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Torturing Torture

December 6, 2005

Great news from yesterday morning, according to this Reuters article: Bush seeking compromise on CIA torture ban: aide

“We are working hard in good faith on both sides to come up with an approach that can be supported by the president and the Congress, to both find a way to be aggressive in the war on terror and still comply with U.S. law,” national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on “Fox News Sunday.”

[Snippety]

Hadley’s comments appeared to indicate the White House has softened its strong opposition to the blanket ban on degrading and inhumane treatment, which was passed by a 90-9 vote as [John McCain’s anti-torture] amendment to a $440 billion Pentagon funding bill.

Really?! The White House is softening its strong opposition to the blanket ban on degrading and inhumane treatment, passed by a 90-9 vote as an amendment to the Pentagon funding bill? For real?

Let’s recollect what the White House’s stance has been up to this point. The Administration has had somewhat of a bipolar position consisting of two major points:

  1. We need to have the option of exercising cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
  2. We do not torture, (i.e.: none of the above rise to the level of “torture” in our book.)

It’s a bit of a muddle, I know. Especially if one attempts to shoehorn an average person’s definition of “torture” in there. It creates a sort of circular argument. But this is our starting point. Is the administration softening up on this stance?

Let’s consult the transcript from this weekend’s Fox News Sunday. (Chris Wallace, Host interviews national security advisor, Stephen Hadley.)

Here is the pertinent exchange [emphasis added]:

HADLEY: We are working hard in good faith on both sides to come up with an approach that can be supported by the president and the Congress to both find a way to be aggressive in the War on Terror and still comply with U.S. law. We’re working it. We’re not there yet.

WALLACE: Now, what specifically Senator McCain wants to do is ban cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment both by the Pentagon and the CIA. Are you willing — I understand there could be definitional issues there, but in theory, are you willing to agree that neither the CIA nor the Pentagon should be involved in that kind of treatment of prisoners?

HADLEY: What the president has said is that we do not torture, and he has said that while we need to be aggressive in the war against terror, we also have to do it in a way that complies with U.S. law, with U.S. treaty obligations and with the constitution. That’s our policy.

And to the extent there are provisions in the convention against torture dealing with those things, it’s the president’s view we need to comply with whatever the U.S. obligations are under those kinds of conventions.

Ok, so here’s what we have now:

  1. We need to have legal options to justify what we’ll call “being aggressive in the war on terror,” (i.e.: cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment— to the extent these things are permitted by our sense of U.S. law, treaty obligations and the constitution.)
  2. We do not torture, (i.e.: none of the above rise to the level of “torture” <a href="in our book, but as Wallace aptly points out, there are some “definitional issues” to work out with McCain.)

I’ll be damned! The White House is softening its strong opposition to the blanket ban on degrading and inhumane treatment!

(Pay no attention to the moral issues behind the curtain.)

What of these “good faith” negotiations with Congress, anyway?
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, seems to have some insight, and spoke today on Democracy Now!

McCain said, “I don’t want this anymore. Let’s pass an amendment.” 90-9, it prohibits not just torture— which even the administration acknowledges is prohibited, although it defines it very narrowly, what’s prohibited —but it prohibits cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. . . . President said, ‘I’m going to veto that bill, but it’s part of the defense authorization bill.’ . . . now they’re trying to amend the bill, and they’re trying to do it in two different ways. The initial amendment was: ‘Exempt the C.I.A. from this.’ What is that saying to us and the world? Exempt the C.I.A. so it can continue to torture people in black sites. And now the latest little negotiation is if they’re not going to exempt the C.I.A., they want to make it possible that no criminal prosecution can be brought against the C.I.A. for engaging in this kind of conduct. What is that saying except, ‘C.I.A., continue doing what you are doing. Don’t worry about it,’ and that’s what they’re doing here. They’re trying to protect the C.I.A.

That’s somebody’s idea of a “good faith” gesture? “Alright, alright. You can make this stuff illegal if you want. You just don’t get to prosecute our guys when they do any of it. Deal?”

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