Susan J. Crawford served as general counsel to the Army for Ronald Reagan and as Dick Cheney’s inspector general while he was secretary of defense, then landed an appointment to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. According to Professor David Glazier, a prominent practitioner and scholar of the court’s jurisprudence, she was the most reliable and consistent pro-government vote on that court, authoring less than her fair share of opinions and focusing instead on dissents in which she carped at her colleagues for occasionally ruling in favor of service members. In short, she was the perfect vehicle for Bush-style justice for the Gitmo detainees.
She was picked by her friend David Addington to manage the show-trial spectacular in Guantánamo. And now that it appears likely Obama will issue a stand-down order to the Gitmo commissions immediately after taking office, she’s eager to set the record straight about her final act. Yet she went about it in a strange way. Attempting to explain why she failed to approve charges against the most obvious defendant (her picks instead included chauffeurs and a child), she told Bob Woodward, “We tortured [Mohammed al-] Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture. And that’s why I did not refer the case” for prosecution.
Crawford, 61, said the combination of the interrogation techniques, their duration and the impact on Qahtani’s health led to her conclusion. “The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in which they applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . You think of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to an individual. This was not any one particular act; this was just a combination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt his health. It was abusive and uncalled for. And coercive. Clearly coercive. It was that medical impact that pushed me over the edge” to call it torture, she said.
This admission is important for several reasons. First, it is an acknowledgement of criminal conduct by the administration by one of its own team. Second, Crawford very properly abandons the absurd legalisms of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel which essentially boil down to “if the president authorizes it, that means it’s legal.” Third, she has apparently evaluated “torture” on the basis of the totality of the treatment meted out by interrogators and jailers to the prisoner, not by segmenting and evaluating each individual technique applied. That is what the law requires, and what the Justice Department studiously ignores, fully aware of the inevitable conclusion to which it would lead. It adds up to another admission of high crimes. The case for criminal accountability continues to build.