Legalizing Torture

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Legalizing Torture

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.

© 2004 The Washington Post Company

Snipped to fit under the 4000 word limit. Full op-ed under the "www"

What Hitler did was leagal in Germany at the time....

Lets hope GWB meets the same end!!!

The use of torture, the invasion of Iraq, Bush's energy and enviromental policy....these are simply symptoms and manifestations of the underlying problem.

The legal memo drawn up by Pentagon lawyers the op-ed is commenting on states the President has the authority to set aside law, as that power is "inherent to the Presidency".

The British monarchy [let alone a President of a constitutional republic] has not had the power to set aside law since, oh, around the time of the Glorious Revolution.

Therein lies the alpha and the omega of everything wrong with the Administration of George W. Bush.

And it is unprecedented in American history.

I agree, the US President is behaving like a criminal... but that is not unprecedented. Nixon engaged in all kinds of illegal activity and invoked executive privelege (if memory serves) to prevent the Watergate tapes from appearing in a court of Law. Bush hasn't gone that far yet - Ashcroft denied Congress access to the Memos re: redefining torture and President is exempt from rules around torture yesterday - but he didn't invoke anything, just said "no, you can't have these".

"No, you can't have these"

...which is in many ways worse. I mean, they're not even trying to come up with excuses anymore.

So, why unprecedented? There have been, yes, many illegal and quasi-illegal acts committed by U.S. governments for almost it's entire existence (the American Revolution being, from a legal point of view, illegal). I suggest the difference with the Bush II Administration is the scope: it's not simply a single incident or policy that crosses the line, it's almost all of their policies have been built around deceit and circumvention of the law.

Couple this with the fact that these policies, of which Iraq is the perfect example, are not simply illegal but demonstrably detrimental to the interests of the United States and you have on your hands the worst U.S. president. Ever.

These are not simply politicians who break the law, whether for ill-gain or the greater good, they are ideologues who break the law. If the facts don't fit in with their worldview, well, they'll just get "new" facts. Reality be damned.

This article is a good synopsis of the Bush Administration approach to the torture question - with some background on the international law / conventions that it impacts. Definitely worth a read.