Think Progress points out that when Brigadier General Thomas W. Hartmann, Legal Advisor to the Convening Authority for the Office of Military Commissions, testified before Congress, on Tuesday, he refused to define as torture a hypothetical captured American pilot being waterboarded. The questioner was Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC):
GRAHAM: You mean you’re not equipped to give a legal opinion as to whether or not Iranian military waterboarding, secret security agents waterboarding downed airmen is a violation of the Geneva Convention?
HARTMANN: I am not prepared to answer that question, Senator.
As commenter Menehune pointed out, Graham's use of Iran, as the hypothetical torturer, is offensive enough. But for a high-ranking American general to be unable to condemn as torture any hypothetical waterboarding of a captured American truly defines the degree to which the Bush Administration has decimated our national moral standing. We do it, so who are we to say others can't?
Think Progress notes that this is not the first time an Administration lackey has refused to call the waterboarding of an American torture. As they already reported, in an October debate, sponsored by the Guardian, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's legal adviser, John Bellinger, also balked at the concept. His questioner is international law professor Philipe Sands:
PHILIPPE SANDS: Let me put it in yet another way. Could you imagine any circumstances in which the use of water boarding on an American national by a foreign intelligence service could be justified?
JOHN BELLINGER: One would have to apply the facts to the law, the law to the facts, to determine whether any technique, whatever it happened to be, would cause severe physical pain or suffering.
SANDS: So you’re willing to exclude any American going to the international criminal court under any circumstances, but you’re not able to exclude the possibility of water boarding being used on a United States national by foreign intelligence service? I mean, that just strikes me as very curious.
BELLINGER: Well, I’m not willing to include it or exclude it.
Think about that.
Is it any wonder that many State Department employees now refuse to go to Iraq? Should they be captured by enemy forces, their own government can't even philosophically defend them against being tortured. And what about our troops? How many different ways does it have to be made clear that the Bush Administration has an absolutely callous disregard for their well-being?
As Marty Lederman says, at Balkinization:
How do officials such as Brigadier General Hartmann sleep at night, I wonder? How many decades will it take to undo this damage?