Jess Bravin reports in Monday's Wall Street Journal (subscription required) about a classified legal memorandum prepared by the Pentagon's Office of General Counsel that appears designed to find every legal workaround possible to justify coercive interrogation and torture at Guantanamo Bay. This report comes in the wake of disclosures about other memoranda — one written in early 2002 by UC Berkeley law professor John Yoo while with the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, and a second written by White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales — justifying the White House's overall Guantanamo Bay plan. This latest memo, signed in April 2003, goes much further than those though — it specifically authorizes the use of torture tactics, up to and including those which may result in the death of a detainee...
...The president, despite domestic and international laws constraining the use of torture, has the authority as commander in chief to approve almost any physical or psychological actions during interrogation, up to and including torture, the report argued. Civilian or military personnel accused of torture or other war crimes have several potential defenses, including the "necessity" of using such methods to extract information to head off an attack, or "superior orders," sometimes known as the Nuremberg defense: namely that the accused was acting pursuant to an order and, as the Nuremberg tribunal put it, no "moral choice was in fact possible."
If you want to be a Nazi, this DOJ document suggests how to get away with it. I rather doubt Bush is going to sign any international war crimes treaty -- he'd be convicting himself.
The term "war criminal" is used so carelessly that it's lost most of its meaning. The bombing of Cambodia may have been a war crime, and Kissinger might thus qualify as a war criminal, but I can't think of many other clearcut post-1980 examples (though I'm no historian). Except for this one. Even I'm a bit stunned.
Ashcroft should go now. Bush should not be reelected. If he is, no American with half a brain can claim they "didn't know".