Editorial in the Times (UK): Bush Bears Blame for Torture

Roundup: Talking About History

George W. Bush authorised the use of torture. He did so using the most cowardly means: the legal loophole. The Obama Administration yesterday released details of memorandums drawn up by officials that outline the kinds of stress positions, physical abuse and mental punishments that US interrogators could use while remaining within the letter of the law. These practices, of course, far from comply with the spirit of the law.

They make disturbing reading. They detail the simulated drowning, face slapping, stress positions and forced nudity that the Bush Administration's lawyers insisted did not amount to torture since they did not inflict severe mental or physical pain. The casuistry is breathtaking. In clinical detail, the four memorandums discuss the effects of a long list of coercive techniques, even going through a “prototypical interrogation”.

This is torture in all but legalistic terminology. And to those repeatedly using such techniques the prisoner's physical and mental pain were cumulative and obvious. President Obama is right to outlaw such practices categorically. He is right to call them a “dark and painful chapter” in US history. And he is right in saying that they undermine the country's moral authority.

Torture is always degrading, as much to the perpetrators as to the victims. Any country sanctioning such obscenities comes closer to the barbarism that it claims to be fighting. To be effective, interrogation may be harsh. A terrorist who has planned or perpetrated atrocities can expect rough handling. But this is very different from waterboarding, which is the simulation of death.

Mr Bush is first and foremost to blame. He showed a failure of moral leadership on torture. Furthermore, he stuck by a legalistic formula to provide US forces with the cover that essentially authorised cruel and unusual punishment. When asked at a press conference after the 2004 G8 summit meeting at Sea Island whether officials had worked out a way to torture detainees without running foul of the law, he simply retorted that the US was a nation of law that abided by the law. He made the law the cover for torture...

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