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Chasing the Devil


"And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you--where would you hide...the laws all being flat? This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast...and if you cut them down...d'you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake."

- A Man for All Seasons

Memos of former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo assert that President Bush is an omnipotent wartime leader, his authority superseding petty domestic laws and international bans on the use of torture. In one of these memos, a definition of torture is provided, ruling out all acts but the most extreme, which intentionally subject a prisoner to pain likening to that of organ failure or imminent death; clearly, very restrictive standards were imposed.

However, the offering of the definition seems a bit superfluous, for if the wartime powers of the president cannot be assuaged, a definition of torture has little pertinence.

Among the seemingly unfounded complaints against torture has arisen the accusation that the U.S. has employed ships as "floating prisons," detaining those arrested in conjunction with the war on terror, in conveniently intangible locations. While Commander Jeffrey Gordon, a Navy spokesman, denied that U.S. naval ships house any detention centers, he did state that prisoners were sometimes held "for a few days" on ships during the initial detention process. When 'a few days' aboard a ship crosses over into an actual detention period, if such would be recognized at all, was not discussed.

Claims that prisoners aboard these ships were beaten worse even than those at Guantanamo are incredibly disconcerting, especially given the manner of treatment to which Guantanamo detainees are privileged. However, if the hidden and beaten prisoners do not feel they are about to die (or that they should be dead already), or if the prison guards are in fact denying their intent, that is, to cause severe and enduring mental and/or physical pain, then torture, of course, could not be occurring. Even if it were, according to Yoo and other similar minded men, this is nothing to complain about.

Be patriotic and don't think; if men in charge say it's permissible, then it must be so.

But one man could not convince the public of this truth, nor orchestrate the vast number of torture cases alone. Even a wartime executive with unfettered powers needs assistance occasionally. Cooperation by the CIA, among other organizations, has helped spread the use of torture while veiling knowledge of its existence.

In recently released CIA documents, where redaction by far prevails over content, the word "waterboarding" is visible -- and only the word. No description or judgment of the practice peaks through the blocks of solid black dominating the documents, offering no more information about CIA practices than was known before attempting to read the papers.

Claims that the U.S. government does not use torture or engage in questionable practices is called severely into question by such actions; if there were nothing to make people balk upon reading these documents, there would not be grounds for keeping information about the U.S. government from its own citizens. The use of releasing documents in this form, other than to attempt to appease those presumptuous people who claim the government, which derives power from its citizens, must be held accountable to these same citizens for its actions, is as clear as the blacked-out documents themselves.

The blatant disregard with which basic human rights have been accosted in pursuit of the safety of freedom is nothing less than appalling. Freedom cannot exist where human rights do not; terrorism cannot be ended by terrorizing. As such, these egregious violations of human rights have no legitimate defense.

From the ACLU: