ABUSE INQUIRY Group wants probe into torture memos
The group wants the administration to release all memos on the subject.
WASHINGTON -- Twelve former judges, seven past presidents of the American Bar Association, a former FBI director and more than 100 other legal experts called Wednesday for a thorough investigation of Bush administration memos that explored ways to skirt the laws against torture.
The group also asked the administration to release all memos on the subject and urged Congress to probe how Bush officials decided to treat detainees captured in the war on terrorism.
"The most senior lawyers in the Department of Justice, the White House, Department of Defense and the vice president's office have sought to justify actions that violate the most basic rights of all human beings," said the group's statement, signed by 130 officials and lawyers, including former FBI chief William Sessions.
White House response
A spokeswoman for President Bush, Jeanie Mamo, said late Wednesday that the White House had not yet received the request from the group, adding that Bush "has not condoned torture and has never authorized the use of torture."
The statement cites a series of memos written between early 2002, when the administration decided not to give detainees POW status, and April 2003, when the CIA and military were trying to get more information from captives but were concerned about the legal consequences of any mistreatment.
In one 46-page memo in 2002, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee -- who's now a federal judge -- narrowly defined torture as "only extreme acts" that could lead to "death or organ failure."
He also wrote that the president, as commander in chief in the war against terrorism, wasn't constrained by anti-torture laws.
Some of the memos were leaked to reporters in the spring and others were released by the White House. Bush officials say they never countenanced torture and that the memos were merely internal documents reflecting a vigorous debate.
But retired federal appeals Judge John Gibbons of New Jersey said the memos were "very shocking because they advised on how the executive branch can violate statutes and treaties and avoid prosecution."
Meanwhile, according to court testimony in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, military intelligence officials at the prison in Iraq ordered military police soldiers to keep several detainees hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross, leaving a coded message on cell doors to indicate which detainees the visitors were not allowed to see or interview.
Staff Sgt. Christopher Ward, a member of the 372nd Military Police Company who was in charge of the day shift at Abu Ghraib's most secure cellblock, said that during at least three official visits last fall and winter, he was ordered to steer the ICRC away from certain detainees whose cells were tagged with signs bearing the words "Article 134."
The testimony at a preliminary court hearing for Pfc. Lynndie R. England, 21 -- an MP charged with abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib last fall -- echoes findings of an Army investigation that severely criticized officials there for keeping "ghost detainees," those who were hidden from international humanitarian workers.
Ward's testimony came at a hearing to determine whether England will face as many as 19 charges of abuse and violating Army regulations at a court-martial.