US torture, I mean interrogation rules

George Bush has signed an executive order prohibiting cruel and inhuman treatment in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects.

I can’t make out if this is putting a stop to CIA practices or just a public relations smokescreen. The White House would only say that if the agency had a detention/interrogation programme, it would have to adhere to the Bush order.

Interestingly, a CIA official quoted in the text said: “It would be wrong to assume the programme of the past transfers to the future.” Is this a tacit acknowledgment of extraordindary rendition? Is he indicating the alleged abuses have taken place, but won’t from now on? A kindler, gentler intelligence agency.

A report by the Council of Europe, which is essentially a human rights watchdog, found evidence the CIA ran secret prisons in Bulgaria and Romania from 2003-05. The agency has denied this and said its counter-terrorism methods were lawful. Bush has admitted prisoners were held overseas, but wouldn’t say where.

An Teach Bán wouldn’t say exactly Bush’s order allows. The following are banned:

  • Torture or other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation and cruel or inhuman treatment.
  • Willful or outrageous acts of personal abuse done to humiliate or degrade someone in a way so serious that any reasonable person would deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation.
  • Acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of an individual.

The second point above seems to be a direct reference to Abu Ghraib. Every one of these points should be welcomed, although it should not have taken an executive order to enforce them.

I appreciate the US considers itself in a war against terrorism, and I also appreciate that the CIA may feel some … unethical … actions are necessary to gain intelligence on hostile groups. But inhumane actions only serve to rally people against American efforts.

However there’s an interesting line in the article: “whatever interrogation practices used must be determined safe on an individual basis”.

Perhaps I’m overly reading between the lines but a system that can be tailored to “individual” cases is ripe for abuse, even if this becomes written policy.

There’s no way any of these policies can be verified without external oversight of CIA actions, and let’s face it that’s not going to happen (at least not to the extent that would be necessary).

So in essence what we have here — even if it is a shift in policy — is good publicity. Bush makes all the right noises, the CIA acts suitably serious and talks about accepting the order, and everybody’s happy.

Except this isn’t going to go away soon. The legacy of the rendition programme will last for many years to come. Even if the order becomes the agency’s standard practice, who’s going to believe them?

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