'Torture Team' Questions Interrogation Changes

Torture Team, a book by lawyer and author Philippe Sands, pulls together the results of interviews with the people in the United States government who decided to use harsh tactics in detainee interrogations.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

There was some book party a couple of weeks ago in London. The British equivalent of our chief justice, he's Lord Bingham was host. A rare thing for a senior law lord. But so is this book, "Torture Team," by British international lawyer, Philippe Sands. It's a provocative look at the rules of interrogation that the Bush administration first promulgated at Guantanamo. Rules that have now been abandoned. Here's NPR's legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg with a book review.

NINA TOTENBERG: The focus of his book is the top lawyers in the Bush administration, nd how those lawyers changed the military rules on interrogation in the aftermath of 9/11. Sands' focuses on the military because the procedures that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, authorized for use at Guantanamo were not permitted by the army field manual. It was the bible for military personnel. So these were new rules for military interrogations at Guantanamo. Three U.S. commissions have subsequently concluded that the techniques migrated to Abu Ghraib, and they proved so controversial once exposed two years later, that they were withdrawn.

What's most interesting about the book is the work Sands has done interviewing the participants. He's interviewed almost all the key players, from the low level lawyers with no international law experience who were initially ordered to draft the rules, to the Naval Investigative Service Psychological Interrogation team and the F.B.I. team who heatedly objected to the rules. He talked to the Pentagon brass including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the Pentagon's top policy people including Under-Secretary of Defense for policy, Douglas Fife, and the Pentagon's top civilian lawyer, Jim Haynes. And he knows, as do some of the administration officials he interviews, that the people most experienced in international law, the top military, and state department lawyers were deliberately cut out of the process, presumably so they would not object to the new tactics, and prevent them from being put in place.

He's most incendiary conclusion mirrors that of some other analysts, namely that the 15 techniques approved by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, when used in combination, constitute a war crime. These techniques include everything from extreme heat and cold, stress positions, dogs, and round the clock interrogation allowing only four hours for interrupted sleep. Interrogation that lasted as long as 54 days in one case. And while Bush administration officials have said that these rules came from the bottom up, Sands contends that's not true. That the rules were developed in his words, at the very top, starting with Vice President Cheney's counsel, David Addington, President Bush's then White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's counsel, Jim Haynes.

Sands describes a 2002 visit to Guantanamo by these three men. The message the three left for subordinates at Gitmo, according to Sands, was do whatever you have to. And he disputes that the tactics that he characterizes as torture ever resulted in good information. One of these tactics was in fact torture and thus a violation of international law, is a subject likely to be debated for decades to come. The conduct authorized by the top lawyers in the Bush administration may well be as much as a lightning rod for this generation as were the Hess and Rosenberg spy cases from the 1950s that still generate heated dispute today. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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Books Featured In This Story

Torture Team
Torture Team

Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values

by Philippe Sands

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