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Author Philippe Sands on US torture -

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ELEANOR HALL: The US abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq made headlines around the world four years
ago and in recent months the US Congress has been trying to find out exactly how techniques that
many have said amounted to torture were authorised by the US Government.

One unusual witness before the US committee was a British international lawyer and author of a book
that has just been published.

That witness was Philippe Sands and his book, "Torture Team: Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise
of Law", is a forensic examination of how the US system, that had for centuries outlawed torture,
was reversed by a memo signed by the then Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld.

His stunning conclusion is that those involved, including the lawyers, are open to being charged
with war crimes.

And he says the next president of the United States will have to decide whether the current
President and Vice-President should face prosecution.

Philippe Sands joined me earlier in The World Today studio.

Philippe Sands, it is clearly an extraordinary book. You were called to give evidence before the US
Congress this year. Did that surprise you?

PHILIPPE SANDS: It did surprise me. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers
announced that he was going to have a series of hearings on the issue of the responsibility of the
lawyers in the administration on decision-making process.

And within about a week of that, I got a call from his staff and I was told that it was the article
and then the book which by then we had provided them with page proofs of, that had initiated what
has become a lengthy series of hearings.

ELEANOR HALL: Now, the idea for your book was sparked by a press conference at the height of the
Abu Ghraib scandal where the President's lawyer Alberto Gonzales released a series of documents
including that memo approving the new interrogation techniques.

What was it about that press conference that made you want to dig deeper?

PHILIPPE SANDS: What Alberto Gonzales, who was President Bush's general counsel at the time,
indicated was that this memo explained how the United States Bush Administration took decisions
like this with deliberation, with care and in accordance with the law and they did it to head off
the Abu Ghraib scandal. That was the context in which this happened.

Look, they were saying. We don't do abuse. We do things by the rule book.

I started looking at the memo and there were things about the memo that struck me as odd.

The chain of command hadn't been followed. Apparently people had not signed off who ought to have
signed off and so what I decided to do was that rather than write a sort of academic type of book,
I would actually go off and meet everyone involved in the decision-making process leading to the
adoption and revocation of that memo.

And so, it is a book about stories and all the individuals from the combatant commander down at
Guantanamo right up to Donald Rumsfeld's lawyer.

ELEANOR HALL: Yes, the number of people who talked to you and the candidness with which they talk.
Why do you think they spoke to you because some of them, in the end, seemed to be saying things
that they initially hadn't intended to?

PHILIPPE SANDS: It is a really interesting question and it is the one that I puzzle over myself the
most.

I knew I needed to find one person to get the process going. Once I had spoken to one person, then
I could go to the next person in the sort of chain of command so to speak until I got right to the
top, to General Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Doug Feith, the number three in
the Pentagon.

I think they spoke to me because, and it is a credit to the US, it is a very open society. I don't
know how it will be in Australia but in Britain there is no way that I would have got access to
these people. I think they talked to me because I was a lawyer, not a journalist.

And I think they talked to me because they knew something wrong had happened in their deepest
hearts and they wanted to make sure their side of the story came out.

ELEANOR HALL: Do you think any of them regret it now?

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well I know that Doug Feith, Mr Feith was Head of Policy so it was really on his
watch that the abuse started and he has accused me of misquoting him, of making things up and of
course the reason he is unhappy is that it does put him right at the heart of a decision-making
process which led to serious abuses and serious violations of law.

ELEANOR HALL: Did it surprise you that the White House lawyers released these documents at that
press conference because I guess it might seem that the memo released doesn't seem as horrific as
you might expect the authorisation of torture to sound.

When you put it into context of course with the log of detainee 063 for whom these new techniques
were authorised, you do see the real impact of it then though, don't you?

PHILIPPE SANDS: What is the memo do? It is a one page sheet of paper, an A4 sheet of paper and on
it is a document written by Mr Rumsfeld's lawyer, recommending that the Secretary of Defence, Mr
Rumsfeld, authorise 15 out of 18 techniques of interrogation and of course, Mr Rumsfeld famously
authorises it and scribbles at the bottom, why standing limited for four hours, I stand for eight
to ten hours a day.

I think they released the document to try to establish that they don't, the images that come from
Abu Ghraib had absolutely nothing to do with that and I think it was a misconceived effort because
I think once you have put a little bit of the material out but plainly not all of it, other people,
people like me are going to ferret around and try to find what the story really is.

Now what they didn't do in June was release the log of the actual interrogation over 54 days of
Mohammed al-Kahtani and it is when you read that log line by line, you realise the full horror of
what was done.

On their face, some of the techniques don't seem so bad - standing for four hours, humiliation,
hooding, but as you begin to get into it more and more there are no limits to the use of multiple
techniques at the same time. There are no limits to the use over time of individual techniques.

ELEANOR HALL: By the end of the book, you are convinced that the memo did authorise torture, aren't
you?

PHILIPPE SANDS: I am convinced that the memo in effect authorised acts which amounted to torture.

I don't believe that when they signed off on these techniques, Mr Rumsfeld or Mr Haynes thought
that they were authorising torture but in international law terms, in fact in domestic law terms,
it doesn't matter what a reasonable signer of the memo would think. The real issue is what actually
happened to the detainee as a result of this.

And this is what opens the door to the use of aggressive techniques in interrogation, aggressive
coercion, call it that if you like, torture, as others have called it.

ELEANOR HALL: So who do you think was the driving force behind this shift in US policy?

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, the narrative that the administration pushed in June 2004 and has pushed ever
since is that the initiative for abuse came from the bottom, came from the people on the ground.
And it was their presence with the detainee that caused the request to be made.

What I think I have conclusively established is that that narrative is a false narrative. It came
from the top. It came from, I've established the direct link of the lawyers for the President of
the United States, for the Vice-President of the United States, Mr Cheney and for the Secretary of
Defence, Mr Rumsfeld.

Now if these lawyers, who are serious senior people were involved, they weren't off on a frolic.
They were acting presumably pursuant to instructions which means that the initiative came right
from the top.

My own sense is that this was driven by the Office of the Vice-President.

ELEANOR HALL: So what is the significance of that?

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, the significance of the fact that it came from the top I don't think there is
much of question that war crimes were committed.

And the question that then arises is what is the consequence of that? Do you just push it under the
table? Do you say, well we found ourselves in difficult circumstances or do you do something to
open up a can of worms that is going to cause real difficulties.

And if you do that and responsibility goes all the way to the top, the next US president has a real
problem because the next US president essentially is going to have to look at the question of
whether the former president and the former vice-president authorised torture. I...

ELEANOR HALL: Do you think there should be prosecutions?

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, I have been very careful. I think that different communities, different
countries have different ways of addressing these issues.

ELEANOR HALL: Why do you think it's important that these sorts of things aren't swept under the
carpet as just a connection to that specific incident with the detainee 063?

PHILIPPE SANDS: Well, I think experience teaches you that when abuses or wrongs have been
committed, they fester unless they are properly addressed.

It has tremendously undermined US moral authorities. It has tremendously undermined the ability of
the United States to look at abuses in other parts of the world for example right now in relation
to what is going on with Russia and Georgia and say you can't do that. These are war crimes.

And I think that the real reason the United States needs to get its house in order and there are
many ways of doing that. It may or may not be prosecutions, there are other ways of dealing with
it.

It is that in order to restore its situation, it needs to really sort out what happened and what
went wrong.

ELEANOR HALL: That is international lawyer Philippe Sands. His book is "Torture Team: Deception,
Cruelty and the Compromise of Law" and you can hear a longer version of that interview with him on
our website.