The President who ran on a platform to "restore honour and dignity to the White House" has now been compelled to declaim "we abide by the law of the United States and we do not torture". In the closing months of 2005, George W. Bush has been forced to repeat this undignified denial several times in the wake of a barrage of criticism the CIA's harsh measures have elicited.

In fact, according to the International Committee for the Red Cross and many US military and intelligence officers, the US has repeatedly employed interrogation tactics that constitute torture and inhumane treatment proscribed by the Geneva conventions and American laws. Since 2002, 26 Al Qaida suspects have been frozen, beaten or suffocated to death.

Additionally, and despite repeated official American denials, the US has sent scores of captured or kidnapped detainees to Egypt, Jordan and other countries where they suffered various forms of torture. The allegations of beatings, painful bindings, prolonged sleep deprivation and piercing noises inflicted on captured combatants by US military police, CIA and Special Forces interrogators would represent clear violations of the Geneva Convention's article 17, which states: "No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted or exposed to any unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind".

Terrified, disoriented and pain-maddened prisoners will say anything to stop their torment. According to CIA sources, Ibn Al Shaikh Al Libi, after two weeks of enhanced interrogation, made statements that were designed to tell the interrogators what they wanted to hear. Al Libi had been subjected to harsh torture techniques and finally broke after being water-boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight, where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals.

His statements became part of the basis for the Bush administration's claims that Iraq trained Al Qaida members to use biochemical weapons. It was later established that Al Libi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's claim that torture has been meted out to prisoners without his consent is spurious at best. It is the policy of the Pentagon and the CIA that each step of the interrogation process must be signed off at the highest level. A cable must be sent and a reply received each time a progressively harsher technique is used. There are few known instances when an approval has not been granted.

Barrage of criticism

The Washington Post revealed the CIA maintains what it described "black holes" in various parts of Eastern Europe, where detainees are being shipped to for torture. The revelations elicited a barrage of criticism from the European Union. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice addressed these "black holes" interrogation centres with her European counterparts. She tried her best to assuage her European counterparts about the revelations of the November 3 Washington Post report about the secret CIA prisons in two Eastern European countries.

On December 5, a few days prior to Rice's visit to Europe, ABC News reported the CIA had scrambled to move 11 high value Al Qaida detainees from European locations to a new location somewhere in North Africa. US officials have refused to confirm or deny the existence of the secret facilities. But they have defended in general terms the country's use of tough tactics in its global war on terror.

In an interview with CNN, the national security advisor, Stephen Hadley, said: "There are certain kinds of operations one cannot talk about. The terrorists threaten us all ? We need to cooperate to deal with this terrorist threat that threatens all of us. We are cooperating with a number of countries."

But given the scope of the revelations of US torture that have poured out since the first Abu Graib photos that shocked the world in late April 2004, policy talk will not satisfy or quiet Bush administration critics. Senator John McCain, Republican, Arizona has called for amending the cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of detainees. But this seems to have had little effect on the administration. The Bush administration has sought to narrow the accepted legal definition of torture and to legalise the option of cruel inhumane and degrading treatment.

In a USA Today interview on November 21 with Porter Goss, the head of the CIA, declined to describe CIA interrogation methods but reiterated attorney general Alberto Gonzales's statement that the CIA has "special powers".

Where did the CIA get permission to overrule the rule of law? The word came from a classified directive by Bush soon after 9/11 and was confirmed by Gonzales. That makes Bush directly accountable for any crimes committed. In the words of Nat Hentoff of Liberty Beat dated December 9, 2005; "This President is not going to be impeached except by history. However, historians will find reams of evidence against him and other members of his administration."

Professor As'ad Abdul Rahman is the Chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.