Waterboarding is torture, and torture is not consistent with what we believe in as a nation, regardless of the circumstance. Prosecutors at the Nazi war trials at Nuremberg knew it more than 50 years ago, and many senior intelligence and military officials question its value and morality now.
But President Bush still holds the view that the Central Intelligence Agency and military interrogators shouldn't have their hands completely tied when it comes to suspected terrorists who may harm the U.S. He is promising to veto a bill passed by the Senate last week that would ban the use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation methods. Every member of Congress should stand up and vote to overturn his defiance of American values.
White House officials insist a ban on waterboarding would force the CIA to shut down its program of enhanced interrogation of terror suspects. When pressed to defend the president's position, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino didn't try to parse the definition of torture - how could she? Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the CIA, and Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, have said they believe waterboarding is torture. Instead, she relied on partisan sniping: "Americans will have to ask themselves, 'Do you trust the intelligence community more than you trust Democrats who are beholden to their left wing?'"
Sen. John McCain, who was tortured in Vietnam, said he voted against last week's bill because Congress had passed an effective ban on torture in the 2006 Detainee Treatment Act. But Mr. Bush undermined that ban with an accompanying signing statement.
Senators McCain, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton all have declared themselves opposed to torture. All three should lead a principled bipartisan challenge to a Bush veto.
The torture issue is likely to end up before the Supreme Court now that the government is preparing to try six Guantanamo detainees, including the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who had been a victim of waterboarding. That possibility was foreshadowed frighteningly last week when, in a BBC radio interview, Justice Antonin Scalia said torture might be justified in some instances.
In the government's case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five other leading terror suspects, charges that could bring a death penalty, military lawyers have refused to rule out using evidence gained through torture.
An appeal to the Supreme Court challenging that strategy could mean more than a life or death decision for one or more of the defendants. It will also test the fundamental values of the American system of justice.
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