An appeal from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture:
We now have strong evidence that, as many of us have suspected, the abuses perpetrated on detainees over the past 7 years were not simply the acts of "rogue" agents or low ranking soldiers, but were instead planned and approved of by top Administration officials - including the President himself, as well as Vice-President Dick Cheney. ABC News and the Associated Press recently reported that the President's top national security advisors met in the White House, on numerous occasions and with the President's approval, to authorize interrogators to torture high-value detainees (by waterboarding them and subjecting them to sleep deprivation, among other abuses). Unfortunately, these dramatic revelations have been largely ignored by the media and the public.
Please help inform the public about the fact that top Administration officials were directly involved in planning the torture of high-value detainees by writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper expressing your deep concern about learning that your leaders participated in the torture planning meetings and your disappointment that the media and the public have not responded to the news about the meetings with the appropriate vigor and outrage.
--Linda Gustitus, NRCAT Board President, and Rich Killmer, NRCAT Executive Director
Click here for NRCAT's sample letter and letter-writing guidelines.
The recent revelations about presidential awareness and approval of torture techniques came on the heels of another under-reported development in early March -- President Bush's veto of legislation that would have prohibited the use of brutal techniques of interrogation by American intelligence agents. About this unprecedented, formal blessing of torture as national policy by the President of the United States, Anthony Lewis comments:
No one should be in any doubt that torture was what President Bush had in mind. No one should be fooled by Orwellian talk of "enhanced interrogation techniques."
What Congress sought to outlaw was such things as hanging prisoners from the ceiling by their wrists, beating them, depriving them of food and water, preventing them from sleeping for days, keeping them in freezing temperatures, using electric shocks on them, and subjecting them to waterboarding—an almost-drowning technique that was used by the Inquisition and by Japanese soldiers who were successfully prosecuted for it by the United States after World War II. Torture....
The corrupting effects of the adoption of torture as an American practice have been widespread. First of all, on the law. The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, which makes binding interpretations of the law for the federal government, issued secret opinions defining torture away to the vanishing point, saying it must be equivalent in pain to "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death"—and adding that Congress could not stop the President from ordering the use of torture. (The whole idea of secret official opinions defining the law should be anathema in a free republic, one that has boasted from the beginning of having a government of laws, not men. Secret laws are the hallmark of tyrannies.)
The Justice Department opinions were not abstractions. They were immediately taken up by political appointees at the Pentagon and led directly to the torture of dozens of prisoners and the killing of some at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan....
Lewis concludes his piece with this quote from Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson, US Army (Ret.), former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell:
We must start now to recognize our crimes and our complicity. We are all guilty, and we must all take action in whatever way we can. Torture and abuse are not American. They are foreign to us and always should be. We need to exorcise them from our souls and make amends.
(Anthony Lewis, "The Terror President," New York Review of Books, May 1, 2008)