The debate over treatment of military detainees must now take into account the evidence reported in Jane Mayer's new New Yorker piece. She relies in large measure on an impeccable source: Alberto J. Mora, former general counsel for the Navy. What she shows, and what the now-available memo proves, is that the Bush administration made a conscious decision early on to abandon American and international law and indemnify in advance military officials tasked to "coercively interrogate" detainees. We knew that already, but we now also know that decent, intelligent, conservative people within the administration told the White House and the Pentagon that the new policy amounted to legalization of torture, and rested on a legal analysis that gave president Bush unfettered power to break any law and violate any ethical standard in the defense of the United States. They fought hard to stop it; when they succeeded at one point, the vice-president, defense secretary and president devised a two-track policy in which they told the Congress and world one thing, while allowing the abuse and torture policies to remain secretly in force. Money quote:
"Without Mora’s knowledge, the Pentagon had pursued a secret detention policy. There was one version, enunciated in Haynes’s letter to Leahy, aimed at critics. And there was another, giving the operations officers legal indemnity to engage in cruel interrogations, and, when the Commander-in-Chief deemed it necessary, in torture. Legal critics within the Administration had been allowed to think that they were engaged in a meaningful process; but their deliberations appeared to have been largely an academic exercise, or, worse, a charade."
In short: we have a lawless executive, consciously and with pre-meditation dedicated to the practice of torturing and abusing detainees. Their motives might be decent: they were doing all they thought they should to protect the country; and they still are. But I repeat: we have a lawless executive, consciously and with pre-meditation dedicated to the practice of torture.