Do We Torture?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Monday, July 23, 2007; 2:06 PM

The White House's Friday afternoon rollout of its new policy on torture was a marvel of loopholes and obfuscation regarding what should be a crystal-clear moral issue.

"We don't torture" ought to be one of our nation's credos. As it happens, it is President Bush's stock response when asked to describe U.S. policy. But this latest official razzle-dazzle still leaves unclear what Bush and his aides mean when they use the word.

Friday's executive order -- compounded by a series of nonresponsive press statements by senior administration officials -- appears to leave CIA interrogators with considerable latitude to engage in harsh tactics that most people would likely consider torture.

Putting anything on paper at all was a grudging acknowledgment of the Supreme Court's decision last summer that all U.S. prisoners are covered by Geneva Convention protections against degrading treatment. And White House officials acknowledge that some tactics previously used on suspected terrorists in secret CIA prisons have now been ruled out.

But the White House still refuses to say which tactics are banned and which are OK. To Bush and his aides, the right of Americans to know what is being done in our name is outweighed by their dubious conviction that such information would serve the enemy. Instead, a White House beset by credibility problems is asking us to trust it.

I don't often quote Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, but as I wrote in my Oct. 18, 2006, column, O'Reilly asked Bush exactly the right question in his interview with the president the previous day.

After Bush refused to talk about individual tactics, O'Reilly asked in frustration: "But if the public doesn't know what torture is or is not, as defined by the Bush Administration, how can the public make a decision on whether your policy is right or wrong?"

That question remains unanswered.

The Coverage

Here is Bush's executive order on torture, the official White House statement, and the transcript of a tragi-comically unforthcoming press briefing by anonymous senior administration officials.

Karen DeYoung writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush set broad legal boundaries for the CIA's harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects yesterday, allowing the intelligence agency to resume a program that was suspended last year after criticism that it violated U.S. and international law.

"In an executive order lacking any details about actual interrogation techniques, Bush said the CIA program will now comply with a Geneva Conventions prohibition against 'outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.' His order, required by legislation signed in October, was delayed for months amid tense debate inside the administration. . . .

"Two administration officials said that suspects now in U.S. custody could be moved immediately into the 'enhanced interrogation' program and subjected to techniques that go beyond those allowed by the U.S. military.

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