No Comment — August 6, 2010, 6:19 pm

Three-Card Monte at Gitmo

Here’s an AP investigative story that reveals in good detail the Bush Administration’s attitude to the law and the Supreme Court. As the Supreme Court began to take steps that resulted in the collapse of the Guantánamo paradigm carefully constructed by John Yoo and his co-conspirators at the Justice Department, it appears that the CIA whisked away key prisoners so as to avoid compliance with the Supreme Court’s likely orders:

The existence of a CIA prison at Guantanamo was reported in 2004, but it has always been unclear who was there. Unlike the overseas black sites, there was no waterboarding or other harsh interrogation tactics at Strawberry Fields, officials said. It was a holding facility, a place for some of the key figures in the 9/11 attacks to await trial. Not long after they arrived, things began unraveling. In November, over the administration’s objections, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether Guantanamo Bay detainees could sue in U.S. courts. The administration had worried for several years that this might happen. In 2001, Justice Department lawyers Patrick Philbin and John Yoo wrote a memo saying courts were unlikely to grant detainees such rights. But if it happened, they warned, prisoners could argue that the U.S. had mistreated them and that the military tribunal system was unlawful.

“There was obviously a fear that everything that had been done to them might come out,” said al-Nashiri’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander. Worse for the CIA, if the Supreme Court granted detainees rights, the entire covert program was at risk. Zubaydah and al-Nashiri could tell their lawyers about being waterboarded in Thailand. Al-Nashiri might discuss having a drill and an unloaded gun put to his head at a CIA prison in Poland. “Anything that could expose these detainees to individuals outside the government was a nonstarter,” one U.S. official familiar with the program said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the government’s legal analysis.

In early March 2004, as the legal documents piled up at the Supreme Court, the high court announced that oral arguments would be held in June. After that, a ruling could come at any time, and everyone at the island prison – secretly or not – would be covered. On March 27, just as the sun was setting on Guantanamo, a Gulfstream IV jet left Cuba. The plane landed in Rabat the next morning. By the time the Supreme Court ruled June 28 that detainees should have access to U.S. courts, the CIA had once again scattered Zubaydah, al-Nashiri and the others throughout the black sites.

All of this was occurring with the approval of the highest levels of the Bush Administration.

One other point worth flagging: unnamed officials state that “there was no waterboarding or other harsh interrogation tactics” at the CIA’s facility at Gitmo. This is indeed the CIA’s position. But it would be foolish to accept it at face value. The evidence that harsh tactics were used at Gitmo in sessions involving CIA personnel is now overwhelming. There is no documentation yet of waterboarding at Gitmo, but the case book is far from closed on that score, too.

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More from Scott Horton:

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