The Bybee Torture Memo
On August 1, 2002, Justice Jay Bybee submitted the “Bybee Memo” or the ‘Torture Memo”, which describes the behavior that U.S. officials must exercise when interrogating outside of the continental U.S. as governed by the UN Convention Against Torture. Although this memo was rendered inoperable by the Bush Administration in 2004; for years, it gave license to American troops to inflict cruel amounts of pain, effectively “torture” upon their prisoners under the label of “coercive interrogation”. Michael Hatfield, a Professor at Texas Tech School of Law published his rebuttal to the Bybee Memo indicating that from a natural law perspective that torture, even disguised as “coercive interrogation” was fundamentally a moral wrong and should be illegal. Was his argument fair however?
In the opinion of this author, his argument is fair and includes the following strengths: that although torture is prohibited by a number of world declarations, it is so fundamental to international order that it does not need to be embodied in written credos; that simply masking “torture” as other words, does not render it legally justifiable and that by claiming necessity of the lesser of two evils, that torture does not necessarily lead to a betterment in the world; rather a deterioration. Possible pitfalls of his argument include a ignorance of the realist point of view by understanding the political and social needs of the nation at the time the memo was drafted as well as the contention that all Americans submitted to the memo; thereby becoming not citizens of a “good” world order, but villains of such. These weaknesses, however, are minimal compared to the strengths of his argument.
Hatfield contends that torture is so fundamentally wrong that it requires no written prohibition. At the core of morality, it is simply not acceptable. However, there are many international doctrines of peace-keeping which outright prohibit torture such as the Universal Declaration of Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Geneva Convention and so on (pg. 132). He feels that as a lawyer, he is demoralized when other lawyers seek to revisit the legality of torture. However, the United States has submitted a document, the Bybee Memo, which enacted a law contrary to these accepted credos of behavior and these proponents of human dignity. “...what is clearly torture by any moral standard is not torture under American legal standards” (pg. 132). So how is it that one of the world’s largest democracies, can proclaim that “coercive...