Some “administration lawyers,” to be none to specific, apparently opined in a March 2003 confidential memo that the President is bound neither by international treaties nor federal laws regarding torture, and that any such prohibition “must be construed as inapplicable to interrogation undertaken pursuant to his commander-in-chief authority.” (News story)
Phrased another way, torture is permissible so long as it’s for interrogation purposes and done for ultimately military purposes.
Or to highlight the obvious inference, the president is above all laws, federal, state, or international treaties, so long as he argues that his actions are in some way, shape or form pursuant to his duty as CiC of the armed forces.
Apparently this wasn’t a sole memo – there was a chain of them, largely prepared for Rumsfeld, used to justify activities first at Guantánamo, then in Afghanistan, and finally in Iraq. Much of its basis was an earlier memo (22 Jan 2002) from the Justice Department on arguments to keep American officials from being charged with war crimes.
Where the hell does our administration find these people? And have they lost their minds completely? Are they completely unaware of what happens when a leader or a military places itself above the law, above the Constitution, and above civil society?
(And let me state, for the record: I believe that commanders need a great deal of flexibility to deal with situations in war, especially nonconventional war. But decisions such as the use of torture cannot be unilateral and immune to judicial and legal review, and the President cannot demand blanket exemption from American law for any reason whatsoever.)