Back Rooms and Back Doors: The N.Y. Times Torture Story

Rationalizing the Secrets that Define a Presidency
and ‘Shock the Conscience’ of a Country

Continuing to leave the gashes of my once great country bleeding and unchecked has left a festering wound on the future of our nation. The long-fingered fist of war has crushed thought and trust in this country, and too few have recognized the need for social action against a government that in brazen secrecy “shocks the conscience” of its people.

In 1953, the Supreme Court threw out the evidence, in Rochin v. California, against Richard Rochin and his appeal of a conviction for morphine possession. It seems the cops took him to the hospital and induced vomiting in order to obtain the evidence. The Court said that using evidence obtained in this manner “shocks the conscience” of a society’s “decencies of civilized conduct.” The “shocks the conscience” test is often applied to cases where there is a question as to whether evidence is admissible or actions permissible under the law.

When the McCain Anti-Torture Bill went through congress in late 2005, there was talk about including the “shocks the conscience” text to the bill, but it never made it. Instead, it was added as part of the record through a maneuver called a colloquy by Georgia Congressman Jim Marshall.

But even the congressman was pessimistic about its application to this bill. In an op-ed piece in the Macon Telegraph, dated December 24, 2005, he said:

“No, ‘shocks the conscience’ is not the bright line test we would all prefer. One is not possible here as in so many other conflicts between societal need and individual rights. Ultimately appropriate treatment of our prisoners and detainees requires judgment, control and leadership in many different circumstances.”

The New York Times today reports that regardless of Congress’ anti-torture legislation, regardless of what the Supreme Court said in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Justice Department has issued secret memorandum after secret memorandum to the CIA telling it that its methods are OK:

“[In 2005], as Congress moved toward outlawing ‘cruel, inhuman and degrading’ treatment, the Justice Department issued another secret opinion, one most lawmakers did not know existed, current and former officials said. The Justice Department document declared that none of the C.I.A. interrogation methods violated that standard.”

Secret U.S. Endorsement of Severe Interrogations,”
S. Shane, D. Johnston and J. Risen,
New York Times, October 4, 2007

If signing statements weren’t enough, secret memos redefining the reach and permit of the Executive Branch beyond the law are enough to wonder just which of us our government will go after next. They have created an environment where they are no longer bound by Constitution or law. Naomi Wolf, former editor of The Nation, has written a fascinating book documenting the abuse and abandonment of America’s commitment to the rights and ethical treatments of her citizens. In the book, called The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, Wolf asserts her belief that fascism is already upon us, that it is only a matter of time before a journalist (or a blogger) is declared an enemy combatant, and after that, there is no turning back.

“The Bush administration has started to use the notion of treason in its Stalinist sense,” she says on page 133, “as a weapon designed to harass critics and to frighten opposition leaders.”

Blaming the Messenger

Indeed, on CNN’s Situation Room tonight, Fran Townsend, the White House Homeland Security Adviser, railed against the published reports, saying, “it is incredibly irresponsible to leak classified information that threatens our national security and the effectiveness of the techniques we do have at our disposal.” She implied that the New York Times was to blame for the disclosures of Republicans who actually have a conscience.

Our only salvation is that our national legacy of an open, honest and free society is (for the time being) stronger than the blind loyalty of a few corrupt men who, despite all decency, rationalize their movements in the shadows.

Call to Action

The call to action is once more laid at Congress’ door. I’m sorry, Senator Leahy, but the time for civil discourse, of waiting for the White House to deliver documents so that you can come to an “understanding” about what they are doing is long past. The House and Senate Judiciary Committees must file contempt charges against the AG’s office and the White House for circumventing the law signed by Bush in December 2005 that said that the US does not torture.

Even now the Executive denies it, using the euphemism “harsh techniques” when they mean “torture.” The secret memos, you see, said that despite the law, what the CIA was told it could do was not a violation of the law, even though the law was passed months after the memoranda were written.

We can either stand up to yet another illegal abuse of power, or let our freedoms be swallowed by it. Frankly, I think prison is too good for them. They should not only be thrown out of office, but out of the country as well – them, their children and their grandchildren. Otherwise, they will continue to be the kind of god-driven, self-righteous, greedy, militant opposition that we all dread.


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