Thursday, September 28, 2006

Another Day, Another Little Death of America

Sigh. I listened to too much of the debate over the Detainee Act today and went home with a splitting headache. Far too much went on to dissect in detail here, particularly without a transcript, but a couple things stand out in my mind.

During the waning half hour or so of the debate, before the proposed amendments to the bill were brought to a vote, Lindsay Graham argued that Geneva has never applied in this war because the enemy doesn't wear a uniform or fight in conventional ways. So the enemy isn't entitled to any protections at all. Not even the most basic tenets of human decency apply, apparently; by his arguments an SS officer caught machine-gunning a roomful of civilians would be absolutely protected from torture and entitled to humane treatment by virtue of that natty black uniform with shiny insignia, while a guy in jeans plucked off the street on a tip in Baghdad or Kandahar is fair game.

The moment that made my brain utterly fold in on itself in protest came during John Warner's response to Ted Kennedy's impassioned speech in favor of the Kennedy Amendment, which would have required the US State Department to notify all the other countries in the world of exactly what interrogation methods/torture tactics would be considered war crimes if perpetrated against a captured American soldier. Warner scoffed at this because (1) we can't predict in advance precisely what methods someone's going to come up with in the future, and so shouldn't limit ourselves to a finite set of war crimes (despite having, just ten minutes before, voted against the Byrd Amendment that would have required a reassessment of the interrogation protocols after five years) and (2) congressional oversight will prevent the CIA from doing anything we wouldn't want done to our own guys anyway (despite having, just ten minutes before the Byrd Amendment, voted against the Spector Amendment that would have mandated full congressional oversight of CIA interrogation programs).

Warner assured us that aggessive interrogation tactics are not really torture but, instead, are consistent with American values. Bush has been handed the power to decide who's an enemy combatant, and to hold such people indefinitely with an explicit provision preventing them from appealing their detention to a higher court. Bush gets to decide what's torture and what's simply "aggressive interrogation," and anyone who has inflicted what the civilized world would label "torture" on detainees--even those found later to not be terrorists or insurgents--has blanket immunity. Pandora's Box has been reopened, and this time it's the license for inhumane behavior that's gotten out.

John McCain voted against the Spector Amendment (congressional oversight). John McCain voted against the Byrd Amendment (reassess the program in five years). John McCain voted against the Kennedy Amendment (define interrogation tactics and detainee treatment that the US will consider war crimes if perpetrated against US servicemembers). John McCain voted to approve the Detainee Treatment Act. John McCain, ex-POW, voted to condone torture.

I don't know the America John Warner was talking about, or the set of values torture is supposed to be consistent with. Neither one is mine.

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