After years of hearing President Bush proudly proclaim to the American people and the world that “We don’t torture,” yesterday the American people and the world learned that it was just one more lie on top of all the others. The White House and the CIA have come out and publicly admitted that they have in fact been waterboarding detainees. Now it becomes clearer why Bush was so insistent on Congress’s including a provision in the Military Commissions Act granting criminal immunity to any U.S. official who had tortured someone.
How does the president reconcile the waterboarding with his repeated proclamations that “We don’t torture.” He says that subjecting someone to forced drowning does not constitute torture. Therefore, since it’s not torture, he claims, it’s legal.
Well, if it’s legal then why was he so persistent in getting Congress to include an immunity provision for torture in the Military Commissions Act? What was he so afraid of that he felt it necessary to secure such a provision? And if he is against torture, as he has so often proclaimed, then why would he be so insistent on immunity being given to U.S. torturers?
The last ones to be celebrating this decision are U.S. troops because now the floodgates are open for torturing U.S. soldiers taken captive in any future conflict or war. At least one thing is for sure–Bush’s policy decision operates not only as an authorization for U.S. officials to waterboard prisoners and detainees, it also simultaneously operates as a full license for enemy forces in the future to waterboard U.S. soldiers taken captive.
All that enemy forces have to do is read the president’s legal opinion to the U.S. soldier being waterboarded. How is the soldier supposed to respond? I suspect that if he responds, “It’s legal when my president does it but not legal when your president does it,” isn’t going to prove very convincing to his torturers.
Moreover, keep in mind that this form of torture stretches all the way to the Spanish Inquisition and that people who have utilized it have been prosecuted for war crimes over the ages. Why is that important? Well, since Bush has relegated to himself the power to redefine torture to exclude his favorite method of torture, what grounds will the U.S. have in the future when enemy forces exercise the same power of redefinition with respect to the torture of U.S. prisoners? Why should the president of the United States be the only ruler in the world who wields the power to make various forms of torture legal by simply redefining them as non-torture?
The entire sordid process only reflects how deeply the United States has plunged with respect to basic principles of morality, right conduct, and civilization? And for what? All to protect a corrupt and bankrupt foreign policy of empire and intervention, which produces terrorist blowblack, which then produces the torture reaction.
The temptation among some Americans might be, “Oh, well, at least it’s not likely to happen to me, only to foreigners.” Not only is that a morally bankrupt position, it is also not exactly an accurate one. Just ask Jose Padilla, an American citizen who was mentally and psychologically tortured through extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for some three years while in Pentagon custody. But of course, under the new Orwellian definitions of the post-9/11 era, that isn’t torture either.
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.