As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Friday, May 02, 2008

This Week In Torture

Some notable developments in the torture "debate" this week. Yes, there are some people out there who think that torturing other human beings is up for debate, people like Bill O'Reilly and Justice Antonin Scalia. Oh, and Karl Rove, though he comes down on a side that probably he didn't even envision.

Rove writes, "Another McCain story, somewhat better known, is about the Vietnamese practice of torturing him by tying his head between his ankles with his arms behind him, and then leaving him for hours." So, wait, now putting prisoners in stress positions is torture?


At the beginning of the week, we learned that the Justice Department is perfectly happy with undermining international law with the fig leaf of "fighting terrorism".

The Justice Department has told Congress that American intelligence operatives attempting to thwart terrorist attacks can legally use interrogation methods that might otherwise be prohibited under international law.

The legal interpretation, outlined in recent letters, sheds new light on the still-secret rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. It shows that the administration is arguing that the boundaries for interrogations should be subject to some latitude, even under an executive order issued last summer that President Bush said meant that the C.I.A. would comply with international strictures against harsh treatment of detainees [...]

“The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than for the purpose of humiliation or abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer in measuring the outrageousness of the act,” said Brian A. Benczkowski, a deputy assistant attorney general, in the letter, which had not previously been made public.

This is the Scalia argument, that the context of torture somehow matters for its legality. I would like to ask Mr. Originalist, who believes that the words of law are concrete and set in stone, if there is any other law in America or abroad that is mutable based on the context. The answer is pretty much no. And it's the argument of a scoundrel.

But it shouldn't be overlooked that this power is even being discussed due to the Military Commissions Act, which allows for the President to decide whether or not a specific action is in violation of the Geneva Conventions. See Glenn on this and how John McCain enabled this incredible offering of power to the chief executive.

It turns out that there are thousands of other documents relevant to the CIA's use of torture, secret detentions and rendition that the CIA doesn't want to give up, claiming that many are covered by a "presidential communications privilege". And yet later in the week, the White House offered disclosure of additional documents.

In a partial concession to Congressional pressure, the Bush administration agreed on Wednesday to show the Senate and House Intelligence Committees secret Justice Department legal opinions justifying harsh interrogation techniques that critics call torture.

The decision, announced at a Senate hearing where Democrats sharply criticized the administration’s secrecy on legal questions, did not satisfy other members of Congress who have pushed for the documents for several years, notably Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A spokesman for the Justice Department said officials were discussing whether to share part or all the opinions with Mr. Leahy’s panel.

Plus, David Addington, Cheney's Cheney, the Cardinal Richileu of this Administration, after first having said that Congress has no constitutional power to investigate the Vice President's role in authorizing torture, suddenly turned tail and agreed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

Today, the Vice President’s office sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee regarding the Committee’s request for testimony from David Addington, Chief of Staff to the Vice President. The letter is attached.

A committee spokeswoman had the following response: “We acknowledge the Office of the Vice President’s response. Pursuant to their request, we expect the committee to meet next week to authorize a subpoena. We look forward to coming up with a mutually acceptable date for Mr. Addington’s testimony.”

Addington clearly doesn't believe he's wrong about this, and it's unclear whether he's appeared on the record in any public setting. If that hearing goes through, it'd happen in a matter of weeks.

The Senate Intelligence Committee also again banned the CIA from using any techniques not proscribed by the Army Field Manual, from outsourcing torture to private military contractors, and from withholding detainee information from the Red Cross (ending the practice of "ghost detainees").

In the space of a few weeks, there has been a subtle shift on this issue, with some definitive movement. Will it amount to much? The final answer won't come as long as this Administration remains in power - it will come afterwards, in a Democratic Administration, when we discover whether or not Team Torture will be brought to justice and held to account. Until then, we can only keep up the pressure.

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