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General Accuses WH of War Crimes

"The quintet of lawyers, who called themselves the 'War Council,' drafted legal opinions that circumvented the military's code of justice, the federal court system and America's international treaties in order to prevent anyone -- from soldiers on the ground to the president -- from being held accountable for activities that at other times have been considered war crimes. . . .

"The international conventions that the United States helped draft, and to which it's a party, were abandoned in secret meetings among the five men in one another's offices. No one in the War Council has publicly described the group's activities in any detail, and only some of their opinions and memorandums have been made public. . . .

"Only one of the five War Council lawyers remains in office: David Addington, the brilliant but abrasive longtime legal adviser and now chief of staff to Cheney. His primary motive, according to several former administration and defense officials, was to push for an expansion of presidential power that Congress or the courts couldn't check."

The other members were Alberto Gonzales, first the White House counsel and then the attorney general; William J. Haynes II, the former Pentagon general counsel; former Justice Department lawyer John Yoo; and Timothy E. Flanigan, a former deputy to Gonzales.

For more on Addington's central role, see my Sept. 5, 2007 column; for more on the relationship between the administration's legal memos and torture, see my April 2 column.

The Senate Investigation

The Senate Armed Services Committee made news with a hearing yesterday -- part of its continuing investigation into the administration's interrogation policies. (Here's the C-SPAN video.)

Joby Warrick writes in The Washington Post: "A senior CIA lawyer advised Pentagon officials about the use of harsh interrogation techniques on detainees at Guantanamo Bay in a meeting in late 2002, defending waterboarding and other methods as permissible despite U.S. and international laws banning torture, according to documents released yesterday by congressional investigators.

"Torture 'is basically subject to perception,' CIA counterterrorism lawyer Jonathan Fredman told a group of military and intelligence officials gathered at the U.S.-run detention camp in Cuba on Oct. 2, 2002, according to minutes of the meeting. 'If the detainee dies, you're doing it wrong.' . . .

"Fredman, whose agency had been granted broad latitude by Justice Department lawyers to conduct harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists, listed key considerations for setting a similar program at the Cuban prison. He discussed the pros and cons of videotaping, talked about how to avoid interference by the International Committee of the Red Cross and offered a strong defense of waterboarding." . . .

"Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.), the committee chairman, asked: 'How on Earth did we get to the point where a United States government lawyer would say that . . . torture is subject to perception?'."

Levin also introduced evidence that proposed methods faced opposition at the time from experts in military and international law. Warrick writes: "Among them was Mark Fallon, deputy commander of the Defense Department's Criminal Investigation Task Force. He warned in an October 2002 e-mail to Pentagon colleagues that the techniques under discussion would 'shock the conscience of any legal body' that might review how the interrogations were conducted.

"'This looks like the kind of stuff Congressional hearings are made of,' Fallon wrote. He added: 'Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.'"

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