The Bush administration has repeatedly insisted that it doesn't condone torture. Yet, following 9/11, the president's legal weasels drafted a secret memo that allowed for “aggressive” interrogations of terrorist suspects. The memo narrowly defined torture as the act of inflicting pain as an end in itself, as distinguished from inflicting pain in the interests of national security. In other words, under the guidelines of the memo, counter-terrorist agents could do almost anything to a suspect, and it wouldn't be considered torture so long as the agents involved weren't just doing it for cheap thrills. The moral ambiguities inherent in this memo led directly to the debacle at Abu Ghraib and other heinous abuses of U.S. detainees, most of whom had never been accused of any crime.
In 2004, the memo was leaked, and the Bush administration quickly tried to cover its tracks by explaining, unconvincingly, that the policy had never been implemented. Last year, Congress responded to widespread public concern over the issue by passing a ban on torture drafted by Sen. John McCain. The bill made it through Congress only after Vice President Dick Cheney tried to convince McCain to insert an exemption for U.S. counter-terrorist interrogators working overseas. Through it all, the Bush administration continued to talk out both sides of its mouth, playing semantic games to cover up interrogation techniques—let's just call it torture, shall we?—that would horrify most Americans.
While still insisting that he doesn't condone torture, Bush threatened to veto McCain's ban on torture. In the end, he didn't veto it. Instead, he issued one of his now-infamous “signing statements,” essentially saying that even though he had signed the ban into law, he reserved his right as Commander in Chief to ignore it. To this day, the Bush administration claims that the Constitution gives the president the authority to decide how terrorism suspects will be treated.
The Bush administration's ambiguous stance on torture has greatly eroded our international prestige, damaging our national interests more than any benefit we may have gained from torturing suspected terrorists. Over the past few years, the detention center at Guantanamo, especially, has become an international symbol of our country's hypocrisy in the war on terror, a painful admission that we've betrayed the foundational values of our nation and taken several steps toward becoming the monsters we've sworn to destroy. The damage will be very hard to repair.