There has been much rhetoric with regard to the memorandums prepared by President Bush’s Justice Department regarding how — not if but how — prisoners of the United States would be tortured.
The memos detail violations of treaties to which the United States is a party. Thus, they point to violations of U.S. law.
But they also detail assaults on the 8th amendment to the Constitution, which bars cruel and usual treatment of those confined by U.S. authorities.
The rhetoric runs the gamut from the frustratingly inappropriate — President Obama’s line that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past” — to the refreshing — MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann’s response to Obama: “Mr. President, you are wrong. What you describe would be not “spent energy” but catharsis.”
But the question remains: What happens when we move beyond rhetoric to action?
What, then, should be done?
Let’s begin with the basic premise that action is necessary.
As Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, D-Wisconsin, says: “The details made public in these memos paint a horrifying picture and reveal how the Bush administration’s lawyers and top officials were complicit in torture. The so-called enhanced interrogation program was a violation of our core principles as a nation and those responsible should be held accountable.”
There are so many abuses that demand a response — up to and including those of former President Bush and former Vice President Cheney — that some ask: Where should we begin?
To that question, there is an easy and appropriate answer.
Key memos on torture techniques were prepared in 2002 by Jay Bybee, who then served as assistant Attorney General. Indeed, as the PBS program “Frontline” noted in its review of the abuses at the Department of Bush: “The most notorious document among the memos drafted by President Bush’s legal advisers as they analyzed how far the U.S. could go to extract intelligence from those captured in the war on terror is known as the ‘Bybee memo.'”
The Senate Armed Services Committee report on the torture memos also points to Bybee: “The other OLC opinion issued on August 1, 2002 is known commonly as the Second Bybee memo. That opinion, which responded to a request from the CIA, addressed the legality of specific interrogation tactics. While the full list of techniques remains classified, a publicly released CIA document indicates that waterboarding was among those analyzed and approved.”