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Vague Torture Guidelines Offer Little Hope

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July 20, 2007

President Bush signed a new executive order Friday afternoon that outlines his administration’s interpretation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. As the Supreme Court held last year, when it struck down another Bush policy on detainees, Common Article 3 applies to the treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.

The new order reaffirms what Bush laid out in the Military Commissions Act: the U.S. will conform to all statutes that prohibit “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.” The new, nebulous guidelines prohibit “acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of the individual” (stomping on a detainee’s Koran might fall in there) and acts that are “beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation [like at Abu Ghraib, perhaps?]…”

The guidelines are still too vague. Does the CIA consider waterboarding cruel and inhuman? You won’t get an answer from the White House: it will neither confirm no deny that it tortures at all, much less give a straight answer as to which “interrogation techniques” are banned under this new order and which are still permitted. The AP reports that White House officials don’t consider sleep a necessity, raising the question of whether the president is approving sleep deprivation.

But as ACLU senior legislative counsel Chris Anders points out, this executive order is “only as good as the people applying it. If any of the recent past presidents, Republican or Democrat, were applying this order, we wouldn’t have any doubt that it means an end to torture and abuse by the CIA.”

But President Bush? We’re skeptical, to say the least.