Friday, 8 February 2008

An interview with Ed Spannaus

Washington admits to torture, legal expert calls for impeachment


The director of the Central Intelligence Agency has revealed to the House of Representatives Intelligence Committee that waterboarding was legal in the U.S. in 2002 and 2003, and was officially prohibited from interrogations in 2006.

Michael Hayden said that under current U.S. laws, waterboarding would NOT be considered illegal. Hayden, added that consequently the use of waterboarding on three al-Qaeda suspects in 2003 was deemed to be lawful.

Meanwhile, U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey told a separate House hearing that he would not investigate whether CIA interrogators broke the law when waterboarding accused terrorist suspects.

Mukasey said whatever was done as a part of a CIA program at the time had been approved by the Justice Department and that he could not investigate or prosecute people for actions it earlier had authorized.

The White House has defended the use of waterboarding, saying it still could be legal in certain situations. Waterboarding is considered torture worldwide.

PressTV News put the following questions to Washington-based Ed Spannaus, the Legal Affairs Editor of Executive Intelligence Review via satellite from our Tehran studios.

CG: In 1947 the United States sentenced Japanese officer Yukio Asano with war crimes for carrying out waterboarding on a U.S. civilian. He got 15 years at hard labor. The United States even prosecuted its own soldiers in the Spanish-American War for waterboarding prisoners. But apparently it was legal again in 2002. Who changed the law?

Spannaus: Well, no one changed the law. In fact the U.S. prosecuted a soldier in 1968 during the Vietnam War as well. The argument made by the administration is that the Justice Department wrote a legal memorandum and they interpreted the law to say its legal. But the Justice department cannot change a law that is passed by Congress, it cannot change treaties such as the Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Convention which have been approved by the United States Senate. So the argument that somehow it was legal is total nonsense and no one believes it.


CG: There is going to be no investigation into the CIA waterboarding. Attorney General Mukasey said whatever happened was done with the approval of the Justice Department. So are we going to start handing out pardons to the family of Yukio Asano and convicted World War Two war criminals who were, in all fairness, acting within the established laws of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan?

Spannaus: That's an interesting point because in the war crimes trials at Nuremburg and Tokyo it didn't make any difference if the law at the time, the domestic law, said it was legal. I mean Hitler had his lawyers. Hitler had lawyers writing memos the same way that Dick Cheney has lawyers writing memos to try and justify violations of the Geneva Conventions and international law. But you can't change what is international law and well established by simply writing a legal memo.
At Nuremburg and Tokyo the United States prosecuted, and executed as war criminals those who carried out war crimes irrespective of how they had manipulated their own domestic law.

CG: The waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed would obviously have come out in an open court - and doubtless would have caused a scandal - so does this mean the U.S. never intended to give any of these detainees any form of open trial - even as far back as 2002 and 2003?

Spannaus: Yes, I think that's true. That's what I've thought for some time. They never expected this to come out into the open. Remember it began to come out in the spring and summer of 2004 when the Abu Ghraib disclosures were made. All of this was supposed to have been kept quiet. And its worth remembering that the first indications of this came from military lawyers who were opposed to the policy as the policy was being formulated during 2002. But they were really restricted from talking about what they knew. So you just had hints that something very terrible was going on within the administration.

CG: I interviewed an analyst yesterday who spoke extensively of a cover-up, and even pointed to the release of this information on Super Tuesday when attention was focused elsewhere as another element of the cover up. If the action was legal, why try to hide it?

Spannaus: That's a good point and I think they decided that there had been so many partial admissions and near admissions that the White House decided they should get in front of it and come out and say 'We have nothing to hide, this was completely legal.' And then, as you know, Admiral Hayden made a statement on Tuesday and Attorney General Mukasey defended it today in another hearing. But no matter what they come out and say, everybody knows, every honest lawyer and every military lawyer knows that waterboarding is illegal under U.S. law and under international law.

CG: Its out there in the open now. The United States tortures prisoners, no question. Now while they may not consider it to be torture, the rest of the world does. How much damage has this done to the credibility of the United States, and can the United States ever recover from it?

Spannaus: It has done terrible damage to the image and the credibility of the United States, and I think the only way we can recover from this, and I do believe we can recover, is to hold within the United States' court system, and system of justice, to hold accountable those responsible for the policy. It won't work as they tried to do at Abu Ghraib to hold a few low level people accountable and prosecute them and leave the policy makers untouched. I think the only way we can recover the image of what the United States should be and has stood for, is if we go from the top as we did at Nuremburg. We go to the policy makers at the top, and that means starting with Vice President Cheney, Cheney's lawyer David Addington, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. You must go to the policy makers. I think if we do that, and there are many people who want to do that - including many military people - that I believe is the only way to restore the honor of the United States in this matter.


Above interview conducted by author and first broadcast on PressTV on Friday, 8th February 2008.

Reproduced on American Chronicle

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