But The President Said It Wasn't Torture

Cheney says:

We resorted, for example, to waterboarding, which is the source of much of the controversy ... with only three individuals. In those cases, it was only after we’d gone through all the other steps of the process. The way the whole program was set up was very careful, to use other methods and only to resort to the enhanced techniques in those special circumstances.

How, one wonders, are we to square this statement with the notion that waterboarding was, in fact, a "no-brainer" as the vice-president once boasted? A "no-brainer" does not require this kind of tempered ratcheting up of coercion. A no-brainer techique is obviously legal, so obviously legal that you don't have to think for a second about it. Massie makes a similar point here.

Cheney's public remarks over the past months and years actually prove, it seems to me, that he fully understood he was crossing the Rubicon.

Plainly legal acts of interrogation do not require endless and often absurdly convoluted memos attempting to redefine the bleeding obvious. Adherence to the law and to the Geneva Conventions is very simple and no previous president has ever had to worry about violating them. Because no previous president made the decision to use force and violence to coerce "intelligence" from captives.

That was the key decision. It's a binary one. You either use coercion or not. You either abide by the very clear and very broad interdiction of coercion in Geneva and the UN Convention or you do not. The law is very clear on this: no exigency, no emergency, no crisis over-rules this. In fact, the very clear legal bar is more essential in crises when the temptation to torture, abuse or degrade prisoners may be the greatest. From the Convention Reagan signed:

2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

Whatever else this is, it is not an invitation to governments to find a way around this, to develop excruciating new (or in this case old) euphemisms to explain it away, to construct fatuous retroactive legal memos to justify decisions already taken, and adjusted to provide legal cover as the interrogations became more and more unmistakably graphic. And yet when one looks at the picture of "the program" that we now have in the ICRC Report, the SASC report, and the OLC Memos, you see a pre-meditated systematic attempt to routinize coercion as an integral feature of American government. And that's only from what we have already found out. Somehow I doubt, when the full details of what happened to the 30 prisoners who simply disappeared or around a hundred who died during interrogation, when the deeply secret goings on in black sites by men in masks are uncovered, we will not be more reassured.

Or do we keep on walking even faster?