Tortured reasoning

The news last week that a Spanish court was considering criminal investigations of American officials involved in approving the torture of detainees in U.S. custody was just one more reminder that the rest of the world is not about to ignore violations of international law just because we say they should.

Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish jurist who investigated and issued a warrant for former Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet, is heading the investigation of six Bush Administration officials who crafted the legal framework that legitimized the torture of so-called enemy combatants.

The six under investigation are John C. Yoo, the California law professor who not only helped write the Patriot Act but also the memos justifying the use of torture in interrogations; former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith; a former legal counselor for the U.S. Department of Defense, William J. Haynes II; Yoo’s former supervisor at the U.S. Department of Justice, Jay S. Bybee; and David S. Addington, who was chief of staff and legal adviser for former Vice President Dick Cheney.

Spain’s jurisdiction in the matter arises from the claims that five Spanish citizens were tortured during U.S. detention at Guantánamo Bay. The legal grounds for the complaint stem from the Geneva Conventions and the 1984 Convention Against Torture. Spain and the United States are signatories on both documents.

The duplicity here is blatant. Either the rule of law is binding on all nations and individuals, or it is of no consequence whatever, in which case we must rely on the rule of force. To our own detriment, the Bush administration chose the latter course.

Yes, the United States was attacked by a terrorist group. But we allowed our leaders to use our fears about future attacks to undermine the principles on which we base our system of government. There are consequences for that decision, not the least of which is the loss of our moral standing in the world.

The actions of the Spanish court ought to remind us that when we fail to police ourselves, someone else is sure to do it for us. The world is too small a place for one nation to be allowed to run roughshod over the standards of conduct agreed to by all nations.

In fact, when someone else does it, we call it “evil.”

We need independent investigations into the use of torture in the so-called war on terror, and we need to cooperate with investigations conducted by other legitimate governments. It’s time to own up to a simple truth: Terrorism is not going to be defeated by more terrorism. Torture is terrorism and it is wrong. Those who justified it in our names should be brought to justice.