By Bob Herbert
Thursday was the 21st anniversary of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.
It was also the same day that two Bush administration lawyers appeared before a House subcommittee to answer questions about their roles in providing the legal framework for harsh interrogation techniques that inevitably rose to the level of torture and shamed the U.S. before the rest of the world.
The lawyers, both former Justice Department officials, were David Addington, who is now Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and John Yoo, now a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley. There is no danger of either being enshrined as heroes in the history books of the future.
For most Americans, torture is something remote, abstract, reprehensible, but in the eyes of some, perhaps necessary — when the bomb is ticking, for example, or when interrogators are trying to get information from terrorists willing to kill Americans in huge numbers.
Reality offers something much different. We saw the hideous photos from Abu Ghraib. And now the Nobel Prize-winning organization Physicians for Human Rights has released a report, called “Broken Laws, Broken Lives,” that puts an appropriately horrifying face on a practice that is so fundamentally evil that it cannot co-exist with the idea of a just and humane society.
The report profiles 11 detainees who were tortured while in U.S. custody and then released — their lives ruined — without ever having been charged with a crime or told why they were detained. All of the prisoners were men, and all were badly beaten. One was sodomized with a broomstick, the report said, and forced by his interrogators to howl like a dog while a soldier urinated on him.
He fainted, the report said, “after a soldier stepped on his genitals.”
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