Dear Mr. President,
I am writing to express my bewilderment at the White House's plans to veto a bill recently passed by the U.S. Senate concerning the treatment of foreign nationals in U.S. custody.
You recently said, "There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. . . . So you bet we will aggressively pursue them, but we will do so under the law." This seemed right to me, and it seems important to me that you use the words "under the law." The Senate bill, introduced by Republican John McCain, promotes exactly that, as it requires making the U.S. Army Field Manual's guidelines for interrogation of prisoners standard for all agencies associated with the U.S. government.
So why are you opposed to it? Mr. President, why are you threatening to apply your first veto on a bill that simply aims to require the application of the law?
The only explanation I can muster is, you are finessing the word "torture." When you said "we do not torture" a couple of days ago, what you meant was, "we do not do things to detainees that we consider to be torture." Presumably you mean to say you wish to allow the CIA an exemption to use stress interrogation methods, including those involving humiliation and the infliction discomfort as well as non-scarring and non-invasive pain.
So why not just say it? Mr. President, the gap between your statements and policies has never been wider than at this very moment. Have you read George Orwell's novel 1984? It appears to me that what you are engaged in currently with the word "torture" is certainly a form of "doublespeak," as egregious as that engaged in by Bill Clinton when he attempted to finesse the phrase "sexual relations" seven years ago. And when you say, "Any activity we conduct is within the law," cynics might say that that is so because you feel you can define what is the law.
Just recently the Washington Post reported that for the past three years the CIA has operated covert detention facilities in various parts of the world, including eastern Europe and Thailand. These facilities were initially meant to hold high-value Al-Qaeda targets such as Abu Zubaida, possibly indefinitely. Mr. President, I cannot understand why the CIA thought these would be either legal or a good idea. You must be aware of the old saying that "Absolute power corrupts, absolutely." That holds true for Americans as much as for anyone else in the world; it is an extremely bad idea to maintain detention facilities where the administrators have no obligation whatsoever to treat their inmates with dignity.
Relatedly, I cannot comprehend why your office is so resistant to granting alleged terrorists the right to defend themselves openly in a U.S. Court of Law. You recently said, "We are finding terrorists and bringing them to justice." Why not give them the opportunity to have "justice" the way justice is normally delivered -- through a fair trial, with the presumption of innocence? Holding individuals in detention indefinitely is not justice at all, but a kind of crime, similar to kidnapping.
Mr. President, I'm disappointed that you do not appear to be aware of the fallout from your policies abroad. Your advocacy of methods of interrogation that at least some people would describe as inhumane looks especially bad considering that the image of the U.S. remains deeply tarnished by the disturbing and graphic pictures that came out of the Abu Ghraib prison facility last year, pictures which we now know were only the tip of the iceberg regarding the mistreatment of detainees. Your position also perpetuates the myth that the U.S. uses torture, which virtually ensures that captured American troops will have such methods used on them in the future.
Finally, it appears to many observers around the world that you either do not mean what you say when you use words like "liberty" and "freedom," or you simply do not know what those words mean. Torture and associated practices are absolutely inconsistent with any fair understanding of human rights in the modern world.
I sincerely hope you will rethink your position. If you genuinely do not mean to advocate any practice that a reasonable person could call inhumane, you ought to support McCain's bill.