Questions for Donald Rumsfeld

Pick a week, any week, and you can now be guaranteed that yet more gruesome news will seep out about the global torture regime the Bush administration has set up around the world. Soon the leakage may reach tsunami levels in the press. Of course, last week was a special case because White House Legal Counsel and presidential crony Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate as the attorney-general designate and managed to stonewall endlessly on the question of administration torture policy and yet, somehow, implicitly reaffirm some of the administration’s worst positions on torture. "Now, as attorney general, would you believe the president has the authority to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture?” asked Senator Leahy. And Gonzales responded: “[That’s] a hypothetical that’s never going to occur… This president has said we’re not going to engage in torture under any circumstances, and therefore that portion of the opinion was unnecessary and was the reason that we asked that that portion be withdrawn.” In other words, no comment — or a classic case of torture as tautology. Yes, Gonzales insisted to the senators, he was against torture. The only hitch was — what exactly was torture? (As he told one senator, he’d have to get back to us on that.) For an administration that, in one of its legal memos, had already put the power to define torture into the hands of the torturer, it wasn’t so hard to be against acts of “torture” — as long as the dictionaries were theirs.

In the meantime, last week the well-respected New England Journal of Medicine and the Los Angeles Times published pieces by two legal experts, Gregg Bloche and Jonathan H. Marks, offering us news about the role physicians are playing in our Bermuda Triangle of injustice — both at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo. In both places, thanks to former Guantanamo commander Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and his team, who had the urge to “fuse” all prison functions in pursuit of the “interrogation mission,” each place ended up with “Behavioral Science Consultation Teams,” aka “Biscuits” in the trade, made up of psychologists and psychiatrists.

As Bloche and Marks put it, “Not only did caregivers pass clinical data to interrogators, physicians and other health professionals helped craft and carry out coercive interrogation plans.” And now the Pentagon, through Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Clinical and Program Policy David Tornberg, claims that there isn’t “‘a doctor-patient relationship in the traditional sense between a military healthcare provider and an enemy prisoner of war… Medical information will not be protected … to the extent it is military relevant…’ A medical degree, Tornberg told us, isn’t a ‘sacramental vow.’ When a doctor participates in interrogation, ‘he’s not functioning as a physician,’ and the Hippocratic ideal of fidelity to patients is beside the point.” Uh-huh. You see, it’s all just a matter of definition.

Usually, incriminating documents on the crimes and misdemeanors of any government or administration await ultimate defeat (and sometimes conquest) to see the light of day, or at least, as in the case of the Nixon administration documentation that came out during the Watergate affair, political defeat. Only three years into the war on terror, however, with the Bush administration still riding relatively high in the saddle, the paper trail already made public on torture, abuse, and other crimes against humanity is unprecedented — and it leads right up to the top. Karen J. Greenberg, Director of the Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law, and attorney Joshua L. Dratel, President-elect of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and civil lawyer for Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks, have now put together a massive book of these documents (just being published this week), The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib. It’s the most comprehensive record yet of memos and reports in which the Bush Administration developed its policies on the treatment of prisoners and on torture. It also includes testimony from interrogators and detainees on abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, and reports on prisoner abuses done by the International Red Cross and other organizations. It will be a must-have reference work for any journalist or historian writing on the subject or, for that matter, for any of us. And it’s equipped Greenberg and Dratel well to interrogate Donald Rumsfeld. ~ Tom

Interrogating Donald Rumsfeld 37 Questions Congress Should Ask the Secretary of Defense on Administration Torture Policies By Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel

The “torture memos,” as they have come to be known, reveal much about the current administration. They point to a level of secrecy matching, or even surpassing, any sought or achieved by the executive branch in prior eras, even during wartime. They point to a lack of concern for accountability that veers far from previously acknowledged limits on unchecked executive power. They deliberately disregard, even nullify, the balance-of-powers doctrine that has defined the United States since its inception. Essentially, much of what has been put in place by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 has relied on the fear of terror as a means to establish a new doctrine of state; it is a doctrine that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, had lingered in the outer corridors of power. Much of the Patriot Act, for instance, had already been drafted before 9/11; and the proposal for the Department of Homeland Security was also in draft form at that time. So, too, were plans for a war in Iraq.

The torture memos developed inside the White House by a task force of lawyers headed by presidential confidant and White House Legal Counsel Alberto Gonzales are important, and not just as evidence of a policy that disregards human rights and reciprocity in the treatment of soldiers, civilians, and prisoners. The torture memos are also — perhaps primarily — important because they reveal the most basic attitudes with which the administration greets the Congress, the courts, the American public, and the world at large.

One of the chief figures in turning legal questions on torture into policy in the matter of the treatment of prisoners has been Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who oversaw the approval of harsh interrogation methods in 2002 and who became the personally responsible party for approving or disapproving the use of coercive interrogation and “category three” torture after the Spring of 2003. It seems only apt and fitting, then, that he, as well as Alberto Gonzales, be brought before Congress and asked questions about this policy and his role in it.