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Waterboarding Is Torture

Post Columnist Eugene Robinson has been a constant voice going back well into the Bush Administration in declaring that waterboarding is torture. President Obama said the same thing at his news conference last night. However, as Robinson points out in PostPartisan, the president did not say what, if anything, he plans to do about it.

Our Readers Who Comment mostly agree and several want something done -- a prosecution, a Truth Commission, whatever, but something. A few do not. But it is an unusually intelligent conversation about a subject that doesn't look like it's going away.

The high quality of comments on Robinson's take stand in sharp contrast to the sometimes uncivilized remarks that accompany the story about the president's news conference.

victorponelis wrote, "What's next? Hopefully no prosecutions. While this is probably strange to hear coming from an Obama supporter, the distraction in Washington that prosecutions would create would detract from the serious business upon which the Administration, and Congress, SHOULD focus..."

But solsticebelle said, "I have lost almost all respect for Obama over the way he's tried to sweep torture under the rug via his constant "look forward" garbage. I will lose what little respect I have left if he continues to talk about of both sides of his mouth by making unequivocal statements against torture on the one hand and then on the other hand refusing to hold anyone in BushCo accountable..."

yarbrougharts observed that "What Obama clearly failed to answer, in fact he evaded as hard as one can (and there was a direct question) to whether any laws were broken. An equal inference can be drawn to a conclusion(in Obama's mind) that Bush's Torture was ethically and morally wrong, waterboarding indeed being torture without any laws being broken and not warranting any investigations into lawlessness. Pretty Sad."

chrisfox8 wrote, "...the investigation needs to proceed. Whether or not those who gave the orders go to prison is a separate matter but if they remain among us they need to be shamed. But... what comes out next is what they were seeking, which was the manufacture of an Iraq-Al Qaida connection, and what comes next is the ginning up of the Iraq invasion we did not need to wage..."

hypocritebuster said, "...I think Obama is being pretty smart. He doesn't want to spend any political capital by taking the lead on something as sensitive and divisive a criminally investigating the previous administration. He already has too many fish to fry..."

To which ifthethunderdontgetya replied, "Sorry hypocritebuster, but if we are going to have change, the most important part of that is changing back to a nation that respects the law. So yeah, we are going to have to investigate and prosecute the torture we have done, politically expedient or not."

RaymondTAnderson wrote, "...If Obama wants to be remembered as a second Lincoln, he will make a moral choice that offends many Americans but will bring out country another step closer to justice for all. If he doesn't have the courage of our last Illinois president, he can go down in history as a second Ford, too eager to move on that he leaves the nation's wounds unhealed."

stevel1 said, "What Obama thinks about holding torturers responsible doesn't matter. Either Congress or the Justice Dept will make the decision in the end. Torture is against the law. Waterboarding is torture, therefore anyone who engaged in it or enabled it is guilty of a crime. WHY they did it may mitigate at sentencing but it doesn't negate the crime..."

jfern03wrote, "...We do have to investigate and prosecute where appropriate. Otherwise, we are not who we say or who we think we are as a people and a nation. The beacon of democracy and freedom cannot be sending the message to do as we say, not as we do."

rinpochet said, "It really doesn't matter what Obama says on the matter. This is up to a separate branch of government; the judicial branch. It is up to [Attorney General Eric] Holder to either investigate or get a special prosecutor to do the job...The justice department has no choice in the matter. That is if oaths of office are taken seriously."

Hg80 wrote, "The very least that should be done is to disbar the lawyers who wrote the torture memos -- Most lawyers respect precedent and it would hopefully deter lawyers in the future from repeating such folly. Isn't there a law against writing a legal opinion that is just obvious BS?"

We'll close with this creative suggestion from langs13: "If the Republican party was smart they would be the one's leading the brigade to prosecute the Bush admin. It's there last chance to break from the Bush year's. Seems to me the Republican party will go down as the Anti-American party..."

All comments appear at the end of Robinson's commentary.

By Doug Feaver  |  April 30, 2009; 6:50 AM ET
Categories:  Obama , Torture , Waterboarding  | Tags: Obama, Torture, Waterboarding  
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As the Right slides further and further to the, well, right-wing of the political spectrum it is interesting to realize that the Middle has become the New Left to these people.

As ever, I continue to be utterly amazed that that Doug Feaver has a much stronger stomach than I do for the toxic remarks that wind up as comments to articles in WaPo. Likewise, it seems that these comments do not know any political boundries, on the Left or the Right, when it comes to perverse logic, twisted dogma, and out and out ad hominum slams.

Which leads me to ask, Don't Moderates or those in the Middle make comments to articles that appear in the WaPo? Or, are theirs simply lost in the screaming and yelling of those on either end of the political spectrum attacking each other?

I think that most of those who reside in the vague Middle of our political landscape have concerns about torture and both its conseqences and how does a nation go about dealing with it? I think some view this as the genie that has gotten out of the box and may never get put back in the box, or at least not any time soon.

My personal thoughts are that I am amazed that we are even hesitating to look this square in the eye and do something about it. Paraphrasing Fiorello La Guardia: It is not whether or not you did the right thing as whether or not you hesitated to do the right thing.

I am constantly amazed as to how many seem to have no problem defending the use of torture and find nothing good to say about those trying to ensure that is it not halted, but that those who committed crimes are brought to trial and dealt with appropriately. I always want to ask this: if it were your son or daughter, mother or father, husband or wife, how would you feel then?

Posted by: E75Ranger | May 4, 2009 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Waterboarding and all of the methods described in the Justice Department memos are torture. This has been defined by the US and also by our allies and our signed committment to the Geneva Conventions after WWII. People have already been convicted for these methods - as torture.

In this case many laws were broken by the lowly people at the bottom (torture) and many laws broken by the people at the top making decisions. Torture is against our laws and against international laws and our treaties. The Bush- Cheney people broke our laws at home and broke the internationals law under the Geneva Conventions. Bush broke our laws under our constitution by ursurping power over Congress to break our treaty. He does not have the right even in war time. He does not have the right to create a CIA torture program, fund it, and torture human beings. He and his people broke our laws. The Supreme Court recently gave a verdict that Al Quaeda terrorists that are captured (or any other)must be treated according to the Geneva Conventions. Bush and his administration broke the law even after this court ruling. Manipulative Justice Department memos don't make a difference and at worse show pre-planned methods to get around the law. Motives for trying to prove Sadaam Hussein had WMD were sadly obsessive and disfunctional, but still no excuse to break all these laws.

Our Justice Department or Congress must do their duty and provide transparancy, provide truth to the public. These people must be tarred and feathered in the public commons. They may be pursued and prosecuted, too.

Posted by: annabelle2009 | May 3, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

To you ninnies trying to make bizarre comparisons between abortion and torture. Abortion is legal in this country last I checked. Torture is NOT. They hardly fit in the same category. What I find so incredibly inconsistent is how so many of those who are violently opposed to abortion are fine and dandy with the death penalty.

Posted by: ggwalt | May 2, 2009 7:05 AM | Report abuse

The failure to impeach Bush and Cheney was a devastating blow to the U.S. Constitution, American ideals, and the rule of law.

A failure to fully investigate and prosecute all those responsible for torture and other war crimes would be even more devastating.

We must keep grassroots pressure on law enforcement, Congress, and the Obama administration to follow the evidence wherever it leads, and fully prosecute the war criminals in our midst.

We must encourage other nations to speak their truth and help prosecute our war criminals.

My progressive views are expressed in The Bush League of Nations: The Coalition of the Unwilling, the Bullied and the Bribed – the GOP’s War on Iraq and America, by James A. Swanson (2008, published by CreateSpace Publishing, 448 pages).

You can now download the entire $25.95 book for FREE at

I ask for nothing in return, except that you consider using this free resource to transform and build America.

Jim Swanson, Los Altos, CA
“The Bush League of Nations” [for FREE download of entire $25.95 book]

Posted by: jimswanson | May 1, 2009 2:21 PM | Report abuse

No! No! No! Those of you condoning legal abortions do not have the moral authority to demand retribution for a lesser offense. I will remind you, decade after decade, millions of Americans remain furious that a million babies are slaughtered every year. Now the same people who support that horrific act are out to put key Bush Administration figures in jail for treating 9/11 conspirators harshly. The Left's raw political vendetta has gone far enough. Fundamentally immoral leftists are turning the world upside-down.

Posted by: TJLinBallston | May 1, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

obama's simply a moral coward; nothing new in his shallow, sly refusal to prosecute the torturers, including his fatuous reliance on the phony baloney, cooked, ridiculous bush legal opinions; he's the nations judas iscariot, who sold out the "shining light's" integrity for thirty pieces of silver; edmund burke comment encapsulates the quintessential obama: "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."; pilate similarly talks to obama, and all other self proclaimed holy men ... remember pilate tried to shift responsibility to others; sought to compromise with evil; and thought he could wash his hands of the situation

Posted by: evenadog | May 1, 2009 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Obama has stated that waterboarding is torture.

His predecessor had (and probably still has) a different opinion.

The fact that a sitting president gives an opinion does not mean that his point of view has more validity than a former president. Nor less validity.

But most of you have already made up your minds on this issue, one way or the other. Unfortunate, that, because half of you are, well, dead wrong,...not that YOU'RE one of them, naturally.

I think the issue of Torture/"Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" is perhaps the most divisive and pernicious issue facing the country today, at least in terms of vitriol. Oddly enough, it's also one of the least important issues in terms of the nation's long-term survival. Here's why: Whether it is or isn't torture is not going to fix the economy, the environment, education, racial and gender inequality, healthcare, Social Security, or a host of other societal ills. Nor will an authoritative definition rob Bin Laden and his followers of their raison d'etre, nor of their stated goals. "Moral High Ground" (or the loss of it) isn't going to feed you or generations to come, nor protect you against a terrorist attack, or even H1N1. It does allow for an opportunity to vent, often in the most childish terms, and for a torrent of articles by the media and pronouncements by politicians and pundits.

Bush had to make some tough calls when he was in the Oval Office. Now Obama has to make some tough calls. That's what we elect our leaders to do. As diverse as American society is these days, it's probably impossible to support every decision a president makes. But don't assume that every president is infallible. And wouldn't it be great if we could dispense with the tired, yet fervently-repeated assertion that President ____________ (fill in the blank) is/was evil incarnate and hellbent on the gratuitous destruction of the country. Those assumptions and assertions are simply not helpful in rational discourse, and certainly not persuasive, regardless of decibel level.

Prosecutions are not the answer, particularly given the depth of the current national (and international) divide over this issue. I think the best "judge" of the Bush policies (and later those of Obama) will be history. The difficulty isn't in our collective ability to analyze the past; the difficulty is trying to analyze the moment you're in, and make no mistake, we're all still "in" this moment. Breathe in. Breathe out. Give yourself a chance to assimilate what is happening now. Because I promise you, there are probably worse things to come that will need our immediate attention. God Bless the USA. You included.

Posted by: dh_in_dc | April 30, 2009 10:04 PM | Report abuse

I wish the people who are demanding prosecution now would allow the President to fix the basic ills of our economy, (you know what they are), before we go on a sould cleansing witch hunt of Cheney & Co.. GWB's best act was the last act he didn't do. He didn't pardon anyone. Patience. Please!

Posted by: bsumpter3 | April 30, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

PRESIDENT BUSH: excerpt of speech shortly before the invasion of Iraq:

"...And all Iraqi military and civilian personnel should listen carefully to this warning: In any conflict, your fate will depend on your actions. Do not destroy oil wells, a source of wealth that belongs to the Iraqi people. Do not obey any command to use weapons of mass destruction against anyone, including the Iraqi people. War crimes will be prosecuted, war criminals will be punished and it will be no defense to say, “I was just following orders.” ...

Posted by: jfern03 | April 30, 2009 7:28 PM | Report abuse


"As I said in China this spring, there is no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man. There is no place for torture and arbitrary detention. There is no place for forced confessions. There is no place for intolerance of dissent." "While we walked through the Rotunda. I explained to President Jiang how the roots of American rule of law go back more than 700 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend".

Posted by: jfern03 | April 30, 2009 7:16 PM | Report abuse

I don't believe it is the President's position to comment on whether or not people committed criminal acts; doing so could taint a jury pool.

If crimes were committed then the Justice Department or Congress should take it up.

Better yet, let's accept indictments from an International War Crimes Tribunal outside of this nation. Then we can treat the thugs involved with torture by sending them out of the country in a manner not any different than we do some former Nazi prison camp guard.

If the same International Tribunal that has convicted Nazi Party war criminals would convict Republican Party war criminals the convictions would carry a lot of weight.

Posted by: colonelpanic | April 30, 2009 7:08 PM | Report abuse

For Barack Obama to say that we could have gotten the same information by other interrogation methods from the three terrorists that were waterboarded is reckless and irresponsible speculation!

When did he become an expert on interrogations? How could he possibly second guess the experts who were there and assume he would have gotten the same information?

This is something a partisan hack would say who was trying to score cheap political points. This is not a wise leader.

Posted by: JimMF | April 30, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

If you think torture is bad, try having a doctor mutilate your brains as a method for killing you. It happens in the good old USofA with the blessing of many liberal Democrats.

In fact, our president voted to allow you to die without medical care just because you were not wanted by your mother.

How about this leftist nonsense:

It is bad to waterboard terrorist withholding information that could save lives
It is OK to allow newborn infants to die if they were born during a botched abortion
It is OK to fully deliver an infant, except for keeping the head in the birth canal, for the sole purpose of mutilating the babies brains and KILLING IT!!!!

Our president opposed the Born-Alive Infant Protection Act and he opposed the ban on partial (near-full) birth abortions, but dog-gone it, you better be nice to those terrorists.

Elect a radical leftist and this is the nonsense you get.

Posted by: JimMF | April 30, 2009 5:44 PM | Report abuse

This is getting beyond absurd sophistry. Whether waterboarding is torture is for a court with proper jurisdiction to decide. My legal opinion as to whether it was torture would be as good as the next attorney's, and that begs the question as to whether an attorney should be prosecuted for rendering a legal opinion on this issue.

As long as we're on the subject of precedent, it's interesting that Obama would cite Churchill, the German blitz, German "detainees" [weren't they POW's?] and World War II. It seems to me that although maybe the vengeance urge didn't hit Chruchill in 1940, it might have motivated him to order the RAF [together with the USAF] to firebomb Dresden, Germany, which, at the time of its obliteration in 1945, had no military value whatsoever. At least 25,000 civilians were killed. How many waterboarded prisoners died at Gitmo?

Second question -- was there a judge and jury on the fantail of the USS Bainbridge when our SEALs took out the 3 Somali pirates? If there was, I must have missed it. Please explain to me the legal authority of the President to order the executions of foreign nationals on the high seas. Don't get me wrong, it's one of the few things I think Obama has done right in these 101 days. Does the next administration or, perhaps, Spain, have the right to indict our President for this?

Food for thought.

Posted by: tampalawyer | April 30, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

There is a lot of assumption on these message boards that the US did not torture before Bush came along. Quite the contrary. Here is an exerpt from "Torture and Democracy" by Darius Rejali, a professor in the US:

"There is a long, unbroken, though largely forgotten history of torture in democracies at home and abroad, a history stretching back some 200 years and involving the main democracies of modern times." Most significantly, he finds that it is the police and the military in the democracies that have led the way in clean (i.e., no marks on the victim) torture. The first police to use electric torture were the Americans (circa 1908), the British (1912) and the French (1931). The Dutch pioneered the technique of water-choking with a linen napkin or chiffon; the Americans and British pioneered the use of beating with high-pressure water; the British alone pioneered the combination of handcuffs and freezing baths. Democracies, not dictatorships, are the "innovators" in this crowded field. In a word, the torturers are us."

Now, that doesn't make what Bush did OK. But I think there is validity in Obama's approach. Digging up the past could get a lot messier than people might think. Is everyone out there sure the US didn't torture anyone durng Vietnam? Or in Nicaraqua? Cambodia? How about some of our police tactics? I think some people, like Rodney King, might feel they were tortured. Why would the Bush administration be the only group singled out?

Posted by: allknowingguy | April 30, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

It appears that we have tortured thousands of military trainees with the full knowledge of our military and Congress - Democrats and Republicans.

Where do we start the prosecutions?

How about we start with Nancy Pelosi. In a press conference, Nancy has lied to Americans regarding her knowledge of waterboarding in 2002. Pelosi was briefed by the CIA on specific interrogation methods including waterboarding.

The conduct of the current Speaker of the House warrants impeachment proceedings. The American people cannot trust Nancy Pelosi on high level issues pertaining to national security. She has to go.


Posted by: JimMF | April 30, 2009 4:50 PM | Report abuse

Atten: Editor. The question is not one of "Are we opposed to torture," but how can we instigate our legal authorities to punish those who torture?. They are obviously opposed to taking the necessary legal steps to bring those torturers in our midst to the bar of justice. How can we stir them up to do their job, and do it promptly. It is one thing for Obama to say Waterboarding is torture, but is is cer-tainly another thing for him to say we are 'looking ahead, not behind'. Who is he trying to deceive? The "time has come to enforce our laws", not to hide behind bland Banalities. '"Now is the Time"!!!

Posted by: Cyrano | April 30, 2009 4:45 PM | Report abuse

For those that feel the need to defend Torture (enhanced techniques) - please explain to me if one of soldiers were put through those techniques to the letter of those memos - would that be legal - moral to you?
Do you honestly believe if you were told that we had a soldier water boarded 183 times you would be ok with that treatment - I am not arguing the point of someone doing that to a USA soldier but the technique itself done to the soldier
I believe our country would be calling for action against that force - and rightly so.

Posted by: cutespiral5 | April 30, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse


WWJD? Torture?

It is sad to see those that believe they are on the right side of life, use it to deflect the human right against torture

Posted by: cutespiral5 | April 30, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

I believe it is clear that laws were broken. Waterboarding is torture, torture is against the law, and the US government has prosecuted US and enemy persons for waterboarding. Enforcement of laws is not a matter of convenience, and it matters not that it may be inconvenient for the Obama agenda to fully investigate and prosecute where called for the Bush administration officials who ordered torture. President Obama has one constitution recourse to prosecution -- pardons -- but that would be unthinkable. He should lower his profile on all this, get out of the way, and let the prosecutors follow the evidence and bring charges as appropriate.

Posted by: gjhinnova | April 30, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Hard to believe isn't it. We can't make a terrorist uncomfortable but... we are federally funding the dismemberment of millions of foreign children through international abortion mills supported by Planned Parenthood. courtesy of Obama and the secular zealots of congress.

Harsh interrogation is against our sensibilities but killing a million American babies every year health care...

God forgive them even though they know exactly what they are doing.

Posted by: Straightline | April 30, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

That is Mr. Robinson's (and Obama's) opinion. Reasonable minds differ.

Posted by: JakeD | April 30, 2009 1:32 PM | Report abuse

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