedures ungoverned by international law." Some military "JAG" lawyers describe this decision as "a calculated effort to create an atmosphere of legal ambiguity."

Soon a secret presidential directive authorized the CIA to set up secret prison camps outside the U.S., and to use extreme means to interrogate prisoners there. Special agreements were negotiated with foreign governments for these secret sites. These agreements gave legal immunity to U.S. government agents and interrogators-- including specifically the so-called "private contractors." Some of these sites were run directly by U.S. torturers, others were run by foreign governments. In a process called "rendering," the U.S. turned some of its prisoners over to allied intelligence agencies for torture.

Newsweek reports that CIA Director George Tenet described these "rendering" arrangements in a classified briefing to senators shortly after September 11, 2001. In other words, the secret torture operations were known by leading officials of both parties more than two years before the abuses of Abu Ghraib leaked out.

Newsweek says this rendering-for-torture was so established that by 2004 the U.S. government was running a "covert charter airline" to move prisoners from one secret facility to another.

Getting the Orders Out

Anyone who opposed extreme methods was simply overruled or removed.

The first commander of the Guantánamo camp (nicknamed "Gitmo"), Brig. Gen. Rick Baccus, was fired and the new commander, Gen. Geoffrey Miller, announced a new "72-point matrix for stress and duress" which laid out approved forms of coercion and torture. This is the same list Secretary Rumsfeld has now publicly released and defended--including the use of extreme heat and cold, starving prisoners, keeping them hooded and naked for long periods of time, and threatening them with vicious dogs. It also called for using "stress positions" -- forcing prisoners into painful positions for long periods of time.

Newsweek reports, "later Rumsfeld himself, impressed by the success of techniques used against Qaeda suspects at Guantánamo Bay, seemingly set in motion a process that led to their use in Iraq, even though that war was supposed to have been governed by the Geneva Conventions."

The RW has previously reported that Gen. Miller went to Iraq to "Gitmoize" the prison operations there. Newsweek has now documented that this was done on Rumsfeld's orders.

Newsweek reports that Rumsfeld's undersecretary for intelligence, Steve Cambone, send Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin to order Gen. Miller to go to Iraq. This General Boykin is the fascist who announced that George W. Bush had gotten into office without a majority of votes "because God put him there" (in other words, his god supports rightwing power grabs in the U.S.!) Boykin also said he had been confident of defeating a Somali Muslim general because "I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

When these Christian-fascist remarks caused a worldwide scandal, the Pentagon insisted Boykin was too valuable to fire. Now we all know what his tasks were.

Under Gen. Miller's direction, Abu Ghraib was put under the control of the professional interrogators from the CIA and Military Intelligence. These torture experts organized the MP prison guards to "soften up" prisoners using depraved methods.

Conditions in Abu Ghraib were so extreme that in December 2003, women prisoners smuggled out a note saying U.S. soldiers were raping them and begging the Iraqi resistance to bomb their jail and kill them so the nightmare would end ( Guardian , May 20). At least one of the photos from Abu Ghraib shows a U.S. soldier raping a woman prisoner. Reports of rape are being documented from U.S. prison camps across Iraq.

"Terrorist" Label: Their Justification for Anything

Starting right after 9/11, torture was approved against "terrorists" and the "sponsors of terrorism." Then the growing resistance forces in Iraq were also labeled "terrorist." And soon, anyone who might know about the Iraqi resistance was treated like "a terrorist."

One CIA source summed up that torture was used on "cab drivers, brothers-in-law and people pulled off the streets."

When the Abu Ghraib photos came out, Bush said, "This does not represent the America that I know." Well, these photos certainly represent the America that the world knows.

This so-called "war on terrorism" was never about "defending freedom and democracy." "Fighting terrorism" served as a justification for the bloody business of conquest. And from the very beginning, the U.S. agents used torture and collective punishment against those who opposed them.

Bush, his whole ruling clique, those top Democrats who got secret briefings, and all the military and legal institutions that carried out these operations--all of them are deeply, deeply involved in unleashing this nightmare on the world.