In response to the news showing horrors practiced by American soldiers in Iraq against prisoners in Abu Ghraib, Baghdad, in 2004 - the bitter irony is it was one of the worst torture center of Saddam Hussein's regime - American Army elaborated a guideline which states 19 practices that could be used to interrogate "enemy combatant" suspects. The document prohibits the use of violent methods, citing hoods, dogs, forced nudism, simulation of execution or drowning, sensorial or food deprivation, hipothermal, sexual humiliations. The initiative inspired Democrats in the Capitol to present a project which would obligate CIA to follow these rules to interrogate suspects of terrorism.
As soon as the project was approved by scarce majorities - 222 votes against 199 in the House of Representatives and 51 against 45 in the Senate - president George W. Bush declared he would veto it. That's what he did last Saturday, announcing the decision on his weekly radio show. The explanation was expected: fighting against terrorism is imperative. Accordingly to Bush, CIA has been gathering informations from interrogatories (through "different procedures" from traditional ones used by Army - the same euphemism used by CIA director Mike Hayden) that avoided new episodes after 9/11, in the United States and abroad, and prevented attacks using flights from Britain. "Since the danger is still real, we need to offer our intelligence agents ways to stop terrorists", he argued. "It's not time to quit practices that keep America safe".
Aside the obvious impossibility to know the facts behind Bush's words - it's not the first time it remains unclear - the efficiency of these "ways" are contested by authorities with vast knowledge. Among them, superior agents of FBI, 43 retired generals and admirals, 18 national security specialists and not less than american commandant in Iraq general David Petraeus. His objections are simply practical. (The politicians point to a continued erosion of American image around the world. Human Rights activists cite Geneva Convention signed by the United States and assumed to be respected). The first objection is that violent interrogatories are unnecessary or unproductive (fake confessions). The second one is it exposes future american war prisoners to the same risk.
Bush specifically cited the method that simulates drowning which generated a conflict between the White House and other parts such as the Congress, the press, American society - and abroad as well - that consider the torture permission, for any reason, as a violence against essential values in the United States. Accordingly to the president, the waterboarding "is not in CIA program now". The agency recognizes it was used in three cases, before officially banned in 2006. In theory, it might be used again if authorized, case by case, by the general-solicitor or the president. Anyway, the term is strongly linked to two others that represents the most dismal side of Bush's administration - Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. But he doesn't change his mind although its very unpopular.
The veto is a way to say he doesn't accept any scratch to exceptional power he gave to the Executive, in name of anti terror fighting - such as allowing the government to monitor American residents' phone conversations and e-mail. Since it's hard for the opposition to gather 2/3 of the Congress to change Bush's veto, the only hope to remove this dirty mark and other ones is electing a president that is the antithesis of Bush.