May 12, 2008

National Lawyers Guild Calls for Special Prosecutor, Issues White Paper on Torture Liability

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New York. The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) calls on Congress to appoint a Special Prosecutor, independent of the Department of Justice, to investigate and prosecute high Bush officials and lawyers including John Yoo for their role in the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody.

The NLG has issued a White Paper explaining why the memos, which purported to give objective legal advice, subject all those involved to prosecution under international and U.S. domestic law. This includes people who ordered the torture, approved it or gave advice to justify it.

Guild President Marjorie Cohn testified on May 6 before the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties of the House Judiciary Committee, that some lawyers in the Department of Justice were “part of a common plan to violate U.S. and international laws outlawing torture.”

The 14-page White Paper details the ways in which the lawyers, including Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, and William Haynes, counseled the White House on how to get away with war crimes. The lawyers said that the Department of Justice would not enforce federal laws against torture, maiming, assault and stalking. “Just because the statute says,” John Yoo explained in a recent Esquire interview, “that doesn’t mean you have to do it.”

Professor Cohn told the congressmen it was “reasonably foreseeable” the lawyers’ advice “would result in great physical and mental harm or death to many detainees”; more than 100 have died, many from torture. Torture, like genocide, slavery and wars of aggression, is absolutely prohibited at all times. No country can ever pass a law that would allow them.

Professor Philippe Sands, a British international litigator and author of the new book, “Torture Team,” also testified at the congressional hearing. He said that after his extensive interviews with many Bush officials, including John Yoo, “it became clear to me that the Administration has spun a narrative that is false, claiming that the impetus for the new interrogation techniques came from the bottom-up. That is not true; the abuse was a result of pressure and actions driven from the highest levels of government.”

It was recently revealed that Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, George Tenet, and John Ashcroft met in the White House and personally oversaw and approved the torture by authorizing specific torture techniques including waterboarding. President Bush admitted he knew and approved of their actions.

“They are all liable under the War Crimes Act and the Torture Statute,” Professor Cohn testified. “Under the doctrine of command responsibility, commanders, all the way up the chain of command to the commander-in-chief, are liable for war crimes if they knew or should have known their subordinates would commit them, and they did nothing to stop or prevent it. The Bush officials ordered the torture after seeking legal cover from their lawyers.”

The National Lawyers Guild calls on Congress to appoint a Special Prosecutor, independent of the Department of Justice, to investigate and prosecute the high officials of the Bush administration and the lawyers who advised them, for their roles in misusing the rule of law and legal analysis to justify torture and other crimes.

White Paper can be read at