U.S. torture must stop. And if you thought Sen. John McCain's amendment stopped it already, think again.
Last year, the Bush administration's support for torture came out into the open. Vice President Cheney lobbied Congress to allow torture as U.S. policy, in a clash with McCain, R-Ariz., who himself was tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Despite the administration's attempts, Congress overwhelmingly passed an amendment banning torture.
But, unfortunately, the McCain Amendment has not halted torture as U.S. policy, for two reasons.
First, President Bush has unilaterally announced he will only follow it as he sees fit. He used a disturbing "signing statement" that could nullify the ban by arguing he will only follow the law "consistent with the constitutional authority of the President" as commander in chief.
Second, the United States continues to send people abroad for torture. New CIA flight disclosures prove that even if torture is restricted on our soil, it can be outsourced.
A recent 25-page report from Amnesty International disclosed hundreds of flight records of front companies the CIA used to transport people to locations where torture is a common government practice.
The CIA refused to respond to the report, but the agency has previously defended similar practices under the euphemism of "extraordinary rendition." Translated into English, that means outsourcing torture, and these shocking records show that torture has become a tool of U.S. foreign policy.
How did we reach this point -- where U.S. torture is repeatedly revealed, Americans are briefly outraged, Congress deplores the conduct, but the policies continue virtually unchanged?
The Bush administration has led a multifaceted effort to justify and employ torture for the past five years. The process began in secret -- with internal legal memos designed to crack the door open for new torture tactics -- and then later went public with a parade of senior officials lowering the bar for acceptable conduct.
The president's attorney, Alberto Gonzales, managed the legal process to authorize torture, arguing that the Geneva Conventions' rules on humane treatment no longer applied.
Other officials crafted language to narrowly "redefine" torture to allow abuse, and one memo bluntly announced that torture "may be justified."
Yet when the news broke of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq, the Bush administration falsely assured Americans that the torture was an isolated event. The Department of Defense criticized the behavior of "a few bad apples." And prosecutors focused on low-level officers.
After that scandal faded, allies of the administration claimed that torture might elicit information to prevent attacks -- even though experts agree it is ineffective at extracting the truth. Some irresponsible opinion leaders even promoted the ridiculous hypothetical that "9/11 might have been avoided" if only people were tortured.
After McCain appeared to defeat the vice president's effort to keep torture on the table, Bush, with his signing statement, opened the torture door again.
Now Congress must decide: Did it vote to eliminate the use of torture or not?
McCain has been quiet since the recent disclosures. This is precisely the time for Congress to pass a total ban on outsourcing torture, with a formal rejection of the president's unconstitutional claim that he can follow these laws as he sees fit.
We cannot let the immoral and incoherent excuses for torture seep deeper into our law and policy.
It does not matter where these crimes against humanity occur, or what the perpetrators claim to have in mind when they commit them. It does not matter if we are at war, because our values do not fluctuate in response to the challenges before us.
This country was founded on the principle that the government's actions are bound by the Constitution and the American people, not by the whims of any single administration.
Congress must forcefully remind the president of that fact, before it is too late.
Michael Ratner is president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents victims of torture around the world, and the co-author of "Guantanamo: What the World Should Know" (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004). He can be reached at email@example.com.