Yesterday the House narrowly passed a bill that would outlaw a set of harsh interrogation methods. Predictably, President Bush threatened to veto it.
The administration particularly opposes restricting the CIA to interrogation methods approved by the military in 2006. That document prohibits forcing detainees to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner; placing hoods or sacks over detainees' heads or duct tape over their eyes; beating, shocking, or burning detainees; threatening them with military dogs; exposing them to extreme heat or cold; conducting mock executions; depriving them of food, water, or medical care; and waterboarding.
On Wednesday a group of thirty retired military leaders, including General Taguba, sent a letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees urging them to pass the bill.
We believe it is vital to the safety of our men and women in uniform that the United States not sanction the use of interrogation methods it would find unacceptable if inflicted by the enemy against captured Americans. That principle, embedded in the Army Field Manual, has guided generations of American military personnel in combat.The current situation, in which the military operates under one set of interrogation rules that are public and the CIA operates under a separate, secret set of rules, is unwise and impractical. In order to ensure adherence across the government to the requirements of the Geneva Conventions and to maintain the integrity of the humane treatment standards on which our own troops rely, we believe that all U.S. personnel - military and civilian - should be held to a single standard of humane treatment reflected in the Army Field Manual.
Of course they're right--from the beginning, the two systems were a recipe for disaster. But the letter also shows just how far down the rabbit hole we've gone on this issue. The Geneva Conventions are, pace Gonzales, still in effect. They prohibit torture. Current U.S. law also prohibits torture. That the president would threaten to veto a bill banning specific acts of torture--all of which are already banned by the Army Field Manual, all of which inflict cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment--amounts to a tacit admission that we have and will continue to torture, and that the president wants us to be able to. As the retired military leaders correctly argue, these tactics endanger U.S. personnel and interests and are already illegal. That's why the Army Field Manual proscribes them. Bush's refusal to explicitly ban these abuses--most likely by deploying the canard that doing so would reveal our methods to the enemy--is not surprising, regrettably. Rather, it is just another piece of evidence demonstrating the president's resolve to protect the space for illegal behavior helpfully carved out for him by his vice president and their pliant legal counselors.I don't have much faith that the Senate will grow a spine and call Bush's bluff. But they should. The hour is late.