After publicly renouncing torture as a tool in the war on terror, it turns out the Bush administration secretly reserved the right to do so.

In 2002, the administration announced that al Qaeda prisoners were not subject to international law against the torture of captives. Later that year, the administration produced a legal opinion authorizing the CIA to use interrogation techniques that stopped short of the sort of pain caused by serious physical injury, organ failure or death. This was our government talking.

There was enormous public outcry when the opinion became public in 2004, and it was quickly rescinded. The Justice Department stated: “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” It is dismaying that the government felt it had to say what most us believe is self-evident.

But the Bush administration couldn’t bring itself to relinquish its self-delegated power to treat prisoners as it saw fit.

According to The New York Times, in early 2005, soon after presidential patsy Alberto Gonzales became attorney general, Justice Department staffers with close ties to the White House drafted a secret opinion explicitly authorizing the CIA to use such brutal interrogation techniques as simulated drowning, stress positions, head slaps, sleep deprivation and sustained loud noise.

Late that same year, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which President Bush ultimately supported, banning the “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” of prisoners.

But, according to the Times, the Justice Department secretly drafted another memo reinterpreting the law so that the CIA’s harsher techniques were effectively exempted.

Disclosure of the two secret memos has caused a storm in Congress, where many lawmakers feel that the Bush administration once again told it one thing and did another. The practical effect of the outcry is that Michael Mukasey, Bush’s nominee to succeed Gonzales, faces rough questioning about his views on torture from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bush defended the interrogation methods on the grounds that they work. Maybe so — he offered no proof other than his say-so — but we like to think we’re a more moral and idealistic people than that.

A White House spokesman criticized the Times for disclosing classified information. These secret memos don’t tell the world anything it doesn’t already believe. The world already believes the worst of us.

Comments are closed.