Photo of Philippe Sands
Condensed Interview on May 9, 2008 Bill Moyers Journal: Bill Moyers with Philippe Sands, International Lawyer and Writer who's book -Torture Team- has been getting considerable attention...
Intro (Connie L Nash): In his new book, Sands shows what happens partly because the White House and it's lawyers abandoned the policy of Abraham Lincoln, who in the middle of the Civil War told his generals that "military necessity does not admit of cruelty... nor of torture to extort confessions."
After 9/11, writes Philippe Sands, "our highest government officials sanctioned a 'culture of cruelty' that put our troops, our Constitution, and our own standing in the world at risk."
A few months ago, members of the House Judiciary Committee began hearings trying to find out how the President came to approve "enhanced interrogation methods" — that's the official code for the use of torture or cruelty in order to coerce a confession.
Key officials who fear their actions may prove illegal were, for various reasons, willing to talk to Philippe Sands for his book . For that reason, he was asked to testify at a related hearing in Congress.
Here's an excerpt from this hearing with comment from Bill Moyers during Moyers interview of Sands.
REP. JERROLD NADLER: This hearing of the subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties will come to order.
BILL MOYERS : (who speaks between play-backs of the hearing) Representative Mike Pence of Indiana chided critics who questioned using tough interrogation of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also known as KSM.
REP. MIKE PENCE (in play-back to Sands): Some, of course, have suggested that relationship-building interrogation techniques are preferable and even more reliable in the long-run than stress methods. They raise the question, though, what about the hard cases? And I can tell by your grin you acknowledge the somewhat absurd thought that you could move people who have masterminded the death of more than 3000 Americans by Oprah Winfrey methods."
PHILIPPE SANDS: I did smile because, frankly, the image that weeks and weeks of rapport-building with KSM is somehow going to produce results is counter-intuitive. But the reality is we don't know. And I spoke in my investigation to a lot of interrogators — military, FBI — who basically said, "coercion doesn't work. You get information that they want to give you that they think is going to stop the pain from happening."
(Condenser- C. Nash--aside): vice-presidential hopeful, Palin, similarly taunted Obama by saying that he would be willing to read (terrorists) their rights)
BILL MOYERS: Philippe Sands is known in top legal circles for his work on torture cases spawned by such infamous dictators as Chile's Pinochet and Liberia's Charles Taylor, and by genocide around the world. He's a counselor to the Queen of England, and director of the Center on International Courts and Tribunals in London, where he closely studied the British fight against terrorists of the IRA.
PHILIPPE SANDS: The thinking in the British military and the thinking across the board politically — it's really not a left-right issue, it's a broad consensus in the United Kingdom — is that coercion doesn't work. The view is taken in the United Kingdom that it extended the conflict with the IRA probably by between 15 and 20 years...
(A little later in the program Moyers asks, ...why give someone like that the benefit of the doubt?)
PHILIPPE SANDS : ...We ...believe fundamentally in democratic values. We don't assume guilt. We assume innocence. There are people at Guantanamo who pose a threat, undoubtedly. But there are also a great many more people who don't pose a threat. And in those circumstances, I think using (a known terrorist) as an example to somehow come down on the merits of the Guantanamo system is not a sensible thing to do.
...Guantanamo has been a problem as Abu Ghraib has been a problem, because it has undermined America's claim to moral authority in facing up to the very real challenge of terrorism. And, locking them up and throwing away the key is only going to exacerbate the problem. And it's a problem that we faced in Britain, for example, in relationship to the IRA back in the 1970s and the 1980s. That's not the way to go.
BILL MOYERS: You told the committee this week that the British experience in fighting the terrorists of the IRA actually extended the conflict 15 to 20 years. What's the evidence for that?
PHILIPPE SANDS: The story's a simple one. Back in '71, '72, the British moved as the United States has done now, to aggressive techniques of interrogation. They used pretty much the same techniques: hooding, standing, humiliation, degradation. Five techniques, they were called. And.
BILL MOYERS: What kind of techniques?
PHILIPPE SANDS: Five. They're known as the Five techniques. They went up to court, actually, and they were ruled to be illegal-- in 1978 by the European Court on Human Rights. But there was a bigger problem, even beyond their illegality, in my view. And that was this: That what the use of those techniques did was to really enrage part of the Catholic community, who felt that IRA detainees alleged to be terrorists, were being abused. And it turned people who were perhaps unhappy with the situation into being deeply and violently unhappy with the situation. And if you speak to British politicians who were involved in that period, and the British military, what they'll tell you is that there is a feeling that the use of those types of techniques extended the conflict.
BILL MOYERS: Did you learn that people will say anything to stop the torture?
PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, actually, I think it's self-evident that that is what happened. If you speak to interrogators, they will tell you that aggressive techniques of interrogation don't work. They don't produce meaningful information. And just the other day, I was listening to a very interesting tape of John McCain. And he explained how he, in the end, had signed a confession, owning up to crimes against children and women in North Vietnam, basically because ... he had reached a point where he simply couldn't bear it any more, and he wanted the pain to stop.
Abuse produces information that is the information the detainee thinks you want to know, and nothing more than that. It's not reliable...
(I , the reviewer, am leaving out quite a bit here from the Moyers show for the sake of this review)
BILL MOYERS: here's another witness who appeared this week when you did, David Rivkin, a lawyer, lots of government experience, lots of experience in the law. And he directly challenged you in his testimony.
DAVID RIVKIN: "I think that it is a moral copout to argue that coercive techniques did not work. Because if they don't work, there would be nothing to debate. Coercive techniques do work. There's plenty of evidence to that effect."
PHILIPPE SANDS: Look, Bill, I've spent 20 years during courtroom work as a litigating lawyer. I like to see evidence on things. I like arguments to be based on evidence. David Rivkin is unable to provide any evidence. I have honed in on the interrogation of one man, detainee 063. The administration has publicly declared they got a mass of information out of him that related to all sorts of extraordinarily important things to protect the Americans.
I then spoke to the people who were involved in his actual interrogation and the head of his Exploitation Team. That's not what they told me. If the evidence I had been given had been different, then I would reach possibly a different conclusion. Not as to the legality or the utility of torture, but what do we do in the face of evidence that it works? But there isn't evidence that it works. The British experience is that it doesn't work. The Spanish experience is that it doesn't work. The Egyptian experience is that it doesn't work, in the sense of producing meaningful information that is going to protect a country. Sure, it produces information. But as John McCain said in his interview in 1997, it produces the wrong information. Because someone who's subject to that sort of pain and suffering is going to do anything they can to stop it from happening. And they will tell the person who is abusing them what the person wants to hear, and nothing more and nothing less.
BILL MOYERS: Philippe, you spent a long time and made a lot of trips and talked to a lot of people to do this book. What was driving you? Why did you-- you've got enough to do. Why did you want to do this particular book?
PHILIPPE SANDS: I did it totally off my own back. I was fascinated by a simple question. How could lawyers at the upper echelons of the administration, trained at Harvard Law School and other distinguished institutions, have approved torture? In what circumstances could that happen? I didn't understand how it happened. And it combined with a real sense of injustice that the truth of the story had not come out. Because what the administration said, and I was really catalyzed by a press conference I read in June, 2004, as the administration struggled to contain the disaster of Abu Ghraib. The administration spun a story. You're a press man. You know how governments work. I know how governments work. And the story was this: The desire for aggressive interrogation came from the bottom up. People on the front line, people at Guantanamo, elsewhere, told us they needed to move to new techniques. Who are we at the top, to say no? And in that context, we approved certain techniques. And that struck me--
BILL MOYERS: What's the official story?
PHILIPPE SANDS: That's the official story, that it came from the bottom up, and they were doing nothing more than what normal, prudent, sensible government would do...it struck me as counterintuitive, because I know the American military. I've got a lot of friends in the American military. And they are deeply committed to the rules of the Geneva Conventions and other international rules, and don't go about the abandonment of President Lincoln's disposition. So what I decided to do was I took the famous memorandum by Donald Rumsfeld, signed in December 2002, where he writes on the bottom ”why is standing (of the detainees) limited for four hours a day? I stand for eight hours a day/
Sands continued ..."and I tracked back the entire decision making process, identified the 10 or 12 people I needed to meet. And one by one, tracked them down, went and found them, spoke to them and I'm truly grateful to them. Once I'd had my first conversation, which I think was with Diane Beaver who was the lawyer--down at Guantanamo, I was then able to get right up to the very top. And one by one, I followed from Diane Beaver, the lawyer at Guantanamo, her boss, Mike Dunleavy (who's the head of interrogations, through General Hill, who is the head of Southern Command in Miami, up through General Myers, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, up to Doug Feith, the head of policy at the Pentagon, and then right up to the main man in my book, Jim Haynes. Jim Haynes was Mr. Rumsfeld's lawyer. And Jim Haynes wrote the very famous, the infamous, iconic, why is standing limited to four hours memo. And he went to Harvard Law School. And I just couldn't understand how someone so well trained could authorize abusive interrogation like that.
BILL MOYERS: And did he talk to you?
PHILIPPE SANDS: He did talk to me. I had two meetings with him. The fact of the meeting was on the record, the content of those meetings were off the record. But as I say in the book, concluding chapter includes taking to account everything he said to me. I think you'll agree that they're fascinating characters and you'll see that on some of them I developed a real empathy, actually in ways that surprised me--take Diane Beaver. I had written a previous book where I treated her legal advice. She had been the person down at the bottom who'd signed off on aggressive interrogation. I didn't like her legal advice at all. I thought it was really bad advice and wrong advice. And I was rather uncomplimentary, perhaps even rude about it, in my last book. And then I met her. And she explained to me the circumstances in which she found herself. I don't think it justifies what happened. But she described to me the pressure she felt herself under, the anniversary of 9/11 coming up.This man, detainee 063, al-Qahtani, present and caught. Tremendous pressure coming from the upper echelons of the administration. She described to me a visit that the administration has never talked about in which the three most important lawyers in the administration, Mr. Gonzales, who's the president's lawyer, Mr. Addington, who is the vice president's lawyer, and Mr. Haynes, who is Secretary Rumsfeld's lawyer-- came down to Guantanamo at the end of September, talked to them about interrogations and other issues, watched an interrogation, and left with the message, do whatever needs to be done. Now, put yourself in Diane Beaver's situation. You're getting a signal from the main man at the top of the administration: do whatever needs to be done. That takes the lid off and opens the door.
(Again, a lot left out here--this time so as not to spoil the reading of this fascinating book--all the more so because it reads like an adventure. But I am ending this review with an important conclusion for all interested in human rights and for those who may never read this book in full...)
PHILIPPE SANDS: I'm satisfied here a crime was committed.
BILL MOYERS: A crime?
PHILIPPE SANDS: crime was committed.
BILL MOYERS: By?
PHILIPPE SANDS: The Geneva Conventions were plainly violated in relation to this man. And in our system laws, if a man violates the law and commits a crime, he is punishable.
BILL MOYERS: So who violated the law?
PHILIPPE SANDS:I think it goes to the top. And I think that the lawyers contributed to the violation of the law-
BILL MOYERS: But the--
PHILIPPE SANDS: And the lawyers themselves face exposure... I'm not on a witch hunt. I'm not saying that there should be a campaign of investigation and prosecution and sentencing, and conviction, and so on and so forth. What I'm saying is let's start by sorting out the facts. Once the facts have been sorted out, let's see exactly what they say, and it will be for others to decide what needs to be done. But until that's done, you can't close on the past and you can't move forward.
BILL MOYERS: But David Rifkin says in the hearing, "I think it would be madness to prosecute anybody, given the facts involved." ... "The efforts to go-- the efforts to go after the lawyers borders, to put it mildly, on madness. Those lawyers were not in any chain of command. They had no theoretical or practical ability to direct actions of anyone who engaged in abusive conduct."
PHILIPPE SANDS:...The lawyers were deeply involved in the decision making process. The lawyers that I've identified, from John Yoo at Department of Justice, preparing a legal memorandum which abandons American and international definitions of torture, and reintroduces a new definition that has never been passed by any legislature, that is totally unacceptable. What was he doing there? Was he really giving legal advice? No he wasn't.
He was rubber stamping a policy decision. This is not careful, independent legal advice. What was Jim Haynes doing when he recommended to Donald Rumsfeld the authorization for the approval of 15 techniques of interrogation? He was saying to the Secretary of Defense, I'm your lawyer. I'm telling you this is fine. You can do it. If he hadn't done that, Mr. Rumsfeld would not have signed the piece of paper that Jim Haynes wrote.
Jim Haynes is directly involved in the decision making process. And the lawyers, as such, play an absolutely key role. Now, at the end of the day, they're not the most important people. The most important people are the people whose signatures are actually appended. They are the politicians who actually decided the issue. But in this case, without the lawyers, they would never have had a piece of paper to sign.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think that people like David Addington and John Yoo and Jim Haynes, and the other lawyers you've mentioned who advised and were on the torture team, should ultimately be held responsible in court for what they did in government at this period of time?
PHILIPPE SANDS:...Lawyers are gatekeepers to legality and constitutionality. If the lawyers become complicit in a common plan to get around the law, to allow abuse, then yes, they should be liable. (again, leaving a lot out from the Moyers show)...It's not just that a crime was committed. It's that there's been a failure to take responsibility. There's been a cover up from the top in terms of pointing the finger to people who should not take blame for what has happened.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think torture's still going on?
PHILIPPE SANDS:... my own view is that there has not been systematic torture***(see note below) at Guantanamo. I think it was isolated...the Guantanamo facility violates international law in many other ways and is wrong in many other ways.... I think there was probably far more systemic torture in Afghanistan, at Bagram and in Kandahar...there remains the other side, the dark side, as Vice President Dick Cheney called it, the CIA....the President of the United States has vetoed legislation which would prohibit the CIA from using the very techniques of interrogation that are the subject of this book, as necessary in the future. And I think that has disturbed a lot of people.
(once more leaving a lot for the reader of this review to look up later)
BILL MOYERS: I read comments just this week by a noted Arab scholar, who said that if you walk the streets of Cairo today, stop at the book stalls, stop at the book stores, you see, looking out at you everywhere, photographs of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. That the-- this torture, these enhanced interrogate-- interrogation techniques — this cruelty-- has seized the imagination of the Arab world. And that long after all of us have gone, including the torture team, the next generation of Arabs will living with those images. What's your own sense of that?
PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, that, I'm very sad to say, is my observation. I do travel a lot. I travel, you know, in South America, I travel in Asia, I travel in the Arab world. I do a lot of work for governments around the world. And it's sad but true.
The image of the United States today is that it's a country that has given us Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Now, that is not the America that I know. I've spent a lot of time here, you know. I'm married to an American. My kids were born in the United States. I know what the true America is.
And for me, this is a distressing story, because it has allowed those who want to undermine the United States a very easy target for doing it. It's even worse than that, Bill. I mean, I've been in situations-- in a globalized world with the internet, the legal advices that have been written by people like John Yoo at the Department of Justice, and the memos written by Jim Haynes, that have been put in front of the desk of Donald Rumsfeld, have gone all over the world. They've been studied all over the world. Other governments are able to rely upon them, and to say equally, look, this is what the United States does. If the U.S. does it, we can do it.
It's undermined the United States' ability to tackle corruption, abuse, human rights violations in other countries, in a massive way. And it will take 15 or 20 years to repair the damage. And that's why, irrespective of the complexion of whichever next president happens to hold that high office-- and I think irrespective of whether it's Mr. McCain or Mr. Obama, or anyone else, there will be a recognition of a need to move on. And moving on means recognizing that errors were made.
PHILIPPE SANDS: ...But I learned an important lesson, which is that you can't always deal with materials as they appear in newspapers or in documents. You need to take the trouble to go and spend many, many hours with people, talk to them, get to know them, understand what motivated them, understand that these are not bad people.These are not people who wanted to do bad things. These are people who found themselves in a very difficult situation, under intense pressure from the top. I think once you've spoken to people, you begin to get a clearer picture. And I hope I have accurately conveyed the conversations in a fair and balanced way.
© 2008 Public Affairs Television. All Rights Reserved. BILL MOYERS JOURNAL
To see more on the many who've been inhumanely treated at Guantanamo see the work by Andy Worthington, writer, journalist, historian, and author of -The Guantánamo Files-. Go Here to find more about his work.
*** NOTE: In reference to Sands' statement that actual torture is not as common at GTMO as elsewhere under US direction, some detainees would beg to differ especially when it comes to psychological torture/interrogations which some say are much worse even then places such as Morocco where grave physical abuse such as the cutting of the penis has been documented...more details coming...
Please email or write me if you have something that has some significant bearing on these issues of torture, Guantanamo, Military Commissions, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, US detainees and the US military tribunals.
Connie L. Nash
Independent Human Rights Activist/Writer
PO Box 1267
Brevard, NC 28712/USA