Torture Should Be a Crime Not a Policy

President Bush insists the United States does not torture prisoners, even as his aides draft memos on what kinds of torture are acceptable, and even as he exempts the United States from international conventions against torture and even as he opposes attempts by Congress to bar him from approving the use of torture.

And now it turns out that the CIA has been operating, apparently immune from any oversight, a network of secret prisons overseas, including with dreadful symbolism one in a former Soviet prison camp.

Bush’s national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said this week that if such prisons existed they were being run “in a way that is consistent with our principles and values.” It is the all-purpose Bush administration response: Trust us.

Would that we could.

In a welcome return to those “principles and values,” the Senate, brushing aside the threat of a Bush veto, voted 90 to 9 to outlaw the cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment of any prisoner in U.S. custody, effectively restoring the Geneva Convention and prohibitions against torture in the Army field manual.

When the veto threat failed, the White House tried to convince the Senate to exempt the CIA from the torture ban, while quietly working with the House to try to gut the ban or kill it altogether when the two bodies meet in conference.

Then it was revealed that the White House was attempting to sidetrack plans within the Defense department to incorporate language from the Geneva Conventions barring the cruel, humiliating and degrading treatment of prisoners into a Pentagon directive on interrogation and a new Army manual on interrogations.

While the Bush administration insists it has nothing to hide, it will still not let the chief U.N. official in charge of investigating allegations of torture visit Guantanamo Bay and interview the detainees.

The House, normally pliant when it comes to White House direction, now seems poised to endorse the Senate language against torture, making it very likely it will become law. In its four-year war against terrorism, the United States has strayed from the ideals that made us, as the late President Reagan used to say, like a city shining on a hill.

It is time we get back to who we are as a people and we are not a people who torture prisoners.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)