From the New Batch

One of the most fascinating aspects of huge caches of official documents is how, the more you look at them, the more human, and less coldly bureaucratic, they reveal themselves to be.

Last week, the Justice Department released another round of documents in response to the ACLU’s torture documents FOIA, these mainly connected to the DOJ’s Office of Inspector General’s 2008 review of the FBI’s involvement in interrogations in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

Two in particular caught my eye.

The first is, on the surface, one of the least personal of the bunch. This 6-page document (which begins on page 25 of this batch), headed “Potentially Relevant Federal Criminal Statutes,” simply lists the laws under which abusive interrogators might be tried – not just the torture and war crimes statutes, but also federal laws barring assault, maiming, sexual abuse, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and others.

The second, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is 9 pages of handwritten notes evidently summarizing interviews with FBI agents in Guantánamo (this document begins on page 13 of this batch). It includes such striking notations as:

Camp X-ray was locale where harsh techniques were used.

“if you think this is tough – you should see what’s happening in Afghanistan”



-- During [illegible] meeting [name redacted] learned he was in hospital w/ hypothermia
-- [name redacted] asked about him
-- Colonel: not hypothermia. Low core temp & low B/P. Corpsman was present

            Clear to [name redacted] that they didn’t get it.


            BAU – not effective but also skews into abuse
                        -- stuff w/in boundary of their guidelines just gets out of control

It is the kind of document you can spend hours staring at, first deciphering the handwriting, then trying to connect shorthand references to what is known about the cases they refer to (#63 is Mohammed al-Qahtani), and then trying to picture the conversations the notes summarize.

And yet I keep returning to the first one, and the fact that, as Office of Legal Counsel attorneys were occupied with twisting and distorting the Torture Convention to accommodate SERE techniques and enhanced interrogation methods, someone took the time to sit down and simply list the laws prohibiting the kinds of treatment detainees were being subjected to in Guantánamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. As such, it, too, is a very human document, striking in its intellectual and moral clarity.



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