White House nears completion of new torture guidelines
Critics say administration's endorsement of 'enhanced interrogation' is 'immoral,' draw comparisons to Nazi war crimes.
The White House is close to completing a new set of guidelines on the use of "enhanced interrogative techniques" by US agents, even as critics say such techniques are "immoral," "amateurish," and "indistinguishable" from Nazi war crimes.Skip to next paragraph
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The New York Times reports that the administration is preparing "secret new rules governing interrogations."
The Bush administration is nearing completion of a long-delayed executive order that will set new rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The order is expected to ban the harshest techniques used in the past, including the simulated drowning tactic known as waterboarding, but to authorize some methods that go beyond those allowed in the military by the Army Field Manual.
The Times writes that President Bush has claimed the broader techniques are needed to fight terrorism, and in the recent Republican presidential debate, candidates made similar suggestions about the necessity of harsh interrogation.
Critics, however, say that the Bush administration's policy regarding torture is "immoral." Philip Zelikow, a former advisor to Condoleezza Rice and the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, said in a lecture last month (PDF) at the Houston Journal of International Law that in 2002, the United States made "careful, deliberate choices to place extreme physical pressure on captives, with accompanying psychological effects," and that the administration's "policy guidelines devolved into legal guidelines, which were to do everything you can, so long as it is not punishable as a crime under American law."
Brilliant lawyers worked hard on how they could then construe the limits of vague, untested laws. They were operating so close to the frontiers of our law that, within only a couple of years, the Department of Justice eventually felt obliged to offer a second legal opinion, rewriting their original views of the subject. The policy results are imaginable and will someday become more fully known.
My point, though, is not to debate the delineation of the legal frontier. That focus obscures the core of the issue. The core of the issue, for legal policy, is this: What is moral – not, what is legal? What is cost-beneficial? ...
My own view is that the cool, carefully considered, methodical, prolonged, and repeated subjection of captives to physical torment, and the accompanying psychological terror, is immoral. I offer no opinion as to whether such conduct is a federal crime; merely that it is immoral.
Andrew Sullivan, a conservative blogger for The Atlantic, writes that many of the interrogative techniques being condoned by the Bush administration were used by the Nazis in the 1930s and 40s [Editor's note: The article contains a graphic photo.], and resulted in the convictions of the interrogators for war crimes. Mr. Sullivan notes the similarities between the "enhanced interrogation" employed by the Nazis and techniques condoned by the Bush administration, as well as parallels between the defenses presented at trial by the Nazis and the justifications offered by the White House.
The victims, by the way, were not in uniform. And the Nazis tried to argue, just as [former Department of Justice official] John Yoo did, that this made torturing them legit. The victims were paramilitary Norwegians, operating as an insurgency, against an occupying force. And the torturers had also interrogated some prisoners humanely. But the argument, deployed by Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the Nazis before them, didn't wash with the court [which found them guilty]. ...
Critics will no doubt say I am accusing the Bush administration of being Hitler. I'm not. There is no comparison between the political system in Germany in 1937 and the U.S. in 2007. What I am reporting is a simple empirical fact: the interrogation methods approved and defended by this president are not new. Many have been used in the past. The very phrase used by the president to describe torture-that-isn't-somehow-torture - "enhanced interrogation techniques" - is a term originally coined by the Nazis. The techniques are indistinguishable. The methods were clearly understood in 1948 as war-crimes. The punishment for them was death.