Former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith. (Photo: da.mod.uk)
Doug Feith, former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, is best known for cooking up bogus prewar Iraq intelligence linking Iraq and al-Qaeda and 9/11.
But in addition to his duties stove piping phony intelligence directly to former Vice President Dick Cheney, Feith was also a key member of a small working group of Defense Department officials who oversaw the implementation of "enhanced interrogation techniques" at Guantanamo Bay that has been widely regarded as torture.
Last weekend, Spain's investigating magistrate Baltasar Garzon, who issued an arrest warrant for former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, ordered prosecutors to investigate Feith and five other senior Bush administration officials for sanctioning torture at the prison facility.
On Sunday, Feith responded to the charges. He told the BBC that "the charges as related to me make no sense."
"They criticize me for promoting a controversial position that I never advocated," Feith claimed.
But Feith's denials ring hollow.
The allegations against Feith contained in the 98-page complaint filed in March 2008 by human rights lawyer Gonzalo Boye and the Association for the [Dignity] was largely gleaned from a lengthy interview Feith gave to international attorney and University College London professor Phillppe Sands. Sands is the author of Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values.
The other Bush officials named in the complaint are: former Justice Department attorneys John Yoo and Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, Cheney's counsel David Addington and former Pentagon general counsel William Haynes II. The charges cited in the complaint against these officials were also largely based on material Sands cited in his book about the roles they played in sanctioning torture.
Last year, in response to questions by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Condoleezza Rice, who, as National Security Adviser, was part of a working group that included Haynes, Yoo, Addington and Gonzales, said interrogation methods were discussed as early as the summer of 2002 and Yoo provided legal advice at "several" meetings that she attended. She said the DOJ's advice on the interrogation program "was being coordinated by Counsel to the President Alberto Gonzales."
Yoo met with Gonzales and Addington to discuss the subjects he intended to address in two August 2002 torture memos, according to a declassified summary of the Armed Services Committee report.
Feith was also included in the discussions.
Sands wrote that as early as 2002, "Feith's job was to provide advice across a wide range of issues, and the issues came to include advice on the Geneva Conventions and the conduct of military interrogations."
Feith told Sands that he "played a major role in" George W. Bush's decision to sign a February 7, 2002, action memorandum suspending the Geneva Conventions for al-Qaeda and Taliban prisoners who were imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.
The memo did say that prisoners had to be treated "humanely," but Feith told Sands the verbiage needed "to be fleshed out." "But it's a fine phrase - 'humane treatment,'" Feith added. Still, even with the phrase intact, the Common Article 3 restrictions against torture and "outrages upon personal dignity" were removed.
Feith said 2002 was a special year for him.
"This year I was really a player," Feith told Sands.
"I asked him whether, in the end, he was at all concerned that the Geneva decision might have diminished America's moral authority," Sands wrote. "He was not. 'The problem with moral authority,' [Feith] said, was 'people who should know better, like yourself, siding with the assholes, to put it crudely.'"
"Douglas Feith had a long-standing intellectual interest in Geneva, and for many years had opposed legal protections for terrorists under international law," Sands wrote in his book. "He referred me to an article he had written in 1985, in The National Interest, setting out his basic view. Geneva provided incentives to play by the rules; those who chose not to follow the rules, he argued, shouldn't be allowed to rely on them, or else the whole Geneva structure would collapse. The only way to protect Geneva, in other words, was sometimes to limit its scope. To uphold Geneva's protections, you might have to cast them aside."
On Thursday, April 2, two days after this story was first published Justin Polin, Feith's research assistant based at the Hudson Institute, sent me an e-mail stating that Sands' account of their conversation as described in Torture Team was inaccurate and filled with "distortions," and "misquotations."
"You cite the work of Philippe Sands to imply that Mr. Feith somehow advocated torture. Mr. Feith did no such thing," Polin wrote. "Mr. Feith rebutted Mr. Sands's allegations in detail during a July 15 hearing of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties."
"In an August 13, 2008 letter to Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Mr. Feith then provided a list of some of the major errors in Torture Team," Polin said. "On Oct. 6, 2008, Mr. Feith submitted answers to the subcommittee's "Questions for the Record," further rebutting Mr. Sands's allegations. These documents, as well as links to the complete transcript and video of the hearing, are publicly available" on Feith's website.
Sands, who is based in the UK, did not immediately return phone calls or e-mails Thursday.
Still, in addition to Sands' account, New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, in her book, The Dark Side, also documented Feith's role in implementing aggressive interrogation techniques and his position that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to terrorists.
"As far back as the 1980s, when he had been a midlevel Reagan Administration official, Feith had argued that terrorists did not deserve to be protected by the Geneva Conventions. The issue had first arisen in connection with the Palestinian Liberation Organization," Mayer wrote. "Feith, a passionate Zionist, had helped to convince the Reagan Administration to oppose international efforts to protect anti-Israel terrorists as soldiers. John Yoo and other Bush Administration lawyers seized on this position as a precedent."
Moreover, the Senate Armed Services Committee and the American Civil Liberties Union has already released documents showing that Haynes. the Pentagon's general counsel regularly briefed Feith about a list of aggressive interrogation techniques for use against "high-value" Guantanamo detainees.
In November 2002, Haynes sent Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memo stating that he "had discussed the issue [of enhanced interrogations] with Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Doug Feith, and General [Richard] Myers and that he believed they concurred in his recommendation."
The Senate Armed Services Committee is expected to release a declassified version of its report that will include a full account of Feith's role in implementing a policy of torture at Guantanamo. The report is 200 pages, contains 2,000 footnotes, and will reveal a wealth of new information about the genesis of the Bush administration's interrogation policies, according to these sources. The investigation relied upon the testimony of 70 people, generated 38,000 pages of documents, and took 18 months to complete.
Other documents released last year show that Feith worked closely with Haynes on an Army and Air Force survival-training program called Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE), which were meant to prepare U.S. soldiers for abuse they might suffer if captured by an outlaw regime, against detainees at Guantanamo. One of the SERE techniques used against detainees was waterboarding.
Moreover, Feith and Haynes were members of a Pentagon "working group" that met from January through March 2003 and prepared a report for Rumsfeld stating what methods military interrogators could use to extract information from a prisoner at Guantanamo. Yoo worked on the legal memo for the group.
According to an executive summary of the Armed Services Committee report released last December, "techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval" by Feith, Haynes and other Defense Department officials.
Early drafts of the report advocated intimidating prisoners with dogs, removing prisoners' clothing, shaving their beards, slapping prisoners in the face and waterboarding.
Though some of the more extreme techniques were dropped as the list was winnowed down to 24 from 35, the final set of methods still included tactics for isolating and demeaning a detainee, known as "pride and ego down."
Such degrading tactics violated the Geneva Convention, which bars abusive or demeaning treatment of captives.
Rumsfeld signed the final version of the report Feith and Haynes helped prepare on April 2, 2003, two weeks after Bush ordered U.S. forces to invade Iraq.
One year later, photos depicting U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were publicly released.
According to a report by a panel headed by James Schlesinger on the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses in 2004, Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez said Bush's Feb. 7, 2002, memo suspending Geneva Conventions, which Feith had said he was principally responsible for, led him to implement "additional, tougher measures" against detainees.