What's Not to Understand About "No Torture"?
What’s not to understand about “No Torture”?
At Friday’s press conference, President Bush did another version of his “with me or against me” routine, declaring:
- that the once-secret CIA program of secret prisons and secret interrogations of “high value” terrorists has been crucial in stopping terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad;
- that the Supreme Court is part of the problem because it insists that the Geneva Convention’s Common Article 3 must be observed – so the administration will “deal the court out” in its proposed legislation;
- that the Geneva Conventions are vague and could be interpreted in as many ways as there are lawyers in all the countries in the world (my non-lawyerly interpretation of Bush);
- that without clarity in the law, CIA agents will not be effective because they will not risk any actions that might cross the legal line;
- if Congress doesn’t pass his proposed legislation on detainee treatment, he will “pick up his marbles and go home” by ending the CIA program – in effect saying, “and then just wait and see what happens.”
In the Armed Services Committee, Republican Senators Warner, McCain, Graham, and Collins joined with committee Democrats and passed a bill that is far less egregious than what Bush proposes. The human and procedural legal rights guaranteed to detainees under the Senate legislation are much stronger than what Bush is demanding. On the issue of clarity for interrogators about what is permitted and what is forbidden, standards are contained in the new Army Field Manual on interrogations.
Two other observations are in order. First, as Senator McCain said last December when the administration tried to kill the McCain anti-torture amendment, this is not about the “enemy,” this is about who we are, what standards we have. Secondly, there is wisdom in the old saw that whoever goes right up to the edge of the line between moral and immoral (or legal and illegal) behavior inevitably will cross the line. Moving the line like Bush proposes doesn’t resolve anything.
A final note: Senator Olympia Snowe has joined her fellow Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins in supporting the committee’s bill. One can hope that another old saying pros true: “As Maine goes, so goes the country.”