10/25/05 "Associated Press"
US detainees 'murdered' during interrogations
Mon Oct 31, 2005 00:32

US detainees 'murdered' during interrogations

By Associated Press

10/25/05 "Associated Press" -- -- Washington -- At least 21 detainees who died while in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan were the victims of homicide and usually died during or after interrogations, according to an analysis of Defence Department data.

The analysis by the American Civil Liberties Union, released today, looked at 44 deaths described in records obtained by the ACLU. Of those, the group characterised 21 as homicides, and said at least eight resulted from abusive techniques by military or intelligence officers, such as strangulation or "blunt force injuries", as noted in the autopsy reports.

The 44 deaths represent a partial group of the total number of prisoners who have died in US custody overseas; more than 100 have died of natural and violent causes.

In one case, the report said, a detainee died after being smothered during interrogation by military intelligence officers in November 2003. In another case cited by the report, a prisoner died of asphyxiation and blunt force injuries after he was left standing, shackled to the top of a door frame, with a gag in his mouth.

One Afghan civilian, believed by the ACLU to be Abdul Wahid, died from "multiple blunt force injuries" in 2003 at a base in Helmand province, Afghanistan, according to an autopsy report provided by the Defence Department.

Wahid, 28, was taken from his home by Afghan militia and accused of being a terrorist. The autopsy report said he died in American custody, although his father has blamed the militiamen.

The detailed list of prisoners whose deaths the report considered homicides includes two detainees who were beaten and died from "blunt force injuries" at the Bagram Airfield detention centre in Afghanistan, according to the autopsies.

Earlier this month, Private First Class Damien Corsetti, a military intelligence interrogator with the 519th MI Battalion at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, became the 15th soldier to face charges since those 2002 deaths.

Details about the detainee abuse and deaths have been released by the Pentagon as part of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU. Many of the incidents have been made public before, and in a number of cases the soldiers and officers involved have been prosecuted and punished.

"The US military does not tolerate mistreatment of detainees," army spokesman Colonel Joseph Curtin said. "Past cases have been fully investigated. When there is credible evidence, commanders have the prerogative to prosecute."

To date, there have been more than 400 investigations of detainee abuse, and more than 230 military personnel have received a court-martial, non-judicial punishment or other administrative action.

"There is no question that US interrogations have resulted in deaths," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said. "High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable."

The data includes detainees who were interrogated by military intelligence, Navy Seals and "Other Governmental Agency" personnel, which generally refers to the CIA.

On the Net:

ACLU documents: http://action.aclu.org/torturefoia/released/102405/

Copyright: Associated Press


Autopsy reports reveal homicides of detainees in U.S. custody

The Alberto Gonzalez Memo January 25

On January 18, 2002, President George Bush (the decision is referenced1 in the Gonzales Memo of 25 January, 2002) made a presidential decision that captured members of Al Quaeda and the Taliban were unprotected by the Geneva POW Convention. That decision was preceded by a Memorandum dated January 9, 2002, submitted to William J Haynes II, General Counsel to the Department of Defense, by the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel (which provides legal counsel to the White House and other executive branch agencies) and written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and Special Counsel Robert J. Delahunty.

The Yoo Delahunty Memorandum of January 9, 2002

The Yoo/Delahunty Memorandum provided the analytical basis for all which followed regarding blanket rejection of applicability of the Third Geneva Convention to captured members of al Qaeda and the Taliban. Its validity is, accordingly, analyzed in some detail at the end of this discussion.

The Rumsfeld Order January 19, 2002

In a Memorandum dated 19 January, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to inform combat commanders that "Al Quaeda and Taliban individuals...are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949." He ordered that "commanders should "...treat them humanely, and to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, consistent with the Geneva Conventions of 1949." That order thus gives commanders permission to depart, where they deem it appropriate and a military necessity, from the provisions of the Geneva Conventions.

The Bybee Memorandum of 22 January, 2002

The Bybee Memo, Memorandum of 22 January, 2002 from Jay Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President and William J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Re: Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees , follows the same structural pattern as the Yoo/Delahunty Memo, but with additional analysis of certain international law/ law of war issues. Parts of it are also discussed below in some detail.

The Alberto Gonzales Memo January 25, 2002

On January 25, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales sent a Memorandum to President Bush regarding a presidential decision on January 18, 2002, (the White House has issued an Order to that effect, dated February 7, 2002, see below) that captured members of the Taliban were not protected under the Geneva POW Convention ("GPW"), to which the legal advisor to the Secretary of State had objected. He advised that "there are reasonable grounds for you to conclude that GPW [the ] does not apply ...to the conflict with the Taliban." Mr. Gonzales argued that grounds for the determination might include:

1) a determination that Afghanistan was a failed state "...because the Taliban did not exercise full control over the territory and people, was not recognized by the international community, and was not capable of fulfilling its international obligations" (see definition of statehood in Cpt. 1.3 and discussion in Kadic v. Karadzic, 70 F.3d 232, 244 to 245 (2nd Cir, 1995) ) and/or

2) a "determination that the Taliban and its forces were, in fact, not a government but a militant, terrorist-like group."

Mr. Gonzales then identified what he believed were the ramifications of Mr. Bush's determination. On a positive note he felt they preserved flexibility stating that:

"The nature of [a "war" against terrorism] places a high premium on ...factors such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors ... and the need to try terrorists for war crimes... [t]his new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners..." He also believed the determination "...eliminates any argument regarding the need for case-by-case determinations of POW status." The determination, Mr. Gonzales said, also reduced the threat of domestic prosecution under the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441). His expressed concern was that certain GPW language such as "outrages upon personal dignity" and "inhuman treatment" are "undefined' and that it is difficult to predict with confidence what action might constitute violations, and that it would be "...difficult to predict the needs and circumstances that could arise in the course of the war on terrorism." He believed that a determination of inapplicability of the GPW would insulate against prosecution by future "prosecutors and independent counsels."

Mr. Gonzales then identified the counter arguments from the Secretary of State (See, Colin Powell Memo of January 26, 2002 pages 1,2,3,4,5) which included:

Past adherence by the United States to the GPW;

Possible limitations on invocation by the U.S. of the GPW in Afghanistan;

Likely widespread condemnation by allied nations;

Encouragement of potential enemies to find "loopholes" to not apply the GPW;

Discouraging turn-over of terrorists by other nations;

Undermining of U.S. military culture "which emphasizes maintaining the highest standards of conduct in combat..."

In response, Mr. Gonzales says, inter alia, "...even if the GPW is not applicable, we can still bring war crimes charges against anyone who mistreats U.S. personnel." He adds that, "...the argument based on military culture fails to recognize that our military remains bound to apply the principles of GPW because that is what you have directed them to do." (Emphasis added). In light of subsequent events, that last sentence is of particular interest.

The Bush Order February 7, 2002

On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed an Order, (pdf copy) accepting the reasoning of the Yoo and Gonzales memos, and validating the order issued by Secretary Rumsfeld on January, 19, 2002.

From the sequence of events, and discussion by White House Counsel, it appears fairly clear that the decision by Mr. Bush, and the subsequent orders from Mssr.s Bush and Rumsfeld, were based on the Yoo/Delahunty Memorandum of 9 January, 2002. A close analysis of that document is accordingly appropriate.

The Yoo/Delahunty Memo January 9, 2002

This Memorandum is written in four parts. The first examines the 18 U.S.C. Section 2441, the War Crimes Act, and some of the treaties it implicates. The second part examines whether members al Qaeda can claim protection of the Geneva Conventions and concludes they can not. The third portion examines application of those treaties to members of the Taliban. It concludes nonapplicability because 1) it says "the Taliban was not a government and Afghanistan was not...a functioning State", 2) "the President has the constitutional authority to suspend our treaties with Afghanistan pending restoration of a legitimate government", and 3) "it appears...that the Taliban militia may have been ...intertwined with Al Qaeda" and thus on the same legal footing. Finally, the fourth part concludes that customary international law does not bind the President or restrict the actions of the United States military [under a constitutional analysis].

Although the Memorandum is questionable on many grounds, both factual and legal, a close analysis is for this casebook, both too extensive and unnecessary. An article more closely analyzing the international law/law of war aspects of the Memorandum is forthcoming. For the present the reader should note the following:

1) As long as there is a genuine issue of fact or law regarding the status of captured individual combatants who are members of the Taliban or Al Qaeda, the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 must apply, until properly otherwise determined. Article 5 of that Convention provides, in part, that "Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal." (Emphasis added).

2) The key to whether there exists any genuine issue of fact or law resides in the Yoo/Delahunty Memo which is the authoritative basis for all the actions which follows. Leaving aside the American constitutional arguments which present no bar to a delict in international law (see,e.g. the Dostler Case) 2, the argument for nonapplicability of Geneva III rests on the argument that as a matter of fact and law the Taliban did not constitute a de facto government. The short answer is that while the position is certainly arguable, it is also very reasonably arguable that the Taliban were the de facto government. They controlled a substantial geographic territory and population, enacted and enforced laws and mandates, carried on relatively complex military operations, appointed persons to governmental posts and received diplomatic recognition from several nations. The core validity of that point is admitted, albeit inadvertently, in the following quote from the 22 January, 2002, Memorandum from Jay Bybee to Alberto Gonzales and William Haynes:

Whether the Geneva Conventions apply to the detention and trial of members of the Taliban presents a more difficult legal question. Afghanistan has been a party to all four Geneva Conventions since September, 1956. Some might argue that this requires application of the Geneva Conventions to the present conflict with respect to the Taliban militia...Nevertheless, we conclude that the President has more than ample grounds to find that our treaty obligations under Geneva III toward Afghanistan were suspended during the period of the conflict... the weight of informed opinion indicates that, for the period in question, Afghanistan was a "failed state" whose territory had been held by a violent militia or faction rather than by a government....Second, there appears to be developing evidence that the Taliban leadership had become closely intertwined with, if not utterly dependent upon, al Qaeda. This would have rendered the Taliban more akin to a terrorist organization.

Memorandum of 22 January, 2002 from Jay Bybee, Office of legal Counsel for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President and William J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Re: Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees at pp 10-11. (Emphasis added).

We want to make clear that this Office does not have access to all of the facts related to the activities of the Taliban militia and al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the available facts in the public record would support the conclusion that Afghanistan was a failed state...Indeed, there are good reasons to doubt whether any of the conditions were met.

Ib at 16.

What is of particular interest in this analysis is the emphasized language. It is that of argument, not fact, and what it seems to effectively admit is that there is indeed some doubt as to the status of the Taliban detainees. That, of course, triggers the requirements of Geneva Convention Article 5 for a competent tribunal to determine status, and mandates treatment as a POW until the tribunal is held. Indeed, Judge Bybee later discusses Article 5. See also, the references by Justice O'Connor in the plurality opinion in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, 124 S.Ct. 2633 (2004), to "the Taliban regime" and "the Taliban government," 124 S.Ct at 2635-2636, and her statement that "active combat operations against Taliban fighters apparently are ongoing in Afghanistan," id. at 2642, as well as Justice Souter's concurrence in which he points to the Government's Brief saying "the Geneva Convention applies to the Taliban detainees." Id at 2658.

"Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act, and having fallen into the hands of the enemy," article 5 of Geneva III requires that these individuals "enjoy the protections" of the Convention until a tribunal has determined their status. As we understand it, as a matter of practice prisoners are presumed to have article 4 POW status until a tribunal determines otherwise. Although these provisions seem to contemplate a case-by-case determination of an individual detainee's status the President could determine categorically that all Taliban prisoners fall outside article 4. Under Article II of the Constitution, the President posesses the power to interpret treaties on behalf of the Nation.He could interpret Geneva III, in light of the known facts concerning the operatio

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