The torture memos

Today, President Obama released four memos to the public. The memos were written by the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush Administration. The memos authorized interrogators to use so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” when interrogating suspects in the war on terror.

But let’s call torture, torture. As Glenn Greenwald emphasizes, the Office of Legal Counsel was aware that the U.S. government had condemned the same practices when other countries employed them.

The US government denounced some of those practices explicitly as torture. Here’s a key quote from one of the memos:

Each year, in the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, the United States condemns coercive interrogation techniques and other practices employed by other countries. Certain of the techniques the United States has condemned appear to bear some resemblance to some of the CIA interrogation techniques.

Those are weasel words. It isn’t merely that “certain of the techniques” bear “some” resemblance to CIA interrogation techniques. We’re talking about a whole range of practices, which are the very same practices that the torture memos authorize.

For example, when Indonesia utilized food and sleep deprivation, the USA condemned it as “psychological torture”. And the discussion of Egypt refers to “stripping and blindfolding victims; suspending victims from a ceiling or doorframe with feet just touching the floor; beating victims … and dousing victims with cold water” as “methods of torture”.

The memo goes on to say that the condemnation of such practices is only a matter of diplomacy, and therefore of “limited relevance”. The memos thus proceed to provide CIA interrogators with legal cover when they practice those same, condemned, methods of torture.

President Obama continues to resist demands (widespread among left-leaning bloggers) that the US government prosecute Americans who authorized or participated in the torture regime. But I would like to highlight one part of the statement the President delivered today:

In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.

Note the phrase, “in good faith”. In a very lawyerly way, President Obama has left the door open for the prosecution of individuals whose actions were not “in good faith”.

I’m intrigued by that, particularly as it extends to the lawyers — for example, then Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee — who authorized the practice of torture. Were they themselves acting “in good faith”?

More likely, they knew full well that the official legal advice they were proferring was bogus. But they wrote the memos anyway, in order to carry out the wishes of their political masters.

When you knowingly profer bogus legal advice, it doesn’t count as “in good faith”.

I guarantee that Bybee, Gonzales and others are looking over their shoulders these days. This story isn’t going to blow over in a matter of weeks. It’s going to play out for years, if necessary, but one day these men are likely to be held accountable for their deeds.

Hopefully, accountability will reach all the way to the offices of Vice President Cheney and President Bush. “The buck stops here” — remember that maxim?


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