Sunday, September 11, 2005

Michael Chertoff: Another Accomplice in Bush's Torture Chamber

Originally published in the Feb. 3, 2005 edition of The Moscow Times.

Another day, another accomplice in the construction of the Bush Regime's torture chambers revealed. Nothing new there; the perp walk of top Bushists colluding in torture could stretch a mile. But the remarkable thing about the latest case is that it exposes an even greater depth of official criminality than hitherto suspected - no mean feat, given the rap sheet of this crew.

This time, the man on the hot seat is Judge Michael Chertoff, nominated to head the bureaucratic platypus known as the Department of Homeland Security, where plodding placeman Tom "Duct Tape" Ridge is retiring. It seems that Chertoff - picked after Bush's first choice, bent cop Bernie Kerik, went down in flames - was hip-deep in creating, and covering up, the infamous White House "torture memos": carefully detailed guidelines from the desk of President George W. Bush that instigated a global system of documented torture, rape and murder.

Before Bush elevated him to the federal bench, Chertoff headed the Justice Department's criminal division, where he was frequently consulted by the CIA and the White House on ways to weasel around the very clear U.S. laws against torture, the New York Times reports. Bush and his legal staff, then headed by Attorney General-designate Alberto Gonzales, were openly concerned with "avoiding prosecution for war crimes" under some future administration that might lack the Bushists' finely nuanced view of ramming phosphorous lightsticks up a kidnapped detainee's rectum or other enlightened methods employed in the Administration's crusade to defend civilization from barbarity.

Throughout 2002-2003, the CIA sent Chertoff urgent questions asking whether various "interrogation protocols" could get their agents sent to the hoosegow. The questions themselves are revelatory of the tainted mindset at CIA headquarters - officially known as the George H.W. Bush Center for Intelligence. Beyond methods we already know were used - such as "water-boarding" and "rendering" detainees to foreign torturers - the Bush Center boys sought legal cover for such additional refinements as "threat of imminent death;" "death threats against family members;" the use of "mind-altering drugs or psychological procedures designed to profoundly disrupt a detainee's personality."

Chertoff frowned on some methods, but gave the nod to many others, insiders told the Times; he himself insisted that he had not dealt with specific procedures, but confined his legal expertise to general questions. In any case, the Justice Department could only offer advice; final approval of interrogation techniques - including the Bush Center's requests - rested solely with the Bush White House. As one senior intelligence official told the Times: "Nothing that was done was not explicitly authorized" by the Oval Office. Thus the chain of responsibility is clearly established for the reams of evidence on torture, rape and murder in the Bush gulag - cases documented by the FBI and the Pentagon's own investigators, as well as the Red Cross, Amnesty International, the Red Crescent, Human Rights Watch and others.

Eventually, Chertoff simply referred all torture questions to the authority of the "smoking gun" memo drawn up by Bush's office in August 2002. In this, the White House essentially defined "torture" out of existence; practically any interrogation method could be used, Bush said, as long as it didn't cause "organ failure or imminent death." But even here Bush left an escape hatch for atrocity, ruling that an interrogator who killed or permanently maimed a prisoner could still be shielded from prosecution - as long as he claimed he hadn't intended to murder or maim when he commenced the beating.

But Chertoff's involvement in Bush's chamber of horrors goes beyond an advisory capacity, however. He was also instrumental in the earliest cover-up of Bush's torture system: the trial of John Walker Lindh, the "American Taliban" captured in Afghanistan, the Nation reports. In June 2002, Lindh was due to testify about the methods used to extract his confession of terrorist collusion: days of beating, drugging, denial of medical treatment and other abuses. These were of course standard procedures used - by presidential order - from the very beginning of the "war on terror." To stop Lindh from exposing this wide-ranging criminal regimen, Chertoff, overseeing the prosecution, suddenly offered Lindh a deal: the feds would drop all the most serious charges in exchange for a lighter sentence - and a gag order preventing Lindh from telling anyone about his brutal treatment. Lindh, facing life imprisonment or execution, took the deal. Once again, Bush skirts were kept clean. And the torture system was kept safe for its expansion into Iraq, where thousands of innocent people fell into its maw.

That August 2002 memo used by Chertoff and others to absolve the torturers from their state-ordered crimes was authored by Gonzales underling Jay Bybee. Bybee is a longtime Bush Family factotum, having served as White House aide to George Bush Senior. As reported here in January 2003, Bybee played a key role in quashing the investigation into BNL, the shady, BCCI-connected bank used by George I to send millions of secret dollars to Saddam Hussein for weapons purchases, including WMD materials supplied by US-backed arms merchants. When the scandal broke, Bush I appointed lawyers from these same arms dealers to top Justice Department posts, where they supervised the "investigation" into their former companies. Meanwhile, Bybee pressured local prosecutors to limit their probe of the bank's dirty dealings to - you guessed it - a few low-ranking "bad apples." Once again, those Bush skirts stayed pearly white - while Bush blood money kept flowing to Saddam. For his faithful family services, Bybee, like Chertoff, was made a federal judge by Bush II.

The Bush-Bybee torture authorization was in force until January 2005, when it was ostentatiously replaced by a somewhat broader definition of torture just before Gonzales' confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate. But another Bybee-penned memo - detailing specific, Bush-approved "coercive methods" - remains classified. Is it still in force? Nobody knows.

In any event, the Bushists' PR shuffle on torture is meaningless. Gonzales has already declared to the Senate that interrogators in the CIA's secret gulag aren't bound by the new "restrictions" anyway. What's more, he's also asserted - again openly, to the Senate - that Bush has the right to break any law or restriction he pleases "while acting in his capacity as commander-in-chief." Thus whatever the Leader orders - even torture, murder - cannot be a crime.

And this is no hypothetical case, as Gonzales pretended to the Senate. In a series of executive orders beginning in October 2001, Bush has declared his peremptory right to capture, imprison, indefinitely detain or even assassinate anyone in the world whom he arbitrarily and secretly designates an "enemy" - without any legal process at all, as reported over the years by the Washington Post, the L.A. Times and many others. Thousands of "enemies" have been plunged into the CIA's unrestricted prisons; and as Bush himself bragged in his 2003 State of the Union speech, "many others have met a different fate. Let's put it this way: they are no longer a problem." They were simply killed, in secret, at Bush's order.

The Regime's torture system represents a profound moral nullity, a sickness unto death at the heart of the American elite. It's thug law, a death-cult of blood and domination - the true religion of the Bushists and their mirror-image crimelords in al Qaeda.