Sunday, October 07, 2007

Torture & Interrogation

Interrogation tactics have been back in the news. The CIA and the Bush administration insist that their techniques are lawful and successful. While some would argue about the lawful part, it is noteworthy that neither of these criteria is enough to establish "right." But here I speak of principles and values that transcend law and spin. As Christians, we have a prophetic voice to call things right and wrong.

And we are called to label torture wrong (more on waterboarding).

Here are some quotes from a selection of articles regarding the release of information on the administration's view on interrogation:

Bush defends US interrogation methods (JENNIFER LOVEN,, Associated Press, 6 Oct '07)

The two Justice Department legal opinions from 2005 were disclosed in Thursday's editions of The New York Times, which reported that the first opinion authorized the use of painful methods, such as head slaps, freezing temperatures and simulated drownings known as waterboarding, in combination.

That secret opinion came months after a December 2004 opinion in which the Justice Department publicly declared torture "abhorrent" and the administration seemed to back away from claiming authority for such practices, and after the withdrawal of a 2002 classified Justice opinion that had allowed certain aggressive interrogation practices so long as they stopped short of producing pain equivalent to experiencing organ failure or death.

White House press secretary Dana Perino said…. We cannot provide more information about techniques. It's not appropriate."

The CIA has interrogated fewer than 100 "hardened" terrorists and has used "special methods of questioning" on a third of them, according to Hayden.

Bush's Dangerous Torture(d) Stance (MASSIMO CALABRESI, TIME,, 5 Oct '07)

Every time the Bush administration is accused of torture the response from the White House is immediate and unequivocal. When the New York Times reported on its front page Thursday that the Justice Department had issued a secret legal opinion in 2005 approving a combination of particularly tough interrogation tactics, White House spokesperson Dana Perino said, "The bottom line is that we do not use torture." When Congress and the White House battled over detainee rights in 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney argued that techniques like simulated drowning didn't amount to torture. And last August, after the New Yorker reported the latest in a string of private memos sent to the U.S. government by the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) asserting that U.S. interrogation techniques were "tantamount to torture", President Bush said curtly, "We don't torture."

The Administration says its firm, absolutist assertions are designed to protect U.S. troops in case they are captured: by insisting the U.S. doesn't torture, the hope is others will feel compelled to refrain from doing so. But in practice, the administration's declarations have exactly the opposite effect. It's not just that Washington has very little credibility on the issue, given all the evidence linking the U.S. to torture that has surfaced in recent years, including the opinion of the international body charged with observing detainee treatment. More importantly, by continuing to battle with the ICRC and other international organizations over the definition of torture, the Bush administration is undermining those groups and diminishing their chances of protecting captured U.S. troops in the future.

Restore habeas, restore security (William H. Neukom, Christian Science Monitor,, 5 Oct '07)

For five years, the executive branch and Congress have said that foreign enemy combatants should not have access to federal courts and have allowed them to languish in a Guantánamo prison without outside judicial review. Last month, US senators narrowly failed to reverse this misguided strategy, but we all have a stake in the consequences of this debate.

At stake is habeas corpus, a doctrine as old as Magna Carta. Its core principle, that no person can be locked away without a fair and impartial court review, is the cornerstone of all free societies, including America's.

Habeas corpus protects all of us by ensuring that government is detaining the right people and not accidentally (or intentionally) jailing the innocent. It allows a fair hearing and nothing more. If a judge finds that imprisonment is lawful, an inmate remains in confinement.

Why should Americans protect the rights of people possibly bent on their destruction? There are many reasons, but the main one is this: Championing the rule of law is the best way to protect American society, and its founding values.

Four retired commanding officers of the US Judge Advocate General Corps recently warned Congress that the Military Commissions Act actually increases the risk that US personnel and tourists overseas will be imprisoned without legal review.

Some argue that military necessity makes normal court review for detainees an unaffordable luxury, but they should consider this: Even Israel, which lives in constant threat of deadly attack, ensures a prompt court review of all suspected terrorists. It has found that protecting its values and liberties is key to protecting its safety. In one 1980 case, Kawasme v. the Minister of Defense, Israel's Supreme Court went so far as to say: "There is no more potent weapon than the rule of law."

Debate Erupts on Techniques Used by C.I.A. (DAVID JOHNSTON and SCOTT SHANE, NY Times, 5 Oct '07)

In an interview, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said that in light of the administration’s apparent retreat from its legal embrace of the harshest tactics in 2004, the 2005 opinions “are more than surprising.”

“I think they’re shocking,” Mr. Specter said.

Both documents were written by the Office of Legal Counsel after Alberto R. Gonzales became attorney general. Mr. Gonzales’s arrival effectively ended a rebellion in the department in 2004 by lawyers who had found fault with the legal justifications for interrogation and surveillance.

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