Friday, December 16, 2005

Bush Agrees to Blink on Torture Ban - UPDATED

(see bottom of article for update from Philidelphia Inquirer)
President Bush has agreed to stop opposing the McCain amendment to the defense authorization bill, which bans torture of detainees in U.S. custody ("Bush accedes to McCain in backing ban on torture").

This is more a matter of political reality than any change to a kinder heart for Bush -- the House voted on Wednesday to support McCain's amendment by 308 to 122, setting Bush up for an override of any veto he might chose to invoke.

It remains to be seen if the U.S. authorities might simply do an "end-run" around this new restriction, by either "extraordinary rendition" or simple extradition to countries that don't have qualms about using "extreme interrogation techniques."

Or they may simply decide to violate the law (the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody in prisons in Iraq were against the law as well -- and they still happened), as has happened in the past (can you say "contra-dancing" and "arms for hostages," boys and girls? I knew you could)

But at least we have, as a nation, agreed in principle that we *are* a part of a greater whole regarding our presence in the world at large.

One can hope that the next round of elections in the U.S. will have voters take a hard look at the 10 Senators and the 112 Representatives in the House who have gone on record as being in support of the use of torture.
Update -- The Philidelphia Inquirer has an article that details a new amendment to John McCain's anti-torture bill. ( "Senate, White House hypocrisy on torture" )

Sen. Lindsay Graham (R.-S.C.)has appended a second amendment to the defense authorization bill --
This one bars Guantánamo detainees from going to federal court to enforce the rights that McCain would declare sacrosanct.

A shabby compromise is in the making. Bush removes his veto threat - as long as Graham's amendment remains in the bill - to transform McCain's principles into a hypocritical gesture: Listen up, world, we are against torture at Guantánamo - as long as nobody can complain about it.

To deflect critics, Graham has created an exception to allow Guantánamo inmates their day in court once they are finally convicted of a crime by a military tribunal. But this exception creates more perverse incentives. If a detainee has been victimized, the best way to cover it up is to hold him indefinitely as an "enemy combatant" and never send him before a military tribunal. That way, he will never get access to a federal court


Despite the high stakes, Graham did not even give Congress a fair chance to consider the matter. He made an end run around the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), and persuaded the Senate to accept his court-stripping rider as a floor amendment. Specter eloquently protested, but he was outvoted in the rush to push the matter into a conference committee.

The Senate leadership plans to continue its rush tactics this week. It will ask the Senate to rubber-stamp the final conference bill before it begins its Christmas recess. But Specter should stand firm against a cynical compromise that will defang McCain's anti-torture initiative. Given the grave issues raised by the Graham amendment, a filibuster is entirely appropriate to give the judiciary committee a chance to expose the Graham amendment to sober second thought. It would be tragic if McCain's admirable proposal becomes an occasion for yet another assault on the fundamental principles of the American Constitution.

As they say in Parliment: "Shame! Shame!"

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