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The Torture Administration

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It’s been widely linked, but this is a must-read story:

The debate over how terrorism suspects should be held and questioned began shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the Bush administration adopted secret detention and coercive interrogation, both practices the United States had previously denounced when used by other countries. It adopted the new measures without public debate or Congressional vote, choosing to rely instead on the confidential legal advice of a handful of appointees.

[…]

After the Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that the Geneva Conventions applied to prisoners who belonged to Al Qaeda, President Bush for the first time acknowledged the C.I.A.’s secret jails and ordered their inmates moved to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The C.I.A. halted its use of waterboarding, or pouring water over a bound prisoner’s cloth-covered face to induce fear of suffocation.

But in July, after a monthlong debate inside the administration, President Bush signed a new executive order authorizing the use of what the administration calls “enhanced” interrogation techniques — the details remain secret — and officials say the C.I.A. again is holding prisoners in “black sites” overseas. The executive order was reviewed and approved by Mr. Bradbury and the Office of Legal Counsel.

Hilzoy sums up:

These techniques are not just morally abhorrent; they are flatly illegal. One might think that since the President is required by the Constitution to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed”, this might be a bit of a problem. Not for the Bush administration. First, John Yoo wrote his famous “torture memo”, in which he argued that interrogation techniques were illegal only if they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or death. When that memo became public, the administration disowned it. But they also issued another secret opinion reaffirming the legality of the various combinations of techniques described above, and then wrote another secret memo saying that none of the CIA’s interrogation techniques constituted “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment.

The techniques in question are repugnant. But in many ways, the administration’s disregard for the law is worse. When your policies violate treaties you have signed and laws that are on the books, you are not supposed to come up with some clever way of explaining that appearances to the contrary, what you’re doing is not illegal at all. You’re supposed to stop doing it. When Congress decides to pass a law banning “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, you are supposed to stop engaging in such treatment, not to redefine “cruel, inhuman and degrading” so that it doesn’t apply to anything you want to do.

Right. The article does an excellent job of detailing how this was made possible by turning the Office of Legal Counsel over to utter hacks willing to make arguments as farcical as they needed to be.

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