Under George W. Bush, we as a country were not allowed to face our latest national shame. Hell, he had the legal documents stating that we were not "officially" torturing people.
That's true if you are defining torture as using the rack, the scavenger’s daughter, the pear of anguish, the Spanish chair, the heretic's fork, or the Judas Cradle. Google them. I dare you. It wasn't THAT bad...
...Well, maybe it was that bad.
At any rate, the first memo (as that is the only one I have had the stomach to get through so far) justifies waterboarding, sleep deprivation of up to 11 days, and confinement to a box just large enough to stand or sit in (18 hours maximum) with a harmless insect.
You read that right. This particular detainee has a phobia of insects. Apparently, it is not torture to lock this person in a small box with a "harmless" insect -- specifically, a caterpillar -- but it is torture to use something that stings.
Lovely. Just fucking lovely.
As for waterboarding and sleep deprivation: those thing are okay because the mental trauma is temporary. It only lasts a few days rather than months or years. (Apologies for the lack of links, but this is all in the first torture memo.)
Another point of justification that these lawyers used is that this happened at Gitmo, outside of American jurisdiction. So apparently it is okay to torture someone in Cuba, but not in Cuba, N.Y.
Reading a bit further, the memos state that these torture techniques, along with stress positions and face slaps, are not legally defined as torture. (Remembering that these memos were written by lawyer in DC after reviewing the military's programs that teach our soldiers to resist torture.) However, the memos quite clearly state that the detainees are not subject to alcohol or mind altering drugs.
Are you kidding me? Most drunks can't keep their mouths shut. For the price of a fifth of Jack Daniels, we could have had all of the information we needed and more and we would not have had to torture anyone.
But all of this begs the original question. Are these people human? I understand that it is the job of lawyers to offer a legal opinion on matters that skirt the edge of legality. However, the authors of these legal opinions had to consciously make a choice. These authors decided to write legal opinions justifying man's inhumanity to man (you know: things they do in other countries that we do not do here).
On the other hand, they could have done what most sane human beings would have done. They should have stood up and asked, "You want me to justify WHAT?" Then they should have followed that up with a totally justified and very public resignation.
So to answer the original question, I have to concede that the people who wrote the memos are biologically humans. But they are ethical and moral cowards.
Update: much as I hate to, I need to get a few hours sleep (unlike some of the prisoners at Gitmo). I wish I could have posted this diary earlier and participated more in the discussion. I will read all of the comments in the morning and I have a personal policy of rec'ing every non-trollish comment in my diaries. Thanks for the comments and the chance to share my outrage.