Fighting Torture at the Pentagon

From Holden:

It’s nearly impossible to get Chimpy to give up his torture fetish, but at least someone tried.

One of the Pentagon’s top civilian lawyers repeatedly challenged the Bush administration’s policy on the coercive interrogation of terror suspects, arguing that such practices violated the law, verged on torture and could ultimately expose senior officials to prosecution, a newly disclosed document shows.

The lawyer, Alberto J. Mora, a political appointee who retired Dec. 31 after more than four years as general counsel of the Navy, was one of many dissenters inside the Pentagon. Senior uniformed lawyers in all the military services also objected sharply to the interrogation policy, according to internal documents declassified last year.

But Mr. Mora’s campaign against what he viewed as an official policy of cruel treatment, detailed in a memorandum he wrote in July 2004 and recounted in an article in the Feb. 27 issue of The New Yorker magazine, made public yesterday, underscored again how contrary views were often brushed aside in administration debates on the subject.


In interviews, current and former Defense Department officials said that part of what was striking about Mr. Mora’s forceful role in the internal debates was how out of character it seemed: a loyal Republican, he was known as a supporter of President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the fight against terrorism.


Mr. Mora prepared the 22-page memorandum for a Defense Department review of interrogation operations that was conducted by Vice Adm. Albert T. Church III, after the scandal involving treatment of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The document focused on Mr. Mora’s successful opposition to the coercive techniques that Mr. Rumsfeld approved for interrogators at Guantnamo Bay on Dec. 2, 2002, and Mr. Mora’s subsequent, failed effort to influence the legal discussions that led to new methods approved by Mr. Rumsfeld the following April.

Mr. Mora took up the issue after Mr. Brandt came to him on Dec. 17, 2002, to relay the concerns of Navy criminal agents at Guantnamo that some detainees there were being subjected to “physical abuse and degrading treatment” by interrogators.

Acting with the support of Gordon R. England, who was then secretary of the Navy and is now Mr. Rumsfeld’s deputy, Mr. Mora took his concerns to Mr. Haynes, the Defense Department’s general counsel.

“In my view, some of the authorized interrogation techniques could rise to the level of torture, although the intent surely had not been to do so,” Mr. Mora wrote.

After trying to rally other senior officials to his position, Mr. Mora met again with Mr. Haynes on Jan. 10, 2003. He argued his case even more forcefully, raising the possibility that senior officials could be prosecuted for authorizing abusive conduct, and asking: “Had we jettisoned our human rights policies?”

Still, Mr. Mora wrote, it was only when he warned Mr. Haynes on Jan. 15 that he was planning to issue a formal memorandum on his opposition to the methods — delivering a draft to Mr. Haynes’s office — that Mr. Rumsfeld suddenly retracted the techniques.

In a break from standard practice, former Pentagon lawyers said, the final draft of the report on interrogation techniques was not circulated to most of the lawyers, including Mr. Mora, who had contributed to it. Several of them said they learned that a final version had been issued only after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.