Michael Mukasey, Defining Torture, and Waterboarding

Right-wing commentators are claiming that questioning of the nominee for the office of US attorny general on the matter of torture is hypocrisy since they had a chance to define what is torture in the law. The argument is entirely fallacious and a transparent attempt to dismiss criticisms of the administration’s policy of torture with a rhetorical prop.

Demanding an answer to the question is consistent with the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. People should read that act. It covers interpretations of the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, as well the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Since the Attorney General interprets and enforces the law, it is crucial to know his position on what constitutes torture according to these laws.

As for the Military Commissions Act of 2006, while this act indeed contravenes human rights standards, it also limits the ability of the president to torture people. However, in his signing statement, Bush said the law doesn’t apply to him. Therefore, since the Attorney General interprets and enforces the law for the president, it is especially crucial to know his position on what constitutes torture.

* * *

A presidential finding, signed in 2002 by President Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Attorney General John Ashcroft, approved of waterboarding as a legitimate interrogation technique. In other words, Bush approved of torturing prisoners, a war crime under international law. 

US generals designated waterboarding as an illegal practice in Vietnam 40 years ago. The above photograph, taken in 1968, of a US soldier involved in waterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner led to that soldier being court martialed. In 1947, the United States sentenced to 15 years hard labor Japanese officer Yukio Asano with war crimes for waterboarding a US civilian. Before that, in 1901, an Army major who used waterboarding against an Philippine insurgent was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor. Waterboarding dates back to at least the 1500s when it was used during the Italian Inquisition, and even way back then it was considered torture.

Waterboarding is torture. President Bush ordered officials to torture human being. Bush is a war criminal.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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