Do laws matter?
San Francisco Chronicle
Monday, October 8, 2007

Does the United States torture terrorism suspects? Will we ever know
for sure?

We thought that we had settled this matter back in 2005, when Congress
passed a law banning the practice of torture. We were wrong.

Secret Justice Department legal opinions on interrogation were leaked
to the press last week, and apparently, they offer a reversal of the
administration's stated policy in 2004 renouncing torture. The word
apparently applies because the administration has so far refused to
disclose those memos to House and Senate Democrats, though the
administration maintains that certain lawmakers - the pliant ones, we
suspect - have been briefed.

President Bush defended his administration on Friday, claiming that,
"This government does not torture people."

Well, of course we don't torture them. We call freezing conditions,
slaps to the head, and simulated drowning (a friendlier term than
water-boarding, we presume) something else in this country.

We call it "tough, safe, necessary and lawful," in the words of White
House press secretary Dana Perino. We call it "fully consistent with
the legal standards," according to Justice Department spokesman Brian
Roehrkasse. But we certainly don't call it torture, because torture is
"abhorrent," according to the Justice Department's 2004
statements. Torture is "cruel, inhumane, and degrading," according to
the Geneva Conventions. And, perhaps most importantly, torture is
illegal, according to the laws passed by Congress.

It's not just the memos - written with the approval of the
now-blessedly-departed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales - that have
Congress hopping mad. It's also the administration's insistence on
secrecy and broad power for itself, against all available evidence
that those qualities have been positive for the American people and
America's place in the world. Making matters worse is the fact that
the memos seem to contradict exactly what the administration said
merely a few months prior, and now it is asking Congress to show trust
in its decision to keep the memos classified?

The administration has lost all credibility on this issue. Its rote
denials of wrongdoing are simply insulting. Semantics - like simply
choosing new words for certain practices once named "torture" - and
stretching for legal loopholes is neither a smart nor effective way
for the executive branch to conduct itself. In case the administration
hadn't noticed, we're at war, and there are real threats to American
security. In order to properly combat those threats, the American
people need an executive branch we can trust to obey the guidelines
we've set out for it. On the matter of torture, this administration is
definitely not the one.

Congress is right to press for disclosure. And if lawmakers continue
meeting resistance from the executive branch, then Congress must do
all that it can within the guidelines of the law to insist on it.

This article appeared on page B - 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle