Indeed, several major media sources throughout the world -- including the BBC -- are loudly proclaiming an end to the torture of prisoners who, in many cases, their governments aided in or otherwise allowed to be detained indefinitely without charges or legal representation, effectively granting the U.S. the carte blanche right to kidnap the citizens and/or lawful visitors of their country.
But did the President, as the BBC claims in their headline, really ban terror suspect torture? Hardly.
Rather, they only banned those behaviors that the President of the United States *considers* to be torture. And, as we've already seen, that's something entirely different.
Take a look at the provisions of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
It specifically says:
"As provided by the Constitution and by this section, the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions. . ."
In other words, Congress basically ceded the right for the President to interpret the Geneva Conventions to mean anything the President wants it to mean. Congress could -- and has always had -- the right to specifically forbid certain forms of treatment such as waterboarding, just as they initially had the right to approve the Geneva Conventions... but they have, so far, chosen not to exercise that right, and have, infact, given the President the right to make his own rules.
Compare the BBC's "Bush bans terror suspect torture" vs. Associated Press' far more factually correct "Bush alters rules for CIA interrogations" -- clearly, it wasn't the BBC's best day.
So, while this executive order specifically requires that prisoners "receive the basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care", there are a whole bunch of things they don't necessarily get.
Sleep, for one. Or a ban on waterboarding... an act that the U.S. specifically defined as torture during the Tokyo War Crimes Trials, such as in the case of United States vs. Sawada. Indeed, former Japanese Prime Minister Tojo was also specifically tried for sanctioning torture, because "methods of torture were employed in all areas so uniformly as to indicate policy both in training and execution. Among these tortures were the water treatment..."
Indeed, while the executive order reiterated many protections already granted under U.S. and international law, it did nothing to officially prohibit any kind of torturous or abusive techniques the Bush administration has authorized over the past few years with the possible exception of hypothermia.
While this presidential order mouthed some of the words of the Geneva Convention, it clearly did not comply with them, as it does not specifically permit detainees to contact family members or have access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, both of which are clear violations of the Geneva Conventions, which states:
"Prisoners of war shall be allowed to receive by post or by any other means individual parcels or collective shipments containing, in particular, foodstuffs, clothing, medical supplies and articles of a religious, educational or recreational character . . . (and that no agreements should) restrict the right of representatives of . . . the International Committee of the Red Cross or any other organization giving assistance to prisoners of war and responsible for the forwarding of collective shipments, to supervise their distribution to the recipients."
Indeed, though a "Detaining Power may limit the number of societies and organizations whose delegates are allowed to carry out their activities in its territory and under its supervision . . . the special position of the International Committee of the Red Cross in this field shall be recognized and respected at all times."
In other words, George W. Bush is flagrantly violating the Geneva Conventions by any reasonable legal definition... except, perhaps, his own. The protections being offered pay lip-service to U.S. obligations under international law. They certainly don't comply with them.
In short, this new policy is a "gimme"... Bush is cedeing a minor point, in order to gain approval for something that we would've considered unconstitutional and inhumane. And, to be clear, he's not just seeking the approval of Americans, but also of Europeans, many of whom are strongly opposed to the policy of extraordinary rendition that many of their governments supported or allowed to take place on their watch. Some of these governments do not want to damage relations by holding the U.S. accountable, or risk the embarassment of having the full details of their complicity released, however.
The great majorify of the people of Europe want their governments to be accountable to them regarding these clearcut violations to their laws and civil rights. Cases are going forwards in both Italy and in Germany, where U.S. agents are being tried -- quite rightly -- for kidnapping and violating the civil rights of individuals. In the case Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen, he was kidnapped, taken away from his wife and children for months, who thought he was killed, and interrogated/tortured in Afghanistan, simply for having the wrong name.
As much as we might not like the idea of American personnel being charged for crimes overseas, given that they were ordered to commit those crimes by their government, ultimately, these people should be brought to justice, because they did, infact, choose to commit the crime, and because without pressure being brought to bear on them, those who gave them such illegal orders will not be held accountable, nor will any Italian or German government officials who sanctioned such acts.
In very real terms, it's not just the laws and the civil liberties of the United States which are at stake, but also those of all Europeans as well. We have, sadly, made them a victim -- and often, an accomplice -- to our crimes.
***UPDATE*** -- According to IntLawGrrls, the new executive order actually TAKES SEVERAL RIGHTS AWAY from detainees that they previously had!