Kampala — A United States Senate committee has rebelled against the Bush administration with 15 senators voting to block a bill that would allow military tribunals to accept evidence obtained through torture.
President Bush has been trying to push through the legislation to facilitate the trial of foreign terrorism suspects in Guantanamo Bay. He wants to bypass Section Three of the Geneva Convention that bans torture, violence and degrading treatment of prisoners.
Bush believes harsh treatment of detainees during interrogation should be defined as 'coercion' rather than 'torture'. He argues that it can provide valuable intelligence in the war on terror.
The senators have proposed a milder bill to cover the trials of the Guantanamo detainees but Bush says it will endanger the American people.
It is not just the senators who are disturbed by Bush's endorsement of torture. Even ex-Secretary of State Colin Powell has publicly written that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism" as a consequence of the proposed legislation.
The senators are right and President Bush is wrong.
Firstly, torture is not an efficient way of extracting information from suspects. With sufficient coercion, prisoners can be made to say anything. The United States defence department has already defined forms of torture such as 'waterboarding' as legitimate interrogation techniques. If torture is further legitimised, the USA risks undermining the reliability of its whole intelligence gathering process.
Secondly, there is Colin Powell's reason. Even if torture could generate reliable intelligence, it is counter-productive because it discredits the United States globally. The negative propaganda will encourage more impressionable young people to join terrorist organisations attacking the United States.
Thirdly, the continued use of torture makes a mockery of the American claim to global moral leadership. How can the American government advise other governments to halt the use of torture when it is itself promoting it?