Sunday, February 17, 2008

Torture update

Just when it looked like things couldn't get much worse for the reputation of the United States, a senior Justice Department official told a House subcommittee last week that the Bush administration actually did authorize the CIA to use invasive interrogation techniques on suspected al-Qaida members. The Washington Post reported today that Steven Bradbury, acting chief of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, told the committee on Thursday that the reason what sounds like torture and looks like torture wasn't torture was that it didn't violate administration guidelines. Well, at least we now know how President Bush keeps a straight face when he protests that the United States does not torture prisoners. Bradbury didn't smile, either, when he testified that pain suffered by a prisoner had to be both severe and long-lasting for an interrogation tactic to be considered torture. "Something can be quite distressing, uncomfortable, even frightening," Bradbury told the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. "If it doesn't involve severe physical pain, and it doesn't last very long, it may not constitute severe physical suffering. That would be the analysis." The blunt testimony outraged many legal scholars and civil liberties groups, the Post said, including Martin Lederman, a former Office of Legal Counsel official who teaches law at Georgetown University. Lederman called Bradbury's testimony "chilling." Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch said the Bush administration's conduct puts Americans at risk of mistreatment by other countries. Bradbury's testimony followed the recent admission by CIA Director Michael Hayden that the CIA used waterboarding when it interrogated Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks. Bradbury is only the acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel, and not the permanent chief, because the Senate has refused to confirm him for the past two years because of memoranda he wrote in 2005 justifying waterboarding, head-slapping and other invasive interrogation techniques.

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