Saturday, April 18, 2009
By Philippe Sands
The four secret US department of justice opinions released this week are jaw-dropping in their detail. They reveal how far the Bush administration was prepared to go in sanctioning interrogation techniques that plainly amount to torture.
The long-awaited publication of the August 2002 memo, signed by Jay Bybee but largely written by John Yoo, authorises 10 previously unlawful interrogation techniques. These include slapping, stress position and sleep deprivation, right up to waterboarding. It is doubtful a more shocking legal opinion has ever been written. It even purports to analyse if incarcerating a detainee in a small box with an insect for company would amount to mental torture (it depends what you tell him about its sting).
This is the stuff of dark nightmares, the rubber-stamping of policy rather than legal advice in the sense usually understood. It indicates how far the Bush administration fell, the kind of reasoning that infected a raft of policies and to which the British government often turned a blind eye. It has caused untold damage to US national security, and to its reputation.
When the memo was written, the administration had already fixed a policy of abuse, and the torture had already started. Lawyers were needed to provide the "golden shield" against prosecution. The memo did not benefit from the usual consultations; the many lawyers who would have objected were simply cut out of the process. A small group of lawyer-ideologues became participants in international crime, acts for which any state may, under the 1984 torture convention, exercise criminal jurisdiction. The evidence suggests complicity with the consequences that flowed from these flawed opinions - which went on to underpin CIA and military interrogations in Guantánamo, Iraq and beyond in the rendition programme....(Click for remainder.)