In a interview with the Dallas Morning News published yesterday, former President Bush touted his authorization of waterboarding as a key accomplishment to “leav[ing] behind a firmer foundation for my successors.” “[W]e passed laws that Congress endorsed and embraced, like the Terrorist Surveillance Program, military tribunals and enhanced interrogation techniques. The enhanced interrogation techniques are available to presidents if they so choose to use them.” Bush’s comments come on the heels of the revelation, published in his memoir released this week, that he personally authorized the waterboarding of 9/11 suspects.
Bush has adamantly defended his use of waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation techniques” over the years, saying the practices saved lives, were completely legal, and were not torture — but many rightly disagree. On Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union “joined a growing chorus in the human rights community calling for a special prosecutor to investigate” Bush’s use of waterboading to determine whether his administration “violated federal statutes prohibiting torture.” “[T]he former President’s acknowledgment that he authorized torture is absolutely without parallel in American history,” the ACLU wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
And yesterday, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez — who was himself tortured by the Argentinean junta in the 1970s — firmly stated that waterboarding is torture — “immoral and illegal.” In a radio interview with Mark Colvin of ABC News in Australia, Mendez said the legal memos authorizing waterboaring that Bush “hides behind” were “completely flawed,” and that there isn’t “any question” under international law that what Bush authorized was torture:
JUAN MENDEZ: Mr Bush hides behind the fact that he is not a lawyer and he has this folksy you know kind of cute way of saying, well the lawyers told me it was legal, as if he didn’t know that it’s immoral. You know? Immoral and illegal. I mean he can’t really hide behind his lawyers.
I mean he was very hypocritical of him to say something like that. I mean it’s been so clearly established that those memos were, they don’t even deserve the name of legal memos because they are completely flawed from the legal reasoning. But even worse they are morally flawed as well.
MARK COLVIN: There’s no question that in international law waterboarding is torture?
JUAN MENDEZ: I don’t think there is any question, any serious question. I mean it’s a question of severity. If you think that waterboarding is not severe mistreatment you don’t really know what waterboarding is. … I mean if you then redefine upwards the severity standard to say that it’s only severe if it’s organ failure or death, then you know you’re really very clearly distorting the sense of the words and you know words have to be interpreted in treaty language, they have to be interpreted in their plain meaning and their plain meaning couldn’t be more clear in the case of waterboarding.
This not the first time that someone with Mendez’ job has called out Bush’s use of torture. Former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Manfred Nowak, agreed that waterboarding is torture. He even warned the Obama administration that it may be violating international law by failing to adequately investigate the Bush administration on the matter. As a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, the U.S. is obligated to investigate and prosecute U.S. citizens that are believed to have engaged in torture, he noted.