TORTURE….The Washington Post reports today about yet another administration memo regarding torture of enemy prisoners. This one is from August 2002 and makes a total of four (so far):

  • January 9, 2002: Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Robert J. Delahunty argue that “customary international law of armed conflict in no way binds…the President or the U.S. Armed Forces.” Despite this “anything goes” argument, they go on to say that President Bush could still put Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters on trial as war criminals if they violate international laws.

  • January 25, 2002: White House counsel Alberto Gonzales warns that treatment of Taliban prisoners could be interpreted as war crimes. To avoid this possibility, he recommends that President Bush exempt captured Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters from the Geneva Conventions.

  • August 2002: A Justice Department memo about torture says that “necessity and self-defense could provide justifications that would eliminate any criminal liability.” Translation: torture is OK if we really, really think we need to do it.

  • April 2003: The Department of Defense says that “(the prohibition against torture) must be construed as inapplicable to interrogations undertaken pursuant to his commander-in chief authority.” In other words, as long as the president approves it, torture is OK.

The administration says that despite this rather chilling obsession with torture, all prisoners ? with the unfortunate exception of a few at Abu Ghraib ? have been treated humanely. Maybe. But surely I’m not the only one who finds it disturbing that the topic of torture came up almost immediately after 9/11 and continued to be a subject of conversation on such a regular basis after that? They have an almost Nixonian penchant for trying to figure out how far they can go, how much they can get away with, and how best to protect themselves from future prosecution for war crimes.

I’ve got something simpler for the plain spoken President Bush: “We don’t torture prisoners. Not on my watch.” Why didn’t he say that instead and just put the whole subject to rest?

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