Author: Some in Congress calling for war crimes trials
Nick Langewis and David Edwards
Published: Tuesday July 15, 2008

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Update: Book raises possibility of secret succession plan

The Bush administration's laxity towards torture of prisoners could expose its top officials to war crimes charges, said investigative journalist and New Yorker writer Jane Mayer to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

"I think that's more a political question than a legal question, really," Mayer said. "It's a question of whether there's a political appetite for this. There are Democrats on the Hill who are calling for these kinds of hearings and trials."

As Mayer wrote in her new book, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals, officials that may find themselves under arrest should they visit certain European countries include President Bush, Vice President Cheney, his aide David Addington, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, for violations of the Geneva Conventions and American law.

"What the book makes clear, really, is that this wasn't the action of some kind of 'bad, rotten apples on the bottom of the barrel,' as people were saying [about] Abu Ghraib. This is a program that was put into place by the top of our government to use the [toughest terms possible] to get information."

"As part of that process," the book reads, "for the first time in history, the United States sanctioned government officials to physically and psychologically torment U.S.-held captives, making torture the official law of the land in all but name."

"[The] interrogation methods used to question detainees have been lawful, safe, and effective," CIA spokesman George Little countered in a Friday statement responding to claims made in the book. "The program has yielded valuable information that has helped the United States and other countries save lives and disrupt terrorist operations."

Whether or not the much-discussed practice of waterboarding is torture, for example, is a "semantic game," but one that seems cut-and-dried from Mayer's perspective. She cites former Deputy Secretary of State and Vietnam combat veteran Richard Armitage, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge among Bush administration officials who have equated the practice to torture.

While Mayer is "sympathetic" to the national frenzy that followed the shock of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, we've had ample time to reassess our methods and procedures.

"The question is: Seven years later, do we need to keep doing the same thing? And, can we, take, maybe, a rational look and see--is this what we want our country to become, or are we better than this?"


Mayer's book contains myriad shocking revelations about the Bush administration's war on terror policies, but it also lets some questions linger. For example, has President Bush issued a secret order cutting Congress out of the line of succession in case the Bush and vice president Dick Cheney were simultaneously killed.

Slate's Bruce Ackerman lays out the possibility.

Apparently sometime in the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan issued a "secret executive order" that in the event of the death of the president and the vice president "established a means of re-creating the executive branch." Reagan's order violated the express terms of the Constitution and governing statutes.

Does a similar order exist today? We aren't told. But we do know that Dick Cheney participated in the secret "doomsday" exercises under the Reagan order, and given his central role at present, it is imperative for Congress to find out.

The interview is available to view below. It was broadcast on CNN's The Situation Room on July 15, 2008.

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