Set aside Andrew Sullivan’s obsession with the cross in the dirt story.** He hits on a much more important point today:
[What the Vietnamese] deployed against McCain emerges in all the various accounts. It involved sleep deprivation, the withholding of medical treatment, stress positions, long-time standing, and beating. Sound familiar?
According to the Bush administration’s definition of torture, McCain was therefore not tortured. Cheney denies that McCain was tortured; as does Bush. So do John Yoo and David Addington and George Tenet. . . .McCain talks of the agony of long-time standing. A quarter century later, Don Rumsfeld was putting his signature to memos lengthening the agony of “long-time standing” that victims of Bush’s torture regime would have to endure. These torture techniques are, according to the president of the United States, merely “enhanced interrogation.”
. . .[T]he techniques used are, according to the president, tools to extract accurate information. And so the false confessions that McCain was forced to make were, according to the logic of the Bush administration, as accurate as the “intelligence” we have procured from “interrogating” terror suspects. Feel safer?
Here’s what Jane Meyer says in The Dark Side about the decision to define torture downward:
Shortly after Zubayda’s capture, John Yoo was summoned to the White House. . . .[Addington, Yoo, and others] tossed around ideas about exactly what sorts of pain could be inflicted on Zubayda. The CIA had sent a wish list of “stress techniques” it wanted to use. . . .
To blur [the] bright legal line [in the Convention against Torture's definition of torture as "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental"] the White House lawyers turned not to law but to language. The soft spot in the CAT as they saw it, was the definition of torture. . . .[W]hat if the Bush Administration decribed the psychic stress and physical duress they hoped to exert on captives as something else? . . .The redefinition. . .enabled Cheney to describe waterboarding. . .as “a no-brainer for me,” while at the same time insisting “We don’t torture.”
The Bush Administration’s corruption of language had a curiously corrupting impact on the public debate, as well. It was all but impossible to have a national conversation about torture if top administration officials denied they were engaged in it. . . .
On August 1, 2002, in an infamous memo written largely by Yoo. . .the [Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel] defined the crime of torture [so as] to make it all but impossible to commit. They argued that torture required the intent to inflict suffering “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodly function, or even death.” Mental suffering, they wrote, had to “result in significant psychological harm” and “be of significant duration, e.g., lasting for months or years.” This. . .stretched a [U.S.} reservation to the CAT that the Senate added in 1988 at the urging of the first President Bush, requiring mental pain to be "prolonged" to qualify as torture. . . .[I]t was tailor-made to decriminalize waterboarding.
So I think we have the answer to Sullivan’s question.
Wouldn’t it be great, though if a White House correspondent were to ask Dana Perino the question? Or even better, ask Dubya?
Helen Thomas, white courtesy phone please.
**Sorry, folks, but questioning a story that by its very nature cannot be either verified or disproved — and involves McCain’s time as a POW and his faith – is a no-win for Obama, his surrogates, or the blogosphere. If I were McCain, I’d be saying “bring it on.”