A few quick takes on the release of the memos and other documents related to the White House deliberations over the use of force against detainees and prisoners of war.
- While I’m sure that these memos will be helpful in determining the general mindset of the Bush team (something is often unclear given their penchant for secrecy), I do think it’s important the we respect the need for government officials to be able to memo one another on a variety of subjects and to have the freedom to give wrongheaded advice.
- One of the most interesting running storylines here would have to be the constant backpedaling of an administration that refuses to share any information and then, backed into a political corner, releases piles of paper. There is a lesson in there somewhere, but I’m not going to reveal it to you until I am suitably pressured to do so.
- Here’s a quote from the President that illustrates a lot of what is wrong about his leadership style and tone he has set, both domestically and internationally, with his administration:
“Let me make very clear the position of my government and our country: We do not condone torture. I have never ordered torture. I will never order torture. The values of this country are such that torture is not a part of our soul and our being.”
First, let’s make this very clear. It is our government. I use of first person singular to describe a government is one of this President’s worst and most telling behavioristics. Second, while it’s nice that Bush says he does not condone torture (although the religious imagry is less impressive), it’s really not the point. Neither is our soul or our being. (Incidentally, first person singular is far more appropriate when discussing souls and/or beings).
What matters here are our laws. What the President should be saying is that we do not torture prisoners because we have signed treaties and adhere to a set of laws that render such behavior illegal. This is where the memos that have been released are the most interesting. What we see is an administration questioning to what extent the laws apply to them.
Should we torture prisoners? Should we torture Saddam himself or those who plan terrorist attacks? Is torture an effective means to gather accurate information?
These questions may be open to debate. The question of whether or not a Chief Executive of “his” nation is above the law is not.
Souls, beings and personal condoning are fine for places of worship or the family dinner table. But at the highest levels of government, it’s simply got to be about the law.