defining moments

torture2.jpgScott McLemee, who writes thoughtful and often funny essays on culture for Inside Higher Ed, has an excellent and chilling piece on “studying the inhumanities” as he reviews a collection of documents that hint at the “unknown unknowns” of this administration, Administration of Torture: A Documentary History from Washington to Abu Ghraib and Beyond (Columbia University Press). Apparently, in order to claim “we do not torture,” all you have to do is say “and whatever we do, it’s by definition not torture. So we don’t torture, QED.” This is not a few rogue officers, this is policy from the top.

An interview with one of the book’s editors, Jameel Jaffer, ends with this:

Q: You write: “Senior administration officials, perhaps emboldened by Congress’s failure to conduct any serious inquiry into past abuse, continue to violate domestic and international law.” This volume reads like a dossier for a trial in the Hague. Suppose that did come to pass. Who would end up in the dock? Who is most culpable? (We’re speaking hypothetically, here, of course, since that outcome does seem unlikely.)

A: I think any investigation would have to look at the very highest levels of the Bush administration. White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales (who later became Attorney General) wrote legal memos that were intended to allow interrogators to use inhumane methods and to insulate interrogators — and officials — from war crimes charges. John Yoo, a lawyer for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, wrote legal memoranda that allowed the use of torture. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld authorized interrogators to use inhumane methods at Guantanamo, and Lieut. General Ricardo Sanchez authorized interrogators to use similar methods in Iraq. Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller supervised the use of inhumane methods at Guantanamo and oversaw the “Gitmo-ization” of Abu Ghraib.

And it was President Bush, of course, who directed the CIA to set up secret detention centers abroad, allowed the CIA and Defense Department to adopt methods that in some cases amounted to torture, and said that al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners should be treated humanely only to the extent consistent with “military necessity.” All the available evidence suggests that principal responsibility for the abuse and torture of prisoners belongs not to small groups of “rogue soldiers” but to senior officials in the Bush administration.

Oddly enough, the guys who provided some of the best information were FBI agents who did not like what they were seeing at Guantanamo and wrote to their bosses about it. The documents, obtained through a FOIA request, are on their web page, along with the statement “There were no documented incidents involving FBI personnel.” They want to make that perfectly clear since, er, well, those other guys were breaking the law.

photo courtesy of socaltimes.

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