New Bush-Era Torture Memo Released, Raises Questions About What Has Changed And What Hasn’t
by Dan Foomkin/ Huffington Post/ April 6, 2012
WASHINGTON — A six-year-old memo from within the George W. Bush administration that came to light this week acknowledges that White House-approved interrogation techniques amounted to “war crimes.” The memo’s release has called attention to what has changed since President Barack Obama took office, but it also raises questions about what hasn’t.
The Bush White House tried to destroy every copy of the memo, written by then-State Department counselor Philip Zelikow. Zelikow examined tactics like waterboarding — which simulates drowning — and concluded that there was no way they were legal, domestically or internationally.
“We are unaware of any precedent in World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or any subsequent conflict for authorized, systematic interrogation practices similar to those in question here,” Zelikow wrote. The memo has been obtained by George Washington University’s National Security Archive and Wired’s Spencer Ackerman.
On his second full day in office, President Barack Obama formally disavowed torture, banning the types of techniques Zelikow had objected to so strongly in his memo.
But while Democrats are using the memo as evidence of a new post-torture era under Obama, human rights activists, civil libertarians and opponents of excessive secrecy say they see many ways in which the country’s moral compass is still askew — and in some ways even more so than before.
“If your baseline is the Bush years, it’s night and day,” said Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive. “If your baselines are a set of first principles, as the ACLU calls for, or as us openness advocates call for, then your situation is: Is the glass half full or the glass half empty?”
Obama has refused to pursue legal action against those who may have engaged in law-breaking under his predecessor’s watch — saying he prefers to “look forward instead of looking backward.” To some, this indicates there is little assurance that the U.S. won’t torture again in the future.
“The administration has clearly disavowed torture, and that is an important and welcome thing,” said Jameel Jaffer, a national security expert at the American Civil Liberties Union.
“But they’re steadily building a framework for impunity.”
When it comes to issues like warrantless surveillance, “continuity is the rule and not the exception and in fact in some very important areas this administration has gone even farther than the Bush Administration did,” Jaffer said.
Most alarming, says Jafeer, is the issue of the targeted killing of American citizens who are terrorism suspects.
Jaffer said the idea that the government can mark an American for death without any judicial oversight is something the framers of the Constitution “would have found totally foreign to the project they were engaged in.”
“I think there are many Democrats out there who are quiet because they trust President Obama,” Jaffer said. But, he added, “there’s no doubt that the power we’re giving President Obama will be available to a future president.” (Continued)
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