The disclosure of secret Justice Department legal opinions on interrogation on Thursday set off a bitter round of debate over the treatment of terrorism suspects in American custody and whether Congress has been adequately informed of legal policies.
Democrats on Capitol Hill demanded to see the classified memorandums, disclosed Thursday by The New York Times, that gave the Central Intelligence Agency expansive approval in 2005 for harsh interrogation techniques.
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West Virginia Democrat who is chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote to the acting attorney general, Peter D. Keisler, asking for copies of all opinions on interrogation since 2004.
“I find it unfathomable that the committee tasked with oversight of the C.I.A.’s detention and interrogation program would be provided more information by The New York Times than by the Department of Justice,” Mr. Rockefeller wrote. [complete article]
Every time the Bush Administration is accused of torture, the response from the White House is immediate and unequivocal. When the New York Times reported on its front page Thursday that the Justice Department had issued a secret legal opinion in 2005 approving a combination of particularly tough interrogation tactics, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said, “The bottom line is that we do not use torture.” When Congress and the White House battled over detainee rights in 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that techniques like simulated drowning didn’t amount to torture. And last August, after the New Yorker reported the latest in a string of private memos sent to the U.S. government by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) asserting that U.S. interrogation techniques were “tantamount to torture”, President Bush said curtly, “We don’t torture.”
The Administration says its firm, absolutist assertions are designed to protect U.S. troops in case they are captured: by insisting the U.S. doesn’t torture, the hope is others will feel compelled to refrain from doing so. But in practice, the Administration’s declarations have exactly the opposite effect. It’s not just that Washington has very little credibility on the issue, given all the evidence linking the U.S. to torture that has surfaced in recent years, including the opinion of the international body charged with observing detainee treatment. More importantly, by continuing to battle with the ICRC and other international organizations over the definition of torture, the Bush Administration is undermining those groups and diminishing their chances of protecting captured U.S. troops in the future. [complete article]
See also, Bush Says U.S. ‘does not torture’ (WP).
Editor’s Comment — There’s a dimension of torture that has been excluded from virtually all the debate. What is referred to by some as torture is officially called interrogation, yet the assumption that these techniques are being applied strictly for the purpose of gaining information is rarely questioned. Even so, the war on terrorism was declared and has been carried out as an implicit act of retribution — a grand re-setting of the balance of power on a global stage. In that context, it would be surprising if those tasked with the job of asserting American power would not translate that duty into their own acts of extra-judicial punishment: torture applied to those who the president, the vice-president and the secretary of defense had unequivocally described as “the worst of the worst.”