Lawyers Decided Bans on Torture Didn't Bind Bush
June 8, 2004 2:02 AM   Subscribe

The memo showed that not only lawyers from the Defense and Justice departments and the White House approved of the policy but also that David S. Addington, the counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, also was involved in the deliberations. The State Department lawyer, William H. Taft IV, dissented, warning that such a position would weaken the protections of the Geneva Conventions for American troops.

The March 6 document about torture provides tightly constructed definitions of torture. For example, if an interrogator "knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good faith," the report said. "Instead, a defendant is guilty of torture only if he acts with the express purpose of inflicting severe pain or suffering on a person within his control."

The adjective "severe," the report said, "makes plain that the infliction of pain or suffering per se, whether it is physical or mental, is insufficient to amount to torture. Instead, the text provides that pain or suffering must be `severe.' " The report also advised that if an interrogator "has a good faith belief his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm, he lacks the mental state necessary for his actions to constitute torture."

The report also said that interrogators could justify breaching laws or treaties by invoking the doctrine of necessity. An interrogator using techniques that cause harm might be immune from liability if he "believed at the moment that his act is necessary and designed to avoid greater harm."

Scott Horton, the former head of the human rights committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, said Monday that he believed that the March memorandum on avoiding responsibility for torture was what caused a delegation of military lawyers to visit him and complain privately about the administration's confidential legal arguments. That visit, he said, resulted in the association undertaking a study and issuing of a report criticizing the administration. He added that the lawyers who drafted the torture memo in March could face professional sanctions.

Jamie Fellner, the director of United States programs for Human Rights Watch, said Monday, "We believe that this memo shows that at the highest levels of the Pentagon there was an interest in using torture as well as a desire to evade the criminal consequences of doing so."

posted by y2karl at 2:03 AM on June 8, 2004

Is that cut-and-paste really necessary? Why would I bother to come inside if I hadn't read the article? And if I did, what makes you think I'd find it more interesting as white-on-blue?
posted by Mayor Curley at 2:13 AM on June 8, 2004

If we truly believe the POTUS has the constitutional right as commander-in-chief to order or look the other way on torture, then I think we ought to back out of the Geneva Treaty. Can't have it both ways.

Some argue that as non-uniformed irregulars, Al Quaida is non-signatory to the conventions and therefore don't have the rights outlined within, but I think it would be much harder to make that same argument in Iraq. In either case, if we choose not to call these fighters soldiers, and brand them terrorists without rights, we can't call this a war.

The Geneva Conventions seem to me to be about treating others with basic human decency both because it's the right thing to do, and so that our troops may expect to receive the same treatment. Sad how much lower my expectations of American conduct in the world have fallen. Don't tread on me, indeed.
posted by kahboom at 2:26 AM on June 8, 2004


You never know what a web page will say tommorow. NYT has been altering content as of late, for example.
posted by effugas at 2:33 AM on June 8, 2004

I'm no legal scholar but check out US law on this issue:

The War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441):
Offense. -

Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime, in any of the circumstances described in subsection (b), shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death. ..

... As used in this section the term ''war crime'' means any conduct -

(1) defined as a grave breach in any of the international conventions signed at Geneva 12 August 1949, or any protocol to such convention to which the United States is a party;

The Geneva conventions are enshrined into US law.
posted by talos at 3:15 AM on June 8, 2004

what effugas said. I sometimes bookmark and then use MeFi threads for future reference, many links just die. quoting important parts of the story keep the thread useful in the future
posted by matteo at 3:25 AM on June 8, 2004

"Bind" Bush ? According to David Frum, God is directly behind Bush and, since God is all powerful, some of that must rub off, right ? Wouldn't "binding Bush" be a little like binding God ?

I wasn't sure, so I asked Google about "Binding Bush", but the results were just confusing!
posted by troutfishing at 4:52 AM on June 8, 2004

Here is the original Wall Street Journal Article which broke the story. The scariest line is this:

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president." (emphasis mine)

So, basically these lawyers wrote a 100 page cookbook outlining how to get away with torture while saying that the President has Executive Nullification. Not to be too hysterical but anyone remember their history, know who also tried [and use] Executive Nullification? Well, recently it was Truman when he tried to take over the steel mills during the Korean War and was rebuked by the USSC. Think harder, back a bit in history. Oh yeah, Monarchs. That's right, this document tries to assert the kind of Executive Nullification of the laws which Kings and Queens used. Think James II in 1688, before William of Orange invaded.
posted by plemeljr at 6:20 AM on June 8, 2004

Well, Bush is a distant relative of Elizabeth II. Maybe his aspirations run a little bit higher than President? After all, the "Divine Right of Kings" and being annointed by God and all that stuff.

On the other hand, look where it got King Saul.
posted by Beansidhe at 6:48 AM on June 8, 2004

The President has the power of pardon, which, if I understand correctly, is different than Executive Nullification.

I guess he's not really able to set aside laws, but rather, consequences.
posted by pjdoland at 6:56 AM on June 8, 2004

I can't believe anyone is surprised--this administration has invoked "executive privilege" and similar rationales over and over during the term--at least, they've tried to.
posted by amberglow at 6:59 AM on June 8, 2004

pjdoland : wrong, alas.

Google search : National emergency, presidential powers

plemeljr - Bush could merely declare a state of national emergency. That gives him king-like powers. It works like this - presidents can appoint themselves dictators if they REALLY want to do so, and they have the final say in the matter :

"An American President, should he need them, possesses awesome powers. Those powers potentially include what political scientists have described as the powers of a "constitutional dictatorship."

Meaning - you enjoy your "rights" under our current "democracy" merely at the tolerance of presidents who - should they chose - could dispense with all of that, under the rubric of "national emergency", and stick all the troublemakers, dissenters, and internet scribblers in the extensive national FEMA civilian labor camp system that awaits such a contingency :

"In a revealing admission in June, 1997, the Director of Resource Management for the U.S. Army confirmed the validity of a memorandum relating to the establishment of a civilian inmate labor program under development by the Department of the Army. The document states, "Enclosed for your review and comment is the draft Army regulation on civilian inmate labor utilization" and the procedure to "establish civilian prison camps on installations."

Amid widespread rumors, Congressman Henry Gonzales clarified the question of the existence of civilian detention camps. In an interview, Gonzalez stated, "The
truth is yes--you do have these stand by provisions, and the plans are here . . . whereby you could, in the name of stopping terrorism . . . evoke the military and
arrest Americans and put them in detention camps.""

I'm not sure whether this program predated the Reagan-Era "Rex-84" program or not. But "Rex 84" was real.

"In 1982, Reagan issued National Security Directive 58, setting the stage for the next act of the play. FEMA can now take over the nation when the President declares an emergency, a power he now holds. REX adds additional dictatorial powers. Military exercises have rehearsed the quelling and interning of 400,000 civilians. Small wonder reports of 100 alleged prison camps started rolling in. Here are some of the powers now in the hands of our President:

Under "REX" the President could declare a state of emergency, empowering the head of FEMA to take control of the internal infrastructure of the United States and suspend the constitution. The President could invoke executive orders 11000 through 11004 which would:

1. Draft all citizens into work forces under government supervision.
2. Empower the postmaster to register all men, women and children.
3. Seize all airports and aircraft.
4. Seize all housing and establish forced relocation of citizens."

Unfortunately - due to the extensive nature of the Pentagon's "Black Budget" programs - the extent to which the infrastructure for "Rex" has been implemented is not fully known, although some claim that the internment facilities are fully complete.

But it was - and is - quite real, this PD/NSC 58 :

"The Miami Herald story set The Spotlight story in a larger context, revealing that:

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and the Federal Emergency Management Agency ... had drafted a contingency plan providing for the suspension of the Constitution, the imposition of martial law, and the appointment of military commanders to head state and local governments and to detain dissidents and Central American refugees in the event of a national crisis."

the Christic Institute on this, summarizing :

"The Spotlight for instance carried the first exclusive story on "Rex 84" by writer James Harrer. "Rex 84" was one of a long series of readiness exercises for government military, security and police forces. "Rex 84" --Readiness Exercise, 1984--was a drill which postulated a scenario of massive civil unrest and the need to round up and detain large numbers of demonstrators and dissidents. While creating scenarios and carrying out mock exercises is common, the potential for Constitutional abuses under the contingency plans drawn up for "Rex 84" was, and is, very real. The legislative authorization and Executive agency capacity for such a round-up of dissidents remains operational.

The April 23, 1984 Spotlight article ran with a banner headline "Reagan Orders Concentration Camps." The article, true to form, took a problematic swipe at the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith along with reporting the facts of the story. The Harrer article was based primarily on two unnamed government sources, and follow-up confirmations. Mainstream reporters pursued the allegations through interviews and Freedom of Information Act requests, and ultimately the Harrer Spotlight article proved to be a substantially accurate account of the readiness exercise, although Spotlight did underplay the fact that this was a scenario and drill, not an actual order to round up dissidents.

Many people believe that Christic was the first group to reveal the "Rex 84" story. According to the 1986 Sheehan "Affidavit" revised in 1987:

During the second week of April of 1984, I was informed by Source #4 that President Ronald Reagan had, on April 6, 1984, issued National Security Decision Directive #52 authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency director Louis O. Giuffrida and his Deputy Frank Salcedo to undertake a secret nation-wide, `readiness exercise' code-named `Rex 84....' "

This writeup has a lot of detailed information.
posted by troutfishing at 7:35 AM on June 8, 2004

I am further sickened and ashamed to live in a country ruled by these weaselly thugs. Whatever happened to common decency? I mean, I know America as a nation has not always lived up to its lofty ideals, but I still had some hope that we at least stood for accountability for craven injustices.

I also hoped that there was a line that this administration would not cross, but clearly that seems not to be the case.
posted by beth at 8:12 AM on June 8, 2004

I'm sorry to break the news.

But there it is.
posted by troutfishing at 8:16 AM on June 8, 2004

(I was referring to my story above - not to Karl's original post)
posted by troutfishing at 8:19 AM on June 8, 2004

Also, Forced Nudity of Iraqi Prisoners Is Seen as a Pervasive Pattern, Not Isolated Incidents

While there have been reports of forced nakedness at detention facilities in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the practice was apparently far more aggressive at Abu Ghraib, according to interviews, reports from human rights groups and sworn statements from detainees and soldiers. The detainees said leaving prisoners naked started as far back as last July, three months before the seven soldiers now charged and their military police company arrived at the prison. It bred a culture, some soldiers say, where the abuse captured on film could happen.

Detainees were paraded naked past other prisoners and guards; some were ordered to do jumping jacks and sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in the nude, according to a several witnesses. Also, a father and his grown son were stripped, then forced to stand and stare at each other. The International Committee of the Red Cross, visiting in October, found prisoners left naked in their cells for days, modestly trying to shield themselves behind cardboard from meals-ready-to-eat boxes...

Complaints about sexual humiliation have also emerged in Afghanistan. Seven Afghan men who had been held at the main detention center in Bagram, where the deaths of two detainees and accusations of abuse are now under investigation, said in recent interviews that during various periods from December 2002 to April 2004, they had been subjected to repeated rectal exams, and forced to change clothes, shower and go to the bathroom in front of female soldiers.

posted by y2karl at 8:26 AM on June 8, 2004

Josh Marshall points out this lovely bit in the study:
To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."
So, the theory is if a law bars the President from taking a specific action he can just 'set it aside'.
posted by cedar at 8:30 AM on June 8, 2004

cedar - more than a theory, I'd say (see my links above on "Presidential powers, national emergency")
posted by troutfishing at 10:12 AM on June 8, 2004

...since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president

Helloooo...anyone in Congress getting nervous YET?
posted by rushmc at 10:15 AM on June 8, 2004

...since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president"...

Helloooo...anyone in Congress getting nervous YET?
posted by rushmc at 10:15 AM on June 8, 2004

Orders to Torture

One revelation in particular should be sounding a constitutional emergency siren: The President has known for more than two years that his Administration has been pursuing policies that could qualify as war crimes under federal and international law.
posted by beth at 11:30 AM on June 8, 2004

To protect subordinates should they be charged with torture, the memo advised that Mr. Bush issue a "presidential directive or other writing" that could serve as evidence, since authority to set aside the laws is "inherent in the president."

all i can say is that even since yesterday i'm praying (figuratively) for that "presidential directive or other writing" to pop up somewhere.

i heard that phrase on Democracy Now yesterday and nearly wet my pants. i thought someone had found a memo from GB. it might not be illegal, but it might be enough for an impeachment.
posted by mrgrimm at 11:54 AM on June 8, 2004

"The lawyers concluded that the Torture Statute applied to Afghanistan but not Guantanamo, because the latter lies within the "special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, and accordingly is within the United States" when applying a law that regulates only government conduct abroad." (emphasis added)

In April, the Justice Department told the Supreme Court that although the U.S. treaty with Cuba grants us "complete" and perpetual jurisdiction over Guantanamo Bay, it's not technically within the U.S. Meanwhile this memo shows that for two years the Pentagon had been granting itself license to torture by arguing that the base is within the U.S. Ahem.

Jack Nicholson needs to come in and bitchslap Fay Dunaway--err, George W. Bush--into giving us some straight answers. "It's my country!" "It's not my country!" "(sob) It's my country AND and it's not my country!"
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 1:19 PM on June 8, 2004

God, where's The Authority when you need 'em? :)
posted by kaemaril at 3:11 PM on June 8, 2004

Bush to the US Constitution: Drop Dead

Q: So the terms of the Convention Against Torture is the law of the land in the United States, right?

A: Yes it is, with the exception of the few reservations the US made.

Q: Aren't there exceptions when torture can be justified?

A: No, Article 2 Paragraph 2 states "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."

Q: Did the United States have a reservation regarding this section?

A: No.

Q: What is the role of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government?

A: The role of the Executive Branch is to enforce the laws.

Q: Who is in charge of the Executive Branch?

A: The President of the United States.

posted by fold_and_mutilate at 3:22 PM on June 8, 2004

I can't believe they're actually trying to come up with justification for torture, for god's sake. I'd believe they want to rid the world of terrorism a lot more if they didn't seem to want to emulate them.
posted by jonmc at 4:44 PM on June 8, 2004

Terrorism: illegal use of threats, violence, intimidation, coercion, for political reasons.

Emulate? Hell, we're America. #1 in all things, m'kay? We're never satisfied with just matching the competition. Our fearless leader wants to make sure we surpass all of our terroristic peers.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:04 PM on June 8, 2004

*gouges out jonmc's eye with an icepick*
posted by quonsar at 5:18 PM on June 8, 2004

It's a The Terrorists Have Already Won thing--you should understand.
posted by y2karl at 5:26 PM on June 8, 2004

Well, don't forget that during the 1980s, Reagan's clandestine activities against Nicaragua were deemed as "state terrorism" by the International Court of Justice in Nicaragua v. the United States of America.

With many of the same miscreants and felons running wild in the White House, I am unsurprised...
posted by meehawl at 5:30 PM on June 8, 2004

Newsweek has the memo.
posted by homunculus at 5:38 PM on June 8, 2004

Hmm. Does this imply that it would not be illegal to torture George W Bush?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:01 PM on June 8, 2004

*gouges out jonmc's eye with an icepick*

posted by jonmc at 6:24 PM on June 8, 2004

By the way, which eye, quons? I hope it was the left, the right one is my porn eye.
posted by jonmc at 6:25 PM on June 8, 2004

fold and mutilate - you do recognize that the piece of writing you're quoting is fiction, right?

Just making sure.

And to the rest of you - a question. It's not an answerable question, and I certainly don't have the answer.

It's a September 10 question.

September 10, 2001, Mohammed Atta's brother and close confidant is captured by the FBI. He is drunk, as he knows his brother will die tomorrow, and mentions this to the agents. All he says is "my brother - he will show your country tomorrow. He will rain hellfire upon you heathens. He is flying a plane into the World Trade Center!"

Question - if he were believed, and there was credible intelligence to suggest that indeed, Atta was flying the next day, he was in Al Qaeda, etc. etc. - permissible use of torture to extract the information of when and where from him?

I've got no answer, and I'm not baiting you. I'm just curious as to your thoughts.
posted by swerdloff at 7:56 PM on June 8, 2004

So you're countering fiction with more fiction, swerdloff?

Maybe you and foldy need to find a writing workshop together.
posted by jonmc at 8:07 PM on June 8, 2004

the NYT weighs in: But yesterday, Attorney General John Ashcroft assured the Senate Judiciary Committee that Mr. Bush had not ordered torture. These explanations might be more comforting if the administration's definition of what's legal was not so slippery, and if the Pentagon, the Justice Department and the White House were willing to release documents to back up their explanation. Mr. Rumsfeld is still withholding from the Senate his orders on interrogation techniques, among other things.

and, Mr. Ashcroft strove to make a distinction between memorandums that may have provided theoretical legal justifications for torture and his assertion that there had never been any directive that actually authorized its use.
But the memorandums, by their numbers and their arguments — aimed at justifying the use of interrogation techniques inflicting pain by spelling out instances when this did not legally constitute torture and the inapplicability of international treaties — have produced outrage from international human rights groups and members of Congress, mostly Democrats.
Mr. Ashcroft's appearance before the committee had been scheduled before most of the memorandums were disclosed, and he looked deeply uncomfortable under the harsh questioning, from Bush Didn't Order Any Breach of Torture Laws, Ashcroft Says

posted by amberglow at 9:32 PM on June 8, 2004

"....Mr. Bush had not ordered torture" - well, doesn't this depend on one's interpretation of "had not" and "ordered" ?

Just saying......
posted by troutfishing at 9:47 PM on June 8, 2004

clintonesque, no? ; >
posted by amberglow at 9:49 PM on June 8, 2004

and the congress hasn't issued one subpoena about any of this, or any other investigation before them.
posted by amberglow at 9:49 PM on June 8, 2004

September 10, 2001, Mohammed Atta's brother and close confidant is captured by the FBI. He is drunk, as he knows his brother will die tomorrow, and mentions this to the agents. All he says is "my brother - he will show your country tomorrow. He will rain hellfire upon you heathens. He is flying a plane into the World Trade Center!"

So swerdloff, your point being that torture is ok sometimes if it could have prevented 9/11? And this question is not a bait?

My question to you would be: why bother having all these intelligence gathering organization/agencies (CIA, DIA, FBI, & Interpol) and why bother allocating billions of dollars to these agencies if all the dirty work can be accomplished by torture alone? (FYI The reason most civilized governments don't use torture as a method of extracting information is that it's extremely unreliable as either the torture victim dies, or tells his captors whatever they want to hear, just to stop the tortures.)

And, what would the difference be between a Saddam Hussain regime and a Bush regime (before you answer, remember that Hussain also won the Iraqi presidential elections by a "democratic election process" by a wide margin.....sound familiar??)

I thought one of the other reasons for invading Iraq was specifically to stop such human right abuses?

Please, correct me if I'm wrong ...... as I'm sure you will.....
posted by Rastafari at 9:51 PM on June 8, 2004

My question to you would be: why bother having all these intelligence gathering organization/agencies (CIA, DIA, FBI, & Interpol) and why bother allocating billions of dollars to these agencies if all the dirty work can be accomplished by torture alone?

Torture is usually not a good method of extracting information. Ask Chief Wiggles (if you're not to busy villifying him for supporting the war...) about interrogation technique. However - once in a great while, there may be a super expedient need.

That's the slope you're on. 3000 dead, one man tortured.

And the reason we pay the billions for the others is so that A) we don't have to torture and B) we have all the successes in the shadows that you never hear about. The dozens of blackhawk down situations that went right. All that stuff.

I take it from the responses (JonMC's brilliant mischaracterization of my hypothesis, posed as hypothesis, as equivalent to Fold_and_mutilate's direct "quote" of Bush which was a fictionalized socratic dialogue) and the typical ranting and lack of response that you all have none?
posted by swerdloff at 10:07 PM on June 8, 2004

Paradise's Price Is Torture

Is torture ever justified? - That is the dirty question left out of the universal protestations of disgust, revulsion and shame that greeted the release of photos showing British soldiers and American military police tormenting helpless prisoners in Iraq.

It is a question most unforgettably put forward more than 130 years ago by Feodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov. In that novel, the saintly Alyosha Karamazov is confronted by his brother, Ivan, with an unbearable choice. Let us suppose, Ivan says, that in order to bring men eternal happiness, it was essential and inevitable to torture to death one tiny creature, only one small child.

Would you consent? Ivan has preceded his question with stories about suffering children – a seven-year-old girl beaten senseless by her parents, enclosed in a freezing wooden outhouse and made to eat her own excrement; an eight-year-old serf boy torn to pieces by hounds in front of his mother for the edification of a landowner. True cases plucked from newspapers by Dostoevsky that merely hint at the almost unimaginable cruelty that awaited humanity. How would Ivan react to the ways in which the 20th century ended up refining pain, industrialising pain, producing pain on a massive, rational, technological scale, a century that would produce manuals on pain and how to inflict it. ..

Ivan Karamazov's words remind us torture is rationalised by those who apply and perform it: this is the price, it is implied, that needs to be paid by the suffering few in order to guarantee happiness for the rest of society, the enormous majority given security and wellbeing by those horrors inflicted in some dark cellar, some faraway pit, some abominable police station.

Make no mistake: every regime that tortures does so in the name of salvation, some superior goal, some promise of paradise. Call it communism, call it the free market, call it the free world, call it the national interest, call it fascism, call it the leader, call it civilisation, call it the service of God, call it the need for information, call it what you will...

So those who support the present operations in Iraq are no different from citizens in all those other lands where torture is a tedious fact of life; all of them needing to face Ivan's question, whether they consciously would be able to accept that their dreams of heaven depend on an eternal inferno of distress for one innocent human being or whether, like Alyosha, they would softly reply: "No, I do not consent."

The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas

Do you believe? Do you accept the festival, the city, the joy? No? Then let me describe one more thing.

In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads, stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting. It could be a boy or a girl. It looks about six, but actually is nearly ten. It is feeble-minded. Perhaps it was born defective, or perhaps it has become imbecile through fear, malnutrition, and neglect. It picks its nose and occasionally fumbles vaguely with its toes or genitals, as it sits hunched in the corner farthest from the bucket and the two mops. It is afraid of the mops. It finds them horrible. It shuts its eyes, but it knows the mops are still standing there; and the door is locked; and nobody will come. The door is always locked; and nobody ever comes, except that sometimes-the child has no understanding of time or interval-sometimes the door rattles terribly and opens, and a person, or several people, are there. One of them may come in and kick the child to make it stand up. The others never come close, but peer in at it with frightened, disgusted eyes. The food bowl and the water jug are hastily filled, the door is locked; the eyes disappear. The people at the door never say anything, but the child, who has not always lived in the tool room, and can remember sunlight and its mother's voice, sometimes speaks. "I will be good," it says. "Please let me out. I will be good!" They never answer. The child used to scream for help at night, and cry a good deal, but now it only makes a kind of whining, "eh-haa, eh-haa", and it speaks less and less often. It is so thin there are no calves to its legs, its belly protrudes; it lives on a half-bowl of corn meal and grease a day. It is naked. Its buttocks and things are a mass of festered sores, as it sits in its own excrement continually.

They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of there makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery.

This is usually explained to children when they are between eight and twelve, whenever they seem capable of understanding; and most of those who come to see the child are young people, though often enough an adult comes, or comes back, to see the child. No matter how well the matter has been explained to them, these young spectators are always shocked and sickened at the sight. They feel disgust, which they had thought themselves superior to. They feel anger, outrage, impotence, despite all the explanations. They would like to do something for the child. But there is nothing they can do. If the child were brought up into the sunlight out of that vile place, if it were cleaned and fed and comforted that would be a good thing, indeed; but if it were done, in that day and hour all the prosperity and beauty and delight of Omelas would wither and be destroyed. Those are the terms. To exchange all the goodness and grace of every life in Omelas for that single, small improvement: to throw away the happiness of thousands for the chance of the happiness of one: that would be to let guilt within the walls indeed...

posted by y2karl at 10:25 PM on June 8, 2004

Legalizing Torture

This week, thanks again to an independent press, we have begun to learn the deeply disturbing truth about the legal opinions that the Pentagon and the Justice Department seek to keep secret. According to copies leaked to several newspapers, they lay out a shocking and immoral set of justifications for torture. In a paper prepared last year under the direction of the Defense Department's chief counsel, and first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, the president of the United States was declared empowered to disregard U.S. and international law and order the torture of foreign prisoners. Moreover, interrogators following the president's orders were declared immune from punishment. Torture itself was narrowly redefined, so that techniques that inflict pain and mental suffering could be deemed legal. All this was done as a prelude to the designation of 24 interrogation methods for foreign prisoners -- the same techniques, now in use, that President Bush says are humane but refuses to disclose.

There is no justification, legal or moral, for the judgments made by Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice and Defense departments. Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security." For decades the U.S. government has waged diplomatic campaigns against such outlaw governments -- from the military juntas in Argentina and Chile to the current autocracies in Islamic countries such as Algeria and Uzbekistan -- that claim torture is justified when used to combat terrorism. The news that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy -- even if it is true, as the administration maintains, that its theories have not been put into practice. Even on paper, the administration's reasoning will provide a ready excuse for dictators, especially those allied with the Bush administration, to go on torturing and killing detainees.

The Roots of Abu Ghraib

In response to the outrages at Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration has repeatedly assured Americans that the president and his top officials did not say or do anything that could possibly be seen as approving the abuse or outright torture of prisoners. But disturbing disclosures keep coming. This week it's a legal argument by government lawyers who said the president was not bound by laws or treaties prohibiting torture.

Each new revelation makes it more clear that the inhumanity at Abu Ghraib grew out of a morally dubious culture of legal expediency and a disregard for normal behavior fostered at the top of this administration. It is part of the price the nation must pay for President Bush's decision to take the extraordinary mandate to fight terrorism that he was granted by a grieving nation after 9/11 and apply it without justification to Iraq.

Since the Abu Ghraib scandal broke into public view, the administration has contended that a few sadistic guards acted on their own to commit the crimes we've all seen in pictures and videos. At times, the White House has denied that any senior official was aware of the situation, as it did with Red Cross reports documenting a pattern of prisoner abuse in Iraq. In response to a rising pile of documents proving otherwise, the administration has mounted a "Wizard of Oz" defense, urging Americans not to pay attention to inconvenient evidence.

And here is the memo entire.
posted by y2karl at 11:19 PM on June 8, 2004

The NYT articles says Ashcroft stated that "Bush 'made no order that would require or direct the violation' of either international treaties or domestic laws prohibiting torture." However, POTUS's lawyers say that torturing prisoners is not a violation of such laws. So, Ashcroft didn't really say that Bush did not order torture.

Troutfishing: Did you ever read Vineland?
posted by caddis at 7:18 AM on June 9, 2004

caddis - no. I slogged through a good bit of Gravity's Rainbow when I was 18, and that seemed like torture. The experience turned me off to Pynchon. My brain wasn't yet ready. Now - older and with a more nuanced sense of what torture actually involves - I may give him another crack.

However deeply I dig, it seems that Pynchon has been there already.
posted by troutfishing at 9:29 AM on June 9, 2004

OK, so I am saying this specifically to swerdloff, but really to all of the torture apologists.

We are America, WE DO NOT TORTURE PEOPLE. There, enough said?
posted by plemeljr at 10:03 AM on June 9, 2004

Prison Interrogators' Gloves Came Off Before Abu Ghraib

After American Taliban recruit John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan, the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld instructed military intelligence officers to "take the gloves off" in interrogating him. The instructions from Rumsfeld's legal counsel in late 2001, contained in previously undisclosed government documents, are the earliest known evidence that the Bush administration was willing to test the limits of how far it could go legally to extract information from suspected terrorists.

The Pentagon and Congress are now investigating the mistreatment of inmates at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in late 2003 and trying to determine whether higher-ups in the military chain of command had created a climate that fostered prisoner abuse. What happened to Lindh, who was stripped and humiliated by his captors, foreshadowed the type of abuse documented in photographs of American soldiers tormenting Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib...

But court documents suggest that Lindh was treated much as the prisoners later were at Abu Ghraib. Along with nudity and the sleep and food deprivation, Lindh was allegedly threatened with death. One soldier said he "was going to hang." Another "Special Forces soldier offered to shoot him." At other times, soldiers took photos and videos of themselves smiling next to the naked Lindh, another image eerily similar to the Abu Ghraib photos.

Such actions appear to be in violation of the Geneva Convention, which requires that prisoners have adequate clothing, food and sleep and not be threatened or subjected to degrading treatment.

posted by y2karl at 11:08 AM on June 9, 2004

permissible use of torture to extract the information of when and where from him?

Absolutely not, never.
posted by rushmc at 11:31 AM on June 9, 2004

it's incredibly disgusting that it's even needed.
posted by amberglow at 9:55 PM on June 9, 2004

Memo shows administration claimed right to ignore treaties, laws

A March 2003 Pentagon report arguing that the United States isn't bound by laws and treaties against torture has caused a major rift between Bush administration officials seeking maximum leeway to question prisoners and military lawyers who fear reprisals against U.S. troops. The 52-page classified memo, prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, offered a sweeping assertion of executive power, declaring that Congress and the federal courts have no authority to limit the detention and interrogation of combatants captured in war if the president approves the actions. "Any effort by Congress to regulate the interrogation of unlawful combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the commander-in-chief authority in the president," the report claimed. Even though the administration was claiming the right to ignore laws and treaties against torture, officials say it has abided by them. Specialists in military law expressed consternation at the report, one of a number of memos leaked in recent days that suggest that the Bush administration was exploring ways to circumvent international treaties and U.S. laws that prohibit torture and mistreatment of prisoners. "They were trying to reverse a 50-year history of adherence to the Geneva Conventions and torture conventions, and it's very troubling," said Scott Silliman, a former Air Force officer who heads the Center on Law, Ethics and National Security at Duke University.
posted by y2karl at 10:03 PM on June 9, 2004

Higher-Ranking Officer Is Sought to Lead the Abu Ghraib Inquiry

The commander of American forces in the Middle East asked Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this week to replace the general investigating suspected abuses by military intelligence soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison with a more senior officer, a step that would allow the inquiry to reach into the military's highest ranks in Iraq, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.

The request by the commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, comes amid increasing criticism from lawmakers and some military officers that the half dozen investigations into detainee abuse at the prison may end up scapegoating a handful of enlisted soldiers and leaving many senior officers unaccountable.

General Abizaid's request, which defense officials said Mr. Rumsfeld would most likely approve, was set in motion in the last week when the current investigating officer, Maj. Gen. George R. Fay, told his superiors that he could not complete his inquiry without interviewing more senior-ranking officers, including Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the ground commander in Iraq.

posted by y2karl at 10:13 PM on June 9, 2004

so will this RICO lawsuit by the CCR do anything?
posted by amberglow at 10:02 AM on June 10, 2004

report of a Hersh speech --scary
posted by amberglow at 10:31 AM on June 11, 2004

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