The outlines of the torture debate kabuki emerged this morning with the interviews with John McCain and Stephen Hadley on This Week. It is actually quite straightforward. McCain was very optimistic they could reach a compromise and Hadley said that the three conditions for compromise are this:
1. they must be able to keep the program (which is, of course, entirely up to Junior who stomped his little feet until he turned blue at his press conference, threatening to allow terrorists to kill us all in our beds if he doesn't get his way.) It's entirely within his power to "keep the program."
2. they must give their intelligence professionals "clear guidelines" with congressional support. In other words they need some sort of bill that says the congress supports the president's CIA interrogation program. (Perhaps Bush can lead a little cheer.)"Clear guidelines" means nothing. What they are seeking is exactly opposite of "clear guidelines. So, basically, they simply have to assert that they've got them and they've got them. Check.
3. they must find a way to do this by accomodating McCain's desire that they not "amend" Article III. McCain has already set forth how they will do this:
McCain and the other GOP senators have indicated they would be willing to amend domestic U.S. law, especially the War Crimes Act, to permit at least some "enhanced" CIA techniques. They are also willing to pass legislation that would deny many rights to detainees at Guantánamo Bay and allow them to be held indefinitely.
Bush has always said that he wanted to "clarify" Article III and I predict that they will soon have a breakthrough that says they have found a way to do just that --- by amending the War Crimes Act.
And all over the country the word will go forth that the Republicans in the US Senate stood up to the unpopular George W. Bush --- Sing Hallalujah! They are tough on terrorists and moral to boot! We can all vote Republican again with a clear conscience --- accountability and oversight have arrived thanks to St. John McCain the Anointed One.
Aside from the obvious electoral benefits of this kabuki dance, I also suspect the administration's substantive goal all along was to stage a public fight on torture in order to get the congress to compromise on all the military tribunal issues. They got their cornpone tool Huckelberry Graham to eliminate judicial review and habeas corpus, and all they need now is to force the kewl mavericks to give up their requirement that terrorists be allowed access to the evidence against them and they will have codified their Gitmo gulag. Excellent work.
Update: The main reason I know this is kabuki is more than just instinct. It's because crap like this gives away the game:
Another irony lies in the fact that the congressional rules for interrogations that the Bush administration now seeks to embrace in the new legislation -- the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 -- were vigorously opposed by the White House before their adoption by Congress. Bush disliked them so much that when he signed the law Dec. 30, he appended a statement objecting to some of its provisions and explicitly reserved his right to interpret them "in a manner consistent" with his constitutional authorities as president and commander in chief.
In another twist, the principal Republican lawmakers responsible for the Detainee Treatment Act -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) -- said last year that they meant the law to set a minimum, humane standard of treatment for detainees held by both the Defense Department and the CIA. But they now are telling colleagues it would be a bad law for the CIA to follow in the future because its language would slight international treaty obligations.
A retired intelligence professional who said he has discussed the matter at length with colleagues said the predominant view at the agency is that McCain -- who made clear in congressional debate last year that he disapproved of what the CIA was doing -- was surprised to learn later that the Detainee Treatment Act did not put a stop to it.
All those "twists" and "ironies" and the picture of a naive, hoodwinked St John the Anointed just don't pass the smell test.
I have no doubt that McCain and Bush will stand together, all smiles, at a bill signing ceremony some time in the not too distant future. And then the president will issue a signing statement designed to cover his ass and everyone elses ass and John McCain will run for president as the man who saved America's soul.