Bush Issues Torture Guidelines

President Bush has issued guidelines setting precise parameters for interrogation for terrorist suspects.

President Bush signed an executive order Friday prohibiting cruel and inhuman treatment, including humiliation or denigration of religious beliefs, in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects. The White House declined to say whether the CIA currently has a detention and interrogation program, but said if it did, it must adhere to the guidelines outlined in the executive order. The order targets captured al-Qaida terrorists who have information on attack plans or the whereabouts of the group’s senior leaders.


The executive order was the result of legislation Bush signed in October that authorized military trials of terrorism suspects, eliminated some of the rights defendants are usually guaranteed under U.S. law, and authorized continued harsh interrogations of terror suspects. The Supreme Court had ruled in June 2006 that trying detainees in military tribunals violated U.S. and international law, so Bush urged Congress to change the law. He also insisted that the law authorize CIA agents to use tough methods to interrogate suspected terrorists.


Not wanting to give up its terrorism playbook, the White House did not detail what types of interrogation procedures, such as waterboarding, would be allowed. But it did offer parameters, saying any conditions of confinement and interrogation practices could not include:

  • Torture or other acts of violence serious enough to be considered comparable to murder, torture, mutilation and cruel or inhuman treatment.
  • Willful or outrageous acts of personal abuse done to humiliate or degrade someone in a way so serious that any reasonable person would “deem the acts to be beyond the bounds of human decency, such as sexual or sexually indecent acts undertaken for the purpose of humiliation, forcing the individual to perform sexual acts or to pose sexually, threatening the individual with sexual mutilation.
  • Acts intended to denigrate the religion, religious practices, or religious objects of an individual.

The order also says that detainees must receive basic necessities, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extreme heat and cold and essential medical care. It says whatever interrogation practices used must be determined safe on an individual basis.To ensure the professional operation and safety of the program, it directs the CIA director to issue written policies to govern the program, including guidelines for CIA personnel.

This is long overdue and a welcome move, albeit one the administration was forced into making by both Congress and the Supreme Court. Presumably, waterboarding would be banned under the first bullet.

At first glance, it’s not clear why making fun of a person’s religious practices as a means of getting them angry is out of bounds. It certainly isn’t torture or even remotely inhumane. Practically speaking, however, it’s probably not the most effective technique for getting information. Moreover, it likely does more harm than good, considering that reports of flushing Korans down a toilet — even when they turn out to be untrue — get used as propaganda against us. Given that we ultimately need the good will of the “good Muslims” to win the struggle against the Islamists, it’s probably just as well to take that one out of the tool kit.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Intelligence, Religion, Supreme Court, Terrorism, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Stormy70 says:

    Yes, I wouldn’t want to offend the religious sensibilities of a beheading jihadist.

    However, if the whole Muslim world wants to offend Jews, Christians, and Hindus, it is hunky dory.

    I know, tell the Buddhists getting slaughtered in Thailand to quit pissing off the terrorists. Those school girls deserve it for attending school. Don’t they realize they are infidel dogs?

    I no longer care what Muslims think until they anti up and cleanse their own religion.

  2. I’m pretty sure these guidelines were all already required by US law…

  3. Like Monte Python’s Spanish Inquisition I guess we are down to using comfy chairs and soft pillows.

  4. James Joyner says:

    I’m pretty sure these guidelines were all already required by US law…

    Noted in both the story and the post. What the EO does is issue specific guidelines.

  5. Anderson says:

    Readers interested in the actual scope and effect of the EO may wish to look here and here.

  6. Ugh says:

    Given that we ultimately need the good will of the “good Muslims” to win the struggle against the Islamists, it’s probably just as well to take that one out of the tool kit.

    Uh, “good Muslims”? As if there is none?

  7. By all means, let’s not do anything that might harm their self esteem.

    Keysor Soze was right.

  8. >Noted in both the story and the post. What the
    >EO does is issue specific guidelines.

    My point was that it’s a rather telling comment about this administration that they need to be specifically directed to comply with federal law. One would think that sort of thing went without saying.