November 10, 2005

Why Congress Should Not "Ban Torture"

Hatched by Dafydd

I made the mistake of reading an editorial in the Hololulu Advertiser this morning; it perfectly encapsulates why we must not allow Congress to charge off on McCain's newest crusade against "torturing" our detainees. (It is, of course, yet another attempt by McCain to aggrandize himself by smearing President Bush. But that's a given, considering who we're dealing with, and beside the point.)

Here is what caught my eye:

There is an Alice-in-Wonderland quality to some of the rhetoric coming from the White House these days on the subject of torture and treatment of detainees held in the war against terrorism.

On his South American swing, President Bush responded firmly to questions from reporters: "We do not torture," he insisted, when asked about alleged secret CIA prisons overseas.

That should be reassuring, but what, precisely, does the president mean? That's a legitimate question, considering back in Washington his administration is struggling to exempt the CIA from a proposed law that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of people held in U.S. custody.

Apparently, in some semantic netherworld, "cruel and degrading" treatment does not add up to torture.

The problem is not in the banning; nobody of any significance in the government supports or would even tolerate actual torture, either conducted by us or by some other state actor in our presence or with our knowledge. The problem is that every time a body like Congress addresses the issue, they define torture downward.

Here, for example: "cruel and degrading," the language used in the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, is so nebulous and malleable that it can mean anything some international tribunal chooses it to mean.

Far from "offer[ing] clear and consistent guidelines for troops who are charged with handling and questioning detainees," the definition of what constitutes torture or "'cruel and degrading' treatment" would be a moving target that changed daily (or perhaps hourly). Since no CIA field interrogator could ever be sure he wouldn't run afoul of Congress's new defintion -- and since the penalties would be harsh -- none would ever so much as ask a tough question or dare raise his voice for fear that he would find himself in a cell next to Charles Graner.

The Universal Code of Military Justice already bans torture... obviously; look at what happened to the idiots at Abu Ghraib. But the military makes the definition "clear and consistent." Congress, by contrast, could change the definition on a whim (or a good election day for the Democrats). All right... but what about the CIA? They're not under the UCMJ; should they be barred from engaging in anything that Congress, relying upon an international tribunal, defines as "cruel and degrading?" Or should they be allowed in extreme cases to use more aggressive interrogation?

It would be reasonable to leave the final decision up to the president, not Congress... which by an odd coincidence is the very exemption that the Bush administration is seeking:

The White House initially tried to kill the anti-torture provision while it was pending in the Senate, then switched course to lobby for an exemption in cases of "clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States." The president would have to approve the exemption, and Defense Department personnel could not be involved. In addition, any activity would have to be consistent with the Constitution, federal law and U.S. treaty obligations, according to draft changes in the exemption the White House is seeking.

Not that the CIA should be allowed to romp through the torture chamber like Tomás de Torquemada, but that in very exceptional circumstances (the "ticking bomb" scenario), they be allowed under direct presidential directive to use aggressive interrogation techniques, even those that don't sit well with the berobed pedants at the Hague (or in Congress).

This is precisely the sort of operational decision that must be made by the Commander in Chief, not by preening senators like John McCain (R-AZ) or anti-military, anti-war, anti-Bush House zealots like Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Bernie Sanders (S-VT).

It's as easy to say "I'm against torture" as it is to say "Nazis are bad," and just about as meaningful. Opposing a Congressional takeover of operational military decisionmaking is, quite naturally, portrayed in the press as supporting torture, as the Advertiser does above. But on this issue, Bush has no choice: he must do as he is doing, and just hope that there is enough sanity in Congress that they will sustain his inevitable veto.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, November 10, 2005, at the time of 2:40 PM

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Tracked on November 10, 2005 7:12 PM


The following hissed in response by: Anondson

I predict that before long, simple bullying in schools will equate with torture. Won't principals and superintendents love that.

The above hissed in response by: Anondson [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 10, 2005 3:06 PM

The following hissed in response by: MarkD

I was "tortured" worse in boot camp by my drill instructors. $128.50 a month and they wouldn't let me leave. Jeez.

Seriously, it is far better that they have to guess just how far we will go.

The above hissed in response by: MarkD [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 10, 2005 5:54 PM

The following hissed in response by: napablogger

The problem is that the Bush administration has not shown leadership, and allowed so many abuses to go on that it is sickening. Capt Fishbeck reports that regular GI's were beating, breaking bones, etc, of detainees at prisons in Iraq for fun on a regular basis.

I am increasingly fed up with Bush, and I think that he and Rumsfeld have been wrong in allowing as much torture has as gone on as it has. If it were occasional with real bad guys I would not care. But it appears to be widespread mistreatment of those who are not particularly important in intelligence terms. They just give off the impression that they are not on top of what they are doing in regards to torture or whatecver it is, if people end up dead during an interrogation, that is wrong.

The above hissed in response by: napablogger [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 10, 2005 9:43 PM

The following hissed in response by: stackja1945

Hope you never need help, because someone will not say where you are being held. Not nice in this world but at times sometimes someone needs convincing to cooperate.

The above hissed in response by: stackja1945 [TypeKey Profile Page] at November 11, 2005 8:30 PM

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