Saturday, September 16, 2006

President threatens to stop torture program if he doesn't get Republican support.

GOP Infighting on Detainees Intensifies : "President Bush warned defiant Republican senators yesterday that he will close down a CIA interrogation program that he credited with thwarting terrorist attacks if they pass a proposal regulating detention of enemy combatants, escalating a politically charged battle that has exposed divisions within his party."

McCain: "No, B'rer Bush! Don' throw us in that briar patch!"

Actually, what he REALLY said was this:

"Weakening the Geneva protections is not only unnecessary, but would set an example to other countries, with less respect for basic human rights, that they could issue their own legislative 'reinterpretations,' " McCain said in a written statement. "This puts our military personnel and others directly at risk in this and future wars."
I think it would be foolish in the extreme for shrub to test McCain on this particular issue.

A man who was tortured by the Vietnamese may have a more practical appreciation of the uses and limitations of torture than Bush. Disrespecting that sort of understanding may well undermine McCain's regard for Bush's legacy - and that of a party that would consider such a concession as a political tool.

Colin Powell came out to say that Bush's "reinterpretation" of the Geneva conventions might lead other countries to "doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

Colin's a bit late to the bus on that realization, but still, it's all to the good.

He's supported in this by the Judge Advocate General office, which issued this statement:

Maj. Gen. Scott C. Black, the Army's judge advocate general, sent a new letter to McCain and other senators, saying "further redefinition" of the conventions "is unnecessary and could be seen as a weakening of our treaty obligations, rather than a reinforcement of the standards of treatment."

Not could. Would. Already is. Civilized nations don't NEED to discuss such things, they know the difference between right and wrong and that war is not an excuse for, oh, off the top of my head, threatening to rape a man's children if he doesn't talk, or sticking his head under water repeatedly, or making him lie shackled in his own feces while the temperature is lowered enough to induce hypothermia.

Besides that, it produces crap intel. The President's attributions of success for these programs are dubious, to say the least. He's not really in a position to say "Just trust me on this", either.

FBI "by the book" interrogation techniques do not come close to the Geneva Convention definition of torture, they are robustly Constitutional and they routinely result in solid, actionable intelligence. Being an accused terrorist will not make you immune to them, nor will lying help you all that much. The pattern and structure of a lie often tells skilled investigators as much as a direct confession.

I mean, consider the liar in question, George Bush; he's established such a pattern and it's pretty easy to infer that when he's trying to get us to focus on fear, we need only look at the subject and the timing to discern what he's trying to distract us from.

In this particular case, Josh Marshall of the Talking Points Memo may well have nailed another Rovian plot:

The aim here was to unite Republicans behind a bill and then force Democrats either to vote for or against -- demoralize the supporters of those who vote for and crush with 30 second ads those who vote against.

But if the White House actually gets tripped up in a fight with members of his own party over what kind of torture we should use, and that's the last legislative story out of Washington going into the election, that really seems like it would be a big disaster for the White House.

I don't pretend that it's a clear political shot to argue, in a highly polarized electorate, that there are certain rights we should afford to anyone in our custody, no matter how bad they may be. [emphasis mine]

I think the point that both Rove and Josh, along with most of those inside the Beltway have missed is that there are some things that are not political.

Screwing with the Geneva Conventions - and putting our own troops at risk thereby is one of them. Creating precedents for courts of any sort that would allow classified evidence to be used against a suspect without defense review, with the other condition that a "defendant" could be anyone the President chooses to designate as an "enemy combatant" is another. That is a precedent that will not go away if permitted and it's too much power for any single person of any political stripe to have.

These are issues outside of the realm of permissible political restatement under our Constitution and our law.

The Geneva Accords are a multi-national treaty with the force of law, and "reinterpretation" of them cannot be done unilaterally. Any such "reinterpretation" or "clarification", even if supported by a unanimous House and Senate could be seen as a repudiation of the treaty, leaving every other signatory free to "reinterpret" them as they see fit. I doubt we would like the result.

Already, I suspect a rather high number of responsible world leaders consider this an evident attempt to "clarify" the administration retroactively out of impeachment and perhaps a War Crimes tribunal and will feel that way even if the Administration succeeds in evading either fate. Understand, again, that violation of the Geneva Conventions is a felony under US law and of course, a crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

So there's more at stake here than what some see as "merely" a dispute over the rights of accused terrorists. The distinction between "enemy combatant" and "terrorist" and even "criminal" does not exist in law, even if it has appeared to be so alleged in both rhetoric and practice.

And here's the thing, the issue, the nub of the problem; if your average person in Iraq, Iran, and wherever else we are worldwide has reason to suspect that they face a fate worse than death if even approached by a US soldier - this will cut us off from ANY ability to control the situation on the ground in Iraq and get a lot of our kids killed. It makes our forces useless in any role other than shock troops, rather pointless as the "left hand of diplomacy."

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