Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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June 7, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

A "LESS CRAMPED" VIEW OF TORTURE....Compare and contrast the following passages:

From the Convention Against Torture, ratified in 1994 and currently the law of the land:

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

From an April 2003 report by the Department of Defense:

In order to respect the president's inherent constitutional authority to manage a military campaign ... (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 says it's necessary to help the war effort, torture is OK.

The April report was dug up by the Wall Street Journal and is the latest in a string of Bush administration memos explaining that, unlike in all the other wars the United States has fought, torture is justified in this one as long as you're really, really frustrated by the fact that prisoners aren't talking. As one military official put it, interrogations at Guantanamo weren't going very well at the time, so DoD decided "we need to have a less-cramped view of what torture is and is not."

Phil Carter has some legal analysis of the DoD memo, which, as he says, is "a cookbook approach for illegal government conduct."

But put aside the technical analysis and ask yourself: Why has torture been such a hot topic since 9/11? The United States has fought many wars over the past half century, and in each of them our causes were just as important as today's, information from prisoners would have been just as helpful, and we were every bit as determined to win as we are now. But we still didn't authorize torture of prisoners. FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, LBJ, Reagan all of them knew it wasn't right, and the rest of us knew it as well.

So what's different this time? Only one thing: the name of the man in the White House. Under this administration, we seem to have lost the simple level of moral clarity that allowed our predecessors to tell right from wrong. It's time to reclaim it.

Kevin Drum 12:37 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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