Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Torture Question

Former Attorney General John Ashcroft recently withdrew the Department of Justice legal opinions that approved the use of harsh interrogation tactics, testifying in front of a House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Ashcroft claimed that the legal reasoning behind the 2002 and 2003 memos were flawed, though he originally approved both of them and still defends their conclusions.

The memos were written in part by former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, who has contributed to the PATRIOT Act and advocated against the protection of enemy combatants under the Geneva Conventions.

Interrogation tactics like waterboarding, used by the CIA against al-Qaida detainees, putting cloth on a person’s face and then pouring water over them to create the sensation of drowning, have been criticized around the world. Whether or not this can be defined as torture, however, has been hotly contested. Ashcroft maintains that he does not believe that the Bush administration has committed acts of torture, praising the administration on the fact that there not have been any attacks following 9.11. He has in the past, however, denied reauthorization of Bush's domestic surveillance program to then White House Counsel and now former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, which the DOJ had determined illegal.

The controversial definition of torture according to the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel’s Bybee memo is “acts inflicting…severe pain or suffering, whether mental or physical,” with physical pain being “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”. The memo additionally stated that even if an act is “cruel, inhuman, or degrading,” it does not necessarily inflict the amount of pain that should be prohibited, and that "necessity" and self-defense may justify even prohibited interrogation methods. So much for our constitutional right protecting against “cruel and unusual punishment.”

There is a distinction between legitimate interrogation and torture, and while much of the international community seems to have recognized this, our nation’s leaders have yet to find it.


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