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Between the Lines

June 11, 2004

Changing the subject

Security staff at our Club Fedayeen at Guantánamo Bay have been warned not to talk to the defense attorneys for prisoners about how detainees are treated.

The document, obtained by USA TODAY, says that soldiers and interrogators are not required to give defense attorneys statements about the "personal treatment of detainees" or any "failure to report actions of others." It also says that refusing to cooperate with defense attorneys "will not impact your career."

President Bush seems to have gotten similar advice. At a press conference at the Group of 8 conclave, there was this exchange:

Q Mr. President, I wanted to return to the question of torture. What we've learned from these memos this week is that the Department of Justice lawyers and the Pentagon lawyers have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law. So when you say that you want the U.S. to adhere to international and U.S. laws, that's not very comforting. This is a moral question: Is torture ever justified?

THE PRESIDENT: Look, I'm going to say it one more time. If I -- maybe -- maybe I can be more clear. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at those laws, and that might provide comfort for you. And those were the instructions out of -- from me to the government.

So, is torture ever justified? Good question. No answer. And the answer he does give is unsatisfying for precisely the reason the questioner asserted: that administration lawyers "have essentially worked out a way that U.S. officials can torture detainees without running afoul of the law."

But this whole mess may blow up shortly. Blogger and law prof Mark Kleiman notes two interesting developments:

-- The two-star general conducting the Abu Ghraib investigation has asked to be replaced because he lacks authority to question those who outrank him.

-- Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh, in a speech at the University of Chicago, who says he's seen all the Abu Ghraib photos and videos, not just those that have been released, said, "You haven't begun to see evil..." then trailed off. He said, "horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run."

"Children? That tears it," says Kleiman. "That's going to be too strong even for the stomachs of the Bush-worshippers."

But it's worth noting blogger Matt Yglesias' misgivings, which I sadly confess to sharing:

” … I've been afraid since the first word of this started trickling out that it might be a dead end for American liberalism. The charge that [Bush has] been overzealous -- that he's gone too far, that he's done to much -- to try and defeat America's enemies is, I think, one that George W. Bush can live with. The American people may well feel that he really has gone too far in one or two points, but you'd rather have the guy who does too much to defend America than the guy who does too little. Pressing this line of argument makes it seem as if Democrats are saying that the government needs to be more evenhanded between the terrorists, on the one hand, and American soldiers on the other. Now, of course, I know that that's not the right way to understand all this at all, but I'm afraid it'll come across that way."

Still – children? In front of their mothers? If Hersh is right, I hope to God we haven't become too jaded to be outraged about that.

Posted by tbrown at 01:17 PM




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