And we continue to discover that this administration has -- and apparently has had for some time -- curiously elastic definitions of "Humane treatment" or "consistent with the Geneva Conventions"
After American Taliban recruit John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan, the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld instructed military intelligence officers to "take the gloves off" in interrogating him.
The instructions from Rumsfeld's legal counsel in late 2001, contained in previously undisclosed government documents, are the earliest known evidence that the Bush administration was willing to test the limits of how far it could go legally to extract information from suspected terrorists. [...] The documents, read to The Times by two sources critical of how the government handled the Lindh case, show that after an Army intelligence officer began to question Lindh, a Navy admiral told the intelligence officer that "the secretary of Defense's counsel has authorized him to 'take the gloves off' and ask whatever he wanted."
Lindh was being questioned while he was propped up naked and tied to a stretcher in interrogation sessions that went on for days, according to court papers. In the early stages, his responses were cabled to Washington hourly, the new documents show.
A Defense Department spokesperson said Tuesday evening that the Pentagon "refused to speculate on the exact intent of the statement" from Rumsfeld's office to the military authorities interrogating Lindh. "Department officials stress that all interrogation policies and procedures demand humane treatment of personnel in their custody," the spokesperson said. "The department is committed to searching further to ascertain the original source of the comment brought to their attention by The Times."
[...] In court hearings and legal papers, [Lindh's] attorneys complained that he was deprived of sleep and food, that his leg wound was not treated, and that for 54 days he was neither allowed legal assistance nor told that his father had retained lawyers on his behalf in San Francisco. Lindh's lawyers declined to comment on the matter this week, noting that a provision of his 2002 plea agreement stated he would not bring up the conditions under which he was held overseas. [...] On Dec. 14, 2001, Haynes' deputy, Paul W. Cobb Jr., told Lindh's San Francisco lawyers that "our forces have provided him with appropriate medical attention and will continue to treat him humanely, consistent with the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war." But court documents suggest that Lindh was treated much as the prisoners later were at Abu Ghraib. Along with nudity and the sleep and food deprivation, Lindh was allegedly threatened with death. One soldier said he "was going to hang." Another "Special Forces soldier offered to shoot him." At other times, soldiers took photos and videos of themselves smiling next to the naked Lindh, another image eerily similar to the Abu Ghraib photos.
Such actions appear to be in violation of the Geneva Convention, which requires that prisoners have adequate clothing, food and sleep and not be threatened or subjected to degrading treatment.
Absent that provision in his plea agreement, Lindh would seem to have ample grounds for having his sentence overturned. The case would also be irretrievably damaged by these actions on the part of the government; you could not get a conviction from any reasonable jury on these charges once the treatment was known.
I do understand why Lindh's lawyers had him plead guilty. If nothing else, the plain fact is that he could not possibly have hoped to get a fair trial on those charges, in this time and place. All you would have had to do was mention the word "Taliban" in the courtroom -- and the government would almost certainly have tried him out of the district court in New York, regardless of where he lived, because they're the federal government and they can do that sort of thing if they like. And in 2002, New York was understandably in no mood to care that the government was in the business of torturing confessions out of people; they'd probably have cheered.
One wonders what really did happen to all those Muslims who were disappeared into the federal prison system around that same time. To be sure, by now, so we're told, most have been released and deported. (Most.) We've heard allegations of mistreatment, of course, and the Justice department verified quite a few of those charges. But given the types of mistreatment in which the government seems to specialize, absent documentary evidence, many of the people tortured would never have spoken of it. Which the government seems to be counting on.Posted by iain at June 09, 2004 01:47 PM