Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Obama Lifts Veil on Bush-era Methods

Obama lifts veil on Bush-era terror methods

WASHINGTON (AFP) - - President Barack Obama's administration lifted the veil further Monday on past "war on terror" tactics, releasing Bush-era legal memos and revealing the CIA destroyed 92 controversial interrogation videos.

Hours after Attorney General Eric Holder ruled out the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique -- because it amounted to torture -- his Justice Department released nine internal documents from the previous administration, which had given legal grounding to the controversial policies.

In further repudiation of president George W. Bush's anti-terror methods acting US Attorney Lev Dassin formally identified the number of tapes destroyed -- a far greater number than the CIA has admitted to.

In correspondence with a New York judge, who is hearing a case against the intelligence agency by a human rights group, Dassin asked the court to give the CIA until Friday to prepare any records on the tapes that were destroyed, as well as a list of possible witnesses.

The legal documents -- the first dating from shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks and spanning until the months following the US-led 2003 invasion of Iraq -- detail how Bush gave himself power over terror suspects.

"The power to dispose of the liberty of individuals captured ... remain in the hands of the president alone," said a 2002 opinion written by then-assistant attorney general John Yoo on US methods for transferring suspects.

"Congress may no more regulate the president's ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements," according to another 2003 opinion written for Alberto Gonzales, then counsel for Bush, which detailed prerogatives for military interrogations.

In another potentially explosive opinion, the Bush administration also gave itself ample room to skirt international law.

The president's "power to suspend treaties is wholly discretionary," according to a memo for John Bellinger, who was then legal advisor to the National Security Council.

Obama's Justice Department said the self-applied boundaries for executive power gave the White House "unconstrained discretion to suspend treaty obligations of the United States at any time and for any reason."

The house-cleaning move comes as Obama's administration seeks to distance itself from Bush-era policies.

"Waterboarding is torture," Holder said earlier Monday, in a speech to the Jewish Council of Public Affairs. "My Justice Department will not justify it, will not rationalize it and will not condone it," he said.

"The use and sanction of torture is at odds with the history of American jurisprudence and American values."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought a case against the Central Intelligence Agency in December 2007, said Dassin's letter confirming the number of tapes provided "further evidence for holding the CIA in contempt of court."

In a statement ACLU staff attorney Amrit Singh said the "large number of videotapes destroyed confirms that the agency engaged in a systemic attempt to hide evidence of its illegal interrogations and to evade the court's order."

Holder is currently leading a review of the treatment of terror suspects.

Obama ordered the review as one of his first acts in office, as he also ordered the closing of the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention center, the CIA's secret prisons abroad and special interrogation authorities for terror detainees.

In an executive order, Obama required that all interrogations conducted at US facilities worldwide follow the US Army field manual, which bars the use of waterboarding -- a form of simulated drowning -- and other harsh interrogation techniques.

"Living our values doesn't make us weaker, it makes us safer and it makes us stronger," Obama told a joint session of Congress in a primetime address last month.

"That is why I can stand here tonight and say without exception or equivocation that the United States of America does not torture."

Many detainees at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba have been held there for years without trial. Some 240 inmates remain.

More than 800 detainees have passed through Guantanamo since it was opened on January 11, 2002, as a place to ship suspects in the "war on terror" begun by Bush in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

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