Well before the exposure of prisoner abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, in April, 2004, Mora warned his superiors at the Pentagon about the consequences of President Bush’s decision, in February, 2002, to circumvent the Geneva conventions, which prohibit both torture and "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." He argued that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward U.S.-held terrorist suspects was an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also challenged the legal framework that the Bush Administration has constructed to justify an expansion of executive power, in matters ranging from interrogations to wiretapping. He described as "unlawful," "dangerous," and "erroneous" novel legal theories granting the President the right to authorize abuse. Mora warned that these precepts could leave U.S. personnel open to criminal prosecution.
In important ways, Mora’s memo is at odds with the official White House narrative.
Well, of course it is. The White House is full of lying sacks of human detritus who have done more damage to this nation than every administration that has preceded it combined.
Brant informed Mora that he was disturbed by what his agents told him about the conduct of military-intelligence interrogators at Guantánamo. These officials seemed poorly trained, Brant said, and were frustrated by their lack of success. He had been told that the interrogators were engaging in escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse. Speaking of the tactics that he had heard about, Brant told me, "Repugnant would be a good term to describe them."
Much of Brant’s information had been supplied by an N.C.I.S. psychologist, Michael Gelles, who worked with the C.I.T.F. and had computer access to the Army’s interrogation logs at Guantánamo. Brant told me that Gelles “is phenomenal at unlocking the minds of everyone from child abusers to terrorists”; he took it seriously when Gelles described the logs as shocking.
The logs detailed, for example, the brutal handling of a Saudi detainee, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whom an F.B.I. agent had identified as the “missing twentieth hijacker”—the terrorist who was supposed to have been booked on the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field. Qahtani was apprehended in Afghanistan a few months after the terrorist attacks.
Qahtani had been subjected to a hundred and sixty days of isolation in a pen perpetually flooded with artificial light. He was interrogated on forty-eight of fifty-four days, for eighteen to twenty hours at a stretch. He had been stripped naked; straddled by taunting female guards, in an exercise called “invasion of space by a female”; forced to wear women’s underwear on his head, and to put on a bra; threatened by dogs; placed on a leash; and told that his mother was a whore. By December, Qahtani had been subjected to a phony kidnapping, deprived of heat, given large quantities of intravenous liquids without access to a toilet, and deprived of sleep for three days. Ten days before Brant and Mora met, Qahtani’s heart rate had dropped so precipitately, to thirty-five beats a minute, that he required cardiac monitoring.
Brant thinks that the Army’s interrogation of Qahtani was unlawful. If an N.C.I.S. agent had engaged in such abuse, he said, "we would have relieved, removed, and taken internal disciplinary action against the individual—let alone whether outside charges would have been brought." Brant said he feared that such methods would taint the cases his agents needed to make against the detainees, undermining any attempts to prosecute them in a court of law. He also doubted the reliability of forced confessions. Moreover, he told me, "it just ain’t right."
The day after Mora’s first meeting with Brant, they met again, and Brant showed him parts of the transcript of Qahtani’s interrogation. Mora was shocked when Brant told him that the abuse wasn’t "rogue activity" but was "rumored to have been authorized at a high level in Washington." The mood in the room, Mora wrote, was one of "dismay." He added, "I was under the opinion that the interrogation activities described would be unlawful and unworthy of the military services." Mora told me, "I was appalled by the whole thing. It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values."
Mora thinks that the media has focussed too narrowly on allegations of U.S.-sanctioned torture. As he sees it, the authorization of cruelty is equally pernicious. "To my mind, there’s no moral or practical distinction," he told me. "If cruelty is no longer declared unlawful, but instead is applied as a matter of policy, it alters the fundamental relationship of man to government. It destroys the whole notion of individual rights. The Constitution recognizes that man has an inherent right, not bestowed by the state or laws, to personal dignity, including the right to be free of cruelty. It applies to all human beings, not just in America—even those designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants.’ If you make this exception, the whole Constitution crumbles. It’s a transformative issue."
In Morello’s office, Mora saw what he now refers to as "the package"—a collection of secret military documents that traced the origins of the coercive interrogation policy at Guantánamo. It began on October 11, 2002, with a request by J.T.F.-170’s commander, Major General Michael Dunlavey, to make interrogations more aggressive. A few weeks later, Major General Geoffrey Miller assumed command of Guantánamo Bay, and, on the assumption that prisoners like Qahtani had been trained by Al Qaeda to resist questioning, he pushed his superiors hard for more flexibility in interrogations. On December 2nd, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld gave formal approval for the use of “hooding,” "exploitation of phobias," "stress positions," "deprivation of light and auditory stimuli," and other coercive tactics ordinarily forbidden by the Army Field Manual.
Mora was less impressed. Beaver’s brief, his memo says, "was a wholly inadequate analysis of the law." It held that "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment could be inflicted on the Guantánamo detainees with near impunity"; in his view, such acts were unlawful. Rumsfeld’s December 2nd memo approving these "counter-resistance" techniques, Mora wrote, "was fatally grounded on these serious failures of legal analysis." Neither Beaver nor Rumsfeld drew any "bright line" prohibiting the combination of these techniques, or defining any limits for their use. He believed that such rhetorical laxity "could produce effects reaching the level of torture," which was prohibited, without exception, under both U.S. and international law.
Got that? I think that they call these war crimes
and crimes against humanity.
In confronting Haynes, Mora was engaging not just the Pentagon but also the Vice-President’s office. Haynes is a protégé of Cheney’s influential chief of staff, David Addington.
In his meeting with Haynes, Mora told me, he said that, whatever its intent, what Rumsfeld’s memo permitted was "torture."
The authorization of harsh interrogation methods which Mora had seen was no aberration. Almost immediately after September 11th, the Administration had decided that protecting the country required extraordinary measures, including the exercise of executive powers exceeding domestic and international norms.
Basically, the administration became an obsessed group of bed-wetters who decided that they had to destroy democracy in order to save it.
Lawrence Wilkerson, whom Powell assigned to monitor this unorthodox policymaking process, told NPR last fall of "an audit trail that ran from the Vice-President’s office and the Secretary of Defense down through the commanders in the field." When I spoke to him recently, he said, "I saw what was discussed. I saw it in spades. From Addington to the other lawyers at the White House. They said the President of the United States can do what he damn well pleases."
Upon returning to work on January 6, 2003, Mora was alarmed to learn from Brant that the abuse at Guantánamo had not stopped. In fact, as Time reported last year, Qahtani had been stripped and shaved and told to bark like a dog. He’d been forced to listen to pop music at an ear-splitting volume, deprived of sleep, and kept in a painfully cold room. Between confessing to and then recanting various terrorist plots, he had begged to be allowed to commit suicide.
By the end of the day, Haynes called Mora with good news. Rumsfeld was suspending his authorization of the disputed interrogation techniques. The Defense Secretary also was authorizing a special "working group" of a few dozen lawyers, from all branches of the armed services, including Mora, to develop new interrogation guidelines.
A week later, Mora was shown a lengthy classified document that negated almost every argument he had made. Haynes had outflanked him. He had solicited a separate, overarching opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, at the Justice Department, on the legality of harsh military interrogations—effectively superseding the working group.
Without Mora’s knowledge, the Pentagon had pursued a secret detention policy. There was one version, enunciated in Haynes’s letter to Leahy, aimed at critics. And there was another, giving the operations officers legal indemnity to engage in cruel interrogations, and, when the Commander-in-Chief deemed it necessary, in torture. Legal critics within the Administration had been allowed to think that they were engaged in a meaningful process; but their deliberations appeared to have been largely an academic exercise, or, worse, a charade. "It seems that there was a two-track program here," said Martin Lederman, a former lawyer with the Office of Legal Counsel, who is now a visiting professor at Georgetown. "Otherwise, why would they share the final working-group report with Hill and Miller but not with the lawyers who were its ostensible authors?"
In Mora’s view, the Administration’s legal response to September 11th was flawed from the start, triggering a series of subsequent errors that were all but impossible to correct. "The determination that Geneva didn’t apply was a legal and policy mistake," he told me. "But very few lawyers could argue to the contrary once the decision had been made."
Mora went on, "It seemed odd to me that the actors weren’t more troubled by what they were doing." Many Administration lawyers, he said, appeared to be unaware of history. "I wondered if they were even familiar with the Nuremberg trials—or with the laws of war, or with the Geneva conventions. They cut many of the experts on those areas out. The State Department wasn’t just on the back of the bus—it was left off the bus." Mora understood that "people were afraid that more 9/11s would happen, so getting the information became the overriding objective. But there was a failure to look more broadly at the ramifications.
"These were enormously hardworking, patriotic individuals," he said. "When you put together the pieces, it’s all so sad. To preserve flexibility, they were willing to throw away our values."
Cheney and Rumsfeld should both be impeached for their actions and sent to the Hague to stand trial for war crimes. It couldn't be any clearer.