In January, 2002, our soon-to-be appointed attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, concluded that the war on terrorism “renders obsolete” the Geneva Conventions’ “strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners.” As such, according to a memorandum that Gonzales endorsed, interrogation would be illegal only if “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.” Everything else was fair game.
Thirty months later, as the Washington Post reported (on Jan. 4), a Defense Department panel chaired by James R. Schlesinger concluded that this legal advice played a key role in the Central Command’s creation of interrogation policies for the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
The Sunday Times of London reported last November that American intelligence agencies are now flying terrorist suspects to countries that routinely use torture in their prisons. Documents obtained by the Times detailed more than 300 flights to countries such as Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Uzbekistan. Bob Baer, a former CIA operative in the Middle East, said: “If you want a serious interrogation you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear you send them to Egypt.”
Two such suspects, Ahmed Agiza, 42, and Muhammed Zery, 35, who were later cleared of charges, told the Swedish press that they were beaten and tortured and received electric shocks to their genitals.
Officially the United States condemns the use of torture, and as legal counsel to President Bush, Gonzales was unlikely to have had any knowledge of a covert operation. However, the legal advice Gonzales supplied to the president stated, “We concluded that the Department of Justice could not bring a criminal prosecution against a defendant who had acted pursuant to an exercise of the president’s constitutional power.”
Essentially, if the president determines that torture is necessary to protect American interests, then the Constitution gives him full authority to do so. And since the Bush administration pulled out of the International Court of Justice, there’s little fear of coming up on international charges.
However, not all of Bush’s administration is with him on the green. In a memo objecting to Gonzales’ legal counsel, Secretary of State Colin Powell stated that “U.S. credibility and moral authority” would be compromised by a directive that would “reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting Geneva conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops.”
In a world turned upside down, it takes a committed Cold Warrior to supply moral values to a bankrupt administration.