The Jun. 11 article below, from Le Monde (Paris), about the memos that came out last week linking the White House to efforts to legitimize torture, and on George W. Bush's answers on Thursday to questions about them, is a few days old, but is perhaps still of interest in that it was, on Jun. 14, the article the second most recommended by online readers of Le Monde....

By Patrick Jarreau

** The American president appeared to have some trouble Thursday. Several official reports have attempted to give a legal foundation to the use of torture. How did the White House apply these texts? "We stayed within U.S. law," said Mr. Bush, evasively. **

Le Monde (Paris)
June 11, 2004,1-0@2-3222,36-368415,0.html
[Statements by George W. Bush are not translated; rather, their text is taken directly from the White House web site transcript of the Jun. 10 news conference: ]

The attention of Americans has been captivated these past days by the homages rendered to Ronald Reagan and, to a lesser degree, by the the G8 meeting as an index of George Bush's ability to rally the most powerful countries of the world to his Iraq and Middle East policies.

But a different subject has squeezed its way into the news, enough to trouble the White House chief's press conference on Thursday, June 10, in Savannah, Georgia, at the end of the G8 meeting: Were soldiers and CIA agents authorized to torture prisoners in the "war against terrorism" in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, and elsewhere?

The American press has for the past week been revealing the existence of several documents coming from the Dept. of Justice and the Dept. of Defense that tend to lay a legal foundation for the use of torture. According to the lawyers who drafted these reports, torture could be legally justified in the framework of orders given by the president of the United States in his capacity as commander in chief, the official finally responsible for Americans' security.

In those circumstances, say the documents, civil or military officials who acted in carrying out these orders would not be subject to prosecution, whether based in the U.S. Constitution, which forbids "cruel punishments," or in American laws forbidding torture. In other words, the United States could dispense with respecting the International Convention against Torture, even though it ratified this convention in 1994.

One of these documents is a memo addressed to the White House by the Dept. of Justice in August 2002. How Mr. Bush acted on this opinion is not known. On Thursday he was asked this question for the first time. "The authorization I issued . . . was that anything we did would conform to U.S. law and would be consistent with international treaty obligations. That's the message I gave our people," answered the president. Had he seen, at the time, the memo from the Dept. of Justice? "I can't remember," he said.

A second question, on the same subject, provoked an expression of displeasure, followed by an even shorter answer: "What I've authorized is that we stay within U.S. law," Mr. Bush said, thus avoiding saying whether torture can be acceptable in certain situations or whether it never is.

A British journalist pointed out that the point of the memo from the Dept. of Justice and of the one from the Pentagon, drafted in March 2003, was to find the legal evasions that would permit officials to torture prisoners without breaking the law. Given all this, Mr. Bush's answer, saying that he had given orders to respect the law, was "not very comforting." The U.S. president, close to exasperation, answered: "Look, I'm going to say it one more time. . . . The instructions went out to our people to adhere to law. That ought to comfort you. We're a nation of law. We adhere to laws. We have laws on the books. You might look at those laws, and that might provide comfort for you."

The question for the respect for international commitments was asked very soon after American military operations began in Afghanistan. Methods using physical pain and psychological pressure were used early on, since John Walker Lindh, the young American who joined the Taliban and was captured in November 2001 in Kunduz was stripped naked and put in stress positions during his interrogations by CIA agents.

In January 2002, after the first camp for prisoners was opened at the Guantanamo Bay base held by the American Navy on the island of Cuba, a memo from the Dept. of Justice drafted, notably, by John Yoo, who is today a law professor at Berkeley, concluded that the Guantanamo detainees did not enjoy the protection of the Geneva Conventions. That opinion, contested by Secretary of State Colin Powell, was adopted by Mr. Bush.

It was at the request of the CIA that the Dept. of Justice drafted the August 2002 memo. It seems that the agency was worried about sanctions that its agents, pressed by those in power to obtain actionable intelligence from the al-Qaeda leaders and militants captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan, were risking.

The chief American intelligence service has not forgotten the trouble it ran into in the 1970s when methods that it used in the struggle against Communism were exposed. Thus it was seeking "cover" when asked to hunt down hardened terrorists and people suspected of links with Osama bin Laden's network and to make them talk.

Fifty pages long, the Dept. of Justice memo was signed by Jay Bybee, one of the departmental deputies. Mr. Bybee directed the Office of Legal Counsel, whose word is authoritative within the government.

In March 2003, it was, it seems, at the request of those responsible for the interrogations at the Guantanamo Bay camp that the Dept. of Defense had the question of torture studied by its jurists. They arrived at conclusions similar to those of their colleagues at the Dept. of Justice. In both cases, the cabinet secretaries concerned, John Ashcroft and Donald Rumsfeld, refused to send the related documents to Congress.

Jacques Chirac declared, in a press conference following Mr. Bush's, without using the word "torture," that the struggle against terrorism should not "forget the principles upon which our civilization rests, like human rights."

Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Chair, Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
Phone: 253-535-7219
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