Pentagon Report: Bush Not Bound by Torture Restrictions

Update: Torture Memo Available Here.

The Wall Street Journal reports that it has reviewed a classified draft of a Pentagon report from 2003 in which the authors conclude that President Bush is not bound by laws prohibiting torture and that the Justice Department cannot prosecute U.S. soldiers or agents who engage in torture at his direction. If you don't have access to the Journal, you can read this Reuters account of the report.

One of the authors of the draft report is William Haynes, now awaiting confirmation as a federal judge.

According to Bush administration officials, the report was compiled by a working group appointed by the Defense Department's general counsel, William J. Haynes II. Air Force General Counsel Mary Walker headed the group, which comprised top civilian and uniformed lawyers from each military branch and consulted with the Justice Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Intelligence Agency and other intelligence agencies. It isn't known if President Bush has ever seen the report.

Robert Dreyfuss at TomPaine.com has more.

....here’s how the Pentagon’s shysters split the torture hairs: "The infliction of pain or suffering, whether it is physical or mental, is insufficient to amount to torture,’ the report advises. Such suffering must be ‘severe,’ the lawyers advise, and they rely on a dictionary definition to suggest that it ‘must be of such a high level of intensity that the pain is difficult for the subject to endure.’

The report goes on to say that Congress has no business trying to regulate whether U.S. soldiers or other officials torture prisoners, since that would violate the commander-in-chief’s constitutional power to wage war. “Sometimes the greater good for society will be accompanied by violating the literal language of the criminal law,” says the report.

Intel Dump also covers the WSJ report.

Some quotes from the WSJ article:

The Pentagon disclosed last month that the working group had been assembled to review interrogation policies after intelligence officials in Guantanamo reported frustration in extracting information from prisoners.

....Methods now used at Guantanamo include limiting prisoners' food, denying them clothing, subjecting them to body-cavity searches, depriving them of sleep for as much as 96 hours and shackling them in so-called stress positions, a military-intelligence official said. Although the interrogators consider the methods to be humiliating and unpleasant, they don't view them as torture, the official said.

The working-group report elaborated the Bush administration's view that the president has virtually unlimited power to wage war as he sees fit, and neither Congress, the courts nor international law can interfere. It concluded that neither the president nor anyone following his instructions was bound by the federal Torture Statute, which makes it a crime for Americans working for the government overseas to commit or attempt torture, defined as any act intended to "inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering." Punishment is up to 20 years imprisonment, or a death sentence or life imprisonment if the victim dies.

"In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign ... (the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in chief authority," the report asserted. (The parenthetical comment is in the original document.) The Justice Department "concluded that it could not bring a criminal prosecution against a defendant who had acted pursuant to an exercise of the president's constitutional power," the report said. Citing confidential Justice Department opinions drafted after Sept. 11, 2001, the report advised that the executive branch of the government had "sweeping" powers to act as it sees fit because "national security decisions require the unity in purpose and energy in action that characterize the presidency rather than Congress."

....For members of the military, the report suggested that officials could escape torture convictions by arguing that they were following superior orders, since such orders "may be inferred to be lawful" and are "disobeyed at the peril of the subordinate." Examining the "superior orders" defense at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals, the Vietnam War prosecution of U.S. Army Lt. William Calley for the My Lai massacre and the current U.N. war-crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, the report concluded it could be asserted by "U.S. armed forces personnel engaged in exceptional interrogations except where the conduct goes so far as to be patently unlawful."

This article is a must-read. We recommend buying the paper if you can't find a copy online for free. The Journal's reporting on Guantanamo and the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal has been top-notch.

Update: Billmon has the details of the woman behind the torture report.

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