Tuesday, April 1, 2008
The torturer's apprentice
Now that we have the documents, let's not get silly about this. Let's listen and learn. The Pentagon's release Tuesday of the infamous 2003 Justice Department memo justifying the Bush administration's decision to violate U.N. treaties barring torture of detainees didn't change anything — everybody already knew what was in it, if not the exact language, and it has already been withdrawn. But here's what it said: "Customary international law is not federal law and ... the president is free to override it at his discretion." That was the conclusion of John Woo, now a college professor but then deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Office of Special Counsel. And that's really what President Bush thinks. The soaring optimism of the United Nations Charter, the somber poetry of the Geneva Conventions — these are ideas for the world we want to live in, not the one we do live in. You can sign all the agreements you want, it still doesn't change rule number one. After he finished reading My Pet Goat to those kids in New Jersey, Bush was made to understand that the United States had been attacked and that it could be the big one. So, he forgot all that treaty garbage and barreled ahead. The amazing thing was not that Bush thought this — everybody knows a lot of people who think this way, even some that have been to college — but that the U.S. Congress and now the Western alliance have gone along with it, too. All of the abuses that have become synonymous with the war on terror — Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, enemy combatants, waterboarding, the trial and execution of Saddam Hussein — merely illustrate the illogic of this approach. We can't out-brutalize the feudal organizations that fight us and still pretend we're civilized. The American Civil Liberties Union said the Pentagon released the memo as a result of its lawsuit to force the release of more documents on the war on terror, according to the Reuters international news service. The ACLU's Jameel Jaffer said under Yoo's view of executive authority, there is "literally no limit at all" to the president's power in wartime. "The whole point of the memo is obviously to nullify every possible legal restraint on the president's wartime authority," Jaffer said. "The memo was meant to allow torture, and that's exactly what it did." No, the whole point was to demonstrate that there are no legal restraints on the president's wartime authority. If the citizens of the United States think there need to be some limits, it's long since time to write them into the Constitution.