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Philippe Sands Talks to Bill Moyers About the Torture Team--David Addington, John Yoo, and Company

This is even scarier than I had imagined it would be:

Bill Moyers Journal . Transcripts | PBS: After 9/11, writes Philippe Sands, our highest government officials sanctioned a 'culture of cruelty' that put our troops, our Constitution, and our own standing in the world at risk. This week, members of the House Judiciary Committee began hearings trying to find out how the President came to approve "enhanced interrogation methods" — that's the official code for the use of cruelty in the pursuit of confession. The administration has been fighting to stop a public accounting of the internal decisions behind that policy. The officials who took part in those discussions fear they could one day face prosecution if their actions turn out to have been illegal. Those key officials talked to Philippe Sands for his book, and this week he was asked to testify at those hearings in Congress.

REP. JERROLD NADLER:This hearing of the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will come to order....

REP. MIKE PENCE: Some, of course, have suggested that relationship-building interrogation techniques are preferable and even more reliable in the long-run than stress methods. They raise the question, though, what about the hard cases? And I can tell by your grin you acknowledge the somewhat absurd thought that you could move people who have masterminded the death of more than 3000 Americans by Oprah Winfrey methods.

PHILIPPE SANDS: I did smile because, frankly, the image that weeks and weeks of rapport-building with KSM is somehow going to produce results is counterintuitive. But the reality is we don't know. And I spoke in my investigation to a lot of interrogators — military, FBI — who basically said, "coercion doesn't work. You get information that they want to give you that they think is going to stop the pain from happening."

BILL MOYERS: Philippe Sands is known in top legal circles for his work on torture cases spawned by such infamous dictators as Chile's Pinochet and Liberia's Charles Taylor, and by genocide around the world. He's a counselor to the Queen of England, and director of the Center on International Courts and Tribunals in London, where he closely studied the British fight against terrorists of the IRA.

PHILIPPE SANDS: The thinking in the British military and the thinking across the board politically — it's really not a left-right issue, it's a broad consensus in the United Kingdom — is that coercion doesn't work. The view is taken in the United Kingdom that it extended the conflict with the IRA probably by between 15 and 20 years....

BILL MOYERS: Let me go right to a story that happened after your testimony. It's the story of the suicide bomber in Baghdad who drove his bombing vehicle into an Iraqi police station. It turns out that he had been held at Guantanamo for over three years. Pentagon records say that he had told people he wanted to kill as many Americans as he possibly can . And a lot of people — you go to the blogs this morning — a lot of people are thinking, why give someone like that the benefit of the doubt?

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, firstly, we give people the benefit of the doubt because that's the nature of our system. We are a country, United Kingdom, United States, who believe fundamentally in democratic values. We don't assume guilt. We assume innocence. There are people at Guantanamo who pose a threat, undoubtedly. But there are also a great many more people who don't pose a threat. And in those circumstances, I think using this as an example to somehow come down on the merits of the Guantanamo system is not a sensible thing to do. I think Guantanamo has been a problem as Abu Ghraib has been a problem, because it has undermined America's claim to moral authority in facing up to the very real challenge of terrorism. And, locking them up and throwing away the key is only going to exacerbate the problem. And it's a problem that we faced in Britain, for example, in relationship to the IRA back in the 1970s and the 1980s. That's not the way to go.

BILL MOYERS: You told the committee this week that the British experience in fighting the terrorists of the IRA actually extended the conflict 15 to 20 years. What's the evidence for that?

PHILIPPE SANDS: The story's a simple one. Back in '71, '72, the British moved as the United States has done now, to aggressive techniques of interrogation. They used pretty much the same techniques: hooding, standing, humiliation, degradation. Five techniques, they were called.... But there was a bigger problem, even beyond their illegality, in my view. And that was this: That what the use of those techniques did was to really enrage part of the Catholic community, who felt that IRA detainees alleged to be terrorists, were being abused. And it turned people who were perhaps unhappy with the situation into being deeply and violently unhappy with the situation. And if you speak to British politicians who were involved in that period, and the British military, what they'll tell you is that there is a feeling that the use of those types of techniques extended the conflict.

BILL MOYERS: Did you learn that people will say anything to stop the torture?

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, actually, I think it's self-evident that that is what happened. If you speak to interrogators, they will tell you that aggressive techniques of interrogation don't work. They don't produce meaningful information. And just the other day, I was listening to a very interesting tape of John McCain. And he explained how he, in the end, had signed a confession, owning up to crimes against children and women in North Vietnam, basically because he had reached a point, he thought he wouldn't be broken, where he had reached a point where he simply couldn't bear it any more, and he wanted the pain to stop. And the only thing he could do was to tell them what they wanted to know. And that's, that's what interrogators will tell you. Abuse produces information that is the information the detainee thinks you want to know, and nothing more than that. It's not reliable.

BILL MOYERS: Going back to the hearings, one member of the committee, Representative Trent Franks of Arizona, a Republican, said--and I quote-- "The results of a total of three minutes of severe interrogations of three of the worst terrorists were of immeasurable benefit to the American people. A full 25 percent of the human intelligence we've received on Al Qaeda came from just three minutes worth of rarely used interrogation tactics."

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, I remember that very well. And I appreciated very much everything that Representative Franks had to say. But I've described that to my friends in London as a sort of Monty Python moment in the hearing. Because he alleged that there had been three individuals water boarded. They had been water boarded for no more than one minute each. And they had spilled the beans. And I was sitting there watching him and thinking, well, that's new information. I've never heard that before. Where on earth does that come from? Counterintuitively, I can't imagine how a waterboarding of one minute is suddenly going to produce useful information. We don't even know if it is useful. But also, imagine the scene. You've got guys there with stopwatches. We're gonna waterboard him for one minute, and then we will stop. And in that one minute, everything will come up. I don't know where he got all that from. I thought he sounded as though he made up on the stop. We don't have any objective evidence that any of these interrogation techniques have produced any useful information. KSM, you've referred to, has owned up to virtually everything under the sun that has happened that is bad for the United States in the last five years. And I find that counterintuitive to common sense. I would say I don't have actual information on KSM. I do have actual information on detainee 063. I spent time, as I describe in the book, with the head of Mohammed al-Qahtani's Exploitation Team. And the bottom line of it was, contrary to what the administration said, they got nothing out of him....

PHILIPPE SANDS: Look, Bill, I've spent 20 years during courtroom work as a litigating lawyer. I like to see evidence on things. I like arguments to be based on evidence. David Rivkin is unable to provide any evidence. I have honed in on the interrogation of one man, detainee 063. The administration has publicly declared they got a mass of information out of him that related to all sorts of extraordinarily important things to protect the Americans. I then spoke to the people who were involved in his actual interrogation and the head of his Exploitation Team. That's not what they told me. If the evidence I had been given had been different, then I would reach possibly a different conclusion. Not as to the legality or the utility of torture, but what do we do in the face of evidence that it works? But there isn't evidence that it works. The British experience is that it doesn't work. The Spanish experience is that it doesn't work. The Egyptian experience is that it doesn't work, in the sense of producing meaningful information that is going to protect a country. Sure, it produces information. But as John McCain said in his interview in 1997, it produces the wrong information. Because someone who's subject to that sort of pain and suffering is going to do anything they can to stop it from happening. And they will tell the person who is abusing them what the person wants to hear, and nothing more and nothing less.

BILL MOYERS: Philippe, you spent a long time and made a lot of trips and talked to a lot of people to do this book. What was driving you? Why did you-- you've got enough to do. Why did you want to do this particular book?

PHILIPPE SANDS: I did it totally off my own back. I was fascinated by a simple question. How could lawyers at the upper echelons of the administration, trained at Harvard Law School and other distinguished institutions, have approved torture? In what circumstances could that happen? I didn't understand how it happened. And it combined with a real sense of injustice that the truth of the story had not come out. Because what the administration said, and I was really catalyzed by a press conference I read in June, 2004, as the administration struggled to contain the disaster of Abu Ghraib. The administration spun a story. You're a press man. You know how governments work. I know how governments work. And the story was this: The desire for aggressive interrogation came from the bottom up. People on the front line, people at Guantanamo, elsewhere, told us they needed to move to new techniques. Who are we at the top, to say no? And in that context, we approved certain techniques.... But it struck me as counterintuitive, because I know the American military. I've got a lot of friends in the American military. And they are deeply committed to the rules of the Geneva Conventions and other international rules, and don't go about the abandonment of President Lincoln's disposition. So what I decided to do was I took the famous memorandum by Donald Rumsfeld, signed in December 2002, where he writes on the bottom—why standing limited for four hours a day, I stand for eight hours a day--and I tracked back the entire decision making process, identified the 10 or 12 people I needed to meet. And one by one, tracked them down, went and found them, spoke to them and I'm truly grateful to them. Once I'd had my first conversation, which I think was with Diane Beaver who was the lawyer down at Guantanamo, I was then able to get right up to the very top. And one by one, I followed from Diane Beaver, the lawyer at Guantanamo, her boss, Mike Dunleavy (who's the head of interrogations, through General Hill, who is the head of Southern Command in Miami, up through General Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, up to Doug Feith, the head of policy at the Pentagon, and then right up to the main man in my book, Jim Haynes. Jim Haynes was Mr. Rumsfeld's lawyer. And Jim Haynes wrote the very famous, the infamous, iconic, why is standing limited to four hours memo. And he went to Harvard Law School. And I just couldn't understand how someone so well trained could authorize abusive interrogation like that.

BILL MOYERS: And did he talk to you?

PHILIPPE SANDS: He did talk to me. I had two meetings with him. The fact of the meeting was on the record, the content of those meetings were off the record. But as I say in the book, concluding chapter includes taking to account everything he said to me.... [T]ake Diane Beaver. I had written a previous book where I treated her legal advice. She had been the person down at the bottom who'd signed off on aggressive interrogation. I didn't like her legal advice at all. I thought it was really bad advice and wrong advice. And I was rather uncomplimentary, perhaps even rude about it, in my last book. And then I met her. And she explained to me the circumstances in which she found herself. I don't think it justifies what happened. But she described to me the pressure she felt herself under, the anniversary of 9/11 coming up. This man, detainee 063, al-Qahtani, present and caught. Tremendous pressure coming from the upper echelons of the administration. She described to me a visit that the administration has never talked about in which the three most important lawyers in the administration, Mr. Gonzales, who's the president's lawyer, Mr. Addington, who is the vice president's lawyer, and Mr. Haynes, who is Secretary Rumsfeld's lawyer-- came down to Guantanamo at the end of September, talked to them about interrogations and other issues, watched an interrogation, and left with the message, do whatever needs to be done. Now, put yourself in Diane Beaver's situation. You're getting a signal from the main man at the top of the administration: do whatever needs to be done. That takes the lid off and opens the door.

BILL MOYERS: Was there a single architect of the decision, the person who said, "Take the gloves off?"

PHILIPPE SANDS:There was one lawyer in particular who everyone kept referring to as being, if you like, the brains. I'm slow to use that word for such an awful series of events. But the driving force behind it, and that was David Addington.... But he wasn't speaking off his own back. I mean, he was speaking for the vice president. And I think that the finger of responsibility in the end, will most likely go to the vice president. But Mr. Rumsfeld was deeply involved. And, of course, the president has indicated just within the past month, that he signed off on everything.

BILL MOYERS: You subtitle the book Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. Tell me briefly about that memo and why it betrayed American values.

PHILIPPE SANDS: The memo appears to be the very first time that the upper echelons of the military or the administration have abandoned President Lincoln's famous disposition of 1863: the U.S. military doesn't do cruelty.... It's called the U.S. Army Field Manual, and it's the bible for the military. And the military, of course, has fallen into error, and have been previous examples of abuse.... But apparently, what hasn't happened before is the abandonment of the rules against cruelty. And the Geneva Conventions were set aside, as Doug Feith, told me, precisely in order to clear the slate and allow aggressive interrogation... at the insistence of Doug Feith and a small group, including some lawyers. And the memo by Donald Rumsfeld then came in December, 2002, after they had identified Muhammed al-Qahtani. But it was permitted to occupy the space that had been created by clearing away the brush work of the Geneva Conventions. And by removing Geneva, that memo became possible. Why does it abandon American values? It abandons American values because this military in this country has a very fine tradition, as we've been discussing, of not doing cruelty. It's a proud tradition, and it's a tradition born on issues of principle, but also pragmatism. No country is more exposed internationally than the United States. I've listened, for example, to Justice Antonin Scalia saying, if the president wants to authorize torture, there's nothing in our constitution which stops it. Now, pause for a moment. That is such a foolish thing to say. If the United States president can do that, then why can't the Iranian president do that, or the British prime minister do that, or the Egyptian president do that? You open the door in that way, to all sorts of abuses, and you expose the American military to real dangers, which is why the backlash began with the U.S. Military.... It slipped into a culture of cruelty. There was a, it was put very pithily for me by a clinical psychologist, Mike Gellers, who is with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, spending time down at Guantanamo, who described to me how once you open the door to a little bit of cruelty, people will believe that more cruelty is a good thing. And once the dogs are unleashed, it's impossible to put them back on. And that's the basis for the belief amongst a lot of people in the military that the interrogation techniques basically slipped from Guantanamo to Iraq, and to Abu Ghraib. And that's why, that's why the administration has to resist the argument and the claim that this came from the top.... It started with a few bad eggs. The administration has talked about a few bad eggs. I don't think the bad eggs are at the bottom. I think the bad eggs are at the top. And what they did was open a door which allowed the migration of abuse, of cruelty and torture to other parts of the world in ways that I think the United States will be struggling to contain for many years to come.

BILL MOYERS: You said that the backlash came from the military....

PHILIPPE SANDS: You've got different camps who are struggling down at Guantanamo. And I think it would be wrong in any way to give the sense that there was unanimity to move towards abuse or that there was even strong support towards moving towards abuse. There was a strong body of belief down at Guantanamo amongst the military community, amongst the military lawyers, with the FBI, with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, that this is a bad thing. Abuse doesn't work, abuse undermines authority, abuse undermines morale. We are going to stop it. Initially, they weren't successful. But once the abuse began, a backlash followed. And the folks down at Guantanamo identified a man in Washington who was the general counsel of the Navy, a man by the name of Alberto Mora, who truly is a heroic individual, in my view, who intervened very courageously, no personal advantage, directly with Jim Haynes, and said, "This must stop. If it doesn't stop, I'm going to reduce this into writing, and I'm going to cause a big fuss."...

BILL MOYERS:The legal affairs correspondent of The National Journal, a very respected fellow named Stuart Taylor, says that we should focus on amending the law to prevent future abuse of torture, but not hold those responsible for past interrogations of questionable legality. What do you think about that?...

PHILIPPE SANDS: I think the crucial issue is you've got to ascertain the facts. I was asked by the committee what should happen. My answer to that question was, "Let's sort out the facts. Once we've sorted out the facts, then it will be for others to decide what to do." I'm satisfied here a crime was committed.... The Geneva Conventions were plainly violated in relation to this man. And in our system laws, if a man violates the law and commits a crime, he is punishable.

BILL MOYERS:So who violated the law?

PHILIPPE SANDS: I think it goes to the top.... I'm not on a witch hunt. I'm not saying that there should be a campaign of investigation and prosecution and sentencing, and conviction, and so on and so forth. What I'm saying is let's start by sorting out the facts. Once the facts have been sorted out, let's see exactly what they say, and it will be for others to decide what needs to be done. But until that's done, you can't close on the past and you can't move forward.... The lawyers were deeply involved in the decision making process. The lawyers that I've identified, from John Yoo at Department of Justice, preparing a legal memorandum which abandons American and international definitions of torture, and reintroduces a new definition that has never been passed by any legislature, that is totally unacceptable. What was he doing there? Was he really giving legal advice? No he wasn't. He was rubber stamping a policy decision. This is not careful, independent legal advice. What was Jim Haynes doing when he recommended to Donald Rumsfeld the authorization for the approval of 15 techniques of interrogation? He was saying to the Secretary of Defense, I'm your lawyer. I'm telling you this is fine. You can do it. If he hadn't done that, Mr. Rumsfeld would not have signed the piece of paper that Jim Haynes wrote. Jim Haynes is directly involved in the decision making process. And the lawyers, as such, play an absolutely key role. Now, at the end of the day, they're not the most important people. The most important people are the people whose signatures are actually appended. They are the politicians who actually decided the issue. But in this case, without the lawyers, they would never have had a piece of paper to sign.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think that people like David Addington and John Yoo and Jim Haynes, and the other lawyers you've mentioned who advised and were on the torture team, should ultimately be held responsible in court for what they did in government at this period of time?

PHILIPPE SANDS: If they were complicit in the commission of a crime, then they should be investigated. And if the facts show that there is a sufficient basis for proceeding to a prosecution, then they should be prosecuted. Lawyers are gatekeepers to legality and constitutionality. If the lawyers become complicit in a common plan to get around the law, to allow abuse, then yes, they should be liable.... Soldiers on the front lines who are doing their best in difficult circumstances, to protect the United States, should not be blamed for what was decided at the top.... If people like Doug Feith and Jim Haynes had said to me, "Look, Philippe. September the 11th came. The anniversary was coming. We were getting information that there were going to be more attacks. We had people that we were told had information that we need to do something about. And we therefore felt, in those circumstances, it was right to use all means appropriate and necessarily to get the information. But, with the benefit of hindsight, we realize we fell into error, we made a mistake. We accept responsibility for that. We will learn from those mistakes. We'll make damn sure it doesn't happen again." I didn't get that at all. There was not a hint of recognition that anything had gone wrong, nor a hint of recognition of individual responsibility. When you read these chapters, when you read my account with Doug Feith and with others, you will see the sort of weaseling out of individual responsibility, the total and abject failure to accept involvement. Read Mr. Feith's book. on how to fight the so-called war on terror. And it's as though the man had no involvement in the decisions relating to interrogation of detainees. And yet, as I describe in the book, the man was deeply involved in the decision making from step one. So it's about individual responsibility. And there's been an abject failure on that account.

BILL MOYERS: Do you think torture's still going on?

PHILIPPE SANDS:I don't think torture is still going on at Guantanamo.... I think there was probably far more systemic torture in Afghanistan, at Bagram and in Kandahar, but not in the military. And I think the military has now stopped. But it's important not to forget that although the military now, following in particular, the intervention of the United States Supreme Court in 2006, very important judgment in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, which said, Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions can be invoked by all detainees at Guantanamo. So on the military side, it has stopped. But there remains the other side, the dark side, as Vice President Dick Cheney called it, the CIA. And just in the past few weeks, the President of the United States has vetoed legislation which would... prohibit the CIA from using the very techniques of interrogation that are the subject of this book....

BILL MOYERS: I read comments just this week by a noted Arab scholar, who said that if you walk the streets of Cairo today, stop at the book stalls, stop at the book stores, you see, looking out at you everywhere, photographs of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. That the-- this torture, these enhanced interrogate-- interrogation techniques — this cruelty-- has seized the imagination of the Arab world. And that long after all of us have gone, including the torture team, the next generation of Arabs will living with those images. What's your own sense of that?

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, that, I'm very sad to say, is my observation. I do travel a lot. I travel, you know, in South America, I travel in Asia, I travel in the Arab world. I do a lot of work for governments around the world. And it's sad but true. The image of the United States today is that it's a country that has given us Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Now, that is not the America that I know. I've spent a lot of time here, you know. I'm married to an American. My kids were born in the United States. I know what the true America is. And for me, this is a distressing story, because it has allowed those who want to undermine the United States a very easy target for doing it. It's even worse than that, Bill. I mean, I've been in situations-- in a globalized world with the internet, the legal advices that have been written by people like John Yoo at the Department of Justice, and the memos written by Jim Haynes, that have been put in front of the desk of Donald Rumsfeld, have gone all over the world. They've been studied all over the world. Other governments are able to rely upon them, and to say equally, look, this is what the United States does. If the U.S. does it, we can do it. It's undermined the United States' ability to tackle corruption, abuse, human rights violations in other countries, in a massive way. And it will take 15 or 20 years to repair the damage. And that's why, irrespective of the complexion of whichever next president happens to hold that high office-- and I think irrespective of whether it's Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama, or anyone else, there will be a recognition of a need to move on. And moving on means recognizing that errors were made.

BILL MOYERS: So the next president has to wrestle with this, and so do we?

PHILIPPE SANDS: I think we're all going to be wrestling with this. And I think we have a responsibility to wrestle with it in a constructive way, precisely because I think we do face real global challenges. And the threat of terror is real. And the importance of putting the spotlight on the past is to make us learn for the future and to make sure it doesn't happen again.... You need to take the trouble to go and spend many, many hours with people, talk to them, get to know them, understand what motivated them, understand that these are not bad people. These are not people who wanted to do bad things. These are people who found themselves in a very difficult situation, under intense pressure from the top. I think once you've spoken to people, you begin to get a clearer picture. And I hope I have accurately conveyed the conversations in a fair and balanced way. There are people I liked, there are people I didn't like. There are people whose views I shared. There are people whose views I didn't share. But I thought it was terribly important to lay out in the book the range of views that were expressed, and often not even to comment on them. But to let people's views inform the reader, and the reader can then form a view as to whether they agree or disagree. But I have put the other side of the argument, against my own argument. And there will be many, I'm sure, who will disagree with me. And that's fine. Because that's what our societies are about, debating these important issues. I know what I think, though. What happened was wrong, and it needs to be sorted out.

BILL MOYERS: And it's only the beginning. There will be more hearings in June before the same committee, with David Addington saying he will be there, and many of the others: John Yoo and Haynes, and others, saying they will come voluntary and testify.

PHILIPPE SANDS: Yes.... The next hearing is slated in for the 26th of June. I think John Yoo is going to appear at that hearing. He has agreed, if I understand it, to come voluntarily...