Legalized Torture, Reloaded
Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House
is certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture. This week, Vice
President Dick Cheney proposed a novel solution for the moral and legal
problems raised by the use of American soldiers to abuse prisoners and
the practice of turning captives over to governments willing to act as
proxies in doing the torturing. Mr. Cheney wants to make it legal for
the Central Intelligence Agency to do this wet work.
Mr. Cheney's proposal was made in secret to Senator John McCain, the
Arizona Republican who won the votes of 89 other senators this month to
require the civilized treatment of prisoners at camps run by America's
military and intelligence agencies. Mr. McCain's legislation, an
amendment to the Defense Department budget bill, would ban the "cruel,
inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners. In other words, it would
impose age-old standards of democracy and decency on the new prisons.
President Bush's threat to veto the entire military budget over this
issue was bizarre enough by itself, considering that the amendment has
the support of more than two dozen former military leaders, including
Colin Powell. They know that torture doesn't produce reliable
intelligence and endangers Americans' lives.
But Mr. Cheney's proposal was even more ludicrous. It would give the
president the power to allow government agencies outside the Defense
Department (the administration has in mind the C.I.A.) to mistreat and
torture prisoners as long as that behavior was part of "counterterrorism
operations conducted abroad" and they were not American citizens. That
would neatly legalize the illegal prisons the C.I.A. is said to be
operating around the world and obviate the need for the torture
outsourcing known as extraordinary rendition. It also raises disturbing
questions about Iraq, which the Bush administration has falsely labeled
a counterterrorism operation.
Mr. McCain was right to reject this absurd proposal. The House should
reject it as well.
* Copyright 2005
New York Times Company <http://www.nytco.com/>