Two years before the Abu Ghraib scandal, the general counsel of the U.S. Navy wrote a memo which tried to halt the "disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruelty toward terror suspects," according to an article to be published in The New Yorker magazine.
Alberto J. Mora was informed of detainee abuse at Guantánamo back in December of 2002 by the head of the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, David Brant, who said that nobody else seemed to care, because after 9/11, the "gloves had to come off" and the United States "had to get tougher."
The memo is a chronological account, submitted on July 7, 2004, to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It reveals that Mora’s criticisms of Administration policy were unequivocal, wide-ranging, and persistent. Well before the exposure of prisoner abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, in April, 2004, Mora warned his superiors at the Pentagon about the consequences of President Bush’s decision, in February, 2002, to circumvent the Geneva conventions, which prohibit both torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” He argued that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward U.S.-held terrorist suspects was an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also challenged the legal framework that the Bush Administration has constructed to justify an expansion of executive power, in matters ranging from interrogations to wiretapping. He described as “unlawful,” “dangerous,” and “erroneous” novel legal theories granting the President the right to authorize abuse. Mora warned that these precepts could leave U.S. personnel open to criminal prosecution.
Mora’s memo, however, shows that almost from the start of the Administration’s war on terror the White House, the Justice Department, and the Department of Defense, intent upon having greater flexibility, charted a legally questionable course despite sustained objections from some of its own lawyers.
The day after Mora’s first meeting with Brant, they met again, and Brant showed him parts of the transcript of Qahtani’s interrogation. Mora was shocked when Brant told him that the abuse wasn’t “rogue activity” but was “rumored to have been authorized at a high level in Washington.” The mood in the room, Mora wrote, was one of “dismay.” He added, “I was under the opinion that the interrogation activities described would be unlawful and unworthy of the military services.” Mora told me, “I was appalled by the whole thing. It was clearly abusive, and it was clearly contrary to everything we were ever taught about American values.”