by Prof. Marjorie Cohn
Global Research, October 8, 2007
JURIST Contributing Editor Marjorie Cohn of Thomas Jefferson School of Law says that the Bush administration's repeated insistence that it has not endorsed the torture of prisoners rings hollow in light of newly-disclosed US Department of Justice memos supporting the harshest techniques the CIA has ever used...
The April 2004 publication of grotesque photographs of naked Iraqis piled on top of each other, forced to masturbate, and led around on leashes like dogs, sent shock waves around the world. George W. Bush declared, “I shared a deep disgust that those prisoners were treated the way they were treated.” Yet less than a year later, his Justice Department issued a secret opinion endorsing the harshest techniques the CIA has ever used, according to a report in the New York Times. These include head slapping, frigid temperatures, and water boarding, in which the subject is made to feel he is drowning. Water boarding is widely considered a torture technique. Once again, Bush is compelled to issue a denial. “This government does not torture people,” he insisted.
This was not the first time the Bush administration had officially endorsed torture, however. John Yoo, writing for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, penned an August 2002 memorandum that rewrote the legal definition of torture to require the equivalent of organ failure. This memo violated the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty the United States ratified, and therefore part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.
In December 2002, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld approved interrogation methods that included the use of dogs, hooding, stress positions, isolation for up to 30 days, 20-hour interrogations, deprivation of light and sound, and water boarding. U.S. Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora told William Haynes, the Pentagon’s general counsel, that Rumsfeld’s “authorized interrogation techniques could rise to the level of torture.” As a result, Rumsfeld rescinded some methods but reserved the right to approve others, including water boarding, on a case-by-case basis.
When Bush maintained last week that his government doesn’t torture prisoners, he stressed the necessity of interrogation to “protect the American people.” Notwithstanding the myth perpetuated by shows like “24,” however, torture doesn’t work. Experts agree that people who are tortured will say anything to make the torture stop.