The “Torture Memos” and their Legacy: Sacrificing Human Dignity and the Rule of Law for National Security

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The events of September 11, 2001 have forever changed the way in which the U.S deals with foreign threats to its national security. Even today, more than 11 years later, the United States is still fighting with Al Qaeda and its various terrorist offshoots in what has been deemed as the “Global War on Terror.” In the wake of this tragedy, the Bush Administration and the Department of Justice (DOJ) were able to justify the indefinite detention of “terror suspects” in Guantanamo Bay, including a legal justification for interrogation techniques that challenged the very definitions of torture. At the time, there was much condemnation by the political opposition. Once the US approach to interrogation came to light, many both domestically and abroad accused President Bush of war crimes. In fact, as a presidential candidate, Barak Obama promised to close Guantanamo to put an end to what he felt was a gross injustice.

These legal maneuverings by the DOJ that Obama condemned have found new life within the Obama Administration. It is here that Obama’s drone policy and “kill list” find their legal justifications, continuing the very policies that he once condemned. In sacrificing human dignity and the rule of law for national security, Obama effectively equates himself to Bush in this regard. In fact, it must be questioned if Senator Obama would approve of President Obama’s current fight against Al Qaeda. However, to fully understand this nexus and attempt to respond to this quandary, a thorough understanding of the legal ramifications of the “Torture Memos” is required. A comparative analysis must then be drawn between these justifications in the Bush Administration to the contended justifications of the Obama Administration for the use of drones and Obama’s “kill list.” This same thread of rationalization and prioritization of national security over human dignity and the rule of law runs through them both, which explains why the two Presidents are increasingly similar. This begs the question of whether they are “cut from the same cloth” despite their clear divergences on most other political issues.

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