The rest of the world calls it torture.
Despite the denials of the Bush administration, the United States -- aided and abetted by Congress -- stands accused of torturing detainees in the so-called Global War on Terror.
There is plenty of blame to go around, starting with the Democrats. Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that since 2002, the Bush administration had regularly briefed leading Congressional Democrats on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about the CIA's use of torture. On every occasion, lawmakers not only failed to object to these policies, but vigorously supported them.
Many of the Democrats who received these briefings went on to support the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the legislation that not only suspended the right of habeas corpus, but also explicitly authorized the CIA to continue to use interrogation methods that are illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
In the end, the supposed opposition party enabled and affirmatively supported the worst aspects of the Bush administration's foreign policy. They not only allowed illegal acts to happen, they also acquiesced to passing laws to immunize government officials from prosecution for their wrongdoing.
A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. House passed a bill to prohibit torture. Virtually every Republican member of the House -- 189 in all voted it against it.
The bill has gone nowhere in the Senate and has already been threatened with a veto by President Bush. Neither is surprising. Our leaders in Washington are all complicit in the carrying out of war crimes.
Sound extreme? According to the Geneva Conventions, that's what the use of torture against detainees is -- a war crime. And one of the smoking guns is the case of Abu Zubaydah, an al-Qaida operative who was captured in Pakistan in March 2002.
Zubaydah was allegedly taken to Thailand to receive what President Bush called "an alternative set of procedures" which were "safe and lawful and necessary."
What Zubaydah got, according to what current and former intelligence officials told The Washington Post, were weeks of torture that
included hypothermia, sleep deprivation, long periods of standing and multiple sessions of waterboarding. All these acts are illegal under U.S. and international law.
The kicker to all this was that Zubaydah was, according to FBI sources, mentally unstable and not very important to al-Qaida's plots. The weeks of torture yielded all sorts of information, but none of it was true.
The torture of Zubaydah was taped by the CIA -- hundreds of hours of abuse caught on videotape that would definitively settle the question whether the Bush administration authorized the torture of detainees. Naturally, the tapes were destroyed.
What makes Zubaydah's case more significant than the other prisoners who have been abused and, some cases, died in U.S. custody in the past five years? Because several courts have cases pending based on testimony from Zubaydah's interrogation. Destruction of evidence is a serious legal matter, and the destruction of the videotapes of Zubaydah's interrogation constitutes obstruction of justice.
The Bush administration is claiming legal immunity on a technicality -- that the interrogation took place outside the U.S., so the
courts have no jurisdiction. That's the argument that has been used for imprisoning hundreds of terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba or for having the CIA conduct its "enhanced interrogation" in places such as Egypt, Jordan and Uzbekistan.
But apparently there are more than a few professionals in the U.S. intelligence community who are willing to risk their careers to leak the details of this lawless behavior to the press. Supposedly, at least four senior Bush administration aides -- including David Addington, one of the chief legal architects of the administration's detention and interrogation policies -- were approached for advice about what to do with the tapes. None have admitted recommending their destruction.
Jose Rodriguez, the former head of the CIA's clandestine service who ordered the destruction of the tapes, has been subpoenaed by the House Intelligence Committee. The Justice Department has begun its own inquiry into the tapes. And we now know that the 9/11 Commission was lied to by the CIA about the existence of the tapes.
Everything adds up to a major scandal, but does anyone in Washington have the guts to do anything about it, especially in an election year?
The Democrats are compromised, because their Congressional leaders knew what was happening and failed to stop it.
The Republicans won't stop it because they have become the party of torture. They have enthusiastically supported every action of the Bush administration, legal or not.
Perhaps our only hope is that enough members of the intelligence community -- sickened by the things they've done and afraid of being made scapegoats for an administration that has flouted international law -- will step forward and blow the whistle on Bush and Cheney.
Are we still a nation of laws, not men? We will find out in 2008 whether that is still so.