AUSTIN, Texas -- Such comfort. At the close of the G-8 summit, described by President Bush as "very successful" (except we didn't get anything we wanted), the president offered us comfort on the uncomfortable topic of torture: "Look, I'm going to say it one more time. The instructions went out to our people to adhere to the law. That ought to comfort you."
"We're a nations of laws," he went on. "We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at those laws, and that might comfort you."
There, don't you feel all better now? How comforting to know the Department of Justice memo on the subject of torture advises it "must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impaired bodily function or even death." (Memo available on washingtonpost.com.) Just beating the living crap out of someone doesn't count at all. The Geneva Conventions are not binding on us, nor are any other international agreements if it impedes the war effort, says the DOJ. As Professor Michael Froomkin of Miami University told Salon: "The lawyers who wrote it are guilty. The people who asked them to write it, who read it and who may have acted on it -- they're the people who really have to answer for it." Under the DOJ theory of the Constitution, the president can not only approve torture, he can also approve genocide.
The Department of Defense memo, reported by The Wall Street Journal, says the president can unilaterally nullify the federal war crimes statutes, describes how to evade federal court jurisdiction over Guantanamo and lays out ways for government employees to avoid being charged with torture under federal law. The CIA's contribution was to ask for explicit permission to use torture on suspected Al Qaeda operatives at Gitmo.
Excuse me, but what did they think was going to happen? The first thing one learns about torture is that it gets out of control in no time. Look at Spc. Sean Baker, who had the misfortune to play an uncooperative prisoner at Gitmo during a training exercise -- and had his head slammed against a steel floor so hard it resulted in traumatic brain injury. He was given a medical discharge and is now on nine medications, still suffering seizures.
The "ally-ally-in-come-free" attitude toward torture traveled from suspected Al Qaeda members at Gitmo (mind you, only "suspected," and there is considerable evidence a lot of the people we've been holding for years now at Gitmo are low-level types or even accidental pickups) to Iraqi civilians, 70 percent to 90 percent of whom, according to Gen. Taguba's report, were in prison by accident. So now we have a domestic Nuremberg. The Abu Ghraib guards really were "just following orders."
Also of great comfort is the National Catholic Reporter's story that during his visit to Rome, Bush told the Vatican's secretary of state, "Not all the American bishops are with me" on cultural issues. "The implication was that he hoped the Vatican would nudge them toward more explicit activism," said the Reporter. "While Bush was focusing primarily on the gay marriage question, he also had in mind others concerns, such as abortion and stem cell research."
The New York Times reported, "In his recent trip to Rome, President Bush asked a top Vatican official to push American bishops to speak out more about political issues." As Josh Marshall brightly observed: "I guess on one level we can say we've come a long way since 1960, when John F. Kennedy had to foreswear that he'd follow the instructions of the Pope in his decisions of governance. Today we have a Protestant born-again who tries to enlist the Pope to intervene in an American election."
This follows, of course, recent announcements by a few bishops that any Catholic politician who is pro-choice should be denied communion. One bishop even said voting for a pro-choice Catholic would result in denial of communion. For some reason, the bishops seem to refer only to John Kerry, rather than to pro-choice Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Ridge. What a mystery.
I take great comfort in the idea that the Pope will decide our policy on stem cell research, not to mention abortion and gay marriage. The Vatican is never wrong on scientific questions. Why, in 1992 the Catholic Church actually apologized to Galileo and said he was right after all -- the earth does revolve around the sun, instead of vice versa. And it only took them 400 years to figure it out. Less time than it would take George W. Bush to admit an error. I find that comforting.