Human rights groups and military lawyers are strongly condemning the Bush administration for concluding two years ago that it could ignore international and domestic laws and allow US soldiers to torture detainees.
A series of leaked memos have emerged in the press over the past two days that outline how lawyers for the administration determined U.S. soldiers could torture detainees during interrogations even it violated laws by claiming it was in the interest of national security.
One portion of a Pentagon report obtained by the Wall Street Journal concludes the authority to set aside laws was “inherent in the president” and that the president could shield any U.S. soldiers from being prosecuted for committing torture or other war crimes.
An official from Human Rights Watch said “It is by leaps and bounds the worst thing I’ve seen since this whole Abu Ghraib scandal broke. It appears that what they were contemplating was the commission of war crimes and looking for ways to avoid legal accountability. The effect is to throw out years of military doctrine and standards on interrogations.”
The New York Times reports that it has obtained a Feb. 2 2002 memo from the CIA where the agency asks the administration for assurances that the administration’s public pledge to abide by the Geneva conventions did not apply to its operatives.
One military lawyer told the Wall Street Journal “It’s really unprecedented. For almost 30 years we’ve taught the Geneva Convention one way. Once you start telling people it’s okay to break the law, there’s no telling where they might stop.”
And the Washington Post has obtained a Justice Department memo from September 2002 that determined that if any government employee were to torture a suspect in captivity they would not be held criminally liable because it could be argued that it was done “in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaida terrorist network.”
Memos leaked to the press indicate that lawyers from the Defense and Justice departments as well as the White House and Vice President’s office backed the policy changes. State Department lawyers however dissented and warned that the US could be weakening the Geneva Conventions for US troops overseas.
In addition, the Times reports the memos contain a section in which the Pentagon lawyers argued that any torture committed at Guantánamo would not be a violation of anti-torture statutes because the base was under American legal jurisdiction and the statute concerns only torture committed overseas. That view, according to the Times, is in direct conflict with the position the administration has taken in the Supreme Court, where it has argued that prisoners at Guantánamo Bay are not entitled to constitutional protections because the base is outside U.S. jurisdiction.
At least 15 people including one U.S. soldier died earlier today in a pair of rush-hour car bombings in Iraq. In Mosul the bombing targeted a convoy of local council members. They escaped injury but the attack killed nine and 25 were injured. Meanwhile in the town of Baqouba, northwest of Baghdad, a suicide bomber set off a bomb outside the U.S. base. FIve Iraqis and one U.S. soldier died. 15 Iraqis and 10 U.S. soldiers were injured. Two soldiers from Poland and Slovakia as well as one from Latvia have died after an exploision while the troops were defusing mines south of Baghdad.
At the United Nations, France appears set to give in to the United States and vote for the Iraq resolution before the Security Council. A unanimous vote on the resolution is expected later today. The U.S. maintains it is giving Iraq full sovereignty, but under the UN resolution the US will keep its troops in Iraq and will have full say over military operations. France dropped its demand that the Iraqi government be given veto power over US operations. Responding to the French concerns the US agreed to cooperate with the Iraqi government on “sensitive offensive operations.”
In Iraq, leaders from the Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan are threatening to pull out of Iraq’s interim government unless a new UN Security Council resolution on Iraq endorses Kurdish autonomy.
Israeli warplanes on Monday bombed sites in Lebanon just south of Beirut, the country’s capital. Targeted were disused sites of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The BBC reports it was the closest raid to Beirut since Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon four years ago. Lebanon filed a formal protest to the UN Security Council and Israel warned more attacks may be coming. Israeli radio reported that prior to the bombing an Israeli naval ship was the target of a mortar attack from Hezbollah. No damage was caused.
The state of Florida has identified 47,000 more voters in the state that are potential felons who may be purged from voting rolls and stripped of their right to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The secretary of state Glenda Hood, who was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush, has passed this list onto county officials who must determine if the individuals are eligible to vote — convicted felons are barred from voting in Florida. Critics of Florida’s voting procedures say the state is using the same flawed database to determine voter eligibility that was used in 2000 to purge thousands of qualified names from the voting rolls. While Hood has denied politics play a role in the creation of the to-be-purged list, almost a third of those listed reside in three heavily Democratic counties in South Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. CNN is suing the state to release the list of 47,000. On Friday Florida Sen. Bill Nelson announced he would file a court brief on behalf of CNN’s efforts. Meanwhile Florida state senator Mandy Dawson is seeking a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights to Florida’s felons who have completed their sentences.
While gas prices in the U.S. reach record levels at over $2 per gallon, the Associated Press is reporting that U.S. taxpayers are subsidizing the cost of gasoline in Iraq to keep the price at just 5 cents a gallon. Even though Iraq is a major oi producer it no longer has the infrastructure to refine its own gasoline. So it is costing the U.S. government about $1.50 a gallon to import gas from other countries. But in an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, the US is footing most of the bill to keep the price at 5 cents a gallon at the pump — the same price it was under Saddam Hussein. There is concern what the reaction will be in Iraq when drivers have to start paying the market rate for gas.
The Supreme Court gave the Bush Administration the go ahead to allow tens of thousands of Mexican trucks to begin driving on U.S. highways even though no environmental study has been conducted to examine the effects. Environmental, labor and consumer groups have opposed allowing the trucks saying it could diminish the air quality in border states and cities such as Houston and Los Angeles.
And in California, thousands of people began paying their respects to former President Ronald Reagan at the presidential library in Simi Valley where his body lies in state.