When it comes to torture, the Bush administration wants the United States to have it both ways. President Bush believes America can be a country governed by laws, even though it may break the law under special circumstances. This is a morally bankrupt position that diminishes America's stature in the world, and puts U.S. citizens and soldiers at risk. Moreover, it is not necessary. The United States can protect itself without breaking U.S. or international law.
The Justice Department tried to clarify the administration's position on CIA interrogations in letters sent to Congress last month. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski said the United States follows the Geneva Conventions' guidance on interrogations, but that it could deviate if circumstances -- such as an imminent attack, for example -- justified it. This explanation reflects the administration's long-held belief that the 9/11 attacks justify taking extraordinary actions against terrorism suspects.
Mr. Bush outlined the administration's rules for interrogations in an executive order last year that sought to comply with limits imposed by Congress and the Supreme Court. While the new rules would put the United States in closer compliance with the Conventions, the Justice letter makes clear that there is wiggle room for harsher methods. President Bush says that the techniques have prevented more terror attacks.
FBI Director Robert Mueller, however, has said in testimony to Congress that it is possible to use noncoercive methods to get information from terror suspects that protect the country from attack. More important, the U.S. Army Field Manual does not sanction torture and spells out precisely what techniques are permissible.
The administration's redefined rules are fuzzy about following the Geneva Conventions prohibition against ''outrages upon personal dignity'' of prisoners. For example, Mr. Benczkowski said in his letter: ``The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act.''
No Hard-and-Fast Rules
In other words, the U.S. wants discretion to torture. It wants no hard-and-fast rules. This is a dangerous position. It puts U.S. citizens and soldiers at risk in other countries. If the U.S. commander in chief doesn't stand firmly against torture, how can CIA agents and soldiers decipher the rules? Congress should adapt rules that make it clear to agents, soldiers and the president: The United States can protect itself without torturing people. We don't torture. Period.
Copyright 2008 Miami Herald Media Co.