Employing interrogation methods that violate the Field Manual is not only unnecessary, but poses enormous risks. These methods generate information of dubious value, reliance upon which can lead to disastrous consequences. Moreover, revelation of the use of such techniques does immense damage to the reputation and moral authority of the United States essential to our efforts to combat terrorism.
In the meantime (and for the past few years), the United States has been surrendering the moral high ground on this issue. Following CIA Director Michael Hayden’s admission that detainees have been tortured by water-boarding, Attorney General Michael Mukasey rejected any investigation into the practice barred by U.S. law and treaties stating because such practices by anyone who acted pursuant to a Justice Department legal opinion was "insulated from criminal liability." The White House via Vice President Cheney said water-boarding was a “good thing.”
Here are Rosa Brooks’s thoughts in today’s L.A. Times:
… While the rest of us were obsessing over the 600 possible methods of counting delegates, the Bush administration was busily conducting a PR campaign on behalf of waterboarding.
It began last week. First, Atty. Gen. Michael B. Mukasey told Congress that no one could be investigated or prosecuted for "whatever was done" as part of a covert CIA interrogation program because the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel had given its blessing to a bunch of secret "whatevers." Then CIA Director Michael V. Hayden openly acknowledged, for the first time, that "whatever" had, in fact, included waterboarding, which was used on at least three Al Qaeda suspects.
Did Hayden blush to confess that U.S. intelligence agencies were incapable of getting critical intelligence through means other than torture? Nope. Along with National Intelligence Director J. Michael McConnell, Hayden suggested that waterboarding might well be handy again in the future.
The White House was equally blase about waterboarding. White House spokesman Tony Fratto defended its legality and asserted that whether we waterboard more detainees in the future "will depend on circumstances." What's more, Fratto emphasized, it's the president who will make the call, not Congress. Vice President Dick Cheney called the interrogation of the three suspects who were waterboarded "a good thing," and cheering from the sidelines, Antonin Scalia, the administration's favorite Supreme Court justice, mused in a radio interview that it would be "absurd" to assume any clear constitutional restrictions on "so-called torture" when potential terrorist threats are at issue.
The administration's PR push on waterboarding doesn't enjoy much support, either internationally or here at home. Our closest allies, the British, reaffirmed Tuesday that they consider waterboarding a form of torture prohibited by international law. That's an opinion shared by the U.N. human rights commissioner.
Here in the U.S., Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, the leading Democratic presidential candidates, have condemned waterboarding as torture. They've been joined by the leading GOP presidential candidates, John McCain and Mike Huckabee. Speaking in October 2007, McCain said that waterboarding "is not a complicated procedure. It is torture." In December 2007, Huckabee added his voice to McCain's: "Waterboarding is torture, and torture violates the moral code of Americans and jeopardizes the country's security."
Just for good measure, on Wednesday the Senate joined the House in passing legislation that prohibits the CIA from using waterboarding or any similar "harsh" interrogation techniques.
But President Bush says he'll veto the bill. And here's what I don't get. Bush has less than a year left in office. His approval ratings are already abysmally low. Why is he determined to compound his problems by going down in history as the first president to openly order and justify torture? Is this really the legacy he wants to leave behind? The task for the next president, Democrat or Republican, is clear. Very soon after taking office, our next president needs to lay this monster to rest by unambiguously repudiating waterboarding and all forms of torture.
It is worth noting that Senator McCain, previously an outspoken opponent of torture, voted to oppose the torture ban in this legislation. Now that he is the apparent Republican nominee for President, he needs to solidify his conservative base. Of course, once President Bush vetoes the legislation, he will get a second chance to vote on the issue to overturn the veto. We’ll see if the memory of the treatment of his fellow P.O.W.’s in Vietnam overrides his desire to pander to the pro-torture wing of the Republican Party. That would tell us a lot about the integrity of a McCain Presidency.