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John C. Woo on the Legality of Torture

Wednesday, April 9, 2008
In one of many recent articles appearing in the wake of last week's declassification of former Justice Department lawyer John C. Woo's 2003 memorandum discussing the legality of various torture techniques, the Washington Post's Dan Eggen reveals several of the "unsavory topics" appearing in Woo's report. Although "[n]o maiming is known to have occurred in U. S. interrogations" of terror suspects detained by government authorities, Eggen writes, "federal laws prohibiting assault, maiming and other crimes by military interrogators are trumped by the president's ultimate authority as commander in chief" during wartime.

In other words, the president could authorize "slitting an ear, nose or lip or disabling a tongue or limb" if he or she felt it was in the best interest of the country. Furthermore, according to Woo's memorandum, unless such tactics result in "death, organ failure or serious impairment of bodily functions," they will not be regarded as torture. Thus, although several "courts have declared [such] tactics to be inhumane" and "the relative illegality of a wide variety of interrogation tactics" cannot be denied, they do not qualify as torture. Consequently, while "they [are] illegal under a provision of the Geneva Conventions," the Bush administration regards such provisions as without "relevance to unlawful combatants in custody."

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