Jul 5, 2004
In middle June, the Washington Post posted on its website a copy of a Department of Justice memo dated August 1, 2002. Addressed to the White House, the memo asserts that torture may be justified when applied to "terrorists" outside the U.S. It defends the view that, in times of war, the president cannot be held liable for ordering torture. Thus the memo also provides a potential defense for any government employee accused of torturing people, on the basis that "he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the Al Qaeda terrorist network."
The document describes various methods which, while causing pain and suffering, would not be considered torture because they are not "severe enough." Aware of the fact that this contradicts international laws against torture, or, for that matter, existing U.S. laws and written Army rules, the authors of the memo reassure potential torturers that such laws and rules "may be unconstitutional if applied to interrogations."
President Bush and his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, claim that they have never seen the memo.
Someone in the Department of Defense must have seen it though. In March 2003, parts of that memo, almost verbatim, reappeared in a Pentagon report concerning interrogation techniques that could be used against detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had already addressed the issue in December, 2002, when officers at Guantanamo asked him how far they could go with their interrogation methods. Rumsfeld approved several torture techniques, including holding prisoners in isolation for 30 days and "inducing stress by use of detainee's fears," such as being attacked by dogs. When authorizing the practice of forcing prisoners to stand for four hours at a time, Rumsfeld wrote under his signature: "However, I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"
Six weeks later, on January 15, 2003, Rumsfeld rescinded his initial instructions. Without giving a reason, he said that requests to step up techniques against individual detainees should be forwarded to him. A change of heart? Not likely – in April, 2003, Rumsfeld personally approved 24 of 35 interrogation techniques presented to him by Guantanamo officials.
The Pentagon has refused to make public these 24 methods. The parts of all these memos that so far have seen the light of day, however, are enough proof. They show beyond any doubt that soldiers torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo or anywhere else were not acting alone. They were just doing the dirty work within the framework of a policy. A conscious policy of torture, that is, thought out and discussed at the highest level of the Bush administration.
Upon the release of the August, 2002 Department of Justice memo, a Human Rights Watch spokesperson commented: "It appears that what they were contemplating was the commission of war crimes and looking for ways to avoid legal accountability."
Yes, these are war crimes, plain and simple. But when are the big shots who order the arrest, torture and killing of individuals, not to mention the carpet-bombing of entire cities, held accountable for their crimes?
Only when they lose a war, of course. That's why Saddam Hussein today sits in prison while George Bush lives in luxury.