A View From The Handbasket

Thursday, October 04, 2007
The mainstreaming of torture
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:10 PM
Just in case you may have missed it, the New York Times today published a revealing look at just how enthusiastic the White House has been when it comes to endorsing torture. It's worth a read.

Thanks to this sort of attitude from the top, the culture is now to the point where the Isaiah Washington character on the new "Bionic Woman" remake can do unspeakable (and unshowable) things to obtain information, and it's not at all clear if we're supposed to view his actions with approval or not. (Especially since the torture is portrayed as having produced life-saving, accurate and timely information, which rarely happens outside of prime time television.)

The political implications of fluffy TV shows aside, the activities detailed in the NYT make Bush's boasting of "transparency" laughably untruthful. Here's Bush at a February 2005 joint press conference with Putin:

I live in a transparent country. I live in a country where decisions made by government are wide open, and people are able to call people to -- me to account, which many out here due on a regular basis. Our laws, and the reasons why we have laws on the books, are perfectly explained to people. Every decision we have made is within the Constitution of the United States. We have a Constitution that we uphold. And if there is a question as to whether or not a law meets that Constitution, we have an independent court system, through which that law is reviewed.

So I'm perfectly comfortable in telling you, our country is one that safeguards human rights and human dignity, and we resolve our disputes in a peaceful way.

Compare and contrast that with this from the NYT. Note the date of the first secret Gonzalez pro-torture memo:

When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.

Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard.

The classified opinions, never previously disclosed, are a hidden legacy of President Bush’s second term and Mr. Gonzales’s tenure at the Justice Department, where he moved quickly to align it with the White House after a 2004 rebellion by staff lawyers that had thrown policies on surveillance and detention into turmoil.

Congress and the Supreme Court have intervened repeatedly in the last two years to impose limits on interrogations, and the administration has responded as a policy matter by dropping the most extreme techniques. But the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.

Yep. Clear as mud.

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