Compromise On Torture?

Government Sanctioned Immorality Reaching Scary Proportions

Okay, we have a President of The United States of America, leader of the free world, who is pulling out all the stops to get a bill allowing more leeway on torture through Congress. This should be incredibly shocking to all of you. This post is Nick ranting about how evil torture is.

Let me lay down the facts, something you don’t get straight from our soundbite news media:

  • June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States put the smackdown on the president’s secret detainee tribunals (WikiNews article). The Supreme Court ruled them illegal, because *news flash* we have a Constitution wherein the legislature creates the laws, the executive executes the laws and the judiciary reviews and safeguards our rights in those laws, and the president, contrary to his claim to unlimited authority to prosecute the “war on terror,” cannot invent a new law out of thin air to secretly try detainees with no oversight whatsoever. Only Congress is responsible for making new laws.

This should be elementary school-level knowledge. It’s what our founders died for in the Revolutionary War.

In war-time the seperation of powers are not suspended, and the president can never assume all powers, overriding all other branches of government, despite what the Bush Justice Dept. people say. Congress decides what our laws are going to be, and they adopted the Geneva Conventions in 1949. So, on June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case that the president’s secret detainee tribunals are unconstitutional, and told him to either try terrorists under existing law, or get Congress to write a new law for it (Washington Post article).
  • Imagine for a moment the (not-so-far-fetched) scenario that Iran captures a US soldier, and tries him in a secret tribunal, without allowing anyone to see any evidence, all in violation of the Geneva Conventions. Rightfully, there would be a massive international outcry. But when we do it, it’s okay? And now the president wants his perverse double standards codified into American law, and Congress is behind him. What??!!
  • Congress makes the laws, and ratified the Geneva Conventions as the law of the land in 1949, and that law forbids secret trials of enemies and torture. The president can’t abolish existing law, and the Supreme Court spanked him about that. So he’s gone to Congress to make the torture and tribunals legal. On Sept. 15, President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and told reporters:
This debate is occurring because of the Supreme Court’s ruling that said that we must conduct ourselves under the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. And that Common Article 3 says that, you know, there will be no outrages upon human dignity. It’s like — it’s very vague. What does that mean, “outrages upon human dignity”? That’s a statement that is wide open to interpretation. And what I’m proposing is that there be clarity in the law so that our professionals will have no doubt that that which they’re doing is legal.

I’m not making this up. Here’s the full transcript. Bush seriously said he doesn’t know what outrages upon human dignity are. Step back for a minute, close your eyes, and ponder what it means when the leader of the free world thinks the Geneva Conventions are vague and does not know what “outrages upon human dignity” mean! That explains so much about the last six years of our government, no?

There’s a century or so of case law defining what outrages on human dignity mean Mr. President, and you would look it up if it served your cause. It doesn’t of course, and even a cursory glance at our laws would yank away any fig leaf of legality propping up our dubious “alternative interrogation techniques.”

Stephen Colbert, who does wicked satire along the lines of Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal,” takes on the topic here, suggesting the Geneva Conventions are as vague as a Lewis Caroll verse and if Bush would show us how he defines torture, we’d see his position with perfect “clarity.”

  • Senators John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham went to the press and said they would insist on legislation that would leave the Geneva Conventions intact.

  • Then they caved, announcing a compromise on torture. You read that right, the United States is compromising on torture. Under the new bill, detainees could see evidence brought against them in court (though the House version omits this). But other than murder, mutilation and rape, which would be classified as “severe breaches” of the Geneva Conventions under the bill, any other form of torture, including beatings, stress positions and so on, would be allowed. Step back and consider the moral ramifications of that. American law would allow the executive branch the leeway to interpret Geneva to engage in just about any nefarious act of torture you can imagine. Extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, blaring noise, beatings, just about anything would be considered below the threshold of “outrage upon human dignity,” anything could be done to get them to talk. And the bill would retroactively immunize U.S. officials from prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996. See the USA Today editorials: Deal on detainees falls short and Detainee compromise a lose-lose for more details. Senator Specter says he’ll press to allow detainees habeas corpus (the fundamental right to challenge your imprisonment in front of a judge) but it’s a sure bet that the bulk of this horrible bill will pass.
  • Torture doesn’t work. As we can see from the story reported by 60 Minutes about a completely innocent Canadian citizen who was sent to (our enemy) Syria by the CIA to be tortured, the victims will say anything to get you to stop torturing them. Torture ‘never guarantees’ truth, former FBI agent says. During the Great Witch Hunts of Europe (1567–1640), torture forced countless women to confess to “congress with the devil.” If our government doesn’t take a strong stand regarding torture, history will not treat this era much better.
  • Finally, torture is immoral. On MSNBC’s “Countdown,” constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley nailed it: “It is a violation of both domestic and international law. But more importantly, torture is immoral under every major religion, that you cannot fight a moral war with immoral means. And if we‘re ready to embrace immoral means, if that‘s how we‘re going to fight this war, then we have lost. And no one will come to our aid. We will be alone. And that‘s what happens when you become, in the view of many, an enemy to the rule of law. And we cannot afford that to happen.” (transcript)
Torture is immoral under every religion!
Yet, the Religious Right is backing torture like no one else! Molly Ivins reports that “the Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition is so in favor of torture he told McCain that the senator either supports the torture bill or he can forget about the evangelical Christian vote. I’d like to see an evangelical vote on that one. I don’t know how Sheldon defines traditional values, but deliberately inflicting terrible physical pain or stress on someone who is completely helpless strikes me as … well, torture. And, um, wrong.” Wow, traditional values = torture? The followers of Christ are all about the torture? What Bible are they reading? Are they figuring since Jesus got tortured on the cross, it’s okay, it’s trendy, what is the justification here? How does torture jive with “love your neighbor as yourself?” This just illustrates so boldly how very disconnected American Christiandom is with the true message of the “Prince of Peace.” Who Would Jesus Torture?

Many say we have to do whatever it takes, without restraint, to protect our families from a savage enemy who uses acts of unprecedented brutality. They say we cannot “show weakness” in this “new era.” They are wrong. Nothing shows weakness more than shedding our values in the face of terrorism, something the generation of Pearl Harbor, who, despite fighting a far more dangerous foe, could not fathom. This is the bottom line: giving up our high ideals to protect our high ideals from terrorism, ideals we no longer have if we surrender them in our battle, is plainly nonsensical and should end. There is no justification for losing American values to protect American values.


Filed Under: Politics and Government