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The Justice Department’s 2002 memo to the White House—recently obtained by the Washington Post—provides the blueprint for the Bush administration’s cavalier approach to human rights law and helps to explain how the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison developed.

  • The highest levels of the Bush administration authorized the use of torture in violation of the letter and spirit of U.S. and international law. The memo—written by the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department—gave President Bush free rein to endorse severe physical and psychological pain in interrogations as long as the torture was “pursuant to his Commander in Chief authorities.” This manipulative interpretation of constitutional law defies our deepest held beliefs about human dignity.
  • The Bush administration’s warped view of torture does not reflect American values. The Justice Department memo argues that “certain acts may be cruel, unusual or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity” to be considered torture. To be considered torture, the physical pain must be equivalent to “organ failure, impairment of bodily function or death.” For mental pain to count as torture it must result in significant psychological harm “lasting months or even years.”
  • Human rights laws are not just moral statements. They are designed to keep enemies from torturing our own troops and citizens during times of war. President Bush’s statement last week that “what I authorized was staying within U.S. law,” is a meaningless and dangerous statement that puts Americans at risk.

Daily Talking Points is a product of the Center for American Progress, a non-partisan research and educational institute committed to progressive principles for a strong, just and free America.

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