The United States Senate’s reluctance to address past US use of torture was on shocking display during the confirmation of an official who had provided legal cover for so-called, “enhanced interrogation techniques,” in the years after the September 11 attacks. This sends a dangerous signal about accountability for torture under President Donald Trump.
Yesterday, by a 50-47 margin, the Senate approved Steven Bradbury as general counsel of the federal Department of Transportation. Bradbury had written memos authorizing the use of torture and other coercive methods of terrorism suspects as a top government lawyer under then-President George W. Bush.
Only two Republican senators, John McCain and Rand Paul, voted against Bradbury’s confirmation, and both cited torture as the reason. The confirmation marks a, “dark chapter in American history,” said McCain, who was tortured as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam.
Bradbury had authorized depraved and illegal torture methods including waterboarding and 180-hour sleep deprivation, including with captives’ hands chained above their heads. These methods inflicted horrendous pain and suffering on detainees, stained the US reputation worldwide, and fueled the recruitment drives of Al-Qaeda and other armed groups.
In addition to evidently discounting the enduring damage the torture program caused, some senators perhaps embrace Trump’s reckless praise of torture during his election campaign. Either way, too many senators were unconcerned by Bradbury’s disregard of the absolute prohibition on torture – not only under US law, but also international treaties ratified by the US, such as the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture.
Some senators argued that Bradbury’s new Transportation Department post lacks the national security sensitivity of his former position as acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2005 to 2009, when he wrote his torture memos. But by writing legal documents that wrapped a mantle of false legitimacy around flagrantly unlawful practices, Bradbury failed to uphold respect for human rights and the rule of law that should be required of any US government official.
Instead of downplaying Bradbury’s past, the Senate should be clamoring for criminal investigations into Bradbury and other government officials who played a key role in the US government’s systematic use of torture.