Cheney’s support of torture is inhuman

It is the United States’ obligation to take the high road with prisoners of war.

If Vice President Dick Cheney succeeds in weakening a ban on torturing U.S. detainees, it will serve to make the United States a bullying monster among the terrorists it seems to so desperately want to eliminate.

The torture ban, written into the $445 billion defense bill by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would preclude “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” against anyone in U.S. custody, wherever in the world they are held. The language gained Senate approval but will be in jeopardy during House-Senate negotiations, with Cheney pushing for exemptions from the ban for undercover agents working outside the Department of Defense. McCain is standing firmly by his language, saying any leniency would allow the CIA to engage in torture.

McCain is right. Cheney and CIA Director Porter Goss argue that the exemptions for clandestine counterterrorism efforts are necessary in case the president determines that such actions are vital for protection against a terrorist attack. But the Bush administration is speaking out of both sides of its mouth; White House press secretary Scott McClellan recently announced that the president would never condone or authorize the use of torture.

So does that mean the president will not use torture unless he deems it “vital”? What constitutes “vital” and how is that “never condoning the use of torture”?

The Constitution itself bans the use of “cruel and unusual” punishment against U.S. citizens. That Cheney and Goss think it is necessary to allow administration of that sort of punishment in certain situations is inhuman and unjust. The United States has an obligation and responsibility to take the high road when it comes to maintaining prisoners of war and other detainees and not stooping to the level of the terrorists themselves. Torture should never be acceptable, even for undercover agents not working for the Pentagon.

The House must compromise with the Senate to include McCain’s ban in the final defense bill sent to President George W. Bush. This measure will not hinder Bush’s ability to fight his war, but it will help make him fight it fairly.