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Torture: Justifying the unjustifiable

Administration lawyers say President Bush not bound by either international treaty or federal law that bans use of torture.

In 2003, according to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, a team of Bush administration lawyers wrote a memo concluding that President Bush is not bound by either an international treaty or a federal law that bans the use of torture.

Come on!

The Times reports that the lawyers even used this absurd argument to justify their findings that even if an interrogator knows that “severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite, specific intent even though the defendant did not act in good faith.”

Translated into English, they’re saying that even if some sadistic interrogator uses torture, it is not a problem as long as the interrogator has some goal other than just hurting the guy. His goal could be to go to sleep earlier that night. And so according to these findings, torture would be okay if he thought he might get some answers faster. As long as the interrogators’ reason for using the tire iron was to go to sleep early rather than to harm the subject, it’s okay? What kind of reasoning is that?

The report also says that the interrogator is not guilty of torture if he or she “has a good-faith belief his actions will not result in prolonged mental harm.” I have long accepted the administration’s controversial argument that many suspected terrorists should not be considered prisoners of war, thereby limiting their ability to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts. And I am willing to occasionally turn a blind eye if a key al Qaeda operative is being questioned abroad aggressively, even physically. And I believe Attorney General John Ashcroft when he said today the administration rejects torture as a matter of policy.

But the lawyers are still defending it as a matter of law. Language that will almost certainly be used as a defense by the soldiers accused of abusing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. This memo is clearly a lawyer’s effort to legally justify the legally unjustifiable. It effectively argues that no rules apply to the U.S. If true, what right would we possibly have to criticize others who torture U.S. citizens or our troops? We’re supposed to be better than that, even our lawyers.