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Tortured Law: A Chat with Jameel Jaffer of ACLU’s National Security Project

In January of this year, Jameel Jaffer, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, spoke to a forum at Case Western Reserve University regarding torture and US law. The speech and Q&A session that followed are available in a lengthy YouTube that is well worth a watch if you have time.

In it, Jameel made a point that was hauntingly prescient for the current discussions on torture, OLC memos, SASC and ICRC reports, and the political and legal contexts in which we find ourselves today:

Contemporary discussions of torture tend to focus on the present — on the moment in history that the US occupies right now. But to understand where we are right now, it can help to understand where we have been and how we got from there to here.

And, specifically, how did the US come to authorize interrogation methods that it once recognized as war crimes. And how did the political language change so that tactics that we once called torture are now called "enhanced interrogation methods." And how did this happen within the space of just a few years.

That all of these changes occurred at the direction at the highest reaches of American government is bad enough. Let alone that any number of lower level governmental employees and military personnel followed these unlawful directives after orders were issued.

Without a complete and thorough examination of all of these actions and decisions which led us down this path, accountability and reform cannot fully occur.

For one thing, there was not uniform agreement among government officials on this: the FBI including ground-level FBI agents, military commanders, JAG lawyers, and other governmental officials called the legality of these decisions on torture into question under US and international laws.

The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) report timeline corroborates something we’ve seen in the previously-released OLC memos: that these torture techniques were readied and, in some cases, already being used, before the OLC memos were inked. But how can we know any of this for certain without having all the facts in front of us? We can’t.

Which is exactly the point for people who want to block any legal or Congressional inquiry into these matters. Half-truths do not serve justice. Nor do they serve American interests.

They only serve to provide cover for people who skirted very close to if not well over lines of legality.

Jameel Jaffer has been fighting for transparency and accountability, as well as much-needed reform and adherence to the rule of law, for years with others at ACLU. They have stood up for justice and fought some very difficult battles for restoration of the rule of law. And they still are fighting, with several FOIA requests for more OLC and other legal memoranda as well as requests for photographic and other evidence, as well as pushing for an independent counsel and a congressional examination of all of this.

I’m so pleased that Jameel could be here today. And I look forward to a discussion on what we can do to push this forward in the interests of justice for all.

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Christy Hardin Smith

Christy Hardin Smith

Christy is a "recovering" attorney, who earned her undergraduate degree at Smith College, in American Studies and Government, concentrating in American Foreign Policy. She then went on to graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania in the field of political science and international relations/security studies, before attending law school at the College of Law at West Virginia University, where she was Associate Editor of the Law Review. Christy was a partner in her own firm for several years, where she practiced in a number of areas including criminal defense, child abuse and neglect representation, domestic law, civil litigation, and she was an attorney for a small municipality, before switching hats to become a state prosecutor. Christy has extensive trial experience, and has worked for years both in and out of the court system to improve the lives of at risk children.

Email: reddhedd AT firedoglake DOT com