President Bush's position on torture, and his administration's, has degenerated into political gibberish.
Even the President's declarations against torture, if you wish to credit them, come with the seeds of their own undoing. This administration has at times defined torture narrowly -- only as actions that cause death or major organ failure. The definition effectively exempts practices otherwise universally understood as cruel, abusive, humiliating and degrading. Even extreme and sustained pain doesn't count.
And in not bothering to deny that we have set up secret prisons abroad that hold unidentified prisoners where the International Red Cross can't find them, Bush all but pleaded our country guilty to still more violations of international treaties and law.
Is Bush really against torture? He is threatening to use his first veto if the House accepts a bill that would formally outlaw "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment or punishment" of prisoners. The legislation passed the Senate 90-9.
And Vice President Dick Cheney has been lobbying fiercely behind the scenes to carve out a specific exemption for the CIA if the legislation does move forward. Presumably the administration could then claim that the United States doesn't torture but the CIA just might, as if the agency were a mini-state itself that only happens to be in Washington, in U.S. government buildings staffed with U.S. government employees.
As you may have noticed by now, none of this makes any sense. And not only is it incoherent, it is worse than pointless. It puts the military at odds with its own proud traditions and sets up captured Americans for the same kind of treatment. The abuses have made our country a stink in the world.
And all that so as to claim a right to practices that long experience has shown to be not just usually futile but often worse than useless. Torture is rarely productive and often misleading; prisoners make up tales to stop the torment.
On parallel tracks, Congress is moving toward renewing the Patriot Act and, far from scraping the civil liberty abuses licensed in the panicky and overwrought original, is tempted to add new ones, such as placing some FBI demands for personal data beyond judicial review. And if the Supreme Court approves, the administration is poised to start cranking detainees through newly gimmicked military tribunals that look likely to be only a step up, if that, from drumhead justice.
In the name of protecting us, this administration is abandoning our historic values, cramping our personal freedoms, violating our privacy, making a mockery of justice and asserting a right for the president, as commander in chief, to ignore U.S. law if he wishes to.
Who is to protect us from our protectors?