Saturday, April 18, 2009

Four Who Should Face Investigation over Torture

Maybe the choice of the first family's dog having the word 'water' was more than a coincidence as Peter Brookes suggests above from today's Times. Of course the alternative did have the word 'poodle' in it so no matter what he'd gone for the half hearted use of the memos he has released would probably have led to a dog themed cartoon.

What is startling as the details of the legal positions on those memos is investigated is the detailed lengths to which the 'victims' can or cannot be exposed to these measures without it constituting torture. By the way the level before torture happens is defined in the memos as the 'interrogation' not causing intense, severe or lasting physical pain or psychological damage.

Issues such as:

  • the water should not be colder that 41F
  • exposure to water should not exceed 20 minutes "without drying and rewarming"
  • exposure to waterboarding should not be greater than 40 seconds at a time
It is the precision of these memos penned by Jay Bybee (Assistant Attorney General 2001-2003 now judge on the 9th Circuit), John Yoo (a colleague from the Justice Department now professor at Berkeley School of Law) and Stephen Bradbury (Head of the Justice Dept. Office of Legal Counsel now an attorney in Washington) that raises concern. These men knew that they were running right up next to the letter of the law, right up to the envelope of what actually would be entailed and correctly branded as torture. They were working on the margins, indeed defining the margins of what is legal.

How carefully did those carrying out the actually know the detail in those 100 plus pages of legal advise? Did the water temperature drop? Where the time limits exceeded? If by trying to hedge people in from something that is on the cusp of being legal with so much detail surely some of that was from time to time overlooked. In the heat of everyone's day to day job some small detail is almost certainly neglected, not intentionally, but in error on a regular basis.

Why did Bybee, Yoo and Bradbury not give advise to steer well clear of anything that could even be conceived as torture? Because they were acting under orders? Whose orders? George W. Bush that's who. Bradbury was the chief legal counsel for all of the Bush second term. If there are arguments for letting the agents executing the orders off then surely these are the names of the four men who set the definitions, limits and legal parlance of when a torture technique is or isn't actually torture. They were aware of the thin line to the extent that they were so meticulous is trying to prevent it being crossed knowing that what they were planning or setting down the precedents for was very close to the quick.

These four surely have questions to answer and should not be allowed to get of.

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