News and Document archive source
copyrighted material disclaimer at bottom of page

NewsMinewar-on-terroriraqwar-crimes — Viewing Item

Bush signed order to suspend geneva conventions { June 23 2004 }

Original Source Link: (May no longer be active)

On Feb. 7, 2002, Bush signed an order asserting his right to suspend the Geneva Conventions protections for Taliban suspects -- contrary to Taft's advice -- but saying he had decided not to do so at that time.

State Dept. lawyer disputed detainee memo
Military legal advisers also questioned tactics

By R. Jeffrey Smith

Updated: 11:57 p.m. ET June 23, 2004A letter about the handling of detainees sent in 2002 from the State Department's legal adviser to the Justice Department's deputy assistant attorney general made no attempt at bureaucratic pleasantries.

William H. Taft IV said that Justice's legal advice to President Bush about how to handle detainees in the war on terrorism was "seriously flawed" and its reasoning was "incorrect as well as incomplete." Justice's arguments were "contrary to the official position of the United States, the United Nations and all other states that have considered the issue," Taft said.

Taft's Jan. 11 letter, obtained by The Washington Post, was omitted from the hundreds of pages of documents released Tuesday by the Bush administration. The release was part of an effort to present the administration's policies on detainees since Sept. 11, 2001, as fully compliant with domestic and international law.

A fuller picture -- of senior administration officials who sought to reinterpret the law and sanction tougher treatment of detainees in the face of strongly expressed internal dissents at the State Department and the military services -- emerges from the State Department letter and other previously undisclosed memos.

The dissents include three classified memos written in the spring of 2003 by senior military lawyers in the Air Force, Marine Corps and Army, and a classified memo written by the Navy's top civilian lawyer, Alberto J. Mora, say government officials who have read them. Those officials, and others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition that they not be named.

Two officials said the memos were written by Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, Marine Brig. Gen. Kevin M. Sandkuhler and Army Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig.

Their common theme, the official said, was that tough interrogation techniques being advocated by senior civilians at the Defense Department and by the commander of the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would not only contravene longstanding military practice but also provoke a storm of public criticism if the tactics became known.

Subject to abuse
The military lawyers, the official said, argued that coercive interrogation techniques rarely produce data as reliable as the intelligence gleaned by rewarding prisoners who cooperate -- a view also expressed in the Army's field manual, as redrafted after the Vietnam War.

They also said that tough procedures being advocated were subject to abuse that could haunt U.S. policymakers and endanger U.S. military personnel detained by other countries.

Lawyers for the Joint Chiefs of Staff raised similar concerns -- about the specific interrogation tactics being proposed and the administration's decision that protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions were unavailable as a matter of law to suspected members of the Taliban militia in Afghanistan, according to a former military official familiar with the dispute.

"It was clearly the position of the senior leaders of the military that the Geneva Conventions should apply" to Taliban militia, the official said. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the Joint Chiefs chairman, "was very strong with the Secretary of Defense on a number of occasions" in expressing this viewpoint.

The official added that military lawyers attached to Central Command, which has jurisdiction over the Middle East, and to the Southern Command, which has jurisdiction over Guantanamo Bay, also favored holding military tribunals to determine the status of individual Taliban detainees and the Geneva Convention protections to which they were entitled.

Limited impact
The dissidents' complaints had limited impact, according to the documents and accounts of the administration's internal deliberations.

Taft, whose role made him the government's principal interpreter of treaties, accused John Yoo, the deputy assistant attorney general, in the Jan. 11 letter of preparing advice for Bush based on a series of "wrong" premises. He also said Yoo's idea that Bush could "suspend" U.S. obligations to respect the Geneva Conventions was "legally flawed and procedurally impossible."

"In previous conflicts, the United States has dealt with tens of thousands of detainees without repudiating its obligations under the Conventions," wrote Taft, who was the Defense Department's general counsel from 1981 to 1984. "I have no doubt we can do so here."

Bush nonetheless embraced the Justice Department's viewpoint and decided that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to combatants in Afghanistan. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell protested the decision and persuaded Bush to reconsider; Powell and Myers presented their views at a meeting with Bush, also attended by senior Justice and defense officials.

Alberto R. Gonzales, the White House counsel, advised Bush in a memo, however, that Powell was wrong and the Justice Department's analysis was "definitive." Gonzales said terrorist attacks "require a new approach in our actions toward captured terrorists," and noted that terrorists had never respected the Geneva Conventions' human rights protections.

On Feb. 7, 2002, Bush signed an order asserting his right to suspend the Geneva Conventions protections for Taliban suspects -- contrary to Taft's advice -- but saying he had decided not to do so at that time. Bush also declared that all Taliban militia were "unlawful combatants," and ineligible for tribunals.

Not included in deliberations
One result of the rancorous debate, according to participants, was that Yoo, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft and senior civilians at the Pentagon no longer sought to include the State Department or the Joint Staff in deliberations about the precise protections afforded to detainees by the Geneva Conventions.

For example, the officials said, a 50-page Justice Department memo in August 2002 about the meaning of various anti-torture laws and treaties was not discussed or shared with the Joint Chiefs or the State Department. It was drafted by Justice for the CIA and sent directly to the White House.

The memo contended that only physically punishing acts of "an extreme nature" would constitute criminal violations, and that acts that were merely cruel, inhuman or degrading might not qualify. It asserted that those committing torture without the intent to cause lasting harm might be immune from prosecution.

"I'm confident that people would have raised questions" had they known about the memo, a knowledgeable official said. Senior officials repudiated portions of the memo on Tuesday, saying it contained "unnecessary" and "overbroad" arguments that were being re-evaluated.

Major dissent about the administration's interrogation practices next arose in late 2002 and early 2003, when military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay complained to superior officers that techniques they were asked to use were abusive. That provoked an extended Defense Department review, during which military lawyers for each of the services forcefully expressed their concerns, officials said.

"We had raised them verbally. We've raised them at the action officer level. Ultimately, some memos were, in fact, signed laying out some considerations that we believe were very important in the process," said a senior military lawyer who briefed reporters last month with the Pentagon's approval.

The lawyer chose his words carefully: "By the time the final draft . . . [on interrogation methods] was completed, those considerations had all been carefully evaluated."

He said the military lawyers were comfortable with the outcome "from a legal standpoint," but did not mention the policy concerns the memos had raised.

2004 The Washington Post Company

11 american soldiers charged with abuse { July 16 2005 }
American pilots shooting unarmed civilians
Americans use wmds on falluja { November 8 2005 }
Army guard unit exorted shop keepers { July 27 2005 }
Army looting iraqi civilians { May 31 2004 }
Assault on fallujah most ferocious since vietnam
Baghdad bombing kills 34 children { September 30 2004 }
British also used white phosphorus
British contractors shoot at iraqi civilians { December 9 2005 }
Brits use drills in torture of iraqi prisoners { November 20 2005 }
Bush signed order to suspend geneva conventions { June 23 2004 }
Camera spattered with journalists blood { September 13 2004 }
Colonel staged mock execution scare iraqi { November 19 2003 }
Daily mirror apologizes for phony photos
Detainees beaten with baseball bat { September 24 2005 }
Detainees killed prisoners by assault
Detainees medical files shared { June 10 2004 }
Documents show army seized wives as tactic
Eight marines charged iraq death { October 18 2003 }
Eight marines investigation mistreatment prisoners { October 18 2003 }
Ex marines claim fraud and excessive force { April 2008 }
Fbi agents allege abuse of detainees { December 21 2004 }
Five soldiers charged for punching kicking detainees
Former iraqi detainees allege torture
Four soldiers charged in drowning death { July 2 2004 }
Four soldiers charged in iraqi generals murder
GI gets 100 years for iraqi rape murder
Hearing begins for marine accused of killing 2 iraqis { April 27 2005 }
Homocide charges for US troops in iraq rare { August 28 2006 }
Iraq arrests and detentions technically illegal { December 1 2004 }
Iraq probes US phosphorus weapons in falluja { November 16 2005 }
Iraq rights abuse worse than under saddam { November 28 2005 }
Iraq wedding film challenges US on air strike { May 24 2004 }
Iraqi beaten to death by us troops { April 14 2004 }
Iraqi civilians gen franks war crimes { April 28 2003 }
Iraqi details harsh treatment
Iraqi pows gagged bound beaten { May 25 2003 }
Iraqis accuse marines in april killing { June 5 2006 }
Iraqis say troops massacred families { March 21 2006 }
Israeli link possible in US torture techniques { May 11 2004 }
Journalists berates trigger happy troops { June 5 2003 }
Kill as many as possible
Lawyers decided bans on torture didnt bind bush { June 8 2004 }
Marine brags about war crimes { May 1 2003 }
Marine shoots unarmed wounded iraqi
Marine shot innocent iraqi in head 3 times { February 27 2007 }
Marine shot prisoner in head
Marine unit killed 30 unarmed civilians { December 8 2004 }
Marines accused of murdering iraqi farmer
Marines forced to kill innocent civilians { May 16 2004 }
Marines kill iraqi civilians in cold blood { April 2006 }
Marines planted evidence after killing { June 6 2006 }
Military coversup detainee homocide
Military probes death of wounded iraqi in fallujah
Nbc staff abused by US troops in iraq
New FBI files describe abuse of iraq inmates { December 21 2004 }
News staff forced to insert finger in anus by US forces
Officer in iraq fined harsh interrogation tactics
Over 100 child prisoners held in iraq { August 1 2004 }
Pentagon acknowledges uses incendiary white phosphorus
Records show marines tortured iraqi prisoners
Rifle shovel were planted by marines after killing
Rumsfeld admits holding ghost detainees in iraq
Sergeant refused to break law { May 20 2004 }
Shame of abuse of brit troops
Soldier admits murdering iraqi detainee
Soldier convinced of killing iraqi walks free
Soldier convincted of murdering unarmed iraqis
Soldier guilty of killing wounded iraqi teenager
Soldier kidnapping retaliation for 14yr olds rape { May 15 2007 }
Soldier kills protester { January 14 2004 }
Soldier kills woman with bread and tea { September 2 2004 }
Soldier reports prisoner beating to senate mccain { October 5 2005 }
Soldier took torture snaps
Soldiers charges with murdering iraqis
Soldiers fired on wedding during massacre { May 21 2004 }
Soldiers forced iraqis off bridge told to cover up { July 30 2004 }
Soldiers sent fleeing civilians back into fallujah { November 13 2004 }
Soldiers used unauthorized deadly force in iraq { July 28 2005 }
Solider charged with raping iraqi woman { July 4 2006 }
Solider investigated for shooting iraqi { March 4 2004 }
Solider ordered to shoot unarmed iraqi { September 27 2007 }
Solider shot 17 year old iraqi after sex
Solider shot unarmed iraqi to put out of misery { March 31 2005 }
Some marines linked to abuses { December 15 2004 }
Three civilians mistakenly killed in iraq { November 21 2005 }
Top pentagon officials aware of detainee abuse { June 18 2007 }
Troops brutalisation of reuters staff { January 14 2004 }
Troops shot dead women and children for revenge
Two journalists killed in fighting
UN says coalition troops violated rights in iraq { June 4 2004 }
US considers salvador option to tackle iraq { January 10 2005 }
US denies incendiary weapons on civilians
US guards shoot dead 4 in iraq prisons
US kills arab reporter on air { September 13 2004 }
US soldiers kill little girls in iraq fight { October 2006 }
Us soldiers shoots kills two iraqi journalists { March 29 2004 }
US soliders killed family and raped iraqi woman
US still uncovering iraq abuses { July 15 2004 }
Us tank crushes cleric { December 9 2003 }
US torture in iraq spread to mosul
Us troops beat iranian journalists
Us troops shot dead us funded arabic journalists { April 19 2004 }
Us war tactics questioned by rights groups { November 24 2003 }
Video shows brits brutally attacking iraqi teens { February 13 2006 }
War crimes evidence
Wedding video contradicts US details { May 24 2004 }
Whistleblower sent to psychiatrist { March 5 2005 }
White phosphorous usage is war crime { November 22 2005 }

Files Listed: 109


CIA FOIA Archive

National Security
Support one-state solution for Israel and Palestine Tea Party bumper stickers JFK for Dummies, The Assassination made simple