More on January 2002

Regrettably, those overwhelmed individuals in the administration trying to dominate the world were even busier at the beginning of 2002 than last week’s column expressed.

 

All signs indicate that behind the scenes, January 2002 was a freakish window of opportunity for desk planners, a hinge in the devastating chronology linking the conquest of Afghanistan to that of Iraq.

 

Jesse Jackson observed that the defeat of Afghanistan by the USA was scarcely in doubt, a recognition probably shared by most people in touch with reality. From certain statements that have now come to light, however, it appears that there were neo-cons in the administration actually surprised that a tiny, starved nation dominated by the Taliban had been bowled over so easily by American military might. Anyone who could think the Taliban a military threat, to say nothing of a tinpot dictator like Saddam, probably has been unconsciously influenced by anti-Muslim rabidity; beyond that, some of the comments almost imply a disappointment that the war was over so quickly. Whatever the individual pathologies, however, several such thinkers began scratching around to resurrect the idea of invading Iraq, which had been temporarily tabled after its bringing up immediately after 9/11.

 

It is noteworthy that even the most distant planning for invading Iraq was accompanied by what amounts to a concomitant attack on the Bill of Rights. That January was a particularly busy month, as alert emailers have reminded me with the following chronology.

 

On January 9, 2002, a Memorandum was submitted to William J Haynes II, General Counsel to the Department of Defense, by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, written by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo and Special Counsel Robert J. Delahunty. This Yoo-Delahunty memorandum became the basis for rejecting the Geneva Convention for captured members of al Qaeda and the Taliban.

 

On January 18, 2002, the president determined that captured Talibani and Al Quaeda were indeed unprotected by the Geneva POW Convention.

 

The next day, in a memorandum dated 19 January, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to inform combat commanders that “Al Quaeda and Taliban individuals . . . are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”

 

This order was followed on January 22, 2002, by the Bybee memo from Jay Bybee, Office of Legal Counsel for Alberto R. Gonzales, Counsel to the President and William J. Haynes II, General Counsel of the Department of Defense, Re: Application of Treaties and Laws to al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees, which reinforced the Yoo-Delahunty memo.

 

On January 25, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales in turn sent a memorandum to President Bush regarding his presidential decision of the 18th. The legal advisor to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell had objected, but Gonzales advised Bush that “there are reasonable grounds for you to conclude” that the Geneva Convention “does not apply . . . to the conflict with the Taliban.”

 

Thus was prepared, by a sequence of formal memoranda at the highest levels of government, a mode of operation in which individuals detained either in the United States or abroad under the rubric of the war on terror could be kept in indefinite detention; could be incarcerated without even being told the charges against them; and could be tortured.

 

Even setting aside the Bill of Rights, looking at this mode of operations from the more self-interested perspective of us still safely in our homes, we can now easily see that it also established a set-up difficult to penetrate in case of mistakes. Prisoners not allowed even to see counsel cannot tell the rest of us much. To its credit, the Pentagon has by now released large numbers of those formerly incarcerated. But the secretive authors of these ridiculous but tragic policies are not exactly thronging forward to admit past errors.

 

Every individual who had access to National Security Council meetings in the first Bush term now has the gravest possible questions to answer before Congress and the public, in regard to the uses of intelligence leading to the Iraq war.

 

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