US Torture Tactics Shame Us All

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Common Dreams

US Torture Tactics Shame Us All

Thank goodness for whistle-blowers, those public servants who think Americans should know the harm that is being inflicted in our name.

Some of those high-minded officials recently revealed to The New York Times that the Bush administration has abandoned its 2004 legal opinion that torture is "abhorrent" and instead has resumed "brutal interrogations."

The Times said two subsequent Justice Department legal opinions -- implemented by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- gave the go-ahead for interrogators to resort to physical and psychological tactics that inflict pain.

The authorization endorsed use of the harshest techniques applied by the CIA, including head slapping, "waterboarding" that simulates drowning, holding detainees in frigid temperatures, manacling prisoners in stress positions for hours, sleep deprivation for days and nights and subjecting them to long hours of thundering rock music.

White House and Justice Department officials insist the opinions do not conflict with the administration's promise not to torture suspects. But the memos have never been released.

The Times said this was the first time in U.S. history that the federal government authorized such tactics.

There are arguments on the other side for more humane persuasion and less pain. And there has been some conscientious resistance to torture among top Justice Department officials and some military lawyers.

The new orders also renew the CIA's authority to hold prisoners in so-called overseas black sites.

The secret detention centers reportedly are located in Afghanistan, Thailand and Eastern Europe, where brutal tactics can be employed out of sight. They apparently are secret only to Americans.

The Times reported "nervous" CIA interrogators from abroad sent inquiries back to agency lawyers at headquarters to ask: "Are we breaking the laws against torture?"

Obviously sensitive to such shameful reports, President Bush said twice: "We do not torture."

It may come down to what he means by "torture."

Unfortunately, his poor credibility in the run-up to the war against Iraq requires that he deliver more details rather than make simple assertions. Will he say it under oath? And will he define "torture"?

White House press secretary Dana Perino tells reporters repeatedly, "It is not our policy to torture." But policy is one thing, action is another.

Frances Fragos Townsend, White House homeland security adviser, justifies extreme interrogation, telling CNN that al-Qaida terrorists "are trained to resist harsh interrogations." Her premise is that Americans could get killed "if we failed to do the hard things."

So as long as there is doubt, the president should release all the guidelines for so-called enhanced interrogation. The details probably won't come as a surprise to potential terrorists.

Congress also would like to see the details because the lawmakers have outlawed "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" of prisoners. This ban is consistent with the wording of the U.N.'s 1948 Declaration of Human Rights.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that U.S. prisoners are covered by the Geneva Conventions barring abusive treatment.

The Bush administration got off track starting with the infamous 2002 memo drafted by John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California-Berkeley, who was then working at the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

Yoo, a strong supporter of expanded presidential power, claimed that no interrogation practices were illegal unless they caused the equivalent of organ failure "or even death."

When did Bush begin to think that U.S. laws and treaty obligations did not apply to him or his team? How can he allow the perception that the U.S. tortures prisoners?

 

Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas was an American author and former news service reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and columnist. She worked for the United Press International (UPI) for 57 years, first as a correspondent, and later as White House bureau chief. She was an opinion columnist for Hearst Newspapers from 2000 to 2010, writing on national affairs and the White House. Among other books she was the author of Front Row at The White House: My Life and Times. Helen passed away on July 20, 2013.

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