The Senate Armed Forces Committee just released its "Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees In U.S. Custody." What we learn is that in December 2001 the administration was already planning its use of torture. On February 7, 2002, Pres. Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflicts with al Qaeda and the Taliban, which meant that Common Article 3, which affords basic humane treatment to detainees, did not apply.
In August 2002 the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel issued two legal opinions. The first of which redefined torture:
Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death. For purely mental pain or suffering to amount to torture under [the federal torture statute], it must result in significant psychological harm of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or even years.The second opinion analyzed and approved of specific torture techniques, including waterboarding (the simulation of drowning). These memos are referred to as the First Bybee Memo and the Second Bybee Memo because they were approved of and recommended by Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. Jay Bybee is (sigh) a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and a graduate of BYU undergrad and law school. I am ashamed.
Pres. Obama recently released the memos to the public. The memos are legal documents describing and justifying brutal interrogation methods including "forced nudity, the slamming of detainees into walls, prolonged sleep deprivation and the dousing of detainees with water as cold as 41 degrees," as well as "keeping detainees awake for up to 11 straight days, placing them in a dark, cramped box or putting insects into the box to exploit their fears."
Keep in mind that this is the United States government we are talking about. Our government. The policies and practices of our government represent our shared values and the image we present to the world. But lets continue.
These "techniques" were used in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It is much harder, I think, to make the argument that the Geneva Convention does not apply to those wars. I can agree that the larger war on terror may not be the type of conflict that is contemplated in the Geneva Convention (though I adamately disagree with its total suspension in those cases), but the Afghani and Iraqi Wars were the type of conventional wars that were contemplated by the Geneva Convention. To suspend it and use torture in those wars is an absolutely inexcusable breach of justice and humanity.
Now, perhaps, the most disgusting revelation of them all. A former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist has stated that the Bush Administration pushed for torture to be used in order to create a link between al Qaeda and Iraq. Top al Qaeda detainees were waterboarded dozens and dozens of time in an effort to extract information that the intelligence community had already advised the administration did not exist. It is clear now that the Bush Administration knew it was going to war with Iraq (despite claiming that war was always a last resort). In order to build a case that it was told could not be built, it ordered torture. Torture was not just used to extract information of imminent threats to America, it was used for political purposes. This makes me sick to my stomach.
There is not much to add to any of this. The arguments have been made that torture produces more false confessions and evidence than facts. The arguments have been made that our use of torture creates more animosity and, as a result, terrorists, because we are known torturers. The arguments have been made that America and Americans are supposed to be the shining example of freedom and justice in the world. We are supposed to be the beacon that the oppressed and hopeful flock to in order to flee oppression and fear.
After initially stating that no prosecutions would be forthcoming at any level as a result of torture, it now appears that those that devised and ordered the torture policies will be subject to possible investigation and prosecution. This is the way it should be. We are a nation of laws, and when those laws are broken justice must be done. We have to assure that this will never happen again. We have to cleanse our government of this type of thinking. These decisions will be made independent of the administration through the Department of Justice (what? You forgot that the Department of Justice is an independent agency after the Bush Administration abuses of power? That is understandable).
There is a significant argument put forward by conservatives that it was dangerous for the Obama Administration to release the torture memos. We need to remember that these are memos that outlined the legal foundation for the use of torture. These are not memos that give specific names, dates, or locations of torture. The only people put at risk by the release of these memos are the criminals that authorized, drafted, and approved of them. These memos reveal the arguments in favor of torture, which needs to come to light so we can avoid this type of reasoning in the future. Everyone in the world already knew America had become a torturer, now we know the depraved reasoning that got us there.
Finally, and I realize this is getting long, but I want to stress again that the way we use language is so important. The great David Foster Wallace said it best:
There's a grosser irony about Politically Correct English. This is that PCE purports to be the dialect of progressive reform but is in fact--in its Orwellian substitution of the euphemisms of social equality for social equality itself--of vastly more help to conservatives and the U.S. status quo than traditional SNOOT prescriptions ever were. Were I, for instance, a political conservative who opposed taxation as a means of redistributing national wealth, I would be delighted to watch PCE progressives spend their time and energy arguing over whether a poor person should be described as "low-income" or "economically disadvantaged" or "pre-prosperous" rather than constructing effective public arguments for redistributive legislation or higher marginal tax rates on corporations. (Not to mention that strict codes of egalitarian euphemism serve to burke the sorts of painful, unpretty, and sometimes offensive discourse that in a pluralistic democracy leads to actual political change rather than symbolic political change. In other words, PCE functions as a form of censorship, and censorship always serves the status quo.)We call "torture" things like enhanced interrogation, harsh interrogation, techniques, coersion, aggressive interrogation, a necessary tool, mistreatment, tough interrogation, freely interrogate, refined interrogation, etc. We refer to stress positions and waterboarding, sleep management, sexual humiliation, and non-injurious physical contact. We hold illegal combatants at black sites. In short, we use non-offensive language to maintain the status quo and prevent real discourse and real progress.
We held human beings, children of God, in secret prisons and tortured them. Now that we are being honest about it, it's time for social progress.