Lets review. Torture is illegal. Why is it illegal? Because it was made illegal by the Geneva Convention. So let us review the Geneva Convention.
The adoption of the first convention followed the foundation of the International Red Cross, the agency charged and authorized to determine if torture has been used, in 1863. The conventions are as followed.
1. for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field - adopted 1864
2. for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea - adopted 1906
3. relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War - adopted 1929
4. relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War - adopted 1949
The United States ratified the first convention in 1882. By 1977 the United States had ratified all four of the Geneva Conventions with the exception of two protocols regarding the use of riot control agents and herbicide use.
By ratification, the US made the Geneva Convention a part of United States Law.
So, the question now becomes not whether US law prohibits torture, it does, under US ratified and signed Geneva Convention. So, was the law broken? This is fairly easy to determine as we know from memos what was done.
We know of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, confinement in a small box with insects in it, beatings, swinging people around by their necks into walls, hanging from the ceiling for extended periods of time, lengthy exposure to extreme cold, starvation and use of dogs to bite and scare inmates. So, since the memos authorize such things, are they torture? Well, what does the geneva convention say about it?
Article 13 under the Third Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war.
Prisoners of war must at all times be humanely treated. Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention. In particular, no prisoner of war may be subjected to physical mutilation or to medical or scientific experiments of any kind which are not justified by the medical, dental or hospital treatment of the prisoner concerned and carried out in his interest.
Likewise, prisoners of war must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.
Measures of reprisal against prisoners of war are prohibited.
Acts of violence, intimidation, insults, and public curiosity (humiliation).
Prisoners of war are entitled in all circumstances to respect for their persons and their honour. Women shall be treated with all the regard due to their sex and shall in all cases benefit by treatment as favourable as that granted to men. Prisoners of war shall retain the full civil capacity which they enjoyed at the time of their capture. The Detaining Power may not restrict the exercise, either within or without its own territory, of the rights such capacity confers except in so far as the captivity requires.
Taking into consideration the provisions of the present Convention relating to rank and sex, and subject to any privileged treatment which may be accorded to them by reason of their state of health, age or professional qualifications, all prisoners of war shall be treated alike by the Detaining Power, without any adverse distinction based on race, nationality, religious belief or political opinions, or any other distinction founded on similar criteria.
Every prisoner of war, when questioned on the subject, is bound to give only his surname, first names and rank, date of birth, and army, regimental, personal or serial number, or failing this, equivalent information. If he wilfully infringes this rule, he may render himself liable to a restriction of the privileges accorded to his rank or status.
Each Party to a conflict is required to furnish the persons under its jurisdiction who are liable to become prisoners of war, with an identity card showing the owner's surname, first names, rank, army, regimental, personal or serial number or equivalent information, and date of birth. The identity card may, furthermore, bear the signature or the fingerprints, or both, of the owner, and may bear, as well, any other information the Party to the conflict may wish to add concerning persons belonging to its armed forces. As far as possible the card shall measure 6.5 x 10 cm. and shall be issued in duplicate. The identity card shall be shown by the prisoner of war upon demand, but may in no case be taken away from him.
No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.
Prisoners of war who, owing to their physical or mental condition, are unable to state their identity, shall be handed over to the medical service. The identity of such prisoners shall be established by all possible means, subject to the provisions of the preceding paragraph.
The questioning of prisoners of war shall be carried out in a language which they understand.
The basic daily food rations shall be sufficient in quantity, quality and variety to keep prisoners of war in good health and to prevent loss of weight or the development of nutritional deficiencies. Account shall also be taken of the habitual diet of the prisoners.
The Detaining Power shall supply prisoners of war who work with such additional rations as are necessary for the labour on which they are employed.
Sufficient drinking water shall be supplied to prisoners of war. The use of tobacco shall be permitted.
Prisoners of war shall, as far as possible, be associated with the preparation of their meals; they may be employed for that purpose in the kitchens. Furthermore, they shall be given the means of preparing, themselves, the additional food in their possession.
Adequate premises shall be provided for messing.
Collective disciplinary measures affecting food are prohibited.
Clothing, underwear and footwear shall be supplied to prisoners of war in sufficient quantities by the Detaining Power, which shall make allowance for the climate of the region where the prisoners are detained. Uniforms of enemy armed forces captured by the Detaining Power should, if suitable for the climate, be made available to clothe prisoners of war.
The regular replacement and repair of the above articles shall be assured by the Detaining Power. In addition, prisoners of war who work shall receive appropriate clothing, wherever the nature of the work demands.
Prisoners of war shall enjoy complete latitude in the exercise of their religious duties, including attendance at the service of their faith, on condition that they comply with the disciplinary routine prescribed by the military authorities.
Adequate premises shall be provided where religious services may be held.
Other interesting articles in the convention that relate to people detained with out any contact with the outside world.
Prisoners of war shall be allowed to send and receive letters and cards. If the Detaining Power deems it necessary to limit the number of letters and cards sent by each prisoner of war, the said number shall not be less than two letters and four cards monthly, exclusive of the capture cards provided for in Article 70, and conforming as closely as possible to the models annexed to the present Convention. Further limitations may be imposed only if the Protecting Power is satisfied that it would be in the interests of the prisoners of war concerned to do so owing to difficulties of translation caused by the Detaining Power's inability to find sufficient qualified linguists to carry out the necessary censorship. If limitations must be placed on the correspondence addressed to prisoners of war, they may be ordered only by the Power on which the prisoners depend, possibly at the request of the Detaining Power. Such letters and cards must be conveyed by the most rapid method at the disposal of the Detaining Power; they may not be delayed or retained for disciplinary reasons.
Prisoners of war who have been without news for a long period, or who are unable to receive news from their next of kin or to give them news by the ordinary postal route, as well as those who are at a great distance from their homes, shall be permitted to send telegrams, the fees being charged against the prisoners of war's accounts with the Detaining Power or paid in the currency at their disposal. They shall likewise benefit by this measure in cases of urgency.
As a general rule, the correspondence of prisoners of war shall be written in their native language. The Parties to the conflict may allow correspondence in other languages.
Sacks containing prisoner of war mail must be securely sealed and labelled so as clearly to indicate their contents, and must be addressed to offices of destination.
Prisoners of war shall be allowed to receive by post or by any other means individual parcels or collective shipments containing, in particular, foodstuffs, clothing, medical supplies and articles of a religious, educational or recreational character which may meet their needs, including books, devotional articles, scientific equipment, examination papers, musical instruments, sports outfits and materials allowing prisoners of war to pursue their studies or their cultural activities.
Such shipments shall in no way free the Detaining Power from the obligations imposed upon it by virtue of the present Convention.
The only limits which may be placed on these shipments shall be those proposed by the Protecting Power in the interest of the prisoners themselves, or by the International Committee of the Red Cross or any other organization giving assistance to the prisoners, in respect of their own shipments only, on account of exceptional strain on transport or communications.
The conditions for the sending of individual parcels and collective relief shall, if necessary, be the subject of special agreements between the Powers concerned, which may in no case delay the receipt by the prisoners of relief supplies. Books may not be included in parcels of clothing and foodstuffs. Medical supplies shall, as a rule, be sent in collective parcels.
Prisoners of war shall have the right to make known to the military authorities in whose power they are, their requests regarding the conditions of captivity to which they are subjected.
They shall also have the unrestricted right to apply to the representatives of the Protecting Powers either through their prisoners' representative or, if they consider it necessary, direct, in order to draw their attention to any points on which they may have complaints to make regarding their conditions of captivity.
These requests and complaints shall not be limited nor considered to be a part of the correspondence quota referred to in Article 71. They must be transmitted immediately. Even if they are recognized to be unfounded, they may not give rise to any punishment.
Prisoners' representatives may send periodic reports on the situation in the camps and the needs of the prisoners of war to the representatives of the Protecting Powers.
A prisoner of war shall be tried only by a military court, unless the existing laws of the Detaining Power expressly permit the civil courts to try a member of the armed forces of the Detaining Power in respect of the particular offence alleged to have been committed by the prisoner of war.
In no circumstances whatever shall a prisoner of war be tried by a court of any kind which does not offer the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality as generally recognized, and, in particular, the procedure of which does not afford the accused the rights and means of defence provided for in Article 105.
Wait, a provided defense? Hmm.
Prisoners of war may not be sentenced by the military authorities and courts of the Detaining Power to any penalties except those provided for in respect of members of the armed forces of the said Power who have committed the same acts.
When fixing the penalty, the courts or authorities of the Detaining Power shall take into consideration, to the widest extent possible, the fact that the accused, not being a national of the Detaining Power, is not bound to it by any duty of allegiance, and that he is in its power as the result of circumstances independent of his own will. The said courts or authorities shall be at liberty to reduce the penalty provided for the violation of which the prisoner of war is accused, and shall therefore not be bound to apply the minimum penalty prescribed.
Collective punishment for individual acts, corporal punishments, imprisonment in premises without daylight and, in general, any form of torture or cruelty, are forbidden.
No prisoner of war may be deprived of his rank by the Detaining Power, or prevented from wearing his badges.
The disciplinary punishments applicable to prisoners of war are the following:
1. A fine which shall not exceed 50 per cent of the advances of pay and working pay which the prisoner of war would otherwise receive under the provisions of Articles 60 and 62 during a period of not more than thirty days.
2. Discontinuance of privileges granted over and above the treatment provided for by the present Convention.
3. Fatigue duties not exceeding two hours daily.
The punishment referred to under (3) shall not be applied to officers.
In no case shall disciplinary punishments be inhuman, brutal or dangerous to the health of prisoners of war.
The duration of any single punishment shall in no case exceed thirty days. Any period of confinement awaiting the hearing of a disciplinary offence or the award of disciplinary punishment shall be deducted from an award pronounced against a prisoner of war.
The maximum of thirty days provided above may not be exceeded, even if the prisoner of war is answerable for several acts at the same time when he is awarded punishment, whether such acts are related or not.
The period between the pronouncing of an award of disciplinary punishment and its execution shall not exceed one month.
When a prisoner of war is awarded a further disciplinary punishment, a period of at least three days shall elapse between the execution of any two of the punishments, if the duration of one of these is ten days or more.
No prisoner of war may be tried or sentenced for an act which is not forbidden by the law of the Detaining Power or by international law, in force at the time the said act was committed.
No moral or physical coercion may be exerted on a prisoner of war in order to induce him to admit himself guilty of the act of which he is accused.
No prisoner of war may be convicted without having had an opportunity to present his defense and the assistance of a qualified advocate or counsel.
All of the Articles can be read here: http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/91.htm
As you can see, most of what was listed in the memo's clearly qualify as torture and are clearly against the law. AGAINST THE LAW. In other words, President George W. Bush authorized something that was clearly against the law.
Now, to water boarding specifically. Have we ever prosecuted someone for water boarding? Do we consider it torture as a matter of precedence? Well, lets take a look at what water boarding is, then the effects it has on people. Then lets look at the US reaction to other people water boarding.
This is how the CIA described it in a 2002 memo.
In this procedure, the individual is bound securely to an inclined bench, which is approximately four feet by seven feet. The individual's feet are generally elevated. A cloth is placed over the forehead and eyes. Water is then applied to the cloth in a controlled manner. As this is done, the cloth is lowered until it covers both the nose and mouth. Once the cloth is saturated and completely covers the mouth and nose, air flow is slightly restricted for 20 to 40 seconds due to the presence of the cloth… During those 20 to 40 seconds, water is continuously applied from a height of twelve to twenty-four inches. After this period, the cloth is lifted, and the individual is allowed to breathe unimpeded for three or four full breaths… The procedure may then be repeated. The water is usually applied from a canteen cup or small watering can with a spout
Water boarding creates the feeling of drowning according to human rights watch, and several other people including Christopher Hitchens who allowed himself to be water boarderd.
He later told the BBC: "There is a common misconception that water boarding simulates the sensation of drowning, but you are to all intents and purposes actually drowning". He said that although he was somewhat prepared for his ordeal, he had not been prepared for what came later: "I have been waking up with sensations of being smothered". Hitchens concluded, "if water boarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture. Believe me. It's torture".
Historical use of water boarding include but is not limited to:
The Spanish Inquisition - toca
The Dutch East India Company - during the Amboyna massacre of 1623
Sing Sing Prison - Henry Hagan - When it came out, it was called torture -
Spanish American War - 1898 - Major Edwin F. Glenn argued that it was a necessary use of force. He was court marshaled, tried, and found guilty of torture.
German and Japanese soldiers after WWII were tried for torture for water boarding.
Chase J. Nielsen, one of the U.S. airmen who flew in the Doolittle raid following the attack on Pearl Harbor, was subjected to water boarding by his Japanese captors. At their trial for war crimes following the war, he testified "Well, I was put on my back on the floor with my arms and legs stretched out, one guard holding each limb. The towel was wrapped around my face and put across my face and water poured on. They poured water on this towel until I was almost unconscious from strangulation, then they would let up until I'd get my breath, then they'd start over again… I felt more or less like I was drowning, just gasping between life and death."
Algerian War - 1954 - High incidence of prisoners dying from waterboarding.
Chili - Dictator Pinochet water boarded over 35,000 people based on testimony.
Khmer Rouge - 1975 - Common torture method used on military and civilians.
Texas - 1983 - Texas sheriff James Parker and three of his deputies were convicted for conspiring to force confession via water boarding.
So lets recap. Per US law, torture is outlawed and well defined. Water boarding has always been considered torture. It has usually been down by outlaw regimes and horrible dictators during reigns of terror and inquisitions. When it has been done by US citizens, they have been prosecuted and sentenced to jail for torture. History shows us water boarding is torture. KSM was water boarded 183 times in one month.
We are a nation of laws. There is nothing political about the law being enforced. If we are a nation that respects law, then the Bush administration and those involved in pursuing these policies must be prosecuted under our laws and made accountable for their crimes. If a president is not accountable under the law, then we are not a nation of laws and the president is above the law.