A book signing will take place before the talk at 11:30am.
Philippe Sands studied at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and was called to the bar in 1985. As a barrister at Matrix Chambers, he has practiced public international law, arbitration, and environmental law. This practice has been complemented by Sands' continued academic study of these legal areas. He has authored or edited a number of textbooks and mainstream books in his fields of expertise, including his latest work, Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values.
Sands joined the law faculty at University College London, where he is Professor of Law and Director of the Centre of International Courts and Tribunals, in 2002. He has been a member of the Irish bar since January 2003. He continues to practice at Matrix Chambers.
- More information about Philippe Sands is available here:
University College London
Location: Joukowsky Forum, Watson Institute, 111 Thayer Street.
Event Summary"Lawyers as the ultimate guardians of legality have a particular responsibility," Philippe Sands, an international lawyer and author of Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values, said during a recent talk at the Watson Institute. Sands discussed the role of lawyers in drafting the torture memos that changed the way the US interrogated prisoners, their disregard for international legal norms – and their impact on the United States' reputation in the world.
The torture memos Sands referred to are primarily a collection of papers released in June 2004 that encompass the original request for an expansion of interrogation techniques from the Combatant Commander at Guantanamo and his lawyer, and the final approval memo signed by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Also included was the February 2002 decision by President Bush that the detainees at Guantanamo did not have rights under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, and the John Yoo and Jay Bybee memo that redefined torture as only occurring when the pain that is occasioned is equivalent to that felt upon organ failure or death.
During the Abu Ghraib scandal, administration lawyers John Haynes and Alberto Gonzalez said that the decision to expand the list of appropriate interrogation tactics came from the bottom-up; that the administration felt that it was not appropriate to intervene with the requests from the commanders on the ground; that the administration had proceeded with care, caution, and deliberation; and that none of the tactics approved for use at Guantanamo had "migrated" to Iraq. Sands said that the scripted nature of this response did not give it "a ring of? truthfulness." After an investigation that encompassed interviews with all of the relevant actors, he concluded that all of the statements made by Haynes and Gonzalez were untrue.
Sands blamed a small group of ideologically driven political appointees for "in effect, a sort of coup d'etat." Many of the people most involved in the process, such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, or Diane Beaver, the lawyer for the Combatant Commander at Guantanamo and author of the original request, were either not qualified for their job, pressured to comply with the administration line, or purposefully not given the necessary information, he said. Sands cited Beaver as the best example of this – a lawyer with no international experience who had been told by Haynes ten days prior to her memo requesting the change in interrogation methods to "do everything that needs to be done." She told Sands that to deny Haynes' request would have been insubordination. Sands further remarked that the legal advice in all of the torture memos was "deeply flawed" and "biased," that the techniques did migrate, and that the policy change was imposed from the highest levels of government.
In his speech, Sands was still optimistic that the United States can recover its reputation. Yet he warned how easily a small group of politically appointed lawyers, who he sees as primarily responsible, were able "to create a legal environment in which certain people are determined to have no rights at all."
Quoting Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy from his majority opinion in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, which struck down the exemption of rights for detainees as guaranteed in the Geneva Conventions, Sands said that a "specter of war crimes arises." He suggested taking steps including criminal investigations and possibly prosecutions, special prosecutors, and the extension of ongoing Congressional hearings. "If you do nothing, others will do it for you," he said, citing the principle of universal jurisdiction in which countries can try individuals for breaking international law, even if the country has not been directly involved.
Sands also discussed the effect that the exposure of the use of torture has had on America's reputation. He stated that policy makers had not thought about the repercussions before enacting the changes, as they would have thought that "these techniques were not worth the price they would have cost the United States even if they could have produced meaningful information."