Friday, September 22, 2006

Ignominious Close to Torture Week

Since this is "Torture Week" here at MMM, it is appropriate to close with the compromise deal reached yesterday within the Republican party. I had wondered about the term "compromise", and how that would apply to torture and secret evidence. Only torture people somewhat? Only sometimes admit secret evidence?

Unfortunately, that pretty much seems to be the deal that was reached. I don't pretend to know how the language of the bill is supposed to be applied, but I do know that the NY Times, the Washington Post, and various other observers see it as a bad deal.

Below is the NYTimes take on it. Their call to the Democrats to develop some spine on the issue is sorely needed. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that Democrats won't simply roll over again, like they usually do.

Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession.

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence. (Although the administration’s supporters continually claim this means giving classified information to terrorists, the rules actually provide for reviewing, editing and summarizing classified material. Evidence that cannot be safely declassified cannot be introduced.)

This is a critical point. As Senator Graham keeps noting, the United States would never stand for any other country’s convicting an American citizen with undisclosed, secret evidence. So it seemed like a significant concession — until Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, briefed reporters yesterday evening. He said that while the White House wants to honor this deal, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, still wants to permit secret evidence and should certainly have his say. To accept this spin requires believing that Mr. Hunter, who railroaded Mr. Bush’s original bill through his committee, is going to take any action not blessed by the White House.

On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House’s original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

Even before the compromises began to emerge, the overall bill prepared by the three senators had fatal flaws. It allows the president to declare any foreigner, anywhere, an “illegal enemy combatant” using a dangerously broad definition, and detain him without any trial. It not only fails to deal with the fact that many of the Guantánamo detainees are not terrorists and will never be charged, but it also chokes off any judicial review.

The Democrats have largely stood silent and allowed the trio of Republicans to do the lifting. It’s time for them to either try to fix this bill or delay it until after the election. The American people expect their leaders to clean up this mess without endangering U.S. troops, eviscerating American standards of justice, or further harming the nation’s severely damaged reputation.


Brownie said...

I was wondering if you see any difference (moral and/or legal) between the "torture" of keeping people awake for long periods with loud rock music in an effort to prevent the loss of innocent civilian life at the hands of terrorists, and the use of the exact same "tactic" by the Clinton Administration's Janet Reno to end the Waco debacle. Whose residents, it might be added, met a horrible fiery death.

Any difference? Just curious.

Brownie said...

This really has nothing to do with this particular post, but it was interesting so I thought I'd share.

""Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged."
--Abraham Lincoln

&%#?! Republican Facist!

Dan S said...

I've been thinking some lately about the Waco debacle, as an example of the cycle of violence. Maybe I'll do a full post on it.

The gist of it though is that Waco begat Oklahoma City. No one would argue that the Murrow building deserved to be bombed, but many argued that if Waco had been handled properly, the bombing wouldn't have happened. Also note that Reno immediately took responsibility for her mistakes, something not a single person in the Bush admin has yet done. No wait, Richard Clarke did, but was then demonized by the right.

But in answer to your question, I don't agree with Reno's tactics, but there are differences, in that the Waco tactic was employed on the field of battle. Bush wants to apply the same tactic to individual prisoners of war, which is illegal, in the same way that shooting someone in battle is not considered illegal, but is when done in a jail cell.

Dan S said...

Concerning Lincoln, he also said:

"My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union. I shall do less whenever I shall believe what I am doing hurts the cause, and I shall do more whenever I shall believe doing more will help the cause."

The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln edited by Roy P. Basler, Volume V, "Letter to Horace Greeley" (August 22, 1862), p. 388.

So, he wasn't always right.

Also, one could argue who exactly is damaging morale and undermining the military in our current situation. I would think an unnecessary, immoral war does more to undermine us than principled opposition.

dw said...


A former Wheaton student, studying theology at Princeton, has moved away from evangelicalism, and into an articulate space--about torture, about the problems that evangelicals face, and a number of other concerns. His blog is worth reading.


Kate said...

Brownie, Lincoln never said any such thing. It was entirely fabricated by a wingnut who has taken responsibility for the fabrication. See

Brownie said...
This really has nothing to do with this particular post, but it was interesting so I thought I'd share.

""Congressmen who willfully take actions during wartime that damage morale and undermine the military are saboteurs and should be arrested, exiled, or hanged."
--Abraham Lincoln