Scott Shane, David Johnston, and James Risen report in today's New York Times that the Bush administration has been actively nullifying congressional legislation and its own stated policy regarding torture:
When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.
But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.
Mr. Gonzales approved the legal memorandum on “combined effects” over the objections of James B. Comey, the deputy attorney general, who was leaving his job after bruising clashes with the White House. Disagreeing with what he viewed as the opinion’s overreaching legal reasoning, Mr. Comey told colleagues at the department that they would all be “ashamed” when the world eventually learned of it.
Later that year, as Congress moved toward outlawing “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard.
The classified opinions, never previously disclosed, are a hidden legacy of President Bush’s second term and Mr. Gonzales’s tenure at the Justice Department, where he moved quickly to align it with the White House after a 2004 rebellion by staff lawyers that had thrown policies on surveillance and detention into turmoil.
Congress and the Supreme Court have intervened repeatedly in the last two years to impose limits on interrogations, and the administration has responded as a policy matter by dropping the most extreme techniques. But the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums, officials said. They show how the White House has succeeded in preserving the broadest possible legal latitude for harsh tactics.
The response on Memeorandum is enormous, but so far only liberal bloggers, with the exception of Jules Crittenden, and of course he thinks it's fine. Of course, even Jules has his limits: "powerdrills into kneecaps and videotaped beheading of captives" are out.
Paul Kiel quotes an extended part of this morning's press gaggle, in which Dana Perino responded to reporters' questions about the Times article. It reads like a malignant Alice in Wonderland:
QUESTION: You maintain that the administration still does not torture?
QUESTION: But is it not possible that some of these classified opinions may have changed the definition of "torture"?
PERINO: No. I don't believe so. I have not seen them. But as everything was described to me, no, I don't believe that's possible....
QUESTION: But the idea that you can't discuss it and that you blanketly say there's no torture when, clearly, in the Department of Justice there has been a debate about if those techniques were too severe ... and to simply say there's no torture, but then to never provide any insight as to what the limitations are, with the exception of death or organ failure ...
PERINO: I'm not disputing that there can be legal disagreements between reasonable people who may look at something one way and another person looks at it in another way. I'm not disputing that. What I am saying is that we do not torture, and I disagree with the notion that just because information is leaked or provided to The New York Times or any other news organization that this country should ... that this government should then have to spell out any specifics. And I'm not confirming or denying anything that you just listed ... all the ones that you just listed.
QUESTION: How can you say that ... how can you say with assurance that we don't torture if you don't know what was in the ...
PERINO: Because we follow the law.
Michael van der Galien, who is not from the United States, points out that the Bush administration's torture policies are everyone's business:
The United States has always opposed torture, and has been at the very center of the international movement to outlaw torture and inhuman treatments. When there were wars, the US normally had the highground; sure the US had made mistakes, but overall you knew that it generally stood for the good, for democracy, for human rights. This, sadly, isn’t the case anymore. The US is certainly not a force for ‘evil,’ but if it doesn’t change its torture policy soon, it’ll have no right whatsoever to call other countries on the way they treat their prisoners… for one thing, nor will the US have any right to judge whether or not foreign governments act in accordance to the human rights as agreed upon by the ‘international community.’
In short, I’m with Marty Lederman who writes: “What, then, will it take for Congress to have the courage finally to provide the thorough public accounting that is so desperately needed here — and, perhaps more importantly, to pass laws that expressly and specifically prohibit identified techniques amounting to cruel treatment and torture; that prohibit secret, incommunicado CIA facilities; and that provide real legislative oversight so that this never happens again?” It’s truly time for the US Congress to step up and do something. And no, I’m not an American, but this particular issue does most surely have an impact on foreigners and, as such, I believe it’s perfectly fine for foreigners like me to pressure the US government into outlawing torture or ‘inhuman’ treatment completely.