The president and "the program"

What sort of "clarity" do interrogators actually need?

Published September 15, 2006 8:23PM (EDT)

George W. Bush said repeatedly today that if Congress doesn't adopt his plan for the treatment of detainees, the "professionals" in the U.S. intelligence community will have to stop "the program." Bush never said what "the program" was exactly, and that's because he'd rather not. What he'd like you to think is that, absent some further "clarity" from Congress, interrogators just won't be able to ask questions of even the highest-level terrorism suspects out of fear that they'll end up on the wrong side of the law.

That's nonsense, of course, but it's par for the course: When anyone suggests that the administration actually follow the law and get a warrant when it engages in wiretapping, Bush and his surrogates immediately claim the critics want to prevent the United States from listening to al-Qaida altogether. We know that's not true, they know that's not true, but they're hoping that there are just enough people out there who don't know any better to keep the Republicans in control of the House and Senate come November.

So what's really at stake here? What interrogation activities does the White House want its "professionals" to be able to use that they lack the "clarity" to use now? Marty Lederman has a partial list of what we should assume we're actually debating here: "'Cold cell,' or hypothermia, where a prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees, during which he is doused with cold water; 'long time standing,' in which a prisoner is forced to stand, handcuffed and with his feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours; other forms of 'stress positions' and prolonged sleep deprivation, perhaps akin to 'long time standing'; and threats of violence and death of a detainee and/or his family."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

MORE FROM Tim Grieve

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

George W. Bush War Room