It's right there in the president's speech yesterday: once again, baldly stated, as if saying it more categorically makes it true:
I want to be absolutely clear with our people, and the world: The United States does not torture. It's against our laws, and it's against our values. I have not authorized it - and I will not authorize it.
There is no other way to say it. On one of the gravest moral matters before the country, this president is knowingly stating an untruth. The lie is sustained by this evasion:
I cannot describe the specific methods used - I think you understand why - if I did, it would help the terrorists learn how to resist questioning, and to keep information from us that we need to prevent new attacks on our country. But I can say the procedures were tough, and they were safe, and lawful, and necessary.
But we know - and the enemy knows - what the techniques are. They've been listed and documented and debated. We also know what was done to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the case cited specifically by the president in his speech yesterday - because Bush officials told us. The New York Times reported the following:
"Senior officials have said Mr. Mohammed was 'waterboarded,' a technique in which his head was pushed under water and he was made to believe that he might drown."
In another case of a detainee, Mohammed al-Qhatani, we actually have a log of what was done to him. He was deprived of sleep for 55 days, subjected to the KGB-perfected "cold cell" hypothermia treatment, and terrorized by unmuzzled dogs. Medics had to administer three bags of medical saline to Qhatani, while he was strapped to a chair, and aggressively treat him for hypothermia in hospital, before returning him to a torture cell. These facts are not disputed. Far, far worse has been done to detainees in less closely monitored "interrogations" in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the secret sites (now admitted) in Eastern Europe. (Yes, Dana, you deserve your Pulitzer.) Dozens of corpses are the result of the president's "safe and lawful" interrogation methods.
If the president wants to argue that all this is necessary, that we need to breach the Geneva Conventions in order to protect the public, then he should say so. He should make the argument, and persuade Americans that torture should now be official policy, and seek explicit legislation amounting to a breach of the Geneva Conventions. That would be an honest position. He would gain the support of much of the Republican base, a large swathe of the conservative intelligentsia, and the contempt of the civilized world. We could then debate this honestly, including the torture techniques he has authorized and supports. Instead he lies.
Am I splitting semantic hairs here with the word "torture"? The definition of the word, in the U.N. declaration to which the U.S. is a signatory is as follows:
"[A]ny act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession ... when such pain or suffering is inflicted at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity."
In the cases the president cites, he authorized torture as plainly stated in U.S. law and common English. Moreover, he says he has set up an elite group trained specifically for torture, the kind of elite torture-squads once dear to South American dictators. They have, he reassures us, 250 extra hours of torture-training over regular CIA interrogators. The president is asking the Congress to establish this in law. Yes, this is America. It just no longer seems like it.