Feb 182008
Authors: Mary Ackerson

The threat of terrorism justifies torture.

At least, that’s what Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia appears to believe.

According to an article in the New York Times, Justice Scalia claimed that some physical interrogation techniques could be legal if the government believed it was under imminent threat.

He said that it would be “extraordinary” to think that the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which refers to crime, applies to torture in the face of imminent danger.

His assertion is absurd, because, whereas in the case of crime punishment, an attempt is made to bring to justice to someone who has been proven guilty, torture is inflicted upon someone who has not been proven guilty.

He is essentially arguing that harsher methods should be allowed against those who are, legally speaking, more likely innocent.

Scalia’s claims are being made in the midst of the recent debate about the Bush administration’s interrogation tactics toward its Guantanamo Bay detainees following Sept. 11. Most controversial among these tactics is their past use of waterboarding, in which water is poured over a bound and blindfolded prisoner in a way that causes them to feel as though they are drowning.

Although at the time it was used by the CIA, waterboarding was considered legal by the Justice Department because it didn’t think al-Qaeda prisoners were covered by the Geneva conventions, it never was. And in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Geneva protections do apply to al-Qaeda prisoners.

Although what qualifies as torture has not been legally defined, a Los Angeles Times article noted that “U.S. courts have recognized [waterboarding] as torture, and in past wars, the U.S. government prosecuted it as a war crime.”

Furthermore, “our closest allies, the British, reaffirmed Tuesday that they consider waterboarding a form of torture prohibited by international law. That’s an opinion shared by the U.N. human rights commissioner.”

Matching the House’s December ruling, on Jan. 13 the U.S. Senate voted to ban waterboarding and other harsh interrogation tactics used by the CIA. The bill would limit them to the 19 less aggressive interrogation tactics allowed by the U.S. military.

This would replace the current situation, in which the CIA is merely required to abide by the rules outlined in Bush’s July executive order, which allow harsher methods.

Despite an overriding consensus that waterboarding constitutes torture, the Bush administration does not want to explicitly bar its use in the future. Bush has said that he will veto the legislation, and Congress may not have enough votes to override his veto.

This seems like a very hypocritical stance by the administration when one considers how quick our government would be to label such tactics torture if it were our soldiers being subjected to them.

By its previous engagement in such practices, and continued defense of them them, the Bush administration has suggested to the world that the United States is no better than the terrorists it claims to be fighting.

Mary Ackerson is a senior political science major. Her column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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