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Editorial: Waterboarding Veto

Shaming America

President Bush doesn't believe that American civilians are also willing to sacrifice their lives to uphold the values that have served as the emblem of this nation for more than 230 years.

If he did, he would know that millions of Americans who don't want to die in a repeat of 9/11 also don't want their country to torture people - even if it's in an attempt to stop a terrorist plot.

These are people who grew up being taught that torture is un-American; that it's what happens to people in despotic nations - not in the land of the free. To see their hypocritical president equivocate about what is or isn't torture is not just disheartening, it's tragic.

Bush doesn't care. He vetoed a bill Saturday that would have stopped the CIA from using so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding. That practice has been called simulated drowning, but experts say there's nothing simulated about it; it's just that the torture stops before death occurs.

Nonetheless, Bush continues to insist that there is value to inflicting pain on captives.

"The fact that we have not been attacked over the past 6 1/2 years is not a matter of chance," he said. "This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe."

Bush completely disregards the assessment of expert interrogators who say a tortured captive is more likely to say anything just to get the pain to stop. Other captives would rather die than speak, especially if they believe death is the means to martyrdom.

More than 40 retired military officers recently signed a letter supporting the Senate bill that would have mandated that the CIA follow the Army Field Manual's rules on interrogation, which prohibit torture.

Two of those retired officers - Rear Adm. John D. Hutson and Brig. Gen. David R. Irvine - discussed torture Sunday at the National Constitution Center. Also on the panel were former Bush Justice Department officials John Yoo and Larry Thompson.

Their conversation, part of the annual Peter Jennings Project for Journalists and the Constitution, was considered off-record. Yoo is being sued for his role in the detention and alleged torture of convicted terrorist Jose Padilla.

But what Hutson and Irvine have previously said on the record should be considered in light of the president's veto.

Hutson, testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last year, said it was wrong to quibble about waterboarding. "Other than perhaps the rack and thumbscrews, waterboarding is the most iconic example of torture in history."

Irvine once wrote that the abuses of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have cost this nation stature in the world that won't be regained until it rejects torture in all its forms.

America's lost stature helps terrorists recruit would-be martyrs.