Friday, September 15, 2006

Light at end of tunnel or a train?

Has the Congress finally woken up? Are they, at long last, going to show some backbone and say 'no' to W.?

The WaPo reports:

"A Senate committee rebuffed the personal entreaties of President Bush yesterday, rejecting his proposed strategies for interrogating and trying enemy combatants and approving alternative legislation that he has strenuously."

Republicans John McCain, Lindsay Graham, John Warner and Susan Collins joined all the Democrats on the Committee in a 15-9 vote to say 'enough is enough.' I hope that's what they said, anyway. Although this proposal seems to be a vast improvement over what the White House wants -- unhindered torturing and kangaroo courts -- there is still a long way to go; especially, when it comes to rejiggering the War Crimes Act to retroactively immunize CIA interrogators from prosecution for using W.'s "alternative interrogation practices," in secret CIA prisons.

While everyone has their eyes on the secret evidence and testimony obtained by coercion, there's still the issue of watering down Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. You know, that quaint "bloodless legal principle," that is too vague to figure out. Instead of prohibiting all techniques that would perpetrate "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," the administration's bill would take language from McCain's Detainee Treatment Act that bans only those techniques which "shocks the conscience." (Talk about vague!)

For their part, this new legislation McCain & Co. is working on would, they say, help CIA interrogators by refining the War Crime Act to enumerate the precise interrogation techniques that would be illegal. There is some fear that those left out would implicitly make them legal. This may be a very tricky way of giving W. what he wants. W. has said he would "resist any bill" that doesn't provide legal protection for CIA interrogators -- who are busy buying up insurance policies in case they get sued -- so this noxious provision might wind up being what makes or breaks the deal.

There's also the question of court review of whatever law eventually comes out of this. The Bush bill says in the introduction that, "the act makes clear that the Geneva Conventions are not a source of judicially enforceable individual rights." In other words, the Supreme Court would be legislated out of the process. This is similar to Graham's infamous amendment prohibiting Gitmo detainees from challenging their detention in the future. (The House is even trying to make those cases still pending illegal.) I don't know where this provision stands in this new Senate version, but I'm not holding my breath that it'll be taken out.

See, I'm not buying this idea that McCain and Graham are the moderates here. Remember that, because the Democrats are scurrying for their rat holes on this issue --too afraid to appear soft on terrorism -- this fight is going on between the radical right wing and the merely extreme right wing of the Republican Party. It really shows you far to the radical right of the political spectrum this country has gone, when Lindsay Graham -- a leading inquisitor of the Clinton impeachment -- is looking like a moderate. Let's keep in mind, too, that McCain is running for president and he needs his party's lunatic fringe behind him to get the nomination. He's not going to risk his political future, if it really comes down to it, to uphold the rights of people who planned the 9/11 attacks.

If McCain and Graham do prevail in holding the line in the Senate (i.e. at least curbing the more noxious elements of Bush's bill), there's no telling what will happen in conference committee with the House. The House, typically, already has their rubber stamps out and all they need to know from Cheney is how hard to stamp (don't expect any miracles there). And in the unlikely event that a McCain-Graham-Warner version of the law survives and makes it to W.'s desk, what's going to stop him from simply crossing out all the parts he doesn't like with a signing statement?


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