Belaboring the Obvious

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Lessee, Where Did I Put Those Pieces of Stovepipe?

It's a sad goddamned day when the President stands up, in front of reporters, and gets annoyed with questions about his proposals to enshrine torture in law.

With the detention without trial of several hundred people in the prisons of Guantanamo now approaching five years, a time during which the President has repeatedly ignored existing law on torture and military tribunals, he now expresses the opinion that there's very much urgency that Congress pass a law giving him everything that he wants along those lines.

It's a transparently political ploy, but what's underneath the surface of it is the realization that if he cannot coerce Congress--and particularly a few dissidents in the Senate--before it adjourns for the November elections, it's almost certain that he'll never get what he wants out of Congress again. This sudden need for urgency is his alone--the situation itself does not demand urgency--Bush has always had the option to follow existing law with regard to detentions and military trials--he opted not to do so. It's also doubtful that Bush would have felt such pressing regard for the problem without this past summer's Supreme Court decision against the government in Hamden v. Rumsfeld.

One possibility for this purported need for speed is that Bush intended to use that law to very quickly convene show trials he could then use to convince the public of Republicans' attention to their safety. Another is that Bush does read the polls (or, more likely, have them read to him), and he knows that the Republican House is going down the tubes. Getting such a law passed gives him both a political tool and a legal tool which can then be used for political purposes in any last-ditch effort to salvage a Congress which has been doing his bidding for years.

The truly weird part about this is that Bush threatened today to stop all interrogations if he couldn't get Congressional support for CIA torture. (Now, hmm, where does that signing statement on the McCain torture bill fit into all this? After all, he's already said that he could interpret that section of the law in any way he saw fit as the prerogative of the "unitary executive." Not long ago, he was saying, in essence, "fuck you all" and now? Oh, yeah, Hamdan.)

This presidential feet-stamping doesn't come up to the level of one of Charles Krauthammer's hissy fits, but it's getting close, so, I wonder if this is about something else (even if the law tries to make all bad--and actionable--conduct retroactively not bad--and not actionable--there's no guarantee that courts would uphold that provision post-Hamdan, so there has to be a reason for giving it the old college try).

So, is Bush hoping to use torture to obtain information--truthful or otherwise--that he needs to justify an attack against Iran? Has the U.S. kidnapped a few people from inside Iran, and he's hoping they'll tell him what he most wants to hear, but the CIA won't set their scrotal hair on fire or give them tune-ups with telephone generators or beat them within an inch of their lives until Congress gives them that okay? Is Bush having a quiet, behind-the-scenes standoff with the Ops side of the CIA? (No law? Well, Prez, no torture, and, therefore, no compelling statements from Iranian insiders saying that Iran funds all worldwide terror, that Iran is at this moment installing the last of the chrome trim on its first atomic bomb, that Iran's got cooties?)

Because, at this moment, all Bush has is yet more drivel from Manucher Ghorbanifar (who has about as much credibility as Richard Bruce Cheney, and vice versa) and the MeK (an organization which is severely compromised and has most of the same intelligence problems in the context of Iran as Chalabi and his INC had regarding Iraq). We've known for a long time that Bush seized, and then clung to, every figleaf he could find to justify an invasion of Iraq, and that Rummy's buddies in DoD were passing them to him and BigTime through the Office of Special Plans as fast as they were blown away by the evidence. If the CIA won't produce those figleafs for him on Iran because there's no legal foundation for the torture required to produce it, is that yet another explanation for the sense of urgency now prowling around in the Oval Office?

What one can safely say about this is that Lord Pissypants' threat has nothing to do with finding al-Qaeda's top management. Nothing to do with Iraq (Iraq is, so, three years ago). Nothing to do with "protecting the people." Simple Rovian politics could explain it, but, the Bushies don't need this torture bill to sell fear to the public. It might have been a great way to pin the soft-on-terrorism tail on the Dem donkey for purposes of electoral propaganda--if a few Republican senators hadn't expressed some self-serving outrage over it--and I can't believe that the White House would have been caught off-guard by something like that. After all, they talk to people like McCain and Graham and Warner practically every other day. This resistance from a few Republican senators didn't suddenly occur in an information vacuum.

No, there's something else going on. And Bush and Cheney and Rummy know what it is. (h/t DK at TPM) Of course, the kindly, grandfatherly Mr. Shulsky isn't saying, either. But, I'll bet we could find out if we could put Mr. Hayden's men on the job....


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