Bush Fools America by “Accepting” a Ban on Torture

December 17th, 2005 - by admin

Evan Augustine Peterson, III & American Progress Report – 2005-12-17 11:32:20

Bush Fools America by “Accepting” a Ban on Torture
Evan Augustine Peterson, III / Special to EAW

WASHINGTON (December 17, 2005) — In Washington politics, things are seldom what they appear to be — especially when devious Machiavellians are running the White House. And we often end up getting a fairy-tale version of reality because the USA’s government-corporate-media complex prefers to ignore unpleasant-but-true stories while it promotes pleasant-but-false stories.

For instance, the mainstream media is burying a major Bushite deception right now, so as to leave the American people with the rosy-but-false impression that Mr. Bush has adopted a “new position” concerning torture. [1]

On Wednesday of this week, a non-binding House vote overwhelmingly favored the McCain Amendment, which would ban torture by the military, the CIA, and mercenaries under contract with the US government. [2]

Then on Thursday, Mr. Bush reportedly RESCINDED his opposition to the McCain Anti-Torture Amendment (which he had threatened to veto). [3]

Oh happy day! The US government finally appears to have understood what civilized people everywhere already knew: torture isn’t wrong merely because it’s illegal (i.e., “malum prohibitum”, or “wrong because prohibited”); rather, torture is illegal because it’s just plain wrong (i.e., “malum in se”, or “wrong in itself”).

However, human-rights groups should not prematurely celebrate a “victory.” Mr. Bush has learned nothing, and he hasn’t changed his position on torture. He misled us into war under false pretenses, and now he’s trying to mislead Congress and the public into believing that his administration has forsworn its advocacy and use of torture.

Consider this: Bush ONLY rescinded his opposition to McCain’s Anti-Torture Amendment because he’d already circumvented its most important provision! The key provision would have made the Army’s formal interrogation standards — which can be found in the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation — the UNIFORM STANDARD for the entire government. And torture-survivor McCain chose the Army’s long-standing interrogation standards because they were written to conform with international-law conventions that strictly prohibit belligerents from humiliating, abusing, or torturing prisoners and detainees.

So how did Mr. Bush fool everyone? [4]

By getting his Pentagon minions to issue their first official change to the Army Field Manual in 13 years. More importantly, the Pentagon radically altered the Army Field Manual by inserting a 10-page CLASSIFIED addendum that contains new, highly-permissive interrogation standards. The DOD’s new interrogation standards intentionally BLUR the Army’s formerly clear-cut standards.

Furthermore, these new standards not only permit, but also teach, abusive interrogation techniques that will violate international law because they are obviously tantamount to torture. [5]

Don’t be fooled, folks! The McCain Anti-Torture Amendment WON’T ban torture, depite the fact that its operative provision would have made the Army Field Manual‘s clear-cut standards the uniform standard for the entire government. But now it won’t, because the Pentagon hasrevised those interrogation standards not only PERMIT, but also TEACH, techniques of humiliation and abuse that are tantamount to TORTURE.

Here’s the bottom-line conclusion: “The idea that we have a ‘Vice President For Torture’ now appears quaint. What we really have is an entire administration [that is] openly and unapologetically for torture.” [6]

Of course, the Pentagon’s re-write of the Army Field Manual, the chief executive’s approval thereof, and every human-rights violation flowing therefrom, will be a PROSECUTABLE WAR CRIME.

The ultra-militaristic Bushites and their Pentagon minions are arrogant,
treacherous, “above-the-law” despots who will stop at nothing to have
their way. Even if their way is clearly “malum in se.” [7]

Even if their way destroys our nation’s moral credibility. [8]

Even if their way dooms democratic governance under the rule of law. [9]

If there is any justice left inside the USA, “having their way” will lead directly to their IMPEACHMENT and REMOVAL from office.


[1] In all fairness to the mainstream press, New York Times reporter Eric Schmitt probably broke this unpleasant-but-true story. Nevertheless, it would have had a swift burial if it hadn’t been picked up by online journalists and pundits.

[2] Eric Schmitt 12-15-05 CD/NYT article, “House Backs McCain On Detainees, Defying Bush.”

[3] Liz Sidoti’s 12-15-05 AP/AOLNews article, “Bush Accepts McCain’s Ban On Torture: Move Comes After House And Senate Back Language.”

[4] He fooled almost everyone. Mr. Bush probably consulted beforehand with Republicans like House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who has vehemently opposed the McCain Amendment. The ultra-militaristic Hunter undoubtedly would applaud — if he didn’t actually propose — the Pentagon’s vile revisions to eviscerate the Amendment.

[5] Judd Legum, et al., in the American Progress Action Fund’s 12-15-05 Progress Report article, “Torture: Bush Administration Changes Army Field Manual To Skirt Anti-Torture Legislation.”

“With Congress on the verge of passing the sweeping McCain Anti-Torture Amendment, the Bush Administration has moved to get around the proposed rules should they become law.
[A] The McCain Amendment would make the ‘Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation’ the standard for questioning subjects.
[B] That manual explicitly prohibits the use of ‘coercive interrogation techniques.’ Realizing this, the Pentagon one-upped McCain and simply re-wrote the manual. For the first time in thirteen years, the Pentagon approved ‘a 10-page classified addendum to a new Army Field Manual‘ that ‘would help teach [interrogators] how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations.’
[C] ‘This is a stick in McCain’s eye,” one official said. ‘It goes right up to the edge.'”

[A] Nico Pitney’s 12-14-05 ThinkProgress.org article, “As Torture Amendment Nears Passage, Pentagon Rewrites Army Detainee Standards.”

[B] DOD’s addendum to the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.

[C] Eric Scmitt’s 12-14-05 IHT/NYT article, “New Army Rules May Snag Talks
With McCain On Detainee Rights.”

[6] Ibid; see Nico Pitney at [4][a] above.

[7] Ray McGovern’s 12-13-05 CD/TD essay, “McCain’s Defining Moment,” contains excellent moral reasoning about torture, but it no longer matters if Senator McCain compromises his amendment’s language in negotiations with the Republican leaders. Mr. Bush’s minions in the Pentagon have already checkmated McCain by issuing a major revision to the Army Field Manual‘s interrogation standards. Even if the McCain Amendment passes, their revision’s purpose is to ensure the continuation of “coercive interrogation techniques” that humiliate, abuse, and torture prisoners and detainees.

[8] NY Times’ 12-16-05 editorial, “Ban Torture. Period.” This is a good editorial, so far as it goes. However, its theme should’ve gone farther than “when it comes to torture, the nation and its military men and women need moral clarity, not more legalistic wiggle room.”

[9] Elisa Massimo’s 11-21-05 CD essay, “Heading Toward the Dark Side.” The Bushites claim they’re “above the law” whereas their enemies are “below the law.” These claims are calculated to subvert the rule of law and convert Americans to the Dark Side.

This essay was written by Evan Augustine Peterson III, J.D., who is the Executive Director of the American Center for International Law (“ACIL”).

The Torture Two-Step
Judd Legum, Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney
Amanda Terkel and Payson Schwin / The Progress Report

(December 16, 2005) — Yesterday, the Bush administration finally reversed position and accepted Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill prohibiting “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of U.S. detainees, establishing “the Army Field Manual as the uniform standard for the interrogation of Department of Defense detainees.” This agreement was an important step in restoring American values and reaffirming America’s long-standing prohibition on torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. It’s a positive step but it doesn’t resolve the issue.

The White House, in its effort to defeat the anti-torture amendment, has done serious harm to the moral standing of the United States and has provided fuel for a destructive anti-Americanism that makes winning the war on terrorism more difficult. Even as Bush yesterday held a photo-op on the amendment with McCain, the White House continued to undermine the McCain amendment through other means. To reverse this damage, the federal government must now “undertake a full reevaluation of the treatment of persons captured and detained by the United States, wherever they are held.”

The Bush administration is finally beginning to realize what the Senate and the House already knew: torture does not work. Abusive interrogations often produce unreliable and inaccurate information and put our troops at greater risk abroad.

In October, the Senate approved McCain’s amendment 90 to 9, and on Wednesday, the House voted 308 to 122 to line up behind Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who sponsored McCain’s language in “an unusual bipartisan rebuke to the Bush administration.” “Today’s agreement by the White House and congressional leaders means that interrogators will be given clear, unambiguous rules to follow. … America’s black eye is finally healing,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA). (For more info on this issue, check out tortureisnotus.org.)

At yesterday’s White House press conference, Bush declared that this agreement makes “it clear to the world that this government does not torture and that we adhere to the international convention of torture.” But the Army is already maneuvering to skirt McCain’s amendment, which holds the Army Field Manual as the standard for interrogations, by adding a 10-page classified addendum to the manual that provides “specific guidelines that would help teach them how to walk right up to the line between legal and illegal interrogations.”

Also, several detainee attorneys say that they believe the White House “is still trying to protect its ability to use techniques they believe amount to torture” by supporting the Graham-Levin amendment, which would undercut the McCain amendment by chipping away at protections for Guanatanamo detainees and by allowing the government to use evidence in court that has been obtained through the use of torture or abuse at Guanatanamo.

Since reports that the “CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a [secret] Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe,” the Bush administration has acted with defiance and secrecy, rather than with investigations and explanations. Before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice departed for Europe earlier this month, she “answered” European concerns over the U.S. covert prison system by giving a “condescending salvo to Europeans” that was meant to “put [them] on notice that they should back off.”

CIA sources also revealed that since media reports about the existence of the European prisons, those facilities have been shut down and the prisoners discreetly transferred “to a CIA site somewhere in north Africa.” Fully accepting the McCain amendment means more than photo ops and public appearances. The Bush administration now needs to take the next step and openly investigate the prisons, instead of going after the person who “leaked” the story to the media.

Welcome To The Surveillance State

The Bush administration is trying to jam through a permanent extension of the PATRIOT Act before Congress adjourns for the year. But Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) has assembled a bipartisan coalition advocating a more deliberative approach — a temporary, three month extension until the Senate can resolve remaining concerns that certain provisions give “government too much power to investigate its citizens.”

An effort by Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) to block a permanent extension of the act this year appears to have enough votes to be successful. But it does it matter? The New York Times reported that in 2002, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans and others in the United States in ways that “go far beyond the expanded counterterrorism powers granted by Congress under the USA Patriot Act.” The program has revived a domestic spying operation at the NSA not seen since the 1960s when the agency routinely eavesdropped “on Vietnam War protesters and civil rights activists.”

Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, “said the secret order may amount to the president authorizing criminal activity.” Some officials at the NSA agree. According to the New York Times, “[S]ome agency officials wanted nothing to do with the program, apparently fearful of participating in an illegal operation.”

Others were “worried that the program might come under scrutiny by Congressional or criminal investigators if Senator John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, was elected president.” In 2004, “concerns about the program expressed by national security officials, government lawyers and a judge prompted the Bush administration to suspend elements of the program and revamp it.” But it continues to this day.

The administration’s actions are particularly suspicious because they already have all requisite authority to conduct surveillance under the law. Under the PATRIOT Act, for example, law enforcement and intelligence officials are required to seek a warrant from the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court (FISA) “every time they want to eavesdrop within the United States.”

The court is notoriously compliant with government requests for warrants. In its first 25 years “the secret court…approved over 10,000 warrants — with the numbers growing every year — and never turned down a single request.” (In 2002, the court rejected its first request ever from Attorney General John Ashcroft.) Why was the administration so desperate to avoid oversight, even from an extremely cooperative court?

The domestic spying program was justified by a “classified legal opinion” written by John Yoo, a Justice Department official. Yoo also authored a memo arguing that interrogation techniques only constitute torture if they are “equivalent in intensity to…organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”

The Bush administration was forced to repudiate that memo once it became public. (Yoo continues to defend it.) Yoo has also argued that “President Bush didn’t need to ask Congress for permission to invade Iraq.” (Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice echoed the argument when she told a congressional committee that “the president has the right to attack Syria, without congressional approval, if he deems that a necessary move in the war on terror.”)

The administration asked the New York Times not to publish this article, arguing it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny.” It’s a specious argument because a would-be terrorist could be under scrutiny by an number of existing legal procedures, including through the FISA court. The Times delayed publication for a year but ultimately didn’t buy the White House argument, publishing its report in this morning’s edition.