Getting Away with Torture?

I’m not a lawyer, but in reading Bob Woodward’s WaPo interview with Susan Crawford, it seems that Crawford exculpates the coercive interrogation techniques authorized at the highest levels of the Bush administration in the very terms she uses to confirm that Mohammed al-Qahtani was tortured. Here’s the passage:

The techniques they used were all authorized, but the manner in whichthey applied them was overly aggressive and too persistent. . . . Youthink of torture, you think of some horrendous physical act done to anindividual. This was not any one particular act; this was just acombination of things that had a medical impact on him, that hurt hishealth.

Later in the interview, Crawford explicitly states that the buck should stop in the Oval Office, at least to acknowledge that the detention, interrogation and prosecution of the enemy combatants in Gitmo was disastrously mishandled.

But the statement above seems to point the finger at a misapplication of the authorized techniques — “overly aggressive and persistent” — not the techniques themselves. And by identifying not the individual techniques, but a combination of them as torture, it also seems to let those who authorized them off the hook. Crawford is essentially saying that, taken as a whole, the interrogation of Qahtani amounted to torture, even though none of the techniques used in the interrogation amounted to an act of torture.

Maybe I’m parsing this too much, but I don’t see how that is the game-changer that Dahlia Lithwick and Phillipe Sands make it out to be, for anyone but the individuals who interrogated Qahtani and, more broadly, the reputation and moral authority of the United States in the community of nations. The people responsible for making this treatment official policy, regrettably, don’t seem to be in any more jeopardy than before.

Any legal opinions welcome.

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