Five (More) Terrible Truths About the CIA Torture Memos

Editor's Note: The following is a continuation of Andy Worthington's analysis of the recently released OLC memos regarding US torture policies. Part 1, Five Terrible Truths About CIA Torture Memos, can be viewed here.

6: The 94 "ghost prisoners"

Editor's Note: The following is a continuation of Andy Worthington's analysis of the recently released OLC memos regarding US torture policies. Part 1, Five Terrible Truths About CIA Torture Memos, can be viewed here.

6: The 94 "ghost prisoners"

Another disturbing revelation of Bradbury's May 2005 memos was the
disclosure of the number of prisoners held in secret CIA custody - 94
in total - and the additional note that the agency "has employed
enhanced techniques to varying degrees in the interrogations of 28 of
these detainees." What's disturbing is not the number - CIA director Michael Hayden admitted
in July 2007 that the CIA had detained fewer than 100 people at secret
facilities abroad since 2002 - but the insight that this exact figure
provides into the supremely secretive world of "extraordinary
rendition" and secret prisons that exists beyond the cases of the 14
"high-value detainees" who were transferred to Guantanamo from secret
CIA custody in September 2006.

It's unlikely that the Obama administration intended to highlight
the case of these other prisoners - who can rightly be regarded as
"America's Disappeared" - but it's clear that, although their existence
was barely mentioned in the mainstream media, the revelation of this
official figure will only lead to calls for the administration to
explain what happened to the other 80 prisoners.

7: Hassan Ghul

Whether "guilty" or not, the treatment of these men remains one of
the dirtiest secrets in the "War on Terror." Some (beyond the 14) may
have also been transferred to Guantanamo, others are undoubtedly still held in Bagram,
and others have been returned to the custody of their home countries -
or, perhaps, to be disposed of in third countries. In addition, as a
result of Obama's executive order,
in January, compelling the CIA to close all secret prisons, it also
seems probable that, if any of the 80 were still in secret prisons at
the time, they too have since been spirited away to the custody of
other countries.

It's clear, however, that justifying the disposal of these men
without any accountability whatsoever would be intolerable even if they
were all confirmed terrorists, and is only made more chilling because
the "evidence" against them has never been made available at all, and
because of the possibility that, as has been so prevalent in the "War
on Terror," grievous mistakes were made, and innocent men, or men with
no significant connection with terrorism, were also swept up in the
indiscriminating global dragnet that the Bush administration created in
the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

A case in point, I believe, may be the only "ghost prisoner"
mentioned by name in the Bradbury memos: "Gul," who is clearly Hassan
Ghul, one of 39 suspected "ghost prisoners" mentioned in "Off the
Record" (PDF),
a report by several human rights groups that was issued in June 2007.
Seized in northern Iraq in January 2004, Ghul was touted by the
administration as a significant figure in al-Qaeda on his capture, and
the memos reveal how particular techniques were applied to him because
the interrogation team believed he "maintain[ed] a tough, Mujahidin
fighter mentality and ha[d] conditioned himself for a physical

Whether any of this was true or not is unknown. Although Ghul was listed as missing in "Off the Record," a British citizen, Rangzieb Ahmed,
who was convicted of terrorist offences in the UK in December 2008,
after being tortured in Pakistani custody, reported to the British
human rights group Cageprisoners (PDF)
that, after two and a half years in secret CIA prisons, Ghul was
transferred to Pakistani custody, and occupied the cell next to him in
a prison in a safe house in Pakistan until January 2007, when he was
moved to another unknown location.

From this brief report, it is impossible to know if Ghul was
transferred to Pakistani custody because the CIA had downplayed his
significance, or even if the US administration had mistaken him for
someone else and wanted to get rid of him, or if the CIA was still
involved with his imprisonment, but had simply moved him to a secret
facility that was ostensibly under the control of the Pakistanis, as
part of an ongoing process of shifting "black sites" into less
noticeable locations. Either way, his story shines a much-needed light
on a largely overlooked corner of the "War on Terror," and its sudden
resurfacing, in Steven Bradbury's torture memos, will only increase
calls for further investigations into the whereabouts of "America's

8: The important role of Jack Goldsmith in resisting the culture of torture

Jack GoldsmithNow
that these memos are out in the open, it is, I believe, important to
look back at the role played by Jack Goldsmith, who took over from
Bybee as the head of the OLC in October 2003. A supposedly "safe pair
of hands," who, with John Yoo, was regarded as "a leading proponent of
the view that international standards of human rights should not apply
in cases before US courts," Goldsmith in fact turned out to be a
nightmare for the administration, as he withdrew four pieces of legal
advice - including the "torture memo" and a March 2003 memo approving
the more general use of "enhanced interrogation techniques" - because
he regarded them as "tendentious, overly broad and legally flawed."

As Goldsmith explained in September 2007 to Jeffrey Rosen of the New York Times,
he concluded that the "torture memo" contained advice that "defined
torture far too narrowly," and also took exception to the memo's claim
that "any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of
battlefield combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of
the Commander in Chief authority in the President," explaining that he
believed that "this extreme conclusion" would "call into question the
constitutionality of federal laws that limit interrogation, like the
War Crimes Act of 1996, which prohibits grave breaches of the Geneva
Conventions, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which prohibits
cruelty and maltreatment." He added that he "found the tone of both
opinions 'tendentious' rather than cautious and feared that they might
be interpreted as an attempt to immunize government officials for
genuinely bad acts."

When it came to withdrawing the "torture memo," Goldsmith was
acutely aware that it would anger the administration, because it
"provided the legal foundation for the CIA's interrogation program,"
and, as Rosen described it,

he made a strategic decision: on the same day that he
withdrew the opinion, he submitted his resignation, effectively forcing
the administration to choose between accepting his decision and letting
him leave quietly, or rejecting it and turning his resignation into a
big news story. "If the story had come out that the US government
decided to stick by the controversial opinions that led the head of the
Office of Legal Counsel to resign, that would have looked bad,"
Goldsmith told me. "The timing was designed to ensure that the decision

David Addington and John YooGoldsmith
made it clear that he did not think that those involved in creating the
torture memos were criminally culpable. In his book The Terror Presidency, published shortly after the Times
interview, he explained that "the poor quality of a handful of very
important opinions" written by Yoo, who was a close friend, was
"probably attributable to some combination of the fear that pervaded
the executive branch, pressure from the White House and Yoo's unusually
expansive and self-confident conception of presidential power." He also
went out of his way to defend White House counsel (and later Attorney
general) Alberto Gonzales and even David Addington, Dick Cheney's legal
counsel (and later his chief of staff), the two figures outside the OLC
who were most closely associated with the torture policy, explaining,
"They thought they were doing the right thing." This was in spite of
the fact that, as he also stated, "My conflicts" - and they were
considerable conflicts, by his own account - "were all with Addington,
who was a proxy for the vice president."

It is, however, impossible to square Goldsmith's opinions of these
men with the significance of his actions. As Rosen stated, "In the
past, the Office of Legal Counsel had occasionally changed its legal
positions between presidential administrations to reflect different
legal philosophies, but Goldsmith could find no precedent for the
office withdrawing an opinion drafted earlier by the same
administration - especially on a matter of such importance."

With this in mind, what Goldsmith's actions actually revealed was a
desperate - and principled - need to withdraw opinions that were not
just misguided, but fundamentally unlawful, and an equally desperate
desire to shield Yoo, Gonzales, Addington - and, by extension, Dick Cheney - from the grave implications of his actions.

9: The importance of releasing the Justice Department's OLC report

From the above, I believe it is clear that Jack Goldsmith's attempts
to prevent future war crimes while protecting those responsible for war
crimes already committed was, and remains an untenable position, and
this has been reinforced over the last few months, in reports about the
results of a four-year investigation by the Justice Department's Office
of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which was charged with looking at
whether the legal advice in the crucial interrogation memos "was
consistent with the professional standards that apply to Department of
Justice attorneys."

According to Newsweek's
Michael Isikoff, who broke the story, a draft of the report, submitted
in the final weeks of the Bush administration, caused anxiety among
former Bush administration officials, because "OPR investigators
focused on whether the memo's authors deliberately slanted their legal
advice to provide the White House with the conclusions it wanted." A
former Bush lawyer, speaking anonymously, added that he "was stunned to
discover how much material the investigators had gathered, including
internal e-mails and multiple drafts that allowed OPR to reconstruct
how the memos were crafted."

I maintain, as I last stressed a month ago, that the release of the OPR report is of critical importance (especially in light of recent reports
that it has been rewritten, or is being rewritten, to reach a less
stark conclusion of wrongdoing), as it seems clear that it is the key
to securing concrete proof of the involvement of Dick Cheney, David
Addington and Alberto Gonzales in the creation of the torture memos.

As for Bybee, who became a 9th Circuit judge after leaving the OLC, calls for his impeachment
are completely justified, and both John Yoo and Steven Bradbury should
also face prosecution, as all three men have demonstrated that they
were prepared, at the request of their masters, to provide whatever
legal contortions they thought they could get away with in an attempt
to justify the unjustifiable: to pretend that torture was not torture,
and to endorse its use, in defiance of US law.

10: Barack Obama must prosecute the torturers

And finally, although the Obama administration is to be
congratulated for making the memos available, Barack Obama is, at
present, in the same untenable position that Jack Goldsmith found
himself in; that is to say, apparently committing himself to preventing
future war crimes while protecting those responsible for war crimes
already committed. It may indeed be appropriate for the administration
to pledge, as Barack Obama did last week,
that "those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon
legal advice from the Department of Justice ... will not be subject to
prosecution," but this is only acceptable if those responsible for
implementing the policies obeyed by those who were only following
orders are themselves held responsible.

Laws were broken and men were tortured not by some act of God, but
because certain individuals decided that they were above the law, and
that the absolute prohibition on the use of torture was an
inconvenience that could be bypassed through the use of creative legal
advice. Unlike the Bush administration's relentless semantic
maneuvering, the words "absolute prohibition" - and the torture convention's
insistence that "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a
state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any
other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture"
- are not negotiable.

Just as those who commit terrorist atrocities are criminals, and not
warriors in a "Global War on Terror," those who approve the use of
torture - whatever its supposed rationale - are also criminals. Unlike
Steven Bradbury, and John Yoo and Jay Bybee before him, law-abiding
citizens will recognize that the newly released memos provide a glimpse
into a horrendous world that "shocks the conscience," in which torture
seems to have become an end in itself, and in which 94 men - most of
whom have never even been identified - were judged to be guilty without
a trial, were tortured and have since disappeared, their whereabouts

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