The National Security Archive published a recently declassified memorandum from a senior U.S. State Department advisor Philip Zelikow who in 2006 courageously (if belatedly) opposed the Bush Administration's authorization of water boarding and other methods of what is often euphemistically referred to as 'enhance interrogation.' The legal opinions by former Deparment of Justice lawyers led by John Yoo endorsing the use of torture will serve as a blot on the soul of our nation for some time to come. It is a credit to both John McCain and Mr. Zelikow that they pressed the government to adhere to its own laws and professed principles.
Much of the Zelikow memo is written in legal-ease. The essence of his argument is that many of the "enhanced interrogation techniques authorized for employment by the CIA...[are] intrinsically cruel, inhuman, [and] degrading...[and should] be barred even if there is a compelling state interest asserted to justify them." The memo goes on to more explicitly make the case that specific coercive techniques including water boarding and stress positions are unconstitutional; while other measures such as sleep and food deprivation may be legal "depending on the circumstances and details of how these techniques are used."
Nations often reflect the aspirations, hopes, and fears of their people and leaders. In the of 9/11, many Americans have become overly fearful and only too willing to sacrifice personal liberties and bypass constitutionally-guarantee legal protections in the pursuit of an imagined (and unachievable) sense of security. Thankfully, President Obama has put some of the uglier aspects of the 'global war on terror' behind us. However, other aspects such as warrantless searches, 'targeted assassinations', and indefinite detentions remain. We will yet need many more citizens, politicians, and officials to demonstrate the courage of their convictions.
The author is professor of national security studies at the U.S. Army War College. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.