Friday, December 16, 2005
This Shocked Me
It's not shocking that the Bush people are looking to make an end run around McCain's torture ban by reserving the right to define torture any way they wish. But it is shocking that the New York Times is telling us about it -- and right on their editorial page, not buried somewhere like the classified ads:
...Mr. McCain's amendment is attached to a malignant measure - introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and now co-sponsored by Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee - that would do grievous harm to the rule that the government cannot just lock you up without showing cause to a court. This fundamental principle of democratic justice must not be watered down so the Bush administration does not have to answer for the illegal detentions of hundreds of men at Guantánamo Bay and other prison camps. Mr. Graham's original measure would at least have barred the use of coerced confessions from prisoners like those at Guantánamo. But the current version actually appears to allow coerced evidence. Lawmakers were also discussing language that would strip United States courts, including the Supreme Court, of the power to review detentions. Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law at Yale University, said that Congress had not attacked the courts in this fashion since Reconstruction. Mr. Bush had barely announced his deal with Mr. McCain before Attorney General Alberto Gonzales made it crystal clear that the administration would define torture any way it liked. He said on CNN that torture meant the intentional infliction of severe physical or mental harm, and repeated the word "severe" twice. He would not even say whether that included "waterboarding" - tormenting a prisoner by making him think he is being drowned. Then Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, announced that he would oppose the McCain measure unless the White House guaranteed in writing that it would have no effect on intelligence-gathering. Mr. Hunter's legitimate concerns have already been addressed with a provision that would allow C.I.A. agents to defend themselves against torture charges by saying they were following legal orders. That protection is already provided to uniformed soldiers. The latest objections by Mr. Hunter, who has helped Vice President Dick Cheney try to block Mr. McCain's amendment, are just a smokescreen. What is at stake here, and so harmful to America's reputation, is the routine mistreatment of prisoners swept up in the so-called war on terror. The Senate voted 90 to 9 for the McCain measure without the extra baggage. And the House passed a nonbinding resolution supporting it. Both should stand firm. The nation and its fighting men and women need moral clarity, not more legalistic wiggle room.It was also pleasantly shocking to see that the NYT actually mention, on Page One and above the fold, Bush's secretly authorizing the National Security Administration in 2002 to do wiretaps on domestic phone calls. Though really, since the NSA already monitors every phone call made from the US to an overseas location, this is merely an official recognition of a de facto policy that's been around a long time.
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