In the next few days, President George W. Bush is expected to again claim the right to order mistreatment of prisoners that any civilized person would regard as torture. Bush is planning to veto a law that would require the CIA and all the intelligence services to abide by the restrictions on holding and interrogating prisoners contained in the U.S Army Field Manual. Bush says the army rules are too restrictive.
What are these burdens? In addition to a blanket prohibition of torture, the manual specifically bans:
Forcing a prisoner to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner.
Placing hoods or sacks over the head of a prisoner, and using duct tape over the eyes.
Applying beatings, electric shocks, burns or other forms of physical pain.
Using military working dogs.
Inducing hypothermia or heat injury.
Conducting mock executions.
Depriving a prisoner of necessary food, water or medical care.
Such practices have long been prohibited by U.S. laws and international treaties respected by Republican and Democratic presidents. Bush, however, declared that he was unbound by the laws of civilization in responding to the barbarism of Sept. 11, 2001. And reports soon surfaced about the abuse of prisoners at detention centers in Afghanistan, the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and secret CIA prisons.
Finally, in 2006, a compliant, Republican-controlled Congress outlawed the kinds of abuse and torture that Bush’s lawyers had turned into government policy. Unfortunately, Congress applied the prohibitions only to the military, and Bush immediately made clear that he would issue whatever orders he wanted to the intelligence agencies. In response, Congress approved an amendment to the intelligence budget bill this year that binds those agencies to the same rules as the military.
Opponents of Bush’s policies on prisoners have long argued that it is immoral, dangerous and counterproductive to abuse and torture prisoners. We do not hold out much hope that the president will heed our last, urgent plea not to veto this bill.
We urge him to read the Army Field Manual, which says: “Use of torture by U.S. personnel would bring discredit upon the U.S. and its armed forces while undermining domestic and international support for the war effort. It could also place U.S. and allied personnel in enemy hands at greater risk of abuse.”
He could listen to 43 retired generals or a bipartisan coalition of 18 former members of Congress, secretaries of state and national security officials who all supported the anti-torture amendment.
He could check the testimony of Lieutenant General Michael Maples, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who told Congress last week that waterboarding violated the Geneva Conventions.
Or he could read the letter that General David Petraeus, the commander in Iraq, wrote to his troops. “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy,” Petraeus wrote. “They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.”