Friday afternoon, the White House’s preferred time for actions to which it wishes to draw minimal attention, President Bush issued a long-awaited executive order on torture.

We’re against it. Sort of.

The order requires U.S. interrogators to obey the international Geneva Conventions regarding prisoners that bar “humiliating and degrading treatment,” serious enough that any “reasonable person” would deem it “beyond the bounds of human decency.”

It also bars — and why in a nation of laws and moral standards must this even be spelled out? — “acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation …”

That said, the order gives the CIA the go-ahead to resume using “enhanced interrogation measures” against captives in the war on terror that were suspended last year when the Supreme Court ruled that the United States must obey the Geneva Conventions. It shows how far we’ve fallen as an exemplar among nations that the Bush administration viewed this as a setback.

The military will still be bound by the interrogation techniques laid down in the Army Field Manual.

Exactly what the CIA is allowed to do to prisoners is not spelled out in the public part of the executive order. That’s classified, but the Justice Department found that the techniques do not violate the Geneva Conventions. It should be noted that the department is headed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who, as White House counsel, signed off on the original legal opinion that many felt came close to condoning torture.

The “enhanced” interrogations will be used on prisoners held incommunicado at the CIA’s secret overseas black sites, removed from oversight by the U.S. courts, the Red Cross and, very likely, Congress.

Once again, the Bush administration essentially says to the American public: “Don’t ask what we’re doing in your name. Trust us.”

CIA Director Michael Hayden says that over the five years the secret interrogations were in effect, “the information yielded by this program has been irreplaceable.” Considering the damage the secret prisons and the allegations of torture have done to America’s reputation and standing, it had better be irreplaceable.

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