Today, a House Judiciary subcommittee is holding an oversight hearing on the “effectiveness and consequences of ‘enhanced’ interrogation.” The Committee had invited Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, a former Guantanamo Bay prosecutor, to testify about his experiences. The Wall Street Journal reports, “Asked last week to appear before the panel, Col. Couch says he informed his superiors and that none had any objection.” But Couch’s appearance was blocked by Cheney-backed Pentagon counsel William Haynes:
Yesterday, however, [Couch] was advised by email that the Pentagon general counsel, William J. Haynes II, “has determined that as a sitting judge and former prosecutor, it is improper for you to testify about matters still pending in the military court system, and you are not to appear before the Committee to testify tomorrow.“
Haynes has been a forceful advocate and key architect for the administration’s harsh interrogation techniques. Couch’s potential testimony posed a serious danger to Haynes’ work.
As a Gitmo prosecutor, Couch had been assigned to prosecute accused al Qaeda operative Mohamedou Ould Slahi, one of fourteen “high value” prisoners. “Of the cases I had seen, he was the one with the most blood on his hands,” Couch said of Slahi. Yet Couch determined he could not prosecute Slahi because his incriminating statements “had been taken through torture, rendering them inadmissible under U.S. and international law.”
In a lengthy Wall Street Journal profile published in March, Couch revealed evidence of torture he witnessed at Guantanamo Bay — images that captured his conscience and forced him to become a critic of the administration’s interrogation system. Couch reported that Slahi “had been beaten and exposed to psychological torture, including death threats and intimations that his mother would be raped in custody unless he cooperated.” Here’s what happened when Couch announced his decision not to prosecute:
In May 2004, at a meeting with the then-chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bob Swann, Col. Couch dropped his bombshell. He told Col. Swann that in addition to legal reasons, he was “morally opposed” to the interrogation techniques “and for that reason alone refused to participate in [the Slahi] prosecution in any manner.”
Col. Swann was indignant, Col. Couch says, replying: “What makes you think you’re so much better than the rest of us around here?”
Col. Couch says he slammed his hand on Col. Swann’s desk and replied: “That’s not the issue at all, that’s not the point!”
An impassioned debate followed, the prosecutor recalls. Col. Swann said the Torture Convention didn’t apply to military commissions. Col. Couch asked his superior to cite legal precedent that would allow the president to disregard a treaty.
On his first day in Guantanamo, Couch said he saw treatment of a prisoner that “resembled the abuse he had been trained to resist if captured.” Couch’s willingness to tell the truth posed such a threat to the administration that they have prevented him from speaking to Congress. The subcommittee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), said he would consider seeking a subpoena for Couch if the Pentagon maintained its stand.