05/25/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Reasonable Observer's Response to the Torture Memos

Sam Stein's article detailing some of the "techniques" used on prisoners was telling on two points: how far we are willing to go in order to illicit information and how far we will reach into our rationale to justify our actions.

Stein quotes part of what is now being widely referred to as the "Bush Torture Memo."

While detainees subject to dietary manipulation are obviously situated differently from individuals who voluntarily engage in commercial weight-loss programs, we note that widely available commercial weight-loss programs in the United States employ diets of 1000 kcal/day for sustained periods of weeks or longer without requiring medical supervision.

To paraphrase the logic of the writers of the memo in regards to "dietary manipulation," If Americans restrict the number of calories they take in to such a low level, it must be safe.

For the record, dieting is not fun - forced dieting, even worse. Restricted dieting while being subjected to waterboarding and other interrogation "techniques" - I imagine must be torture. (No pun intended.)

Torture is not about leaning to the left or the right within the political spectrum. It should be avoided not because that is "the right thing to do," but because we must not lose our souls to acts of inhumanity. This is not only a domestic disgrace but demonstrates to the international community how we too, as Americans, are not beyond ignominious acts.

Many of us have read some of the letters that Brian A. Benczkowski, had sent to Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General. In one Benczkowski writes:

The fact that an act is undertaken to prevent a threatened terrorist attack, rather than the purpose of humiliation and abuse, would be relevant to a reasonable observer, in measuring the outrageousness of the act. That said, even if an act were motivated by such a compelling government interest, it still would be necessary to consider the nature of the act itself, such as "the duration of the treatment, its physical or mental effects," and the like...Under this analysis, some acts would clearly be deemed outrageous regardless of the identity of a detainee or any information he may possess.

These memos have provided more questions than answers. Where were the "reasonable observers" who should have given dissenting viewpoints based not only on the legal ramifications but moral ones? Who will stand when those who should be safeguarding personal and public liberties are the ones stifling them? When will we say that, "This is enough." Today is your opportunity.

On his blog for, Glenn Greenwald quotes Chris Matthews, "This whole torture debate is likely to tell us a lot about the kind of president Barack Obama intends to be. Will he buckle to the left, the netroots, and pursue an investigation into torture having said he didn't want to? Or will he go post-partisan and leave the past to the historians?"

The answer to that question is debatable. There is something we can do. Let us discontinue the practice of changing the definitions of words to suit our actions. The definition of the words torture, humiliation, abuse, reasonable and outrageous have shifted further than the fault lines that caused the 2004 Andaman-Sumatran earthquake and led to almost 300,000 deaths in South Asia. In this case, the lack of body bags does not mean that a type of death has not taken place.

To read a log detailing the life of a detainee click here.