New book says President Bush broke laws on torture

NEW YORK (Reuters Life) - Torture sanctioned by President George W. Bush to fight terrorists was illegal and wrong and America has yet to confront the topic to avoid future abuses, the U.S. Solicitor General for President Ronald Reagan argues in a new book.

“Because it is Wrong: Torture, Privacy and Presidential Power in the Age of Terror” by Harvard Law scholar Charles Fried, a Republican, and his son Gregory Fried -- a Suffolk University philosophy professor who votes Democrat -- asks if it is permissible to torture in order to safeguard Americans.

Despite the differing politics of the father-son authors, they agreed it was never morally right to torture and therefore never permissible to do so.

“I think that (the Bush administration) broke the law and what they did was disgusting and terrible and degrading,” Charles Fried told Reuters in an interview.

Gregory Fried added, “What is so terrible about torture is it is a fundamental assault on human dignity.”

The book paints Vice President Dick Cheney as the principle villain, albeit one whose motive -- trying to protect Americans from terrorism -- was right.

On the issue of privacy and surveillance, they agreed that a president can break the law in an emergency but must be upfront that he is doing so to give Congress the chance to change the law to support or refute his action.

“We do not think there is an absolute right to privacy,” said the son.

The pair found that in researching and writing the book, which draws on sources as diverse as the Bible to the Constitution, they changed their views on the death penalty. The elder Fried had felt it was permissible and the younger said he was “agnostic” on the issue. But they now both believe the death penalty, like torture, is fundamentally wrong.


The one area where the pair could not reach consensus was if the torture undertaken during the Bush administration years was wrong, what should be done about it?

Gregory believes senior administration officials should be prosecuted, but he does not name them in the book. Charles thinks such prosecutions could imperil America’s democracy.

“To go ahead and prosecute them is to set up a cycle where every politician is afraid if he loses office someone will find something to prosecute him for,” Charles said, stressing that the political cost of prosecutions would be too high.

Instead, the pair suggest some compromises could heal America’s conscience and bring legal resolution. Gregory suggested one option was for President Barack Obama, before leaving office, to acknowledge the illegality of torture and pardon those who might otherwise be prosecuted.

“The idea that the president as commander-in-chief is above the law, if that has not been refuted clearly as a matter of law, we have a loaded gun on the table waiting for some future president to take up and use against absolutely fundamental principles of our Republic,” said the son.

His father said another possible solution, albeit one he believes will not happen, would be a congressional “truth commission” on torture which would come up with a resolution.

The genesis of the book came from chats and e-mails between father and son starting after the 9/11 attacks and continuing through the war in Iraq and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal.

By 2008, Charles had written op-ed pieces on torture, examining legal issues and the morality of torture. And as he was considering writing a book on the subject, he was impressed by a piece his son wrote which added a philosophical flavor to the topic, drawing on Aristotle and John Locke.

“I said, ‘This is what is necessary to make something serious about my idea,’” Charles said.

“So, what am I going to do? I could drop it, because I don’t want to preempt Greg or I could steal it, but I don’t like by and large stealing from my children. So, I thought, the thing to do was to write it together.”