Thursday, December 30, 2004

Diving For Cover

From the well if we knew you would be so sensitive about it file comes an about face from the Office of Legal Counsel on the torture memo scandal.

Cue the collar-pulling anguished take:

This second effort by the Bush administration to parse the legal meaning of the word "torture" was provoked by the damaging political fallout from the disclosure this summer of the first memo, drafted in August 2002 and criticized by human rights lawyers and experts around the globe.

Many of the critics charged that the first memo, which they said laid out a very narrow view of what behavior might constitute torture and was crafted to help interrogators at the CIA evade prosecution, created the context for a record of persistent ill treatment by that agency and the U.S. military of detainees at prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba's Guantanamo Bay and undisclosed locations.

The Justice Department published a revised and expansive definition late yesterday of acts that constitute torture under domestic and international law, overtly repudiating one of the most criticized policy memorandums drafted during President Bush's first term.

In a statement published on the department's Web site, the head of its Office of Legal Counsel declared that "torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and international norms" and went on to reject a previous statement that only "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death" constitute torture punishable by law.

Some wonder whether this whole "my friend Al Gonzalez is nominated to be Attorney General of the You-nita States and has some hearings coming up" may be the motive behind the about face. Really?

"Clearly the release of this now is backfilling for Gonzales's confirmation hearing," said I. Michael Greenberger, a senior Justice Department official in the Clinton administration who now heads the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland. "These memos have been a tremendous source of embarrassment to both Gonzales and the administration."

Greenberger said that recent accounts of widespread abuse at U.S. detention facilities -- including disclosures that military interrogation practices were sharply criticized over the past two years by FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency personnel in the field -- has given ammunition to those within the administration who favor adherence to international norms against torture.

Yet Greenberger leaves room for the possibility that there is a real change in the policy.

"It could be that this is not just a cynical ploy but a real sign of change," Greenberger said.

Well I suppose it could be...maybe they really are seeing the error of their ways...maybe they see we aren't any better than the people we seek to prosecute by acting that way...maybe...

Nah, who do they think they're kidding?

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