06/09/2008 06:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Time for a Special Counsel to Investigate Bush Administration Use of Torture

Last Saturday I sent a letter, along with Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Judiciary Subcommittee Chairman, Jerald Nadler and 53 other members of the House of Representatives to Attorney General Michael Mukasey asking him to "appoint a special counsel to investigate whether the Bush administration's policies regarding the interrogation of detainees have violated federal criminal laws." It goes on to say, "We believe that ...serious and significant revelations warrant an immediate investigation to determine whether the President, his Cabinet, and other Administration officials are in violation of the War Crimes Act (18 U.S.C. 2441), the Anti-Torture Act, (18 U.S.C. 2340-2340A), and other U.S. and international laws."

As hard as it is to pick the most egregious offenses of the Bush White House, officially sanctioning the use of torture is definitely on my top ten list. I sit on the House Intelligence Committee and know more than I really want to on the subject, but it's no secret that the president has admitted to and defended the use of water boarding, a practice recognized internationally as torture and one that our country has condemned when used by other nations. Refusing to call it torture, the administration named it and other demonic forms of treatment "enhanced interrogation techniques," or EITs. President Bush has also acknowledged that the use of such "techniques" was discussed at the highest level in meetings that took place in the White House. Anyone can read the declassified version of the "torture memos" written for Alberto Gonzales, then head of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, containing reassuring assertions from his staff like, "A defendant must specifically intend to cause prolonged mental harm for the defendant to have committed torture." Not to worry!

The United States of America has long viewed itself as a leader in the struggle for human rights and has many accomplishments to bolster that claim, and even though our actions have often fallen short of our goals, the rest of the world too has looked to our Constitution and laws as the ideal. But since 9/11, President Bush has used the terrible crime of that day and the ensuing "War on Terror" as a license to act in a manner that is in direct conflict with our Constitution, and with U.S. and international law. His response to a hideous act of inhumanity stands in stark contrast to the leadership role the United States took after World War II with its unspeakable atrocities in passing the Declaration of Human Rights at the United Nations.

The irony, of course, is that there is plenty of evidence that mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and undisclosed prisons or "black sites" has made our country less safe rather than more. Without question, the accounts and especially the photos of such abuse has served as an effective recruitment tool for Al Qaida and other enemies of the United States and has engendered hatred toward us in much of the Muslim world. Further, experts on torture agree that information obtained that way is notoriously unreliable.