Drawing the Line (Updated)

by matttbastard


In a radio interview last fall, Cheney said, “We don’t torture.” What he did not acknowledge, according to Alberto J. Mora, who served then as the Bush-appointed Navy general counsel, was that the new legal framework was designed specifically to leave room for cruelty. In international law, Mora said, cruelty is defined as “the imposition of severe physical or mental pain or suffering.” He added: “Torture is an extreme version of cruelty.”

How extreme? Yoo was summoned again to the White House in the early spring of 2002. This time the question was urgent. The CIA had captured Abu Zubaida, then believed to be a top al-Qaeda operative, on March 28, 2002. Case officers wanted to know “what the legal limits of interrogation are,” Yoo said.

This previously unreported meeting sheds light on the origins of one of the Bush administration’s most controversial claims. The Justice Department delivered a classified opinion on Aug. 1, 2002, stating that the U.S. law against torture “prohibits only the worst forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” and therefore permits many others. [Read the opinion] Distributed under the signature of Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, the opinion also narrowed the definition of “torture” to mean only suffering “equivalent in intensity” to the pain of “organ failure ….. or even death.”

When news accounts unearthed that opinion nearly two years later, the White House repudiated its contents. Some officials described it as hypothetical, without disclosing that the opinion was written in response to specific questions from the CIA. Administration officials attributed authorship to Yoo, a Berkeley law professor who had come to serve in the Office of Legal Counsel.

But the “torture memo,” as it became widely known, was not Yoo’s work alone. In an interview, Yoo said that Addington, as well as Gonzales and deputy White House counsel Timothy E. Flanigan, contributed to the analysis.

The vice president’s lawyer advocated what was considered the memo’s most radical claim: that the president may authorize any interrogation method, even if it crosses the line of torture. U.S. and treaty laws forbidding any person to “commit torture,” that passage stated, “do not apply” to the commander in chief, because Congress “may no more regulate the President’s ability to detain and interrogate enemy combatants than it may regulate his ability to direct troop movements on the battlefield.”

That same day, Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo signed off on a second secret opinion, the contents of which have never been made public. According to a source with direct knowledge, that opinion approved as lawful a long list of specific interrogation techniques proposed by the CIA — including waterboarding, a form of near-drowning that the U.S. government classified as a war crime in 1947. The opinion drew the line against one request: threatening to bury a prisoner alive.

Comforting to know that even John Yoo has (arbitrary) limits. Hey, “simulated” drowning is one thing. Threatening to bury someone alive? That’s going too goddamn far, man.

(updates below the fold)

UpdateMarc Cooper:

Having spent my share of time reporting on and living in dictatorial states like Chile, Peru and Argentina, the Cheney-sort of personality is not unknown to me. Every authoritarian regime usually has one or two outstanding figures of this type. True enough to stereotype, they most generally occupy the post of chief of the secret police, Minister of Interior, or special advisor to the President. But what’s this guy doing as an elected Vice-President of the United States?

Related: More on Cheney’s enforcer counsel, David Addington, from Chitra Ragavan, who dubs Addington ‘the most powerful man you’ve never heard of’ (until now, of course).

Update 2

The American Mind:

For being the seat of power in the Western world Washington, D.C. is a company town. With all the liberals and Leftists infesting the place the city has a strong conservative temperment. Things have to be done in a certain way and process trumps results.

That’s the view you should take while reading the Washington Post series on Vice President Dick Cheney’s powerful role in the Bush administration. All the gripes lifelong bureaurcrats and wheeler-dealers come out: Cheney’s office didn’t talk to certain people; he went straight to the President; opponents were locked out of the process; etc.


What is completely missed is the fact al Qaeda hasn’t stuck the U.S. in over five years. Taxes have been cut helping improve economic growth. Now, could policy development have gone better? Were mistakes made? Absolutely. But when examining how Cheney has changed the role of the Vice President we need to at least acknowledge what has been accomplished.

Shorter Sean Hackbarth: “Sure a few (bad) eggs were broken in the process, but check out this kick ass omelette!”

@ the Corner, Mona Charen takes issue with the word ‘cruelty’:

The Post’s headline on its Cheney series this morning (in the print, not online edition) is stunning: “The Unseen Path to Cruelty.” I admit that I haven’t read the entire article (life is too busy and too short to spend valuable time reading 200,000 word Post articles) but I’ve read enough to understand that today’s installment concerns the treatment of detainees. “Cruelty?” That is much too freighted a word to appear in a news headline. Surely the editors of the Post realize that the question of how to treat enemy combatants is a complex policy question. If Cheney took the position that the executive has broad constitutional authority in this area, as the article suggests, it was not because he is a cruel man, but out of genuine conviction that this was the best way to protect the American people.

Yeah, Mona has way better things to do than actually read what she’s offering commentary on. Buying blood red Christian Dior pumps with the torture tax cut savings Sean mentioned, for example.

Also, torture isn’t cruel (nor apparently unusual) if done out of genuine good will. I’m sure that will be a real comfort to those ‘unlawful detainees’ who were waterboarded, sodomized, beaten and killed by US military and intelligence personnel.

The ones who were waterboarded, sodomized and beaten, anyway.

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