Friday, July 01, 2005

President Bush Lashes Out at His Administration's Conduct at Gitmo and Secret CIA Detention Centers


From the White House website:

President's Statement on United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture

On United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the United States reaffirms its commitment to the worldwide elimination of torture. Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right, and we are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law.

The United States is continuing to work to expand freedom and democracy throughout the world. We will seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, and we will help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way. Throughout the world, there are many who have been seeking to have their voices heard, to stand up for their right to freedom, and to break the chains of tyranny. Too many of those courageous women and men are paying a terrible price for their brave acts of dissent. Many have been detained, arrested, thrown in prison, and subjected to torture by regimes that fail to understand that their habits of control will not serve them well in the long-term. America will not pretend that jailed dissidents prefer their chains, or that women welcome humiliation and servitude, or that any human being aspires to live at the mercy of bullies. All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.

What is the best interpretation of the above press release?

(1) President Bush is to be commended. He has finally seen the light and is committed to ending prisoner abuse and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in American detention centers around the world. He does not call attention to American practices because everybody knows about them, but it is quite clear that following this official statement, he will get to the bottom of what has been happening in American detention centers, including the secret ones run by the CIA, and he will make sure that everyone responsible is appropriately punished. His critics have been wrong about the President. He is a good man who wants to do good, and he is now on the path to his and his country's moral redemption.

(2) President Bush thinks that nobody will get the connection between what he is denouncing in this press release and what is happening in American detention centers. His statement on United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is the height of cynicism and chutzpah. President Bush's defense of democracy and human rights has become truly Orwellian.

(3) President Bush is being perfectly consistent. He is only denouncing torture by countries other than the United States. Although other regimes' "habits of control will not serve them well in the long-term," he believes that America's "habits of control" will serve its long term interests well. It is regretable but necessary to abuse and torture some detainees to protect American interests; however, it is not necessary for any other country to do this. Hence their practices, unlike our own, are morally reprehensible and inconsistent with human rights and the rule of law.

(4) President Bush is being perfectly consistent. He is only denouncing torture as that term has been narrowly defined by the Office of Legal Counsel as opposed to merely cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment as that term is defined in various international agreements. Read carefully, his remarks do not not denounce cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and his statement leaves open its continued use by the CIA in secret detention centers as well as by American military interrogators at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.


Well, needless to say, the answer is (4). This has been a consistent strategy over the past few months. For instance, the "torture is categorically prohibited" meme is the consistent theme of the State Department's recent Report to the U.N. on torture. And in his oral and written testimony during his confirmation hearings the (now) Attorney General stated no fewer than 80 times that he, the President and the U.S. categorically condemn torture and will not countenance it anytime, anywhere. And yet in that same testimony, Judge Gonzales was unable (or unwilling) to say whether waterboarding, burning a detainee with a cigarette, and forced enemas would be legally available techniques. In fact, we now know that the Administration *has* concluded that waterboarding, convincing a detainee of the threat of his (or his family's) imminent death, forced nudity, etc. (and see all of the techniques used on al-Kahtani), are *not* torture, and may in certain circumstances be employed, notwithstanding the President's "humane treatment" directive, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and the (apparent) requirement that the U.S. seek to prevent conduct that would "shock the conscience."

This bait-and-switch -- striving to assure the world that we are in full compliance with our treaty obligations, and that we are second to no one when it comes to condemning and proscribing torture, while all the while engaging in conduct that avoids such proscriptions only by virtue of clever lawyering -- is precisely why it is *imperative* that the Administration release its legal documents explaining the legal basis for its interrogation policies. Most importantly: (i) the DOJ memo or memos from mid- to late-2002 advising the CIA on which techniques are legall available; and (ii) the John Yoo memo to Jim Haynes of March 14, 2003, which apparently gave the green light to the military to ignore the constraints of the UCMJ, and which reportedly ended the debate within the Pentagon concerning the lawfulness of the techniques that Secretary Rumsfeld had approved.

I entirely agree with your central point about the disgusting and massively hypocritical behavior of the administration in encouraging mistreatment of detainees and in the practice of "extraordinary rendition."

Taking the title of your post literally, though, would imply that you consider the detainees to be people "seeking to have their voices heard, to stand up for their right to freedom, and to break the chains of tyranny," as well as "courageous women and men...paying a terrible price for their brave acts of dissent."

It's certainly possible that some of the detainees fit that description, but I think it highly likely that most do not. The message of liberals and decent conservatives in opposing the Bush torture/mistreatment policies should be (and generally has been) that no one should be treated like this, not even people who might be cooperating in terrorism or otherwise working against U.S. interests.

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