From the June 2004 Idaho Observer:

Report claims the president has power to order torture

By The Idaho Observer

The top, frontpage headline for the June 10, 2004 edition of the Spokesman-Review newspaper (Spokane, Washington) boldly stated, “Memo claims Bush can OK torture.”

“A March, 2003 Pentagon report arguing that the United States isn't bound by laws and treaties against torture has caused a major rift between Bush administration officials seeking maximum leeway to question prisoners and military lawyers who fear reprisals against U.S. troops,” Night Ridder writer Frank Davies explained.

The 52-page report was classified and prepared for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Attorney General John Ashcroft reportedly agrees with the constitutional “theory” it advances. The report breathes into existence a new interpretation of executive power and privilege. Under the auspices of this new-found authority, both Congress and the federal courts have no voice in how prisoners are treated/interrogated while in custody if the president approves ill-treatment and torture.

To argue that one man has the authority to order the inhumane treatment of others in essence “trumps” international treaties prohibiting the use of torture, even in wartime. The U.S. is signatory to the Geneva Conventions of 1955 where it agreed to not engage in any form of mental or physical torture of prisoners.

More recently, in 1994 the U.S. ratified the Convention Against Torture which outlaws “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

The report, in essence, clears all checks and balances from the president's path should he choose to approve the torture and humiliation of those he has determined to be enemy combatants in a time of war. “Any efforts by Congress to regulate the interrogation of unlawful combatants would violate the Constitution's sole vesting of the commander-in-chief authority in the president,” the report claimed.

To qualify presidential authority to order the torture of prisoners as being “constitutional” is absurd. Nowhere in the Federalist Papers, or any other document describing the Founders' intent behind provisions in the Constitution, give the president the authority to authorize the ill-treatment of people.

The Constitution does, however, describe that the power to declare war is vested in the Congress. Once Congress declares war, the president becomes commander-in-chief of all armed forces. Congress has never declared a war on terrorism, Afghanistan or Iraq.

It is difficult to argue the constitutionality of presidential authority to order torture for combatants against whom we are, constitutionally speaking, not at war.

We must keep in mind, as the Bush administration argues its right to torture those whom it determines to be enemy combatants, that there is an extreme likelihood that the war on terror will be coming home sometime this summer -- as will the president's new-found power to prescribe torture for those he deems to be his enemies.

Since leaving the Dark Ages, civilized people have been striving to erect institutions celebrating the dignity of the common man. The arts, parks, museums, representative forms of government and impartial systems of justice are monuments to our social successes.

The Bush administration is telling us we must accept the central government's obsession with military conquest and its belief that one man, as commander-in-chief, has the authority to order those he views as enemies to suffer whatever forms of torture and humiliation he deems appropriate. The Bush administration is telling us that we must return to the Dark Ages where the high and mighty have the authority to torure commoners.

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