What Part of the Law Don’t Dick Cheney and The Wall Street Journal Understand? « The Washington Independent
In insisting during his speech yesterday that President Obama and the CIA declassify the memos that he claims will show the effectiveness of the so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” former vice president and anointed Republican spokesman Dick Cheney neglects to mention one critical fact: torture is illegal, even if it worked.
The United Nations Convention Against Torture and the United States law implementing it ban exactly what they say: torture AND cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Notwithstanding the bizarre twists and turns in some of the Office of Legal Counsel memos — which sought to justify the CIA’s techniques by saying that waterboarding, “walling,” sleep and food deprivation and other creative means of softening up detainees for questioning were not cruel, inhuman or degrading — it’s by now almost universally understood that this treatment is not permissible under the U.S. Constitution. After all, as former State Department official Philip Zelikow pointed out in his recent testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, if it were constitutional, it would also be legal to do to U.S. citizens.
Given that the law explicitly bans that sort of treatment, then, it really doesn’t matter what information interrogators may have extracted by using it. The Wall Street Journal today, apparently endorsing Cheney’s view, called on President Obama to “release the memos that former Vice President Dick Cheney and others claim will show that interrogation yielded valuable intelligence that saved American lives.”
As a political matter, Obama probably should release those memos — assuming they don’t contain sensitive classified information that The Journal and Cheney were so worried would help terrorists when Obama released the Office of Legal Counsel’s torture memos — just to get the “torture works” contingency off of his back. Chances are, the memos won’t prove anything either way, because even if Abu Zubaydah or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did provide valuable intelligence after being tortured, there’s no way to prove they wouldn’t have provided the same information following lawful interrogation methods.
But if The Journal is suggesting, as Cheney insisted yesterday, that such methods were — and still are — lawful, because we face the extraordinary danger of terrorism, then it is also claiming that the anti-torture statute and international treaty are meaningless. That’s essentially the argument in the OLC memos that justified them, because under their analysis, any actions committed in order to obtain valuable information – not simply in order to inflict pain or harm — would be justified. Because even the most extreme torture is usually inflicted to extract information or confessions, rather than for mere sadism, there would be no point to having an anti-torture treaty at all.
That can’t be what the law means — and both Cheney and The Wall Street Journal know it.