Bush to McCain and Congress: Blow Me

Last year, members of Congress, led by Sen. John McCain (who has some first-hand knowledge of the ineffectiveness of torture as an interrogation tactic), passed a bill to ban torture of suspected terrorists and insurgents by U.S. personnel. On December 15, President Bush signed the bill into law.

Specifically, the McCain Amendment says the following:

No person in the custody or under the effective control of the Department of Defense or under detention in a Department of Defense facility shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.

The Army Field Manual in question is FM 34-52, “Intelligence Interrogation”, last updated in 1992. Pages 1-7 through 1-9 of this document lay out a prohibition on torture very clearly:

US policy expressly prohibit[s] acts of violence or intimidation, including physical or mental torture, threats, insults, or exposure to inhumane treatment as a means of or aid to interrogation.
Such illegal acts are not authorized and will not be condoned by the US Army. Acts in violation of these prohibitions are criminal acts punishable under the [Uniform Code of Military Justice]. If there is doubt as to the legality of a proposed form of interrogation not specifically authorized in this manual, the advice of the command judge advocate should be sought before using the method in question…
In attempting to determine if a contemplated approach or technique would be considered unlawful, consider these two tests:

  • Given all the surrounding facts and circumstances, would a reasonable person in the place of the person being interrogated believe that his rights, as guaranteed under both international and US law, are being violated or withheld, or will be violated or withheld if he fails to cooperate.
  • If your contemplated actions were perpetrated by the enemy against US [Prisoners of War], you would believe such actions violate international or US law.

If you answer yes to either of these tests, do not engage in the contemplated action.

Like I said, pretty clear.

Now that it has signed the bill, the Administration has apparently decided to show us all just how seriously they take preventing torture in the field. How? By perverting the Army Field Manual:

It’s reported that the Army is forwarding a classified addendum to the new Army Field Manual on interrogation operations. According to these reports, the 10-page addendum provides dozens of examples of what procedures may and may not be used by interrogators, and it informs commanders on the circumstances for their employment…
An addendum to the Field Manual that details secret techniques and sets out secret rules for their employment undermines this entire effort. A secret list such as this contradicts our efforts to demonstrate that we are an open society governed by the rule of law and that the U.S. military respects human rights.

Let me make this clear: the McCain Amendment made the rules outlined in FM 34-52 the governing rules of military interrogation. So the Administration, in response, is changing FM 34-52 — and doing so in such a way that nobody knows what the changes are, except for Administration officials and interrogators in the field.

Why? So they can look Congress in the eye and say “Yes, we comply with FM 34-52” without having to give up torture as a tool of interrogation.

If they truly believe that torture is an indispensable tool, the President should not have signed the bill to which the McCain Amendment was attached; or they should make their changes to the Field Manual out in the open where Congress and the rest of the public can review them. By sneaking them into a classified addendum, the Administration thumbs its nose at Congress’ oversight authority — and, indeed, at the elementary concept of the rule of law.

All so that they can continue to use interrogation methods that are widely agreed to be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. As a correspondent of Andrew Sullivan’s memorably put it:

The only observation I felt your essay lacked is this: Torture is the tool of the slothful. The main attraction to those who defend the use of torture is how easily and quickly a suspect can be broken. Unlike other forms of interrogation, torture requires only a small amount of training, no particular understanding of the suspect, and scant concern for the veracity of what is revealed. It requires only the willingness to do to another human being what one would not do to an animal. Understanding torture as the lazy person’s tool makes it a bit more comprehensible why the Bush Administration would be the first in American history to defend the practice.

The lengths to which the lazy will go to avoid having to work are astounding indeed.