By Dave Lindorff
Is anyone surprised that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says that the Bush/Cheney administration’s authorization of torture of captives has been consistently legal and in compliance with all treaties the US has signed, including the Geneva Conventions?
After all, she was at the meetings in the White House in 2001 at which various acts of torture, ranging from waterboarding to exposure to extreme heat and cold, to enforced long periods in stress positions, and to treatments which have not been disclosed (no doubt because they are so outrageous and offensive to common decency) were imagined, proposed and approved for use—meetings that were manifestly criminal in nature and in violation of international and US law.
The US was “a different place” in the wake of the 9-11 attacks, Rice told a group of people at a town hall meeting in Mountain View, Calif. on Thursday. But even though the administration’s “top priority” at the time was allegedly “preventing new attacks and not necessarily observing fine legal points,” the woman who at that time was Bush’s National Security Advisor, says “President Bush made clear that we were going to live up to our obligations at home and to our treaty obligations abroad."
Well of course she’d say that. But in fact, let’s look at those “fine legal points.”
The Third Geneva Convention Relating to the Treatment of Prisoners of War defines prohibited torture as follows:
“No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.”
It’s kind of hard to see how that rather thorough definition of torture—which as a treaty signatory is the definition by which the US is supposed to live—can accommodate the waterboarding, sexual humiliation, months in solitary confinement, faked executions, days in stress positions, etc. which were approved by Rice and her fellow inquisitors and the nation’s commander in chief.
But no matter. Rice says that even if things were kind of harsh back in 201 and 2002, today “the ground is different.” She says soothingly, "We now have in place a law that was not there in 2002 and 2003."
Well, actually no. Because when that new law was put in place by Congress, the president issued a signing statement saying that he would not be bound by it. Asserting a claim of “unitary executive,” created out of thin air by Deputy Assistant Attorney General John You and Assistant Attorney General (and now federal appeals court judge) Jay Bybee, Bush has claimed that for the duration of the so-called “War on Terror” he has all the powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches rolled into his own hands, and as such is not bound by acts of Congress, or by orders of the court. (Yoo and Bybee are also the mob attorneys who advised Bush that any interrogation methods that fell short of causing death or “pain equivalent to death or organ failure” would not be torture.)
The truth is that the Bush/Cheney administration, with the clear knowledge and authority of the president and vice president and of Rice herself, went on to torture captives in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo Bay, and in countless “black sites” around the globe, well into 2006 at least, and continues to torture captives now. Those tortured have even included children.
Condi Rice seems to be hoping to return to Stanford University after she leaves office at the end of this benighted and criminal administration this coming January. If she does, she will, I am sure, have to at some point confront my colleague Barbara Olshansky, who has just spent her first year there at the Stanford Law School as a professor of international human rights. Barbara, who co-authored “The Case for Impeachment” with me (St. Martin’s Press, 2006), was for several years the lead attorney for several hundred of the detainees at Guantanamo, and has also looked into the conditions under which US prisoners are being held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan—another torture center that got its start down that road with the capture and torture of John Lindh back in October, 2001—the first documented case of such abuse.
One would hope that the students of Stanford would raise such a stink about having a war criminal like Rice running their school that they would either prevent her from getting the job, or drive her from the campus.
Until then, the least we can do is make her explain how waterboarding and other measures applied under her guidance and with her approval as National Security Advisor, can possibly comply with the Geneva Conventions which the US has signed.
DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based investigative journalist and columnist. His latest book is “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). He is working on a new book on the reason’s for indicting Bush and Cheney for war crimes after they leave office. His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net