The legal right to maim

I don't usually use this blog to reproduce whole articles from the press, but on this occasion a Guardian story about the rule of law in the United States seems to justify it, being almost beyond comment — especially at a time when we in Britain are convulsed by the debate over whether to extend from 28 to 42 days the maximum time for the detention of terrorist suspects without trying or even charging them.  So here's Elana Schor's report from Washington in the Guardian of 3 April 2008, headed Memo exposes US powers on interrogation:

The US justice department extended the sweeping wartime powers claimed by George Bush to military interrogators, giving them freedom from criminal laws when questioning al-Qaida suspects, in a 2003 memorandum released yesterday.

The brief, provided to the Pentagon days before the invasion of Iraq, allowed slapping, poking and shoving without legal consequences. Maiming a detainee, defined as disabling or cutting out the nose, eye, ear, lip, tongue, or limb, was deemed a defensible interrogation tactic if the military could prove it had no advance intention to maim.

The 9/11 attacks allowed the military and White House to invoke a broad right to self-defence, the brief argued. "The defendant could claim he was fulfilling the executive branch's authority to protect the federal government and the nation from attack after the events of September 11, which triggered the nation's right to self-defence," read the brief, written by former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo.

The memo was revoked nine months after it was sent, but the Bush administration has built on its arguments to assert exemptions from US and international law during interrogations at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere overseas. Referring to Bush as "the sovereign", Yoo gave him the right to override laws "at his discretion".

The 81-page brief was released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which fought the administration in court to secure the release of documents.

The American Civil Liberties Union's press release on this incredible document is here, and the full text of Mr Yoo's 'memo' is here (PDF).  The ACLU press release notes that —

To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's FOIA lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at:  

A real coup for Freedom of Information.  And it should be good for sales in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) of the T-shirts emblazoned with "01.20.09: Bush's Last Day" across the chest.  "The first thing we must do is kill all the lawyers," as Dick the Butcher says in Shakespeare's Henry VI.


1 Response

  1. Andrew Milner says:

    The United States of Torture: It’s official.