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. 

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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