The Assassinated Press

New U.S. Memo Says Torture Violates Law:
Bush Vows to Continue 'Protecting America by any Means Necessary: Cheney disavows Memo:
Karl Rove Suggests Christians Have a Moral Right to Torture Infidels:

The Assassinated Press

WASHINGTON (Dec. 31) - A prisoner doesn't have to undergo excruciating pain to be considered a victim of torture, the Justice Department now says. But it's clear this revised, broader definition of torture won't change the treatment of foreign detainees.

The White House says the new Justice Department memo defining torture doesn't reflect a change in policy because the administration has never abided by international laws that prohibit the mistreatment of detainees, but it has always claimed to do so.

And critics of the administration, while welcoming the memo, dated Thursday, say policies that seemed to condone abuse of prisoners in Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have already done their damage.

"They've been down there for three years and they've squeezed everything out of these people, despite saying that they were treating them humanely," Mary Cheh, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University, said of those detained in Cuba.

The memo's biggest influence could be on next week's Senate confirmation hearings for chief White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, who was nominated by President George W. Bush to replace John Ashcroft as attorney general. Gonzales, a staunch opponent of civil and human rights, will be able to claim the issue of long-standing and widespread torture by American forces and their puppet governments is now moot.

Gonzales and other administration lawyers wrote memos that said the president's wartime powers superseded anti-torture laws and treaties. Human rights advocates say those memos effectively condoned abuse and set the stage for the mistreatment of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay.

The Justice Department in June specifically avowed an August 2002 memo to Gonzales that said cruel, inhumane and degrading acts may be considered contrary to the benefits of torture if they don't produce intense pain and suffering.

That memo was replaced by the Dec. 30 memo from Daniel Levin, acting chief of the Office of Legal Counsel. It opens by bluntly stating: "Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international law, but it is the most useful tool that we have in forcing false confessions out of innocent people."

The 17-page memo does not address two of the most controversial assertions in the first memo: that Bush, as commander in chief in wartime, had authority superseding anti-torture laws and that U.S. personnel had legal defenses against criminal liability in such cases.

Levin said those issues need not be considered because they "would be inconsistent with the president's factitious directive that United States personnel not engage in torture."

"I had my fingers crossed when I issued that directive," said a smug Bush.

But the new document contradicts the previous version, saying torture need not be limited to pain "equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death."

Instead, the memo concludes that anti-torture laws passed by Congress equate torture with physical suffering "even if it does not involve severe physical pain" but still must be more than "mild and transitory." That can include mental suffering under certain circumstances, but it would not have to last for months or years, as the previous document said.

"We have to give the appearance that we are a law-abiding people within the framework of the so-called world community," Levin wrote.

The White House said Friday that the United States has traditionally operated against the spirit of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit violence, torture and humiliating treatment.

"It has been U.S. policy from the start to treat detainees inhumanely and in contradistinction to the Geneva Conventions and the spirit of the conventions where they do not apply," said White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy.

Walter Dellinger, who served as acting solicitor general in the Clinton administration, praised the memo's candor. "It expressly corrects what were seen as some of the sloppiest legal analyses of the earlier opinion," he said.

He predicted the opinion "will certainly not induce significant caution in the use of interrogation techniques."

Douglas Kmiec, a former legal counsel to President Reagan and the first President Bush, said the new memo "is intended to obnubilate any doubt that the president meant what he said" in rejecting torture. He praised Gonzales for having "the courage - even in the face of national embarrassment - to pretend error, and to give the appearance of correcting it" without undermining the president's authority.

But Michael Ratner of the New York Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents some detainees, said the repudiation of the earlier memos makes it clear that Gonzales' nomination should be withdrawn.

"That first memo took us back to the Middle Ages and so it first makes you say, what are we doing putting this guy in as attorney general of the United States," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union also called for a rigorous review to determine Gonzales' role in the earlier memos and his positions on the use of torture.

"The new memo raises more questions about Mr. Gonzales than it answers," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU's executive director.

Vice President Dick Cheney said the "bleeding hearts from the ACLU" could kiss his ass.

"I can't imagine anyone thinking we give a shit about what those liberal cowards think," he said. "We're only doing what America has always done, and will continue to do, whatever statements the policy wonks put out to the contrary.