The fundamental question is this: Why would any American citizen support the “2006 Military Commission Act” that President Bush signed into law today?
The Act empowers President Bush to declare not just aliens, but also U.S. citizens, “unlawful enemy combatants.” An American citizen who speaks out against Bush’s policies could be designated an “unlawful enemy combatant” by Bush. The Act empowers the President to round up and incarcerate anyone, citizen or non-citizen, who he determines has given “material support” to terrorists. The Act strips habeas corpus rights from detained aliens who have been declared enemy combatants. The U.S. will continue to round up innocent and guilty alike and hold them indefinitely without giving them a way to prove their innocence. For more on how the Act strips American citizens and others of basic rights, see Marjorie Cohn, “American Prison Camps Are on the Way.”
Regarding torture: Reasonable people might disagree over the distinction between “cruelty” and “torture.” For example, Stephen Rickard argues in today’s WaPo that the Act authorizes cruelty but not torture. I assume he refers to definitions of torture and cruelty in international law; personally, I don’t see a difference. But he also says,
[The CIA] reportedly was using waterboarding (a terrifying mock execution in which a prisoner is strapped to a board and convinced he is being drowned), dousing naked prisoners with water in 50-degree cold and forcing shackled prisoners to stand for 40 straight hours. …
…The United States has prosecuted every one of these techniques as a war crime. So when Congress passed the McCain amendment last fall banning cruel treatment, CIA interrogators reportedly stopped working. Vice President Cheney had sought an exemption for the CIA — but didn’t get one. The administration apparently pushed the interrogators hard to resume their tactics, saying these techniques were still legal, but the CIA refused.
It seems the agency had learned an important lesson from the infamous Justice Department “torture memo,” which claimed that to be deemed “torture” a procedure had to be capable of causing major organ failure or death. The administration repudiated the memo when it became public. The lesson? Secret, contorted legal opinions don’t provide any real protection to CIA officers.
So the CIA demanded “clarity” — from Congress. No wonder President Bush practically sprinted to the cameras to begin spinning his “compromise” with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on the Military Commissions Act. He needs to convince CIA interrogators that they now have congressional carte blanche.
So did the Act signed today do the trick? Rickard says it doesn’t, and that if the interrogators give in to White House pressure and resume brutal interrogations, they’ll be at greater legal risk than before.
The administration is trying to convince CIA officers that they won’t be indicted — or at least convicted. But the CIA demanded clarity, not more ambiguity and “plausible deniability.”
At the end of the day all the president can honestly tell CIA interrogators is this: “The law has some loose language. We’ll give you another memo. Don’t worry.”
And torture doesn’t work, anyway. Bush wants us to believe that the “tough” techniques that may or may not be torture has yielded vital information that has saved American lives, but there is plenty of indication that’s not so.
The new law vaguely bans torture — but makes the administration the arbiter of what is torture and what isn’t. It allows the president to imprison indefinitely anyone he decides falls under a wide-ranging new definition of unlawful combatant. It suspends the Great Writ of habeas corpus for detainees. It allows coerced testimony at trial. It immunizes retroactively interrogators who may have engaged in torture.
Here’s what Bush had to say at his signing ceremony in the East Room: “The bill I sign today helps secure this country, and it sends a clear message: This nation is patient and decent and fair, and we will never back down from the threats to our freedom.”
But that may not be the “clear message” the new law sends most people.
Here’s the clear message the law sends to the world: America makes its own rules. The law would apparently subject terror suspects to some of the same sorts of brutal interrogation tactics that have historically been prosecuted as war crimes when committed against Americans.
Here’s the clear message to the voters: This Congress is willing to rubberstamp pretty much any White House initiative it sees as being in its short-term political interests. (And I don’t just mean the Republicans; 12 Senate Democrats and 32 House Democrats voted for the bill as well.)
Here’s the clear message to the Supreme Court: Review me.
I ask again: why would anyone support Bush’s position? Today righties are snarling and snapping like cornered animals at anyone who criticizes the torture bill. We nay-sayers are “whiny hippies” throwing a “moonbat hissy fit.”
A more temperate rightie declared “This is undeniably a victory for those of us that believe we need to aggressively wage the war against jihadism.” This and other rightie commenters continue to follow the White House in blind faith that the Bush Administration knows what it is doing and will use the unprecedented power it has gained wisely. Given the Bush Administration’s record — that’s insane.
Righties like to talk tough, but peel enough layers off ’em and you’ll find a sniveling little coward crouching and whimpering at their core. Deep down, they want Dear Leader to have dictatorial power so that he can protect them. Like any mob in the grip of hysteria, they have lost reason and inhibition, and they attack anyone who gets in their way.
They’re cowards, they’re out of control, and they must be stopped.