“The torture presidency,” why impeachment is the only remedy

More fuel for the fire – it appears that the CIA, under the explicit direction of the executive branch of the U.S. Government (translate: Bush administration) tortured at least three suspects in interrogation. The “technique” used is waterboarding, a medieval torture technique designed to convince the person experiencing it that they are drowning and about to die a horrible death. This in turn is expected to convince the person being waterboarded to give up information on terrorists.

The Attorney General nominee explicitly says in his testimony before Congress:

He said that while he personally found waterboarding and similarinterrogation methods “repugnant,†he could not call them illegal. Onereason, he said, was to avoid any implication that intelligenceofficers and their bosses had broken the law.

“I would not want any uninformed statement of mine made during aconfirmation process to present our own professional interrogators inthe field, who must perform their duty under the most stressfulconditions, or those charged with reviewing their conduct,†Mr. Mukaseywrote, “with a perceived threat that any conduct of theirs, past orpresent, that was based on authorizations supported by the Departmentof Justice could place them in personal legal jeopardy.â€

That’s right – the Department of Justice explicitly authorized waterboarding.  Mukasey is right on one point – the CIA operatives carrying out orders will not be expected to answer to their crime of following orders on this earth, as Congress has passed a law forbidding prosecuting of interrogators following protocols set forward by their bosses.  This, incidentally, was the most common defense by Nazis in the Nuremberg trials after World War II: “I was just following orders when I pulled the trigger and shot men, women and children over a trench they had dug.”  This leaves us with only one recourse: prosecuting their bosses, namely the Bush administration people who authorized the torture.

At this point, that leaves us with one recourse – impeachment.  On what grounds can the House impeach?

The Constitution, Article II reads:

Section. 4.

The President, Vice President and all civilOfficers of the United States, shall be removed from Office onImpeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other highCrimes and Misdemeanors.

Treason is explicitly defined as waging war against the U.S., or aiding an enemy of the U.S., and it must be explicit, so that is out of the question.  Bribery is not a known problem, so that is out as well.  This leaves high crimes and misdemeanors.  What’s that?  It’s intentionally vague.  For a guideline of precedent, Nixon was indicted for illegal wiretapping, misuse of the CIA, perjury, bribery, obstruction of justice, and other abuses of executive power.

This raises another question: is torture even illegal?

The Bill of Rights reads:


Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive finesimposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

This, unfortunately, does not discuss interrogation, only punishment. However, this Amendment is quite explicit:


Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but uponprobable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, andparticularly describing the place to be searched, and thepersons or things to be seized.

Unreasonable search of person can be construed clearly to mean interrogation techniques that are unreasonable, as the purpose of interrogation is to search a person’s memory for wrongdoing or information on other wrongdoers.  In other words, the Bill of Rights does not explicitly mention torture by name, but it does explicitly forbid its use as an interrogation technique.

The truth is that president Bush has already explicitly authorized warrantless searches of American citizens, and most likely had to approve the torture techniques used to interrogate terror suspects.  Cheney is famous for micro-management, look at his pre-Iraq war intelligence manipulation efforts.  Rumsfeld is obviously directly implicated in these schemes as is Gonzales.  Rove most likely was not involved as his role was purely political horror shows.

The evidence is clear: our president and vice president are guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors, and there is no one in the legislature stepping up to the plate with the guts to propose an article of impeachment.

Some might argue that impeachment is “bad for the country” but the fact is that injustice is far worse.  When a private citizen commits a high crime such as murder, there must be a trial and justice, or it rips a hole in the fabric of society.  For years, the United States has been able to take a high road when dealing with other countries that have perpetrated terrible human rights abuses.  By avoiding punishment for the crimes of the Bush administration in the name of “the good of the country” we will be encouraging unscrupulous leaders of other countries to use the United States’s conduct as justification for their own evils, and they would be right.  If we fail to appreciate this dilemma as a nation, then we do are implicitly authorizing foreign powers to torture our soldiers and CIA operatives when they are captured, as well as private citizens who are mistakenly accused of spying or terrorism like the Canadian citizen the United States mistakenly arrested and tortured in Syria.

Once again, this is not a liberal versus conservative issue, it’s a basic fact: we don’t torture people in the United States.  Those who do it and those who authorize it are criminals.  In fact, it could very well be more of a conservative than a liberal issue, as ignoring this torture implies a kind of relativistic view of morals.  If it is OK for the president of the United States to authorize torture of terrorism suspects, but it is not OK for a police officer to torture a burglary suspect, and not OK for parents to torture their children, we have a moral dilemma that can only be explained by saying that the concept of right and wrong is incorrect, that there are cases where “wrong” is “right.”  You don’t need me to explain why that is the path to absolute evil.  Please call your representatives in Congress and let them know that you expect them to uphold the law independent of political considerations, and that you want impeachment and justice for the American people to rectify the egregious abuses of executive power by this administration.

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