Belaboring the Obvious

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Scenic Route...

... on the road to hell. The latest "compromise" on torture, habeas corpus and Executive rights is that, in spades:

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said in an interview that Bush essentially got what he asked for in a different formulation that allows both sides to maintain their concerns were addressed. 'We kind of take the scenic route, but we get there,' the official said.

This kabuki is all about legitimizing what was previously illegal behavior, behavior which was defined as such in Supreme Court rulings and in the 1996 War Crimes Act. An essential element in this new law is that it is retroactively applied for nine years--far enough back to erase any culpability of any CIA official--or White House occupant--for actions which, in 2004 when Abu Ghraib shocked the sensibilities of the world, revulsed the nation's citizens (with the possible exception of Rush Limbaugh, who described torture as "blowing off some steam").

We've heard a lot of gas about the three senators, Graham, Warner and McCain, all power-heavy with connections to defense and intelligence, saying that they're simply reacting to concerns from the military and the CIA about torture. If, indeed, the CIA and the military are the ones resisting the use of torture, why are both heavily implicated in it prior to Hamdan v. Rumsfeld?

The Army has issued new guidelines on interrogation through its revised field manual. That makes sense, because it was out of control previously, and the changes were the result of official Army investigations--but, most importantly, Hamdan came first. That means the brass themselves could be held accountable not just for giving orders for torture (as has certainly occurred previously, though not reported or admitted), but for not actively preventing it, as well.

The CIA has probably instigated much of the torture, on its own and in the military, based on some pretty queer legal findings coming out of the White House. And now, post-Hamdan, there's a backlash within the CIA against torture.

I'd say, looking at the order of events, that this sudden change of heart is not about either the rectitude of torture or the reassessment of its efficacy in obtaining truthful information. It's about being punished for doing it. Prior to Hamdan, the torturer-in-chief's Executive Order backed up by the OLC's famous memo was enough of a fig leaf. Now, it's not.

Much of this impetus toward torture, in the first place, was driven by top people in the White House--particularly those in and around Cheney's office (Cheney of the original 1991 plans to privatize many defense functions--a privatization which has now engulfed even the CIA). Much of the actual torture was done by private contractors. They are the ones within the CIA who likely put up a squawk--not about doing it, but being punished for it. Torture's very easy to do when you can hire people without scruples to do it for you. The ugly little secret inside the larger secret is, I would guess, that contractors are doing much of the torture, and after Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, no corporation providing such people could avoid prosecution itself. Previously, CIA and military contractors could hide behind Bush's executive order issued at the beginning of the invasion holding civilians harmless and protecting them from Iraqi law.

This urge toward legal justification for--rather than repudiation of--the practice of torture, I think, on one level, is essentially corporate.

But, all that's just the desperate search for legal protection of the powerful by a feckless and dishonest Congress. What is amazing is that the press continues to either describe this "compromise" as a significant reining in of Presidential power (which it most certainly is not, but, rather, is an expansion of it) or as a play-by-play of the analytical details of government in action.

Even more amazing is that the one person in the Senate who's been on the receiving end of torture is now negotiating with a President about what the fuck it is, and then using the lame--and essentially amoral--excuse that if we torture, our captured soldiers might be tortured, too, and still ends up agreeing to allow the President to decide for himself what constitutes torture.

The issue isn't what others might do. It's what we, as a people, stand for, what we will or will not do, and this new amendment of the War Crimes Act says we stand for torture. It says, on behalf of all of us, that we're okay with letting a criminally incompetent President continue to torture detainees and selectively deny us our rights, for when the Executive can selectively deny detainees the right to counsel, fair trial and open and full evidence against them, those rights can be denied us. It then becomes a matter of deciding who to detain.

It says, on behalf of all of us, that we are a nation of sheep, that we will do anything to numb a fear which the Bush administration, most of all, has tried to instill in us, for their own deeply cynical reasons.

It's not law yet, but the attempt to push its passage in the next days has already begun. Legislators will not probe their consciences on this; any "yes" vote will be for an amoral and vicious policy and for a further seizure of power by a corrupt Executive. A "yes" vote will be an acknowledgement of--and praise for--a nation without moral compass, without leadership, and without mind or heart.

There will be many "yes" votes for this bloody miscarriage of a bill. All those voting "yes" will say one of several things: "it wasn't the best bill we could get, but was better than nothing," or "this will strengthen our nation's security," or "this will provide the President with the tools he needs to fight terrorism," or "I'm proud to defend our fighting boys... and, uh, girls."

It will be nothing of the sort. It will be a defense of the indefensible. It will be a vote to protect criminals--the ones who now occupy the White House.


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