The Torture Memo

THE TORTURE MEMO….The Washington Post has posted the full text of an August 2002 memo regarding the president’s ability to approve torture as legitimate tool of interrogation during wartime. It’s long, and I’m not a lawyer, so I was waiting for some kind of expert opinion before weighing in.

Well, Michael Froomkin is a lawyer, he’s read the text, and he’s not a happy camper. Aside from a general air of nauseating amorality (“Nowhere do the authors say ‘but this would be wrong'”), the key point in the memo is the same Nixonian one we’ve seen before: when it comes to war, the president can do anything he wants.

The memo argues (p. 35) that Congress ?may no more regulate the President?s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.? Either this is just bunk, or the Geneva conventions, the prohibitions on the use of poison gas, all the rest of the web of international agreements to which the US is a party, are so much tissue paper. We?re no longer committed to the rule of law, but the rule of force. (In fact what the OLC seemed to argue for in other memos was a double standard in which international law still applied to everyone else.)

In any case, there?s an enormous difference between unfettered discretion to move troops around on the battlefield and unfettered discretion to order war crimes.

Who knew that when George Bush famously said, “the nice thing about being president is that I don’t have to answer to anyone,” he was dead serious? Too bad that the legal machinery of the government seems to feel it’s their duty to justify his megalomania.

In any case, read Froomkin’s full post for a complete breakdown of what the memo says. Just don’t do it after you’ve eaten.