Torture is not a reasonable means of defense

By Christina Coloroso

Republican lawmakers have deemed this month “Security September” to reorient the legislative agenda toward issues most likely to produce party wins in the November midterm elections.

One of the most controversial elements of this agenda-and one that has created a startling amount of division within the Republican Party itself-is President Bush’s call for the protection of extreme CIA interrogation methods (i.e. torture in many cases) of terror suspects.

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a bill designed to regulate the treatment of detainees in response to much domestic and international outrage regarding current interrogation tactics. President Bush argues that vague definitions of what is and is not acceptable practice in the bill could leave some American CIA officials vulnerable to prosecution under the war crimes statutes of the Geneva Convention.

The president also defends the need of the CIA and others to have special means at their disposal for the purpose of attaining critical pieces of intelligence necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and save lives, indicating that several plots have already been foiled.

In hopes that the congressional version of this legislation to pass this week is more favorable on administration policy and practice, Bush has announced that CIA personnel will temporarily cease any controversial behavior until they have “clarity of purpose” as to what their jobs entail.

Though the president is correct that this legislation and its prohibitions could compromise the security of certain Americans, his focus is a bit off. The people he should be the most concerned about protecting are the individuals serving in American armed forces overseas, like many U students who have chosen to serve their country.

In the case where American soldiers are captured by a foreign government or a non-state actor, those soldiers are more likely to be tortured or mistreated precisely because their home country, the United States, is willing to justify the torture and mistreatment of others. Yet, if the United States were to play by the same rules as other countries, our soldiers would have more protection when captured.

Furthermore, an inconsistent American policy standard on this issue erodes any credibility we may have in our negotiations and disputes with other noncompliant powers. For example, every time we try to convince China to abolish its torturous prison camps for political dissidents, the Chinese government responds that Americans, too, justify the use of torture, and our attempts to improve the human condition fail.

It is not impossible to conceive of instances in which a valuable suspect is captured, and the information from that person is the key to stopping a massive attack somewhere in the world. But those circumstances are not the norm, and when they do occur, the Geneva Convention grants special exceptions for their extreme nature. That being the case, torture and other inhumane interrogation methods should not be acceptable in any case other than the most critical, as already allowed by international law.

And by now, this country should be wary of granting the Bush administration the vague leeway necessary to pursue ill-defined objections and special circumstances, as they haven’t worked out so well for us in the past.