Torture as Foreign Policy


Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country. We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being. —George W. Bush, June 22, 2004, after the photographs of abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib were made public

Republicans in the House apparently think that torture done quietly for us by others is something that not only shouldn’t be challenged, but actually should be encouraged as long as it’s done discreetly. —Congressman Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, The Boston Globe, October 6, 2004

There has been much talk of values during the presidential campaign, and from the president, the doctrine that exporting the ideals and practice of constitutional freedom can bring liberty to parts of the world afflicted by tyrannical regimes.

However, on October 8, the House Republican leadership—with Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader Tom DeLay in charge—rolled over the Democrats to pass the 9-11 Recommendations Implementation Act, H.R. 10, ostensibly to enact recommendations by the bipartisan, independent 9-11 Commission to actually make our intelligence apparatus live up to its name.

As drafted—with no input at all from the Democrats—section 3032 of the bill empowers the secretary of homeland security to remove “certain aliens,” including those on American soil, from the protections of the international Covenant Against Torture (which the U.S. signed) when the secretary finds those “aliens” a danger to the U.S.

Then—dig this—section 3033 gives this imperious secretary of homeland security essentially unchecked power to deport or transfer a foreign person to any country in the world—regardless of whether the foreign person is a citizen of that country or has ever been there.

This means, as debate in the House conclusively confirmed, that this person detained by us can be sent to countries that torture their prisoners, so that the torturers can extract information from them that our interrogators can’t. And some of these detainees have no U.S. charges against them.

As noted here before, these “extraordinary renditions,” as they’re known in the torture trade, have already been conducted secretly by the CIA. On October 6, 2004, Shaun Waterman of United Press International noted that “at present, the procedure is carried out in a covert, extra-legal fashion by CIA operatives in chartered Gulfstream jets . . .

“U.S. law [until now] explicitly prohibits the deportation or removal of people from the United States to countries . . . where there is a reasonable expectation they might be tortured . . . ” (Emphasis added.)

While the House approved violating that rule of law, the Senate passed a 9-11 recommendations act without a torture provision. As of this writing, a House-Senate conference committee will decide whether torture stays in the final bill. If it does, America will tell the world that torture is a weapon we righteously use against terrorism.

Americans have been repelled by Al Qaeda’s beheading of its captives in Iraq, but the House Republican leadership does not flinch at sending our captives to be tortured—though presumably not beheaded, since they have to be sent back to us with their “confessions.”

In the House, the opposition leader against this official, brutal revision of what the president called our “values, “our soul,” “our being” has been Edward Markey. Markey had previously introduced a bill, hardly noticed by the media, that would have forbidden any rendition of anybody under American control to countries that torture.

Now, Markey said on the floor of the House (October 7) during the debate on the torture sections of H.R. 10: “It’s outrageous that these provisions have been snuck into the 9-11 bill behind closed doors when the 9-11 Commission specifically called for the United States to ‘offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the law . . . ‘ Nothing could be farther from the 9-11 Commission’s intent.”

It should also be noted that in addition to violating the international convention against torture, Bush’s leader in the House broke our own law, section 2242 of the 1998 Foreign Affairs Reform and Restructuring Act, which says the policy of the United States is “not to expel, extradite, or otherwise effect the involuntary return of any person to a country in which there are substantial grounds for believing the person would be in danger of being subjected to torture, regardless of whether the person is physically present in the United States”—or had been captured by the CIA in another country.

Among others opposing American involvement in torture are the American Civil Liberties Union, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, members of the 9-11 Commission itself, the American Bar Association, Human Rights First, Freedom House, and Amnesty International. A joint statement signed by some of these groups emphasizes that the torture provisions “undermine the credibility of U.S. efforts to promote human rights and democracy in the Arab world, which President Bush has identified as a key element in the Administration’s long-term strategy to combat terrorism . . . ”

Before the vote on October 8, John Ashcroft’s Justice Department supported the torture provisions, but the White House said the president did not. However, Bush gave no indication that he would veto H.R. 10 if the torture sections remained. Next week: a last-minute Republican trick in the House to get the president off the hook with an amendment that allows the permanent imprisonment of detainees here without due process—or the sending of them to countries that torture, if we get assurance they won’t be tortured there. The first part is unconstitutional; the second part is fraudulent.