By Rowan Wolf of Uncommon Thought Journal
Back on September 9th, I raised concerns about the current legislative push before the October recess. Well today, part of the President’s agenda came to a head with Bush responding to the Senate Armed Services Committee “rebellion” (transcript).
It is both stunning and frightening to watch the President of the United States arguing angrily for torturing of captives, and the denial of even basic legal rights as a “high standard” for the world. Then to threaten to shut down counterterrorism programs if he doesn’t get the legislation he wants. Of course, Bush was not specific about exactly what “program” he was threatening to stop. If it is the one of secret CIA prisons and CIA torturing suspects for “information,” then we might better off. If he is talking about shutting down all intelligence activities, then that is another matter. Regardless, it is blackmail to issue such a threat, and it was intended to be blackmail.
The administration is already on record stating that “techniques” such as waterboarding, “stress” positions, sleep deprivation and humiliation are appropriate. These are some of the same “techniques” used notoriously at Abu Ghraib prison. It is important to realize that these methods of “interrogation” and detention are being used on suspects. In other words, people who may know nothing. These “suspects” may be detained, and repeatedly interrogated for years – potentially for the rest of their lives. Further, the administration wants to try them in tribunals where “information” gained through torture may be used, and where evidence can be withheld. This is the “high standard” Bush and company want to set.
The pressure is also on legislatively legalizing military tribunals, and the wiretapping that the administration has already approved. Why would there be such pressure to legalize those things which have been ruled both unconstitutional, and threatened to be ruled as international violations? This is cover your ass time. For five years, the Bush administration has acted as if they are above all laws. After the events of 9/11/2001, they have argued they have unfettered power under the “war on terror.” However, saying it does not make it true, and what is clear is that Bush and company have significantly overreached. Further, that they stand at risk of criminal prosecution if they do not get changes to U.S. law. However, even if the legislation Bush desires is passed exactly as he wants, it does not mean that it will be ruled as Constitutional, nor that it would protect the administration from international law.
Personally, I find it unconscionable that a President of the United States would be arguing for torture, and trying people on “secret evidence.” If any other country, and I mean our allies as well as those who are not, were pushing for this type of legislation, we would think them tyrants. Certainly, we would not consider them operating under common rules of law.
It is telling who is against Bush’s legislation and who is for it. Senators McCain and Warner lead the charge against the Bush bill and offered an alternative bill instead. Various JAG prosecutors have come forward against both the tribunals, and “broadening” acceptable interrogation techniques. Colin Powell has also public taken as stand against the President on these issues. Meanwhile, Bush and Cheney seem locked on what they want and damn the consequences.
I do believe that the doggedness and stridency of Bush on this issue is linked to fear of prosecution, and not “the war on terror.” McCain should be aware of this, but seems to not be. The issues of torture and the rights of detainees go to the heart of both the US Constitution and International agreements. Fighting the administration on this issue might ultimately lead to a war crimes tribunal for Bush and the rest of his administration. However, knowingly passing legislation that will authorize further abuses may extend the pall of a possible tribunal even further.
Regardless of the reasons and politics, it is a sad statement on our nation when we see the leaders of our country pushing for powers and atrocities that we assign to the worst of dictatorial regimes.
Resources of Interest
Transcript of Bush news conference 9/15/06
Reference Guide to the Geneva Conventions. Society of Professional Journalists.
9/15/06 Dodge & Rowley, Bloomberg, Bush Says Congress Must Pass Clear Law on Detainees (Update5)
9/15/06 MSNBC, Facing revolt, Bush defends terror proposals
9/15/06 AP, Senate panel rejects Bush anti-terrorism plan
9/13/06 Babington, WP, Cheney, Senators Discuss Detainees
4/27/06 DemocracyNow, Bush Signs Statements to Bypass Torture Ban, Oversight Rules in Patriot Act
Article 3 of Convention III of the Geneva Conventions:
Art. 3. In the case of armed conflict not of an international character occurring in the territory of one of the High Contracting Parties, each Party to the conflict shall be bound to apply, as a minimum, the following provisions: (1) Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria. To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples. (2) The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for. An impartial humanitarian body, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, may offer its services to the Parties to the conflict.
The Parties to the conflict should further endeavour to bring into force, by means of special agreements, all or part of the other provisions of the present Convention.
The application of the preceding provisions shall not affect the legal status of the Parties to the conflict.