Trump Nominates a Bush Administration Lawyer Who Authorized Torture

Posted July 5, 2017

MP3 Interview with Alka Pradhan, lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and human rights counsel with the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Military Commission, conducted by Scott Harris


President Trump has nominated Steven G. Bradbury, a former Assistant Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration to become general counsel of the federal Transportation Department. However, Bradbury’s nomination has sparked criticism from human rights groups and others who condemned his legal justification for the CIA’s torture of prisoners when he served as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during Bush’s second term in office.

During his tenure at the Justice Department, Bradbury authored a set of memos that re-approved previously issued legal cover for U.S. forces to subject detainees to waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, shackling into painful stress positions and confinement in cramped boxes. During Bradbury’s Senate committee confirmation hearing on June 28, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both her legs while serving as an Army National Guard helicopter pilot that was shot down in Iraq in 2004, placed a hold on Bradbury’s nomination. She declared that Bradbury lacked moral conviction in the Bush White House and couldn’t be trusted to stand up for American values under a Trump presidency.

During his Senate confirmation hearing, Bradbury also was questioned about his work representing the Takata Corporation before the Transportation Department, over the firm’s defective auto airbags that killed or injured more than 100 drivers. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Alka Pradhan, a lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and human rights counsel with the U.S. Guantanamo Bay Military Commission. Here, she shares her views on the controversy surrounding Steven G. Bradbury and decries the lack of accountability for U.S. government officials who were complicit in authorizing torture against international law. [Rush transcript]

ALKA PRADHAN: Steven Bradbury was the acting assistant attorney general in the Bush administration. He basically was the author of four memos that we collectively refer to as "The Torture Memos." Three of them were written in May 2005 and one of them was written in July 2007 and those dates are sort of interesting. And the three written in May 2005 went through various techniques that we now know, of course, are torture, but at the time called "enhanced interrogation techniques" that the CIA was using, at that time had been using for quite some time on detainees in their secret prisons abroad, one of whom was my client Amar. And these techniques included things like waterboarding, extreme sleep deprivation for up to 180 hours, things that were called stress positions which was basically being shackled in really just heinous positions that have caused lasting damage. Beatings, being held naked, just a whole variety of techniques.

So the first memo went through all of those techniques and found that none of those techniques actually violated our obligations under the conventions against torture. And if you read the language of that memo, the gymnastics that Bradbury goes through to find that "technically" the "way that the CIA is applying these techniques doesn't quite maybe violate the convention against torture." It is astonishing. It is shocking.

If you read the first memo, which was made May 10, 2005, there is a lengthy footnote that says that the Office of Legal Counsel doesn't represent in any way that these techniques are okay to be used by the Department of Defense by the military. We're not saying that this doesn't constitute a violation of the Geneva Conventions or a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So what they're saying is, "We want to use these techniques, we get that there's a violation of the Geneva Conventions that are a serious one, which is why we are sending our guys in black at the CIA to use these techniques abroad. We're not going to send necessarily our military personnel."

Now, as we know, there is a lot of bleed in the use of these techniques, such that our military did end up using them at Guantanamo and the (intelligible). But the nitpicking there, in that memo, is really stunning. He continues that in the second memo, which talks about the use of those same techniques in combination. And that reflects reality a lot more than the first one does because the techniques were never used individually.

My client was held naked while being shackled for days at a time, while being sleep-deprived, while listening to loud music, while in freezing temperatures, while being deprived from nutritional sustenance while being interrogated. Those techniques were almost always used in combination. And so the second memo finds those techniques in combination also don't violate the convention against torture.

BETWEEN THE LINES: It's certainly disturbing to hear these details again about the torture that the United States engaged in during the George W. Bush years as president. What message does the Trump administration send to our country and the world when it nominates someone who used his legal credentials to justify torture in violation of the Geneva Conventions? What are we saying about torture and that dark era in U.S. history?

ALKA PRADHAN: I think it says two things. I think it says, number one, that the United States is abdicating its moral responsibility that we are no longer willing to lead in human right and moral authority. And I think secondly, it says that we don't care about our troops, about our personnel abroad. The entire system of international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions is designed so that all of us protect each other in war time. All the countries and all the entities engaging in war protect each other. So that what we do to others we understand could be done to our men and women. And we continue to be in violation of our obligations under international law and under domestic law to prosecute people who engage in torture. It's deeply disappointing and it's deeply disturbing.

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