In unprecedented congressional testimony Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann recently refused to say it would be illegal for American POWs to be tortured through waterboarding by our enemies. He couldn’t because a policy claimed to be legal when committed by our government would be equally legal when committed by our enemies against our troops and POWs.
The legal perversion of Gen. Hartmann’s testimony would outrage American military families.
It dramatizes how alien this torture policy is from two centuries of American military and legal tradition, when an American general cannot defend the time honored rights of American POWs, and America’s enemies could use his testimony as their defense for torture against our troops.
From the days of George Washington, every president, every Congress and every Supreme Court has believed that torture is illegal and violates cardinal American values.
From the days of the Continental Army until today, torture has been opposed by virtually every commander of every branch of military service.
With all of the discredited practices of the Bush years, his playing on the darker impulses of fear to justify what no previous president, no previous Congress and no previous Supreme Court has ever allowed is testimony to the damage this does to American honor and the threats this creates for American troops.
Of course, the CIA destroyed the torture tapes that were sought as evidence by the 9-11 Commission, courts and Congress.
They were destroyed because they were evidence of abuses that the weight of legal opinion would conclude constitutes criminal conduct under international and American law. Their destruction probably constitutes obstruction of justice.
Torture is a cancer that metastasizes to everything it touches. Our international credibility collapses. Our POWs are exposed to grave new dangers. The destruction of evidence becomes inevitable. The obstruction of justice becomes a reality and the inevitably failed cover-up is exposed.
Torture corrupts the military chain of command. Civilians who never served in the military order uniformed officers to commit acts that they strongly oppose.
Torture corrupts military justice by creating a super-secret infrastructure of detention centers that enable torture, morphing into an infrastructure of secret courts and secret evidence that almost inevitably lead to secret crimes that are ultimately exposed.
It is no coincidence that Attorney General Michael Mukasey pursues the doctrine of his predecessor, Alberto Gonzales, trying to exclude Congress yet again, in yet another attack on constitutional checks and balances.
An independent counsel is clearly needed because the Justice Department and CIA have been thoroughly integrated into the actions and justifications for the practices under investigation.
There is no credence when government agencies so thoroughly integrated into the torture policy investigate themselves without independent review. This constitutes not merely the extreme perception of conflict of interest, but the extreme reality of conflict of interest.
This conflict is even more draconian because of the unexplained reversal of position by the Attorney General himself between his first and second days of testimony during his confirmation hearings.
Military families oppose torture because they have a profound respect for military honor, military justice and military values. Like every previous generation of American presidents and American commanders, they know that torture endangers those they love, who serve so bravely.
Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then-chief deputy whip of the House. He serves on the Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit and as contributing editor of Fighting Dems News Service. He can be read on The Hill Pundits Blog and reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.