Friday, September 22, 2006

Some Deal...

A lot of us worried that the stand-off between Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham and the White House on the torturing of detainees was nothing more than theater, that in the end the Emperor would get what he wanted. I was a bit more optimistic than that, but I was wrong. The news broke yesterday that a deal had been reached to break the stand-off, and the deal turns out to be no real deal at all. From an article in the NY Times

The agreement says the executive branch is responsible for upholding the nations’ commitment to the Geneva Conventions, leaving it to the president to establish through executive rule any violations for the handling of terrorism suspects that fall short of a “grave breach.” Significantly, Senate aides said, those rules would have to be published in the Federal Register.

The agreement provides several pages describing “grave breaches” that would not be allowed, starting with torture and including other forms of assault and mental stress. But it does not lay out specific interrogation techniques that would be prohibited.

...The senators agreed to a White House proposal to make the standard on interrogation treatment retroactive to 1997, so C.I.A. and military personnel could not be prosecuted for past treatment under standards the administration considers vague.

...Still, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said he would press to change a provision in the proposal that would deny detainees a right to challenge their captivity in court.
[Emphasis added]

Some deal, indeed.

Further, even as the deal was being announced, the White House was already spinning it in such a fashion that effectively returns the issue to where it was before the stand-off, something the NY Times noted in its editorial today.

Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession.

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush’s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence. (Although the administration’s supporters continually claim this means giving classified information to terrorists, the rules actually provide for reviewing, editing and summarizing classified material. Evidence that cannot be safely declassified cannot be introduced.)

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of “grave breaches” of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It’s not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

The editorial concludes by calling for the Democrats (who have been deplorably silent, apparently happy to remain on the sidelines during the Republican internal kerfuffle) to work to change the deal, or at least to keep it from a vote until after the elections. Given the posture the current Senate Democrats have taken on this and other issues, I don't expect much of a response. After all, the election isn't too far away, the Democrats wouldn't want to look soft on terror. It wouldn't be prudent.

And once again, the simple verities are ignored. No one has the courage to state clearly and without ambiguity that torture is wrong.


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