There's a huge amount of back-and-forth on the web and elsewhere right now about whether torture "worked" in extracting information from al Qaeda suspects and, if so, whether that means that the Bush administration was justified in ordering it. I just wanted to post something I noted in a discussion on Times and Seasons (which is a really great forum, by the way) about whether Bybee should be impeached. ("Bye, Bye, Bybee?") This is from the UN Convention on Torture, signed and supported by Ronald Reagan. To me, it cuts through the whole debate:
Article 1.1 (definition of torture):
"Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions."
Article 2.2 (prohibition of use):
"No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Got that? I'm not a lawyer, but this seems pretty unequivocal to me. No severe pain or suffering to elicit a confession. Period. Never justified, ever - including when there might be another attack coming. Period.
This isn't to say that Bush, Bybee, et al should have just read this statute and gone home. I understand that there must have been immense pressure in 2002 to do whatever it took to prevent another attack. (Leaving aside the likelihood that Bush and Cheney endorsed torture in an attempt to bolster the case for war in Iraq.)
What the statute says is that the question of whether a democratic nation may torture a suspect is more profound than whether that suspect possesses potentially useful information or not. The "ticking time bomb" scenario is not new; it's something political leaders - including Reagan - have grappled with for generations. It's the central question that determines whether a democracy lives or dies. The UN Convention on Torture makes the verdict crystal clear: No torture. Ever.