Prison guards jailed for abusing inmates at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq are planning to appeal against their convictions on the ground that recently released CIA torture memos prove that they were scapegoats for the Bush Administration.
The photographs of prisoner abuse at the Baghdad jail in 2004 sparked worldwide outrage but the previous administration, from President Bush down, blamed the incident on a few low-ranking “bad apples” who were acting on their own.
The decision by President Obama to release the memos showed that the harsh interrogation tactics were approved and authorised at the highest levels of the White House.
Some of the guards who were convicted of abuse want to return to court and argue that the previous administration sanctioned the abuse but withheld its role from their trials.
The latest reaction to the released memos came as it emerged that the two psychologists hired by the CIA to craft the techniques that were used on terror suspects were paid $1,000 (£673) a day. Neither had carried out nor overseen an interrogation.
Twelve guards at Abu Ghraib were convicted on charges related to the abuse, which included attaching leads to naked prisoners, terrifying them with dogs, beatings and slamming them into walls. The wall-slamming was a technique authorised by Justice Department officials at the time, who also said that the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding was not considered to be torture.
Charles Gittins, a lawyer who represents Charles Graner, the ringleader of the guards who is serving a ten-year sentence, said that the memos proved his long-held contention that Graner and the other defendants, including his former lover Lynndie England, could never have invented tactics such as stress positions and the use of dogs on their own.
“Once the pictures came out, the senior officials involved in the decision-making, they knew. They knew they had to have a cover story. It was the ‘bad apples’ led by Charles Graner,” Mr Gittins told The Washington Post.
Ms England, a poorly educated Army reservist, was pictured holding a dog leash attached to a naked detainee, and also pointing at another being forced to masturbate. She was convicted in September 2005 of abusing prisoners and one count of an indecent act. She was sentenced to three years in a military prison and was paroled after 521 days. Shortly after leaving Iraq she gave birth to a son fathered by Graner. She lives in her home state of West Virginia.
Mr Gittins said the refusal by the Bush Administration to acknowledge that it had authorised such techniques during the trials of the prison guards — and the judges’ refusal to call senior administration officials to testify — undermined their defences.
Mr Gittins wants to take the case of Graner, who is halfway through his sentence, to the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces to argue that top Bush Administration officials kept their complicity from the defence.
Gary Myers, a lawyer who represented Ivan L “Chip” Frederick on the abuse charges, said that he was going to try to use the memos to have his client’s dishonourable discharge removed from his record.
“What we know is that we had at the time a rogue government that created an environment where this sort of conduct was condoned, if not encouraged,” he said.
He added, however, that relying on illegal opinions or orders would probably not be a defence.