Monday, September 12, 2005

Will Bush's first veto be of a bill to end torture?

According to this story in the Boston Globe about the Bush/Rove response to Katrina, there is an interesting battle possibly bubbling on the horizon.

Hidden about halfway through the article,

Senator John McCain, a conservative Republican and a war hero, has been appalled by the administration's policy that prisoners of war in American custody may be deliberately subjected to cruel, degrading, and inhumane treatment as part of interrogations. We are the only nation in the world with such a stated policy. (which was designed in 2002 by now Attorney General Alberto Gonzales).

McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham, all Republicans on the Senate armed services committee, have drafted an amendment to the defense appropriations bill.

It states that US policy should be:

defined as the interrogation procedures authorized by the US Army Field Manual, which specifically prohibits cruel, degrading, or inhumane treatment. Second, all detainees held by the United States, in whatever invented category, must be registered with the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Not an unreasonable amendment at all. McCain said, 'This is not about who ''they" are, McCain has said repeatedly. It's about who we are. ''We are Americans... and we hold ourselves to humane standards of treatment of people no matter how terrible they may be. To do otherwise undermines our security, but it also undermines our greatness as a nation."

Bush responded to the proposed amendment by threatening to veto the entire defense appropriations bill if the amendment is included. He sent Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney to capitol hill to twist Republican arms.

Since then, dozens of retired generals, admirals, and other ranking officials have signed letters supporting the McCain amendment. Retired Brigadier General James Cullen, former chief judge of the US Army Court of Appeals, told a conference on national security policy in Washington last Monday that the legal experts of the military's own criminal system had been systematically excluded from the setting of interrogation and detention policy after 9/11.

Now, I for one am not one to trust McCain, he shifts positions more often than a weather vane. Virtually everything he does is with an eye to his own Presidential prospects in 2008.

But this amendment is bigger than McCain. It is about the United States standing up for what we have been in the past (after all, it only returns interrogation tactics back to what they have been historically, and puts us into compliance with the Geneva convention in regard to Red Cross registration).


Mark said...

I agree with you Eli on this one, but we'd better have a clearly defined definition of what "custody" is. I am afraid that we would have had to charge many of our world war 2 American soldiers with murder for acts committed in (or just after) the heat of battle. You are aware of course that many German soldiers were shot with their hands up, aren't you. An American soldier who had just watched a machine gunner kill 50 Americans enters the machine gunners nest to find the German standing with his hands up, what does he do. The natural response is not to treat him humanely.

But, I agree with you that once we have a person in custody that we should not physically torture him. It is beneath us as a people. However, mental torture should be allowed. Is yelling at a prisoner day in and day out torture? What about depriving them of sleep? What about keeping them in a dark room? What about lieing to them about their friends or family, is that torture? I don't think so. Agressive tactics must be allowed without actual physical beatings or purposely inflicting physical pain or starvation.

Is embarrassing a prisoner by making them undress and pose stupidly torture? I wouldn't call that torture, but I wouldn't call it effective interrogation either. Our soldiers in Iraq that did those things were being stupid and were not within any common sense guidelines of incarceration.

So I agree that there should be a line that we don't cross but it needs to be well defined and our soldiers and military police should be taught what that line is. I hate the thought of American soldiers being tried and punished for crossing some line of conduct unknowingly.

The other scenario that I would like your opinion on is what our soldiers should be allowed to do in self defence? If a prisoner breaks loose and strikes an American soldier, do you think the soldier be allowed to him the prisoner back?


NYC said...

Hi Eli,
thanks for another interesting blog entry!

One question though,
didn't McCain very publicly endorse Bush in his bid for re-election?

I wonder how can he be appalled? As he played a part in keeping the administration going for 4 more years?

Eli Blake said...


There is a difference between stuff that happens during battle and during custody.

And, frankly these kinds of tactics don't work anyway-- whatever information we may have gotten out of the individuals in question, it has been more than compensated for by the bad guys using it as propaganda 1) on the public to recruit more insurgents, and 2) on their own troops to induce them to fight to the death instead of surrender.

GC: Yes, McCain did endorse Bush. And he has been known to change his positions on bills in the Senate literally within hours (speak for it, then vote against it, or the reverse). Like I said, everything he does has to be considered in light of his own ambitions (i.e. he endorsed Bush so he could hope for some support from the party faithful in 2008, he is doing this mostly because of polls showing that most people are disgusted with the whole Abu Graib affair and this way he can be on record as doing something to oppose it.)

But this isn't about McCain. It's about what America is for. If we behave towards prisoners in our custody like the colonels in a banana republic, then we ultimately have no more moral authority than that of a banana republic.