The torture bill

So, President Bush signed into law today the so-called compromise legislation about the interrogation and judicial treatment of enemy combatants.  At his speech today, Lindsey Graham made it sound not so bad.  This Washington Post column suggests this is because the Republican Senators who initially opposed Bush on this have a very different reading of the final bill.  Dan Froomkin offers a devastating critique of the bill in today's column:

President Bush this morning proudly signed into law a bill that
critics consider one of the most un-American in the nation's long

The new law vaguely bans torture — but makes the
administration the arbiter of what is torture and what isn't. It allows
the president to imprison indefinitely anyone he decides falls under a
wide-ranging new definition of unlawful combatant. It suspends the
Great Writ of habeas corpus for detainees. It allows coerced testimony
at trial. It immunizes retroactively interrogators who may have engaged
in torture.

Here's what Bush had to say at his signing ceremony
in the East Room: “The bill I sign today helps secure this country, and
it sends a clear message: This nation is patient and decent and fair,
and we will never back down from the threats to our freedom.”

But that may not be the “clear message” the new law sends most people.

Here's the clear message the law sends to the world: America makes
its own rules. The law would apparently subject terror suspects to some
of the same sorts of brutal interrogation tactics that have
historically been prosecuted as war crimes when committed against

Here's the clear message to the voters: This Congress
is willing to rubberstamp pretty much any White House initiative it
sees as being in its short-term political interests. (And I don't just
mean the Republicans; 12 Senate Democrats and 32 House Democrats voted for the bill as well.)

Here's the clear message to the Supreme Court: Review me.

I can't do any better than that, so I won't even try.  Steve Benen likewise offers a thorough, and nicely substantive critique.  A few highlights:

Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal
enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the
United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own
countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of
appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to
anyone he wanted.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a
judge considered it reliable ? already a contradiction in terms ? and
relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done
before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything
else Mr. Bush chooses.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the
basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog
the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned
people a chance to prove their innocence.

The saddest thing about all this to me is just how few Americans actually get what's going on here and what's at stake.  Perhaps sadder still, the Americans who have a vague clue but think that these fundamental legal protections don't matter as long as you are dealing with Muslims who are suspected terrorist.  Of course, for all to many, suspicion is the same as guilt– that's why these legal protections are so important. 


No, not actually another post on homosexuality (though, gay marriage appears to be a much less potent issue for conservatives this election year).  Rather, there was a very interesting Washington Post article yesterday on homophily:

Sociologists call this phenomenon homophily, a somewhat grand word to
describe the idea that birds of a feather flock together. Thinkers from
Plato and Aristotle onward have observed that people seem to be drawn
to others like themselves.

Perhaps not surprisingly, homophily has a number of political implications:

In fact, research by sociologist David Knoke at the University of
Minnesota shows that if you know whether a person's friends are
Republicans, Democrats or independents, you can predict with near
certainty that person's political views.

Homophily may help
explain some of the bitter partisanship of our times — when your
friends are drawn exclusively from one half of the electorate, it is
not surprising that you will find the views of the other half

It also explains why you will typically have a liberal university faculty.  Like-minded people come from similar backgrounds are drawn together.  Here's a nice example from the article:

Take, for example, two mothers who become friends after meeting at a
day-care center. Beliefs, especially about politics, may never be part
of their explicit conversation. But the day-care center exerts a very
powerful role in selecting people with similar demographic backgrounds
and shared experiences. The mothers are likely to be about the same
age, to face common child-rearing challenges and to have similar views
on how to balance parenting and work. The fact that they are at this
day-care center means they can afford it, which suggests they are in
roughly the same socioeconomic class.

“It is not quite the case that I meet you and say, 'Oh my goodness, you also believe in the elimination of Roe v. Wade
,' ” said Small. “Two years later, these guys are friends, but it is
not because we believe the same things, but our experience and our
demographics put us together in the first place.”

Just yesterday a colleague asked me if I wanted her already-read issues of Atlantic Monthly (a great magazine, by the way).  After telling her that I already subscribe, I noticed that she received a similar response from a number of additional colleagues.  How many other workplaces will you find the majority of persons are subscribers to the Atlantic?  Not many, I suspect. 

And today, there was this somewhat amusing article in the New York Times (“Cheney feels the love…”) about how for a small set of (possibly insane?) Americans, Dick Cheney remains a political rock star

?It?s just such a big thrill to see and hear this man,? says Marvin Smith, a farmer and former teacher.

Mr. Smith says most people he knows feel the same way, ?except for a few of those peacemakers.?

And this is for a man with only 20% approval.  Clearly, homophily is powerful stuff. 

Lindsey Graham at NCSU

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham just spoke on campus today, primarily addressing issues of the treatment of detainees and the war in Iraq.  I'll say one thing right off, he's a good politician.  Towards the beginning he made mention of this damning New York Times editorial.  Rather than address any of the potent and substantive criticisms in the editorial, he just made mention that he had also been criticized by the conservative National Review this week, so surely he most be doing something right.  Smart politics, but not much a rebuttal for the claims of the editorial.  A couple tidbits:

Mr. Graham and other supporters of this dreadful legislation seem to
have forgotten that American justice does not merely deliver swift
punishment to the guilty. It also protects the innocent….

The new law leaves this mockery of justice stronger. The Military
Commissions Act of 2006 makes it virtually impossible to contest a
status tribunal?s decision. It prohibits claims of habeas corpus ? the
ancient right of prisoners in just societies to have their detentions
reviewed ? or any case based directly or indirectly on the Geneva

Republicans who support the new law like to point out that it only
covers foreigners. But Americans have never believed that human rights
are just for Americans. Our nation is outraged when an authoritarian
government jails an American, or one of its own citizens, on trumped-up
charges and brings him or her before a phony court. Surely that is not
the model we want to follow in our nation?s prisons.

Graham pretty shrewdly obfuscated these serious shortcomings of the tribunals.  Nonetheless, I felt like, big picture, his heart is in the right place.  He strongly believes that we behave justly because it is the right thing to do for us, regardless of the enemy.  I would argue that we have still fallen short on appropriate standards of justice, however.

On Iraq, Graham suggested we'll know the outcome in two years.  He painted a quite specific negative scenario where Iraq was divided in three and had essentially fallen into a pan-Middle East war.  Sounded disturbingly plausible.  For the positive scenario, he talked about Iraq turning the corner to become a “semi-functioning” democracy within two years.  Not surprisingly, this scenario was much less specific.  How the hell we would reach this point within two years is as much beyond Lindsey Graham as anyone else. 

One very interesting comment he made about the larger “War on Terror” was when he talked about the importance of Islamic moderates having more power and influence in order for us to ultimately win the war on terror.   He referred to us “putting these people in charge” of Middle-Eastern countries.  Hmmm.  Didn't we try that in Iraq?

%d bloggers like this: