Poor Excuses for Bad Practice

The following is an op-ed written by the East Valley Tribune – Mesa, AZ, USA regarding the 2005 White House memo concerning torture.  

October 8, 2007 – 8:33PM

Poor excuses for bad practice

Tribune Editorial

After publicly renouncing torture as a tool against terror, it turns out the Bush administration secretly reserved the right to do so.

In 2002, the administration announced that al-Qaida prisoners were not subject to international law against the torture of captives. Later that year, the administration produced a legal opinion authorizing the CIA to use interrogation techniques that stopped short of the sort of pain caused by serious physical injury, organ failure or death. This was our government talking.

There was enormous public outcry when the opinion became public in 2004, and it was quickly rescinded. The Justice Department stated: “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” It is dismaying that the government felt it had to say what most us believe is self-evident. But the Bush administration couldn’t bring itself to relinquish its self-delegated power to treat prisoners as it saw fit.

According to The New York Times, in early 2005, soon after Alberto Gonzales became attorney general, the Justice Department drafted a secret opinion authorizing the CIA to use such brutal interrogation techniques as simulated drowning, stress positions, head slaps, sleep deprivation and sustained loud noise.

Late that same year, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which President Bush ultimately supported, banning the “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of prisoners. But, according to the Times, the Justice Department secretly drafted another memo reinterpreting the law so that the CIA’s harsher techniques were effectively exempted.

Disclosure of the two secret memos has caused a storm in Congress, where many lawmakers feel that the Bush administration once again told it one thing and did another. The practical effect of the outcry is that Michael Mukasey, Bush’s nominee to succeed Gonzales, faces rough questioning about his views on torture from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bush defended the interrogation methods on the grounds that they work. But Amos Guiora, a law professor at the University of Utah and a former counterterrorism expert for the Israeli Defense Forces, reminded us recently that torture has failed time and again to deliver reliable intelligence – despite what we see on television and in the movies. A tortured suspect usually tells their captors what they want to hear to escape the pain, not what the suspect actually knows.

No president should be subverting a law that he signed forbidding an immoral and ineffective practice, and then invoking national security to justify his secretive actions.

Cross posted from the National Security Advisors Blog