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White House nears completion of new torture guidelines

Critics say administration's endorsement of 'enhanced interrogation' is 'immoral,' draw comparisons to Nazi war crimes.

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The White House is close to completing a new set of guidelines on the use of "enhanced interrogative techniques" by US agents, even as critics say such techniques are "immoral," "amateurish," and "indistinguishable" from Nazi war crimes.

The New York Times reports that the administration is preparing "secret new rules governing interrogations."

The Bush administration is nearing completion of a long-delayed executive order that will set new rules for interrogations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The order is expected to ban the harshest techniques used in the past, including the simulated drowning tactic known as waterboarding, but to authorize some methods that go beyond those allowed in the military by the Army Field Manual.

The Times writes that President Bush has claimed the broader techniques are needed to fight terrorism, and in the recent Republican presidential debate, candidates made similar suggestions about the necessity of harsh interrogation.

Critics, however, say that the Bush administration's policy regarding torture is "immoral." Philip Zelikow, a former advisor to Condoleezza Rice and the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, said in a lecture last month (PDF) at the Houston Journal of International Law that in 2002, the United States made "careful, deliberate choices to place extreme physical pressure on captives, with accompanying psychological effects," and that the administration's "policy guidelines devolved into legal guidelines, which were to do everything you can, so long as it is not punishable as a crime under American law."

Brilliant lawyers worked hard on how they could then construe the limits of vague, untested laws. They were operating so close to the frontiers of our law that, within only a couple of years, the Department of Justice eventually felt obliged to offer a second legal opinion, rewriting their original views of the subject. The policy results are imaginable and will someday become more fully known.
My point, though, is not to debate the delineation of the legal frontier. That focus obscures the core of the issue. The core of the issue, for legal policy, is this: What is moral – not, what is legal? What is cost-beneficial? ...
My own view is that the cool, carefully considered, methodical, prolonged, and repeated subjection of captives to physical torment, and the accompanying psychological terror, is immoral. I offer no opinion as to whether such conduct is a federal crime; merely that it is immoral.
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