The US is refraining from defining waterboarding and other questionable interrogation methods it used to apply to terrorist suspects as torture, possibly with a view to using them once again someday.
Years after the Bush administration left office, many feel President Obama is not doing enough to make up for America’s past mistakes. This includes torture treatment of terrorist suspects by the US investigators.
Such torture techniques include waterboarding, stress positions and other methods of interrogation welcomed into American secret service after 9/11 paved the way for the War on Terror.
Former US President George W. Bush once soothed the nation that “The American people need to know we’re using techniques within the law to protect them.”
Two years after George W. Bush left the White House, the former commander-in-chief admitted his stamp of approval for the use of interrogation techniques like waterboarding, dubbed inhuman and illegal under US law and the Geneva Conventions.
Why did George W. Bush consider waterboarding legal?
“Because the lawyer said it was legal,” Bush declared, specifying he was told that waterboarding did not fall within the anti-torture act.
“I’m not a lawyer. But you’re going to trust the judgment of those around you, and I do,” George W. Bush said.
The Bush administration also chose to disregard the judgment of a top advisor who warned that the CIA’s interrogation of terror suspects equated to felony war crimes.
According to a secret memo obtained by Wired magazine, in a memo dated February 15, 2006 State Department counselor Philip Zelikow warned the White House that controversial interrogation techniques such as water boarding, stress positions and cramped confinement are prohibited under US law.
“Under American law, there is no precedent for excusing treatment that is intrinsically ‘cruel’ even if the state asserts compelling need to use it,” the memo said.
“I think there needs to be an accounting in the United States of what was done over the past 10 years, in the name of Americans,” argues Peter Van Buren, a former Foreign Service officer with the State Department.
Outlawing torture: action needed
Two weeks before taking office, US President Barack Obama steered clear of citing America’s historic commitments to international justice.
“Obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices. I don’t believe that anyone is above the law,” insisted Barack Obama, noting though that “On the other hand, I also have a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backward.”
That motivation must have driven Obama’s US Justice Department, when in June 2011, it dropped 99 out of 101 cases against CIA interrogators over the use of torture.
The definition of torture in the US requires proof that the injury is substantiated by bleeding or some other physical harm. Waterboarding is a technique which uses water to suffocate a person, provoking a drowning sensation. This causes intense psychological pain, though leaving no external injuries.
This is exactly what practitioners are after: actually torturing suspects while having technical impunity by eluding a definition of torture.
Peter Van Buren believes this method of information extraction, among others, is being kept in abeyance for use at a later date.
“I’m very afraid that current administration wants to keep those options open. They don’t want to label these techniques as crimes or torture because that would prohibit them from using them,” illuminates Van Buren. “By leaving that legal definition, however slightly gray, they leave themselves the option of applying these techniques once again and that is what is frightening here,” he warns.
Scholars, attorneys and human rights experts around the world have called for the prosecution of senior Bush administration officials who designed and ordered torture tactics.
“There is a precedent because after the WWII, the United States actually executed Japanese soldiers who had used torture – water torture – against American prisoners,” reveals Neil Clark, journalist and contributor to The Guardian.
“They took action against the Japanese when they did this. The US has been on record as opposing water torture when carried out by other countries. So there is a clear legal case to say that action must be taken,” calls Clark.
However, critics say the unspoken agreement within countries proclaiming to pioneer democracy, is never to turn on your own.
“The problem is that in the West, we make great claims, we promote our great democracies, but there is a kind of stitch-up between the elite parties that they will not press charges and they will not take legal action against the crimes of previous administrations,” Neil Clark nailed.
With all the controversy over the use of torture, renditions, and secret prisons, America’s moral position around the world has undoubtedly shifted. And while the US will likely continue barking the beacons of freedom and democracy, critics say the more important question to ask is: who is listening anymore?