AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about Douglas Feith, who he was, his significance, your extended interview with him in Washington?
PHILIPPE SANDS: I can talk to him. He—it’s one of the great things about America—my own country is not so open—but you can just get in touch with people, call them up, email them, find their spouses and partners, and say, “Can I come and talk to you?” And Mr. Feith said yes. And I’m very grateful to him for that.
He’s a rather flamboyant character. Someone described him to me as a sort of an Energizer bunny. He likes to speak. He’s got a rather big opinion of himself and the role that he played. He talked rather frankly, I think probably too frankly, about his role in all of this. And in particular, he had an absolutely crucial role in being the person who drafted the memo for President Bush, which caused the Geneva Conventions to be, if you like, suspended from application at Guantanamo.
On the 7th of February, 2002, President Bush adopted the decision that none of the detainees at Guantanamo would be able to rely on any protections under the Geneva Conventions, including the prohibition against cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment or torture. And Doug Feith described to me how he and General Myers worked together, and that he, in particular, took the steps to ensure that none of these detainees could rely on Geneva. And I put it to him, “Isn’t the consequence of getting rid of Geneva that there’s essentially a blank page? All the constraints on abusive interrogation are gone.” And his response was, “That was precisely the point.” And I thought that was rather telling, because the administration has never owned up to the fact that the reason they dis-applied Geneva was precisely to open the door to aggressive interrogation.
AMY GOODMAN:He was Under Secretary of Defense. Now, he—
PHILIPPE SANDS:Well, he was Under Secretary of Defense in charge of policy. So here I am talking to the guy who’s responsible for US policy on treatment of detainees. And I put it to him, “Did it never occur to you that by opening the door to this type of interrogation, you would expose American soldiers or Americans to the same sort of treatment?” And he really just didn’t—he basically said, “We never really thought through all of these issues.” It was rather shocking.
Shocking’s one word for it. Your outrage meter just gets worn out from slapping the needle into the red zone every time some wingnut says something insane like that, and really, that’s what this is, and why our media were caught so flat-footed by the Bush administration’s operations.
We’re used to our politicians bending the truth. We’re used to a lie, even a big lie. We’re not used to thousands of them, repeated, over and over, loudly, and evidence to the contrary being so completely dismissed, like it isn’t there. We’re used to people whom, when pointed out in a mistake or a lie or a deception and shamed, to admit it, sack up, step down, and deal. We’re not used to this, or at least, we weren’t (you can argue we should have been and I’d agree with you). You should all watchFeith’s face when Steve Kroft confronts him with video proving his statements false, it’s total incomprehension, like, “So?” And then he just launches right back into the lie again, only slightly louder, and Kroft is … shocked? Disgusted? More like confused. I’ve just proved this guy’s a liar and a fraud … why is he continuing the lie?
They find the most outrageous thing they can and they do it and then they yell, top of their lungs, that they’re proud of it and by the way, screw you if you don’t agree. You could argue it out, of course, but you have to get over the brazenness of it first. That’s taken a good long time, for a lot of people, to get past the point where you’re staring, openmouthed, going, “Did he just SAY that? Out LOUD?”
From Sands’piece in Vanity Fair:
Feith’s argument prevailed. On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum that turned Guantánamo into a Geneva-free zone. As a matter of policy, the detainees would be handled humanely, but only to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity. “The president said ‘humane treatment,’ ” Feith told me, inflecting the term sourly, “and I thought that was O.K. Perfectly fine phrase that needs to be fleshed out, but it’s a fine phrase—‘humane treatment.’ ” The Common Article 3 restrictions on torture or “outrages upon personal dignity” were gone.
“This year I was really a player,” Feith said, thinking back on 2002 and relishing the memory. I asked him whether, in the end, he was at all concerned that the Geneva decision might have diminished America’s moral authority. He was not. “The problem with moral authority,” he said, was “people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.”
He was really a player. I could argue it out, but I need a minute, to get over my hair standing on end that he just said that, right out loud.