Wednesday, September 27, 2006
By now probably everyone knows that the torture bill that's working its way through the Senate is even worse than the one they crafted last Friday. It's so bad that they are now saying it has "drafting errors" when something particularly egregious is pointed out. One wonders how many other "drafting errors" will wind up in this sloppy, hurried mess. They are rushing it through without anybody knowing what they hell it really says:
Democrats, while being careful to say that they had made no decision to block the detainee bill, expressed rising concerns about changes to the proposal that they said went beyond what Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, had described Monday as merely “technical changes.”
The changes had been made over the weekend, as negotiators from the House and White House adjusted a compromise that had been reached between the White House and Senate Republicans on Thursday.
In one change, the original language said that a suspect had the right to “examine and respond to” all evidence used against him. Mr. Graham and his colleagues in resisting the White House, Senators John W. Warner of Virginia and John McCain of Arizona, had insisted that the provision was necessary to prevent so-called secret trials. The bill submitted late Monday dropped the word “examine” and left only “respond to,” reviving complaints about secret trials, this time from Democrats.
In another, the original compromise said that evidence seized “outside the United States” could be admitted in court even if it had been obtained without a search warrant, a provision Republicans and Democrats agreed was necessary to deal with the unusual circumstances of seizing evidence on the battlefield.
The bill introduced Monday dropped the words “outside the United States,” which Democrats said meant that prosecutors could ignore American legal standards on search warrants within the country. The bill also broadened the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant, from anyone “engaged in hostilities against the United States” to include anyone who “has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.”
Republicans and the White House explained the change to the provision about viewing evidence as, in Mr. Graham’s words, “literally just a drafting error,” and said the word “examine” would be restored.
Right. And George Allen just happened to make up a word that means n*****r in several different languages. Life is full of such unhappy coincidences.
Republicans and the White House defended the change on unlawful combatants. It is narrower than the definition originally proposed by the White House, which said that anyone who materially supported hostilities could be prosecuted because it added the phrase “intentionally and purposefully.” Senate and White House staff members said this would resolve the problem of what one Senate aide described as “the grandmother in Switzerland” who writes a check for charity that ends up going to a terrorist organization.
“Most of us feel if someone is engaged in actively assisting Al Qaeda or terrorists that they should fall under this legislation,” Mr. McCain said.
Republicans also said they were trying to reach a compromise on the habeas corpus provision of the bill, which would deny a suspect the right to challenge his detention in court.
"Actively assisting Al-Qaeda or terrorists." One assumes that would be stuff such as giving "material support." Like the guy who was arrested for selling Hezbollah TV as part of a satellite TV package. You know the type. (The good part is that rightwing welfare queens are on the case "helping" the government track down these dangerous terrorists. Lucky for us the far right is so level headed, isn't it?)
And then there's this. And this.
I don't know why the Senators are even pretending to know what's in this bill. One of the most important pieces of legislation in recent American history is being put together in the dead of night and hurried through the congress for political reasons. It's a constitutional clusterfuck.
The vote is going to happen and it's going to pass. But I can't help but wonder if the momentum wouldn't have gone the other way if some of the Democrats who constantly exhort the rank and file to be more friendly to religion and values and morals had stood up and said no. Imagine if Barack Obama had staked out a leading position against this legislation making the explicit argument that it is immoral and unamerican to torture. That would have gone farther to demonstrate our respect for religious values than his frequent process talk and scolding could ever do.
Or imagine if Holy Joe Lieberman showed even one tenth the righteous indignation toward this torture legislation that he showed toward president Clinton's personal affairs. Imagine if the great centrist hawk, the man of morals and religious sincerity whom the Republicans have anointed as a principled example of a Democrat who understands the stakes in the war on terror, went to the floor of the senate and said:
In choosing this path, I fear that the president has undercut the efforts of millions of Americans who are naturally trying to instill in our children the value of honesty and decency toward others --- and the absolute taboo against torture. As most any mother and father knows, kids have a singular ability to detect double standards. So, we can safely assume that it will be that much more difficult to convince our sons and daughters of the importance of treating even enemies with humanity and dignity. Many parents I have spoken with in Connecticut confirm this unfortunate consequence.
The president's legislation allowing torture and repealing habeas corpus may also undercut the trust that the American people have in his word. Under the Constitution, as presidential scholar Newsted has noted, the president's ultimate source of authority, particularly his moral authority, is the power to persuade, to mobilize public opinion, to build consensus behind a common agenda. As Teddy Roosevelt once explained, "My power vanishes into thin air the instant that my fellow citizens, who are straight and honest, cease to believe that I represent them and fight for what is straight and honest. That is all the strength that I have," Roosevelt said. Sadly, with his deception about the contents of this legislation, from the meaning of torture to its intentions, President Bush may have weakened the great power and strength that he possesses, of which President Roosevelt spoke.
But I believe that the harm the president's actions have caused extend beyond the political arena. I am afraid that the actions the president is attempting to codify with this legislation may be reinforcing one of the worst messages being delivered by our popular culture, which is that values are fungible. And I am concerned that his misconduct may help to blur some of the most important bright lines of right and wrong in our society.
As the debate on this matter proceeds, we would be advised, I would respectfully suggest, to heed the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln's second annual address to Congress in 1862.
With the nation at war with itself, President Lincoln warned, and I quote, "If there ever could be a time for mere catch arguments, that time is surely not now. In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity."
I believe that we are at such a time again today.
There's so much at stake, we, too, must resist the impulse toward catch arguments and reflex reactions. Let us proceed in accordance with our nation's traditional moral compass -- yes -- but in a manner that is fair and at a pace that is deliberate and responsible.
Let us as a nation honestly confront the damage that the president's decisions in the war on terror and Iraq over the last five years have caused, but not at the expense of our common interest as Americans. And let us be guided by the conscience of the Constitution, which calls on us to place the common good above any partisan or personal interest, as we now in our time work together to resolve this serious challenge to our democracy.
He's already got it drafted.
But we aren't going to see the moral scolds standing up on this, I'm afraid. At least I'll be very shocked if they do. They believe, as do so many Republicans and members of the press that morals are attached to somebody elses crotch. They apparently don't see that institutional torture isn't just something that a few bad apples learn from popular culture.
Joe pondered that very question in this Wall Street Journal op-ed after Abu Ghraib. Even before the investigations were started he was already convinced that the guards were a unique group of deviants and didn't seem inclined to believe that such things could have become policy. But now the Republicans are going to ram through a bill that makes all that ugly deviant stuff perfectly legal if the president wants it to be. Here were the closing words to his Rumsfeld apologia called "Let Us have Faith:"
But, as we are showing in our response to Abu Ghraib, we are a nation of laws, and therefore must punish only those who are proven guilty. The Iraqi prison scandal has been a nightmare at an already difficult moment in the war in Iraq...With determination and confidence, we should recall President Lincoln's words at another difficult moment in American history in pursuit of another just cause: "Let us have faith that right makes might; and in that faith let us do our duty as we understand it."
Makes a tear come to the eye, doesn't it, the way men like McCain and Lieberman keep evoking Lincoln and the Bible as they work to institutionalize torture and continue a bloody, useless war that kills thousands and thousands of people? It's all very inspirational.
Keep your eyes on Holy Joe as the debate unfolds. If he bothers to show up at all, I will be shocked if his vaunted religious values lead him to vote against the bill. And that says everything you need to know about his sincerity. When it comes to lying about consensual sex he's all over it, leading the charge. Torture and endless imprisonment with no trial, not so much.
I'm with Atrios. If these religion scolds vote for this bill I will never stand for being lectured by them again about how liberals need to be more respectful of the faith and values crowd. The time is now for them show what they are made of. Let's see it.
Update: Here's the Washington Post's take on the legislation.
AFTER BARELY three weeks of debate, the Senate today will take up a momentous piece of legislation that would set new legal rules for the detention, interrogation and trial of accused terrorists. We have argued that the only remedy to the mess made by the Bush administration in holding hundreds of detainees without charge at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere since 2001 was congressional action. Yet rather than carefully weigh the issues, Congress has allowed itself to be stampeded into a vote on hastily written but far-reaching legal provisions, in a preelection climate in which dissenters risk being labeled as soft on terrorism.
As we have said before, there is no need for Congress to act immediately. No terrorist suspects are being held in the CIA detention "program" that President Bush has so vigorously defended. Justice for the al-Qaeda suspects he has delivered to Guantanamo has already been delayed for years by the administration's actions and can wait a few more months. What's important is that any legal system approved by Congress pass the tests set by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) months ago: that the United States can be proud of it, that the world will see it as fair and humane, and that the Supreme Court can uphold it.
White House pressure may have persuaded many in Congress that the easiest course is to quickly approve the detention bill in its present form and leave town. If so, their actions almost surely will come back to haunt them. Until this country adopts a legal system for the war on terrorism that meets Mr. Warner's standard, the war itself will be unwinnable.
digby 9/27/2006 12:00:00 AM