The Silver Lining?


I've written at length about the bait-and-switch in the administration's proposed war-crimes bill - banning torture and abuse from the military, but allowing it for the CIA; claiming the White House is revising its war tribunals to conform with the Supreme Court's interpretation of Geneva, while actually asking the Congress to reinstate the original tribunals and say thay are consistent with Geneva, the insistence that the CIA still be authorized to torture and be backed by legislative permission, etc. But the silver lining, at least, is the military itself will no longer be an instrument of torture, and the new field manual is quite specific in the techniques it bans. Among the techniques now banned, previously allowed:

"forcing a detainee to be naked or perform sexual acts; using beatings and other forms of causing pain, including electric shocks; placing hoods over prisoners’ heads or tape on their eyes; mock executions; withholding food, water or medical care; using dogs against detainees; and waterboarding."

Frat-hazing, huh? Again this is good news. But notice how it also makes mincemeat of the president's lie yesterday when he said

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.

Huh? His own administration just listed them. The only reason the president won't mention these methods is that he doesn't want himself saying the words "waterboarding" or "electric shocks" - both of which have been documented as used against terror detainees. That would connect him too closely to the policy he supports. And that's why the press has been completely delinquent in not pressing him to answer specifics on these techniques. Bush must be publicly asked if he approves of "waterboarding" and whether he has ever authorized it.

Dana Priest says today that

In the past year, the CIA has studied more closely the effectiveness of harsh interrogation techniques that it and other agencies have used and concluded that some of those were worth discarding. CIA officials have eliminated some of those techniques and, within the past two months, have begun to consult for the first time with the full Senate and House intelligence committees about creating a new list of techniques. . . . The administration will ask the intelligence committees to give it guidance to draw up a separate, shorter list of harsh techniques it might still employee under certain circumstances.

It seems to me that that list of techniques must be included in the war crimes bill, so we can have a clear, public debate about what is and is not permitted for the elite torture squad the president has set up. Some isolation techniques, non-coercive psychological pressure, and other well-established techniques could then be authorized, and barbarisms like "waterboarding" explicitly ruled out of bounds. Marty Lederman, as ever, has an acute analysis here.

(Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty.)