Saturday, September 16, 2006

Bush administration: How low can we sink?

How low can we sink? Congress is debating the pros and cons of torture. It is like debating the pros and cons of rape. This administration’s bungling efforts to confront the very real threats facing this nation is misguided not only strategically but morally. Even if the administration fails in its efforts during the current debate in Congress, the impact of this drive to corrupt our system of government and justice damages our reputation around the world and endangers our soldiers. These actions increasingly isolate the United States which leaves us far more vulnerable to attacks in the future.

The New York Times sums up the issues here:
The idea that the nation's chief executive is pressing so hard to undermine
basic standards of justice is shocking. Any argument that these extreme methods
would be used only against the most dangerous of international terrorists has
been destroyed by the handling of hundreds of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, many
of whom appear to have been scooped up in Afghanistan years ago with little
attempt to verify any connection to terrorism, and now are in danger of
lingering behind bars forever without a day in court.

To lend his lobbying an utterly false sense of urgency, Bush announced last
week that he had taken 14 dangerous terrorists from the secret CIA prisons where
he had been holding them for years and sent them to Guantánamo to stand trial.
But none of the prisoners is going anywhere. Timetable is related only to the
election calendar.

One section of the administration bill would put American soldiers
in grave jeopardy by rewriting the Geneva Conventions, condoning the practice of
hiding prisoners in secret cells and permitting the continued use of
interrogation methods that violate the Conventions at the CIA prisons.

Bush has made it clear that he plans to continue operating the CIA camps.
And he wants Congress to collaborate by exempting the United States from a
provision in the Geneva Conventions that prohibits "outrages upon personal
dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment." Bush says this
wording is too vague, but that's a dodge. What he really wants is congressional
authority to go on doing things to prisoners in CIA jails that are clear
violations of international rules. He also wants Congress to rewrite the War
Crimes Act, which makes it a crime to violate the Geneva Conventions.

The opposition to these provisions by legal scholars, military lawyers and
a host of former top military commanders has been overwhelming. In recent days,
two former chairmen of the joint chiefs of staff, Colin L. Powell, and John W.
Vessey, wrote to Senator John McCain urging him to go on fighting the White
House. "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against
terrorism," Powell wrote.

More than two dozen former military leaders and top Pentagon officials
wrote to Senator John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee,
expressing "profound concern" about undermining the Geneva Conventions.

Senators Warner, McCain and Lindsey Graham have formed a
principled spine of resistance against their party's attempt to steamroller the
White House legislation through Congress. But their own bill - the only
competing proposal to emerge so far - shares some big problems with the
president's. One is its scope. Both bills draw the definition of "unlawful enemy
combatant" so broadly that it could cover almost anyone that a particular
administration decides is a threat, remove him from the judicial system and
subject him to a military trial.

But the White House bill also includes anyone who gives "material support"
to a terrorist group or anyone affiliated with a terrorist group. Legal experts
fear this definition could cover people who, for example, contribute to
charities without knowing they support terrorist groups.

It also could be used to capture foreign citizens in their native
countries, or anywhere else, a concern that America's allies have raised
repeatedly. This sort of thing has already happened.

The White House wants to strip the federal courts of any power to review
the detentions of the prisoners in Guantánamo Bay. This provision has no real
bearing on the handful of genuine terrorists who were recently shipped there
from abroad.

Their cases are likely to be brought before military commissions, whose
judgments could be appealed to higher courts, including the Supreme Court. But
it has a profound impact on the hundreds of others at Guantánamo Bay. Many of
them, perhaps the majority, committed minor offenses, if any.

The administration has no intention of trying them, and wants to prevent
them from appealing for help in court.

This week, nine current and former federal judges, including a former FBI
director appointed by Ronald Reagan, begged Congress not to give in to White
House pressure on this point. "For 200 years, the federal judiciary has
maintained Chief Justice Marshall's solemn admonition that ours is a government
of laws, and not of men," their letter said. "The proposed legislation imperils
this proud history."

The nation is in this hideous mess because Bush ignored the advice of
people like this when he tried to set up prison camps beyond the reach of the
law. It's hard to believe their warnings will be ignored again, but the signs
are ominous.

Many members of Congress who succumb to the strong-arming will know, in
their hearts, that they were doing the wrong thing out of fear for their
political futures. Perhaps the voters will not judge them harshly this fall. But
history will.

You can read the entire editorial here.

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