A week late, but I confess that I tend to read Time only irregularly these days.
And at last we have a sort of reason why this administration is trying so very hard to get Congress to redefine torture on its terms.
Until now, the issue of what our interrogators did to the al-Qaeda operatives in their custody was as remote as the secret prisons in which they have been kept: a list of techniques with odd names like "water boarding" to match up with grainy head shots above long Arabic names. But we learned from President Bush last week that the CIA's 14 high-value detainees have been moved to a U.S. base, the Cuban outpost of Guantanamo Bay. And because they will face some kind of trial, the issue of torture moves closer to our political shore. When you look at their faces and learn more about them--which you will in the coming months--it will be for you to decide how you really feel about their treatment. Was it justified? Is it ever? Do you care? There will be official proceedings of some kind, and you might even hear their voices and be able to imagine how, in custody, they screamed in pain, whimpered or choked. But then think of 9/11, of the awful carnage and a nation's broken heart, and as you slide down the slippery slope, their screams may start to sound like justice.
[...] Five years after 9/11, Americans are understandably eager to finally get an unfiltered--read nonpoliticized--look at our "high value" captives, the transnational actors, so-called, at the center of global drama. An authentic legal process would give them that--which is why the Administration is dead set against it. The problem is not really with classified information. Most of what these captives told us is already common knowledge or dated; the U.S. hasn't caught any truly significant players in two years. However, discovery in such a case would show that the President and Vice President were involved in overseeing their interrogations, according to senior intelligence officials. Subpoenas on how evidence was obtained and who authorized what practices would go right into the West Wing....
If Congress declines to authorize the president's quite limited tribunals in favor of something that looks like a legal US court, and if they decline to authorize his "clarification" of the Geneva Conventions, then classified evidence may be used and exposed during the trials/tribunals. The chance that the government would not classify the fact that evidence was obtained under totrure is vanishingly small; however, if classified evidence can be used, this fact would then be exposed in some form of a court of law. This would almost certainly lead to the president and his staff standing accused of overseeing torture. As a blatant violation of US law as it currently stands, the president would thereby stand accused of a high crime and misdemeanor, or an impeachable offense.
To be sure, the window for this is increasingly small; there are, after all, only two years left in this administration's term. You will not get articles of impeachment out of any Congress -- and especially not out of this one -- in the final year of a president's term, absent some urgent need. From a purely political point of fiew, however, an accusation like that -- especially if it comes with proof -- coming in the next two years would damage Republican prospects almost irreparably, the same way as happened after Nixon. The damage inflicted on the administration by refusing to accept rules it doesn't like, or refusing to allow tribunals to proceed under those rules, is comparatively small.
The related issue is that, once the president's term is complete, if these accusations with proof appear in a court of law, violations of the Geneva Conventions as currently interpreted by the US are not only high crimes, they are also war crimes. That said, the chance of this country handing over any current or past president ot the Hague to stand trial is almost vanishingly small. However, if the Conventions are reinterpreted so that overseeing and dictating torture doesn't "shock the conscience", then the US would not be obliged to hand Bush and friends over to the Hague.
So finally, the administration's pushing for something that is really not otherwise required finally makes sense. They're trying to keep their asses out of one jail or another. Venal and petty it is, in its own way, but then, it's not as though we haven't seen stunningly venal and petty behavior from these people before.Posted by iain at September 17, 2006 12:42 AM