Just Say No to Use of Torture; Our Opinion: U.S. Officials Should Declare Ban on `Water-Boarding'
The Miami Herald
October 30, 2006
Vice President Dick Cheney says he has been criticized as the ''vice president for torture,'' an appellation he apparently dislikes. Small wonder. By appearing to endorse the interrogation technique called ''water-boarding,'' which is banned by the U.S. Army and condemned by human-rights experts, he is condoning a form of torture that should never be used by U.S. forces in or out of uniform.
Mr. Cheney was replying last week to a question about giving prisoners a ''dunk in water'' (wink, wink), and said its continued use was a ''no-brainer.'' White House press secretary Tony Snow tried to limit the damage afterward by saying the question was loosely worded and the vice president would never talk about water-boarding.
That dodge won't work. The interrogation tactic that has drawn criticism is water-boarding, not a baptismal-type dunk, and Mr. Cheney knows it. It is disingenuous to suggest the reference was to anything else.
More than a century ago, when U.S. forces were fighting in the Philippines, a similar torture technique called the ''water cure'' was used by one Major Edwin F. Glenn. At his subsequent court-martial, he defended its use as an urgent necessity against a savage foe.
This is the same argument used today by those who agree with Mr. Cheney. As recounted in the recent book Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power, the military judge rejected the argument because it ``attempted to establish the principle that a belligerent who is at war with a savage or semi-civilized enemy may conduct his operations in violation of the rules of civilized war. This no modern State will admit for an instant.''
Those same words should apply to today's war on terror. Moreover, the descent into barbaric treatment of prisoners cannot be justified on the grounds that it works -- i.e., the end justifies the means -- because experts don't buy it.
''No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices,'' Lt. Gen. Jeff Kimmons, a senior intelligence officer, said at a news conference at the Pentagon on Sept. 6 after the release of a new Army Field Manual that requires humane treatment of terrorism suspects.
If Mr. Cheney disagrees with that assessment, let him say so clearly. If not, he can repair the damage by stating unequivocally that water-boarding is a form of torture and will not be used by U.S. interrogators under penalty of criminal prosecution. Better yet, President Bush should say it.
War is no excuse to set aside rules that outlaw torture. In the end, it is the nobility of our actions, not merely the rightness of our goals, that distinguishes us from a savage and unprincipled enemy.