It's torture, stupid, and those who approved it could be liable to prosecution

The white collar guys who forumlated the US torturers' manifesto may be under the screws themselves as President Obama has now said they are open to investigation

Is strapping someone to a board, covering their face with a clinging wet cloth, inclining them so their feet are well above head level, and pouring water onto their face to simulate drowning, over and over and over again torture? How about hanging them from the ceilings, holding them in stress positions or slamming them against a wall?

While many within the United States are grappling with this exceedingly difficult question as to what constitutes torture, and Dick Cheney is playing semantics with that concept, perhaps a simple suggestion would help.

If Dick Cheney’s daughter was, after being held for years in a prison without facing charges let alone trial, put through the simulated drowning, what do you think Daddy Cheney would call the act, let alone the perpetrators? Well o.k. that’s a bit tough… maybe not his daughter. But what about the young American soldier whose father Cheney socializes with?  Don’t be fooled into thinking waterboarding is akin to surf school at Bondi. This is ugly and mean, and it is just one of the ‘tactics’ sanctioned by the previous Bush administration, according to the recently released memos on torture.

Now there’s another name which also sound a little far fetched – like the easily forgotten title of one of those airport blockbusters you willingly leave behind at the first hotel. Not this time. The Torture Memos turn out to be a torturers’ manifesto that document years of actual practice, and the really big issue is how will the Obama administration deal with the architects and the perpetrators.

It is difficult to reconcile how Obama can do anything but investigate at the highest – and I mean highest – of levels. Sure, he has said he doesn’t want to go back and trawl over the last administration, but how can he just let this go given he himself has said there's proof American lost its moral compass over this little bundle. The law is the law, and if people who might happen to be in high positions with nice white collars and possibly flashy cuff links were involved in the perpetration of such, they can not be permitted to slide back into various dark holes just because they lost the election. Obama has announced those who compiled the memos will not have the same immunity as those who carried out their dirty deeds.

The Washington beltway is consequently buzzing with a number of questions.

  • Investigate or not?
  • If so, does he appoint a Special Prosecutor?
  • If he investigates, how high up the Bush administration food chain does the law reach?
  • Should there be a war crimes tribunal?
  • Should – heaven forbid – there be a truth and reconciliation commission?
  • Will it end up like the 9/11 report – a door-stopper?

One of the tricky aspects seems to be that the US Justice Department which in normal circumstances would be doing the investigating is, albeit under the last administration, implicated in the debacle. That is because it was Justice Department ‘advice’ that sanctioned the tortures in their legal memos from former departmental lawyers like John Yoo, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and his then assistant Jay Bybee.

If some Democrats on the Hill have their way the latter of these gentlemen will soon be more Byebye than Bybee as they call for his impeachment and resignation from his permanent appointment, courtesy of the Bush administration, to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals. It is, they hold, the decent and responsible thing to do to avoid the blot on the judiciary.

Impeachment may of course be quite some way down the road, if at all, but that’s not to say there’s time to get bored – in the non-water sense.

So with the Justice Department in the thick of it, Obama has both left the prospect of the investigation on the table, and in the firm hands of Attorney General Eric Holder.

This seems to have injected a sense of panic with one Mr Cheney, who has come out all guns blazing – but with about as much accuracy as his duck shooting malfunction some years ago. It seems the man who managed much of the Justice Department direction on the torture has dropped his accusations that Obama’s release of the memos has endangered the United State.

Now Cheney wants the release of memos his own administration classified, which he swears will prove enhanced interrogation methods – a.k.a. torture - work. This of course would be prima facie that Cheney knew much about the procedures being used, ergo, was involved very, very closely.

Now Mr Secret wants the CIA to release crucial information on their operational tactics, which seems strangely helpful to the very terrorists he’s convinced himself only he was able to keep from the US door. The less charitable are hinting declassification would be awfully helpful for Cheney’s new book. But we’ll have to wait for that.

In the meantime, flash back to the election campaign and the promises Obama made. One of them was to depoliticize the Justice Department, and there were others about accountability and all that warm fuzzy election stuff. Well, so far so good with the release of the memos. Now it's time for the main event and that is a full scale, no-one is immune investigation into the sort of enhanced interrogation techniques that are actually torture. Plain and simple. Torture was committed, now its time to clean up the walls, the collars, the ceilings, the confined spaces... and the boards.

PS: For an extraordinary background on the memos, read Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman, published last year by Penguin Press… and in case you’re wondering, Angler was Cheney’s Secret Service name.