British human rights lawyer Phillipe Sands wrote in Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values that the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions

was not a case of following the logic of the law but rather was designed to give effect to a prior decision to take the gloves off and allow coercive interrogation; it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall. The new interrogation techniques did not arise spontaneously from the field but came about as a direct result of intense pressure … from Rumsfeld’s office. The Yoo-Bybee Memo was not simply some theoretical document … but rather played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantánamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.

“The fingerprints of the most senior lawyers in the administration were all over the design and implementation of the abusive interrogation policies.”

Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Richard Addington, former Justice Department lawyers Jay Bybee and John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, and former Defense Department counsel James Haynes “became, in effect, a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse.”

Finally, there is the summary of the Senate Armed Services Committee released last month: “The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority.” (For a video summary of this history from Human Rights First, go here.)

Proceeding briskly from unconscionable ignorance to an outrageous conclusion, Newsweek’s Taylor and Thomas praise Bush for vetoing the law that would have required the CIA to use “no investigative methods other than those permitted in the Army Filed Manual” because “these are extremely restrictive.” Indeed, they are restrictive: they are the rules that every previous administration has adhered to since World War II, because they prevent Americans from committing exactly the same kind of war crimes we prosecuted at Nuremberg.

For the record, this is the truth about the torture authorized at the very top of the Bush administration. There is no evidence that it ever produced any useful information, except for the uncorroborated boasts of Cheney and his henchmen. There are more than forty retired admirals and generals who have lobbied congressmen and senators continuously because they know that these methods are not only immoral and illegal but also completely counter-productive. And every experienced Army interrogator agrees that non-coercive methods produce more reliable information than the ones Cheney plucked from the “dark side” in an criminally misguided effort to protect America.

And then there are these words from the American who conducted 300 interrogations in Iraq and supervised 1,000:

Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives. I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me – unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.


That still leaves the administration’s final defense: the fact that there has been no additional terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. The trouble is, this claim obscures the fact that every other administration since Pearl Harbor can boast of the same accomplishment, without having committed any war crimes-–the war crimes of which the Bush administration is certainly guilty , according to retired Major General Anthony Taguba, who authored the official army study of the American outrages committed at Abu Ghraib.

Charles Kaiser is the author of The Gay Metropolis and 1968 in America. He has been media editor for Newsweek, a member of the metro staff of The New York Times, and a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, where he covered the press and book publishing. To learn more, visit charleskaiser.com.