Friday, September 22, 2006

President Gets Big Win In Quest For Torture Powers

A tentative deal between the White House and dissident Senate Republicans on the interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists has been announced. The compromise legislation clarifies acceptable interrogation techniques and outlines military commission procedures. It will likely pass both the Republican-controlled House and Senate just in time to drive home the "Republicans = Strong On Terror" theme so vital to our electoral system.

With a major GOP rift apparently closed, the Corporate Media spent all day playing up the unity-and-goodwill theme. This quote from Sen. John McCain is typical: "We're all winners because we've been able to come to an agreement through a process of negotiations and consensus." You're all winners? Really? Because the details—not to mention the crowing from the White House—indicate that Bush has scored a major victory while the Senate cravenly slinks away, barely able to save face. By focusing solely on the provisions over which the two sides disagreed, the Corporate Media overlooks sickening areas of GOP agreement.

The New York Times explains the compromise: the Bush administration agreed not to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, an international treaty. In return, the senators agreed that the War Crimes Act, a domestic law, will be rewritten to define what constitutes "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions. As for less serious violations of the conventions ("those lying between cruelty and minor abuse"), the senators agreed Bush will be given the authority to judge the "meaning and application" of the Geneva Conventions.

Yeah, that's a good idea... because Bush has certainly shown such a clear record of restraint in these matters thus far.

In short, the deal seems to grant Bush the exact same "I want to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions" powers that he initially asserted, only now the Senate has simply changed the name. The Washington Post indicates that this wording change may have been all that McCain wanted from the beginning: the "biggest hurdle" in negotiations "was convincing administration officials that lawmakers would never accept language that allowed Bush to appear to be reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions."

Presidential counselor Dan Bartlett certainly views this "compromise" as nothing of the sort: "We proposed a more direct approach to bringing clarification. This one is more of the scenic route, but it gets us there."

Ahh, the scenic route to torture. It's almost Wadsworth! Yes, poetic turns of phrase like this inspire the human spirit, right? Methinks it's time for a senatorial torture haiku:

President Bush pleads:
"I lust to waterboard them!"
We smile and cave in...

As for the other main point of contention between the White House and the Senate "rebels" —that the accused should have access to secret evidence against them— the Corporate Media is pretending that the senators made more headway. Evidently defendants will be allowed to see secret evidence in "summary or redacted form." Of course, the extent of the summary and redaction goes unspecified, just like everything else in this "deal," which is rather unconscionable to anyone with respect for the rule of law. Most people would clearly recognize that: "America hereby sentences you to death because we have evidence that shows you ██████ on ████ with ██████" is pretty disgusting and fundamentally unAmerican. Evidently Senators McCain, Graham and Warner (and their acquiescent fellow Republicans who didn't even pretend to put up a fight) don't know unAmerican fascism when they sign off on it.

Rather typically, President Bush is already trying to wiggle out of even this minor concession by claiming that OTHER Republicans in the House of Representatives want to deny Bush's prisoners access to the secret evidence against them. How can President Bush possibly say no to the House's demands, regardless of the deal he just signed with the Senate to do exactly that?

Brilliantly played, sir.

Unfortunately the Corporate Media doesn't even bother to mention one of the biggest problems with this already gutted "compromise" legislation: even before negotiations began, both the administration and its Senate opponents had provisions in their respective bills to strip detainees of their right to file an application for a writ of habeas corpus. Apparently the goal of EVERYONE involved is to turn the prison at Guantánamo Bay back into a legal black hole that the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over.

This entire rebellion was purportedly about President Bush's power to rewrite international human rights treaties that the United States is legally bound to obey. Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner cast themselves as Republican moderates who opposed this blatantly illegal move by the White House. Now we see that they are nothing of the sort, and that this entire "principled struggle" has been an elaborate Three Card Monte game designed to make the Republican Party seem principled, fair, and rational when it's nothing of the sort. The losers of this shell game are the accused terrorists, the American constitution, the American people, the rule of law, and every citizen of the world.

In essence, this deal merely codifies the current, sickening, and illegal status quo: that President Bush can illegally kidnap, imprison, torture and kill any citizen of any country, for any reason he likes, and that his decisions are final and cannot be reviewed by the Federal Courts. The only difference is that now President Bush has Congress's tacit approval for his worldwide reign of terror.

That's some compromise, guys. Have fun explaining that one to your grandchildren when they asked what you did to prevent the destruction of Democracy in America.

This abdication of responsibility by the Senate means that 2 of the 3 branches of American Government have signed off on abduction, torture and murder as routine anti-terrorism tools. The last objecting branch, the Supreme Court, is now the last bulwark against an Imperial Presidency with these powers. Justices Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer, Stevens, and Kennedy ruled on June 23rd, 2006 that the President did NOT have these powers. Alito, Scalia, and Thomas voted to let the President torture, try and execute these prisoners according to his own whims. John Roberts sat out the vote because he had previously been part of a federal appeals court that had ruled earlier in the case that Bush could do anything he wanted to. So, in essence that vote was truly 5-4.

The only thing that stands between us and the Dictatorship of an admitted Torturer now is the health of 86-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens, a man already 9 years beyond the 77-year average life expectancy of a wealthy white male in the United States. If Justice Stevens dies between now and January 20, 2009, expect President Bush to pack another right-wing religious zealot onto the court to replace him. Then Emperor Bush will have all three branches of government fully behind him and his disturbing need to torture.

I sure hope you people are voting Democrat this November.

UPDATE - Someone wrote to say I'm overstating the case. His contention is that Bush doesn't claim this power over any citizen in the world, only over terrorists actively involved in attacks on the United States. That's what the Corporate Media wants us to believe, but it's not true. Bush has unilaterally redefined his own rules to include not only accused terrorists, but also anyone suspected of funding or even merely "supporting" terrorism. Because he's the only person who has the power to decide what "supporting" means, this is, in essence, self-granted Carte Blanche to abduct anyone, anywhere.

Bush is currently holding 14,000 people in Afghanistan and Iraq, most of whom the military freely admits are innocent of any crime. Bush has admitted that the CIA is operating several illegal prisons throughout the world. The European Union estimates that at least 100 citizens have been kidnapped off the streets of Europe since 9/11/2001 by the CIA. Several of these kidnapped people were innocent (if not the majority of them), and a small trickle of them have been released from Bush's Torture Chambers after several weeks, months and even years of pointless torture.

Anyone, anywhere is a target at any time, should Bush or his countless underlings decide that they might be involved in Terrorism. That's all it takes: an inkling.

The writer's second contention was that Bush isn't trying to kill the Guantánamo Bay prisoners, but merely to sentence them to long terms in prison. I'm sorry, old son, execution is EXACTLY what Bush's Justice Department argued Bush had the right to carry out in Gherebi v. Bush, before the 9th Circuit Court. To quote the presiding judge: "Indeed, at oral argument, the government advised us that its position [that the Guantánamo detainees had no access to the federal courts or writs of Habeus Corpus] would be the same even if the claims were that it was engaging in acts of torture or that it was summarily executing the detainees."

Summarily executing the detainees. Read that sentence again. Who was the last American President to advocate summary executions of prisoners based on secret evidence? Oh, right, there wasn't one. Ever. Perhaps the President is confusing The Constitution with The Night and Fog Decrees?