Tuesday, September 12, 2006


Torture and kangaroo courts near approval by Congress

R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post gives us a rundown of the "concessions" that Senate Republicans are making with the White House concerning the Bush administration's requests for military tribunals that do not require evidence and for the de facto legalization of torture. The editors at the Post found this news so insignificant that it was relegated to page 17.1, 2

The disagreements that remain involve whether suspects can be convicted with evidence they are never allowed to see... [and] ... over the terms of a related amendment to the U.S. War Crimes Act that would limit the exposure of CIA officials and other civilian personnel to prosecution for abusive treatment of detainees....

The principal players are Republican Senators John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham, who were making human rights noises for a while. But according to reporter Smith, Bush took the wind out of their sails with a speech "when he announced his intention to put 14 key terrorism suspects on trial." As you know, there's nothing more powerful than a speech by George Bush.

You have to read down a few paragraphs to get to the comedy—

The Senate bill for the first time includes language supporting the administration's position that detainee abuse can be prosecuted only if it, in effect, "shocks the conscience."

Try to think of something that shocks the conscience of the Bush administration. Just try.

A theocratic administration and Senate that love the absolute and disdain the relative are now promoting the ultimate in moral relativism—

Legal experts say that instead of setting an absolute standard for conduct, the bill's language would leave room for judges to weigh the urgency of the information extracted from detainees during rough interrogations.

What an interesting and unique standard of conduct: the urgency of the information to be extracted.

Even if we accept this as a standard that does not "shock the conscience," I see nothing here to suggest that the interrogators must have reason to believe that their victims actually possess the information. No, it is only the urgency of the information itself. With a rule like that, George Bush and his minions should feel just as at home in Uzbekistan as they do in the United States.

And what if the American government somehow manages the daunting task of shocking the conscience of a federal judge?

The revised Senate bill also would bar detainees held by the United States from bringing legal action against the government to challenge the legality of their detention or treatment. It would bar the collection of damages by detainees for violations of the Geneva Conventions, which set the minimum standards for wartime treatment.

Of course, I'm giving you the best-case scenario of Congressional action. Republican member of the House Duncan Hunter has a bill ready that will give the administration everything it wants without the quibbles, and the administration is submitting its own bill to the Senate. Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist has already promised that the White House version will get the first vote.

Concerning the American government—the Bush administration, the Congress and the Courts—I think I've lost the capacity to be surprised. But I can still be shocked by those outside the government, as in the concluding paragraph of the story—

Human Rights First, the Center for Victims of Torture and five other activist groups released a joint letter yesterday condemning the administration's version of the bill as "shockingly radical" and asserting that it would violate "fundamental notions of due process."

I tried to verify that this was not a distortion of the import of the letter, but the letter was apparently not published on the Web as I write this.

It may be that the "concessions" put forth by the McCain-Warner-Lindsay trinity were not known to the rights groups at the time they issued the letter. That is my hope. If they were aware of the concessions and found only the administration's legislation "shockingly radical" while not condemning the "moderate" version, it would only demonstrate the ease with which the terrible becomes the commonplace.

Related posts
Parsing the Pentagon's Geneva Conventions turnaround (7/11/06)
I told you so... (7/23/06)
Warning: Neocon fury and a reporter to watch (7/20/06)



1WaPo National Editor Michael Abramowitz, the Neocon/Israeli shill, put his own writing on the front page in a piece headlined "Bush Says Iraq Victory Is Vital." It begins—

President Bush mixed solemn remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks yesterday with a renewed call to complete the mission in Iraq, paying tribute to the fallen even while warning Americans that failure in the Middle East would leave the United States more vulnerable than ever to Islamic extremists.

You'll find no mention of torture or kangaroo courts here. Instead Abramowitz and co-reporter Michael Fletcher give the details of the President's "painstakingly choreographed day." I hung on every word, just as every American should when considering the activities of our Great Leader.

It is a great shame that "tyrants" such as Fidel Castro have to rely on a state-controlled press to get their messages out. In the U.S., capitalist organizations such as the Washington Post provide this service without a penny of expense to the government, unless of course the government decides to slip the individual journalists a few dollars. [back]

2In its Web edition the Post offers "a running discussion of important issues among dozens of the world's best-known editors and writers." Called PostGlobal, it is moderated by David Ignatius and Fareed Zakarias.

The question for September 9 was

In the wake of Abu Ghraib, how will these proposed military commissions affect national security? Will this plan expose our troops, now deployed around the world, to similar treatment?

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff, Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly Die Zeit, offers a memoir titled "Guantanamo and My Wehrmacht Uncles." This is immediately followed by "Torture, Unlike Terror, Can Be Justified" from Israeli writer Saul Singer, who is Editorial Page Editor of the Jerusalem Post.

Mr. Singer would pretend that torture is not one of the faces of terrorism. The principal use of torture is not to "extract information" but to notify the target population of what they may expect if they do not kowtow to the authorities, whether the "authorities" be an insurgent group or an army or secret agency of a duly constituted government. The Israelis are well versed in the technique. [back]

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