THE BUSH administration assures the country, and the world, that it
is complying with U.S. and international laws banning torture and maltreatment of prisoners. But, breaking with a practice of openness that had lasted for decades, it has classified as secret and refused to disclose the techniques of interrogation it is using on foreign detainees at U.S. prisons at Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In a paper prepared last year under the direction of the Defense Department's chief counsel,
and first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, the president of the
United States was declared empowered to disregard U.S. and
international law and order the torture of foreign prisoners.
Moreover, interrogators following the president's orders were
declared immune from punishment. Torture itself was narrowly redefined, so that techniques that inflict pain and mental suffering could be deemed legal. All this was done as a prelude to the designation of 24 interrogation methods for foreign prisoners -- the same techniques, now in use, that President Bush says are humane but refuses to disclose.
Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security." For decades the U.S. government has waged diplomatic campaigns against such outlaw governments -- from the military juntas in Argentina and Chile to the current autocracies in Islamic countries such as Algeria and Uzbekistan -- that claim torture is justified when used to combat terrorism. The news that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy
Even on paper, the
administration's reasoning will provide a ready excuse for
dictators, especially those allied with the Bush administration, to
go on torturing and killing detainees.
Now, imagine that a hostile government were to force an American to take drugs or endure severe mental stress that
fell just short of producing irreversible damage; or pain a little
milder than that of "organ failure, impairment of bodily function,
or even death." What if the foreign interrogator of an American "knows that severe pain will result from his actions" but proceeds because causing such pain is not his main objective? What if a foreign leader were to decide that the torture of an American was needed to protect his country's security? Would Americans regard that as legal, or morally acceptable? According to the Bush administration, they should.
Â© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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