Torture Is All in the Subtext

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, September 18, 2006; 12:58 PM

President Bush was at his most pugnacious and disingenuous Friday in a Rose Garden press conference, refusing to give reporters a direct answer about where he stands on torture.

Here's the transcript . Bush's repeated refrain -- that all he wants is for Congress to bring "clarity" to the Geneva Conventions -- was so far from the truth that straight news reporting simply wasn't up to the task of conveying the real meaning of the day.

So let's go right to the editorials.

Editorial Watch

The Washington Post editorial board explains what Bush meant when he said his "one test" for legislation was whether Congress would authorize "the program."

Writes The Post: "He's talking about the practice of sequestering terrorist suspects indefinitely and without charge in secret foreign locations and holding them incommunicado even from the International Red Cross. Until recently, such 'disappearances' were the signature of Third World dictatorships. . . .

"Mr. Bush also wants the CIA to be able to treat its detainees to such practices as 'cold cell,' or induced hypothermia, in which detainees are held naked in near-freezing temperatures and repeatedly doused with water; 'long standing,' in which prisoners are handcuffed in an uncomfortable standing position and forced to remain there for up to 40 hours; and prolonged sleep deprivation.

"Throughout the world and for decades, such practices have been called torture. That's what the United States called them when they were used by the Soviet KGB. As the president himself tacitly acknowledges, they violate Geneva and other international conventions as well as current U.S. law."

For a little background, The Post notes: "Common Article 3, which prohibits cruel treatment and humiliation, is an inflexible standard. . . . The Army issued a thick manual this month that tells interrogators exactly what they can and cannot do in complying with the standard. The nation's most respected military leaders have said that they need and want nothing more to accomplish the mission of detaining and interrogating enemy prisoners -- and that harsher methods would be counterproductive. . . .

"Mr. Bush's real objection to Common Article 3 is not that it is vague. It is that it will not permit abusive practices that he isn't willing publicly to discuss or defend."

The Los Angeles Times editorial board writes: "On the treatment of detainees, the president has been especially disingenuous. He has never been a fan of international law, so it's absurd for him to pretend to want to 'clarify' the Geneva Convention. What he clearly wants to do is gut the treaty's humanitarian protections for wartime detainees, with an eye toward retroactively legitimizing abusive CIA interrogation tactics used on terrorism suspects."

The New York Times editorial board writes: "Watching the president on Friday in the Rose Garden as he threatened to quit interrogating terrorists if Congress did not approve his detainee bill, we were struck by how often he acts as though there were not two sides to a debate. We have lost count of the number of times he has said Americans have to choose between protecting the nation precisely the way he wants, and not protecting it at all.

"On Friday, President Bush posed a choice between ignoring the law on wiretaps, and simply not keeping tabs on terrorists. Then he said the United States could rewrite the Geneva Conventions, or just stop questioning terrorists. To some degree, he is following a script for the elections: terrify Americans into voting Republican. But behind that seems to be a deeply seated conviction that under his leadership, America is right and does not need the discipline of rules. He does not seem to understand that the rules are what makes this nation as good as it can be."

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