The plot sick­ens

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature - Ray Bon­ner

AMER­ICA’S rep­u­ta­tion and im­age in the world, as a par­a­digm of jus­tice and the rule of law, has been se­ri­ously tar­nished by ren­di­tion and tor­ture, in­def­i­nite de­ten­tions, Guan­tanamo and do­mes­tic spy­ing: in short, by an ero­sion of civil lib­er­ties that has no prece­dent in US his­tory.

Dur­ing the Civil War, Abra­ham Lin­coln sus­pended habeas cor­pus; dur­ing World War II, pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt in­terned 100,000 Ja­panese- Amer­i­cans. But the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken those aber­ra­tions and turned them into pol­icy, go­ing much fur­ther.

From the le­gion of books so far about the so­called war on ter­ror, we know what has hap­pened. What we haven’t known is how it came about.

How did the US aban­don the Geneva Con­ven­tions, which it signed and pro­moted be­cause it pro­tected all cap­tured sol­diers, in­clud­ing Amer­i­cans? How did the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion come to em­brace the tor­ture tech­niques used by the North Kore­ans on Amer­i­can pris­on­ers of war? How did the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion jet­ti­son a pol­icy, af­ter 200 years, that had been adopted by

The Dark Side: The In­side Story of How the War on Ter­ror Turned into a War on Amer­ica’s Ideals By Jane Mayer Scribe, 400pp, $ 35

Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton for the hu­mane treat­ment of cap­tured en­emy sol­diers?

In The Dark Side , Jane Mayer, a staff writer on The New Yorker and one of the best in­ves­tiga­tive re­porters in the US, an­swers th­ese ques­tions in the most com­pelling, chill­ing, well- writ­ten ac­count to date of how the coun­try went from be­ing ad­mired for its com­mit­ment to civil lib­er­ties to one cited by au­thor­i­tar­ian gov­ern­ments to jus­tify them­selves when ac­cused of hu­man- rights abuses. The short an­swer is that it was the work of a ca­bal of con­ser­va­tive lawyers, op­er­at­ing in as much se­crecy as any coup plot­ters.

By virtue of his po­si­tion as aide to Vi­cePres­i­dent Dick Cheney, David Ad­ding­ton was at the top of the self- de­scribed war coun­cil. A for­mer CIA lawyer, Ad­ding­ton shared with Cheney the con­vic­tion that the power of the pres­i­dency had been se­verely weak­ened by the re­forms that fol­lowed Water­gate and Viet­nam, and they set about to re­store them. In­tel­lec­tual might was pro­vided by John Yoo, a bril­liant Kore­anAmer­i­can who had at­tended Har­vard and Yale law school.

The oth­ers in­cluded Yoo’s boss in the Jus­tice Depart­ment, at­tor­ney- gen­eral Al­berto Gon­za­les, who had been Bush’s le­gal ad­viser when he was gov­er­nor of Texas, and Tim Flana­gan, an an­tiabor­tion ac­tivist and fa­ther of 14 who had been part of the probe into Bill Clin­ton’s sex life.

They were ‘‘ like a high- school clique’’, Mayer writes, an elite clique that played squash and rac­quet­ball to­gether and went on se­cret trips.

The con­ser­va­tive ca­bal seem­ingly would stop at noth­ing to carry out its will. They ig­nored or out­ma­noeu­vred se­nior of­fi­cials in the ad­min­is­tra­tion who did not agree with them. They de­stroyed doc­u­ments, dis­sem­bled and de­mol­ished ca­reers.

Af­ter John Walker Lindh, the kid from the up­scale San Fran­cisco sub­urb who had con­verted to Is­lam as a teenager, was cap­tured dur­ing the fight­ing in Afghanistan in Novem­ber 2001, the FBI wanted to in­ter­view him. It couldn’t be done without a lawyer be­ing present, a young lawyer in the Jus­tice Depart­ment, Jes­se­lyn Radack, re­minded the or­gan­i­sa­tion in a string of emails.

The FBI ques­tioned him any­way and when at­tor­ney- gen­eral John Ashcroft an­nounced that Lindh had been in­dicted on sev­eral counts of mur­der and con­spir­acy, he as­serted that Lindh had not asked for a lawyer. In fact, as Ashcroft knew, Lindh’s par­ents had re­tained a lawyer and fa­ther Frank Lindh had sent a let­ter to his son to that ef­fect. US of­fi­cials had blocked de­liv­ery of the let­ter.

Radack was ap­palled by Ashcroft’s state­ment and let it be known in more emails. She paid the

price for her eth­i­cal stand. First she was given a neg­a­tive per­for­mance re­view that ques­tioned her le­gal judg­ment, then urged to look for an­other job, which she did.

The judge in the Lindh case asked to see all rel­e­vant Jus­tice Depart­ment doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing emails, per­tain­ing to the case. Radack’s emails were not turned over and hard copies were de­stroyed. Af­ter Newsweek ob­tained copies of the emails and pub­lished them, the Jus­tice Depart­ment told the law firm that had of­fered Radack a job that she was the sub­ject of a leak in­ves­ti­ga­tion. The firm with­drew its of­fer. ( No charges were filed against Radack and she was even­tu­ally cleared of any eth­i­cal mis­con­duct.)

The ero­sion of civil lib­er­ties be­gan swiftly. Four­teen days af­ter 9/ 11, Yoo, work­ing with Ad­ding­ton, con­cluded that the Pres­i­dent could do vir­tu­ally what­ever he wanted in the war on ter­ror. Even Congress couldn’t stop the Pres­i­dent from or­der­ing tor­ture, Yoo told Mayer.

Re­ly­ing on Yoo’s memos and Ad­ding­ton’s in­flu­ence, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion aban­doned treaties that the US had long sup­ported, in­clud­ing the UN Con­ven­tion Against Tor­ture and Other Cruel, In­hu­man or De­grad­ing Treat­ment or Pu­n­ish­ment and the Geneva Con­ven­tions. Dur­ing the Viet­nam War, the North Viet­namese had re­fused to abide by the con­ven­tions and John McCain was among the cap­tured Amer­i­cans sadis­ti­cally tor­tured. Still, the US forces af­forded Geneva Con­ven­tions pro­tec­tions to the Viet­namese gueril­las, even though they didn’t wear mil­i­tary uni­forms and of­ten dis­guised them­selves as civil­ians.

The State Depart­ment’s le­gal ad­viser, William Howard Taft III, ar­gued that Yoo’s anal­y­sis was se­ri­ously flawed and warned that if the US did not ob­serve the con­ven­tions, Amer­i­can sol­diers could be sub­ject to bru­tal treat­ment if cap­tured, which was why the coun­try’s gen­er­als and ad­mi­rals ar­gued against aban­don­ing it. Taft added, as if for good mea­sure, that sol­diers, and even Bush, could be pros­e­cuted for war crimes. Taft was ig­nored. He sent his ad­vice to Gon­za­les.

The State Depart­ment was flooded with ca­bles from for­eign gov­ern­ments ex­press­ing dis­may and many warned that it would in­hibit their abil­ity to co- op­er­ate in the war on ter­ror. Sec­re­tary of state Colin Pow­ell sought a meet­ing with the Pres­i­dent, but he was out­flanked. Cheney sent a caus­tic memo to the Pres­i­dent, writ­ten by Ad­ding­ton, ar­gu­ing that the Geneva Con­ven­tions were ob­so­lete and quaint.

Most coun­tries did co- op­er­ate with the US, in­clud­ing, of course, Aus­tralia. Aus­tralia and the US have long shared in­tel­li­gence and this co­op­er­a­tion did not ex­pe­ri­ence a hic­cup. Aus­tralian ci­ti­zen Mam­douh Habib, seized in Pak­istan, where Aus­tralian of­fi­cials saw him, was taken by the CIA to Egypt and tor­tured be­fore be­ing taken to Guan­tanamo. The Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment did vir­tu­ally noth­ing for him for five years.

It was the same with David Hicks, who the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment al­lowed to re­main in Guan­tanamo for more than five years be­fore fi­nally push­ing for his release. The La­bor Party never came to the de­fence of Habib or Hicks while it was in Op­po­si­tion and even now has not launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the cases.

It will take a re­porter such as Mayer to dig out why Aus­tralia was com­plicit in the as­sault on civil lib­er­ties, even when its own cit­i­zens were vic­tims. Lon­don- based Ray­mond Bon­ner writes about in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity for The New York Times.

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