Wednesday, June 17, 2009
The Public Record
Two weeks before U.S. and Pakistani intelligence agents captured Abu Zubaydah, an alleged top al-Qaeda official, in Pakistan in March 2002 and whisked him off to a secret CIA "black site" prison in Thailand where he was brutally tortured, the Department of Justice prepared a legal memorandum for George W. Bush stating he could ignore a law that prohibited the transfer of prisoners to countries that engage in torture.
The March 13, 2002 memo specifically offered up ways in which government officials could avoid legal liability if prisoners like Zubaydah were tortured.
"To fully shield our personnel from criminal liability, it is important that the United States not enter in an agreement with a foreign country, explicitly or implicitly, to transfer a detainee to that country for the purpose of having the individual tortured," the memo says. "So long as the United States does not intend for a detainee to be tortured post-transfer, however, no criminal liability will attach to a transfer. Even if the foreign country receiving the detainee does torture him."
The memo was signed by Jay Bybee, then an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and was released in April along with seven other previously secret OLC memorandums.
Just a little more than a month before, on Feb. 7, 2002, Bush had signed an executive order that that excluded "war on terror" suspects from Geneva Convention protections. But the March 13, 2002 memo went even further than Bush's action memorandum. The March 13, 2002 memo said prisoners detained outside the U.S. were not protected by U.S. laws outlawing torture or against international treaties banning torture. The treaty, the Convention Against Torture, was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 but not ratified by the Senate until a decade later.
"The United States participated actively and effectively in the negotiation of the Convention [against Torture]," the treaty says. "It marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today."...(Remainder.)