Friday, October 05, 2007

Well, Who Could Have Known?

Back at the end of 2005, in response to accounts of the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo and other military prisons, Congress voted to ban cruel, inhumane, and degrading interrogation techniques--or "torture," in the quaint language of the Geneva Conventions--including simulated drowning and exposure to extreme cold. The New York Times reports that secret DOJ memoranda released yesterday maintain that such techniques are, in fact, legal.

One 2005 opinion gave the Justice Department’s most authoritative legal approval to the harshest agency techniques, including head slapping, exposure to cold and simulated drowning, even when used in combination.

The second opinion declared that under some circumstances, such techniques were not “cruel, inhuman or degrading,” a category of treatment that Congress banned in December 2005.

Administration officials said Thursday that there was no contradiction between the still-secret rulings and an opinion made public by the Justice Department in December 2004 that declared torture “abhorrent” and appeared to retreat from the administration’s earlier assertion of broad presidential authority to conduct harsh interrogations.

So when George Bush stood up before the nation and said, "We don't torture," it was purely an exercise in semantics. We don't torture because we can simply change the definition of torture to whatever we want it to be. It's abhorrent enough that the government would move the goalposts on this one, but doing it in secret while throwing up a facade of ethics and integrity simply reeks.

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