The most dangerous game

by Ted on October 5, 2004

Is the extraordinary rendition provision in the 9-11 Commission bill just a particularly amoral piece of political gamesmanship? Katherine has the update, and Jeanne D’Arc has the commentary.

When I read conservative bloggers, I learn that many of Kerry’s opponents just consider him an inferior candidate to George W. Bush. But some consider him to be a genuinely bad person- unpatriotic, dishonest, with no principles except for the love of power. And yet, there’s a pretty good chance that Kerry’s going to be the next President. If this bill passes, Kerry will appoint a Secretary with the unreviewable power to declare someone a terrorist suspect, and have them deported and tortured.

Surely they don’t trust him to use this power with wisdom and restraint. And yet, they seem more interested in joking about the words “global test.”

Would you trust Janet Reno with the power to torture? I wouldn’t.



Thomas 10.05.04 at 5:23 pm

Remember that there are no bad outcomes, from the conservatives perspective (and assuming a conservative would share your concerns) unless the bill passes both the House and Senate with the objectionable provision and Kerry is elected.

But a bad outcome, again from the conservative perspective, would be the election of a Democratic House and the election of John Kerry, and this bill might help prevent that.

Weigh the risks, that’s what they need to do.


John Isbell 10.05.04 at 5:31 pm

Known as the “Imagine if Hilary…” argument.


Ted Barlow 10.05.04 at 5:37 pm


I actually had to rewrite it to avoid using exactly those words.


Katherine 10.05.04 at 5:39 pm

As to whether they’re really trying to give the President this power, or just playing a political game: it’s a floor wax AND a dessert topping. Oh, and it might get Arar’s lawsuit thrown out of court too. A win, win, win proposition.

But using it in their re-election strategy does suggest they did not exactly reach this decision after a lot of agonizing about whether torture could ever be justified if it could save innocent lives.


Matt Weiner 10.05.04 at 5:43 pm

Thomas, you are an actual conservative and I believe a law professor; do you seriously think that the only bad outcome of this bill is that a Democrat might have the power to order torture, and that torture ought to treated as a chip to be used for petty partisan advantage?

Wow. Just, wow.


Sebastian Holsclaw 10.05.04 at 6:14 pm

I wouldn’t trust Reagan with the power to torture. And I really liked him.


Silent E 10.05.04 at 6:36 pm

Invert-o-Ray for the Poison Pill?

Maybe there’s a natural answer here, as hinted by the Washington Post (article from the Bosy & Soul link in main post):

“The provision, human rights advocates said, contradicts pledges President Bush made after the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal erupted this spring that the United States would stand behind the U.N. Convention Against Torture.”

If this starts to move forward, John Kerry CAN make an issue of it by calling on Bush to oppose it. When Bush doesn’t, the door is openned: Abu Ghraib is back on center stage in the national media two weeks before the election.

The single worst trough for Bush’s poll numbers was right after the Abu Ghraib story hit. Seymor Hersh is supposed to have a book coming out soon. I strongly doubt that this is a can of worms Bush and Rove want to re-open.

Down ballot? If it hits the fan, sitting Senators and Representatives in tight races will run away from this as fast as possible. Congress has been able to largely avoid anti-Bush sentiment because the incompetence and arrogance seems to be located in the White House (even Congress has been a victim on Medicare). But getting tarred with this brush will put every incumbent is jeopardy. No one wants to get hit by an attack ad featuring Abu Ghraib pictures juxtaposed with their unflattering picture and name.


David M 10.05.04 at 6:44 pm

Hersh’s book is already out; it’s been out for three weeks. It’s called “Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib.”


Neil Mingus 10.05.04 at 7:29 pm

Seriously, where is the media?

This is an absolute outrage.

Is Iraq one of the countries to which we hope to one day outsource our torture duties?

Is this the message we are sending to pro-Western citizens of Egypt. That the US does not torture, we send people to their country to torture.

How will pro-Western politicians respond to the charge that the US has made it legal to send Arabs to Israel to be tortured?

Kerry and the DNC have not made commercials about this. Have the calculated that they would lose votes by standing against sending people to be tortured? What does it say about America if they’re right?


Matt Weiner 10.05.04 at 7:56 pm

Sebastian is right, except about the Reagan part. That’s why I was so astonished at Thomas–ordinarily I would have taken him for a liberal mocking conservatives, but if he’s the person who usually posts here under that name and with that e-mail, when he says “conservative” he means himself.

I wouldn’t have thought it was conservative to trust the government with that kind of power; but perhaps someone who sees Democrats gaining power as a disaster on a par with US complicity in torture has already come up with a more congenial notion of conservatism.


Thomas 10.05.04 at 8:20 pm

My first post was purposely written from the position of a hypothetical conservative motivated by Ted’s premises. Someone acting from those beliefs wouldn’t necessarily oppose the bill; he’d have to think that the bill would pass the House and the Senate, and wouldn’t be vetoed by the president, and that Kerry would win the election to oppose it. There are a number of leaps there–I don’t think there’s much chance that a bill with this provision would pass the Senate, for example–that would allow such hypothetical conservative to vote for a bill with this provision.

I’m actually impressed that the Republicans in Congress–generally, a bunch of idiots–might actually be able to re-run the 2002 elections, taking an issue that the Democrats intended to use against Republicans (the 9/11 commission recommendations and the related changes to homeland security) and instead using it against the Democrats.


Matt Weiner 10.05.04 at 9:11 pm

I’m glad to hear that you’re using it as a hypothetical. Nevertheless, it does sound as though you’re cheering on the Republicans using the threat of legalizing torture for petty partisan gain–and that’s still nasty. Especially because I think that there’s a very good chance that this provision will stay in if the GOP Senate leadership doesn’t oppose it. That’s what happened in 2002, after all.

Anyway, I think Katherine is right: They want to torture people and to use the legislation for petty political gain as well. They don’t seem to have realized that, even if Kerry loses, a Democrat will gain power at some point. Or maybe they have a plan to forestall that.

(Katherine: Would you post something wrong, please? It’s getting boring to write “Katherine is right” all the time?)


Kimmitt 10.05.04 at 9:30 pm

Conservatives don’t generally worry that Kerry will be elected. They’re aware that the fix is in.


legion 10.05.04 at 9:54 pm

Ummmm, Ted? 1998 called – they want their paranoia back.

Seriously, if you’re going to freak out about the possibilities of having a Dem in charge, at least freak about Dems who have a chance in hell of ever _being_ in charge. Hillary? I’m a Dem, and _I_ wouldn’t even vote for her – she’s too polarizing; she could never even min the primaries. And Janet Reno?!? You’re seriously arguing that because Reno can’t be trusted with the power to torture, we shouldn’t vote for Kerry? WTF?!? If not, then why don’t you can the trite “Boo! Janet Reno!” strawman, and talk about how the people _Kerry_ might put at AG would use/abuse the power to torture. Here’s another thought – would you trust _Ashcroft_ with that power? How about “anyone”?


Katherine 10.05.04 at 10:00 pm

I’m focusing on the extraordinary rendition stuff, but let it be noted that the other asylum provisions are atrocious in their own right. Let Amnesty International count the ways.


GMT 10.05.04 at 10:08 pm

blue slips

line-item veto

balanced budget

Actually, conservatives’ difficulties in grasping your latter example may explain why they would blunder into your former.


Ted Barlow 10.05.04 at 10:36 pm


It’s a rhetorical device. I know that Janet Reno isn’t coming back. So does everyone reading this. It’s a device, with which I hope to remind conservatives that the power that Republicans are trying to entrench in law will one day be in the hands of people they don’t like or trust. People like Janet Reno.

I’m a Kerry supporter, and I hope that as many readers as possible vote for Kerry. I’m certainly not trying to scare them out of voting for him.


Sam 10.05.04 at 11:04 pm

I’m one of the reluctant Bush-supporters (in the “Bush is horrible and Kerry succeeds in promising to be worse” group), and I intensely dislike this proposed law. I might–MIGHT–consider it appropriate if it applied only to citizens of the country to which they are sent back, but outsourcing torture is a horrible idea on every ground I can think of. I don’t think this is going over at all well in the paranoiac conservative world where I’m most at home (your possibility has occurred to them, besides they never trusted the government anyway.)


Katherine 10.05.04 at 11:30 pm

Good news: Newsweek just did a story on it.

Bad news: Ted, you’re not going to believe this, but it’s worse than we thought it was.

The Department of Homeland Security asked for this provision. This is their solution to the Supreme Court’s Guantanamo Bay decision.

Now Bush is distancing himself from it for political reasons, but the House is still pushing for it and I’m sure the administration still wants it to pass.


bad Jim 10.06.04 at 5:47 am

It’s not necessarily a bad thing when Bush flip/flops:

President Bush backs ‘rendering’ suspects—then backs off. From Newsweek:

Oct. 5 – President Bush today distanced himself from his administration’s quiet effort to push through a law that would make it easier to send captured terror suspects to countries where torture is used.


Katherine 10.06.04 at 6:42 am

It doesn’t matter; it’s clear that they still want the provision and Hastert and Delay will still push for it, hard. Bush is just saving face.

Markey’s amendment might not even come up for a vote.


Lance Boyle 10.06.04 at 8:23 am

“My friends, there is no Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There is only the global war on terrorism…”

Tom DeLay, arguably the most powerful elected official in Washington at the moment.


Ben 10.06.04 at 12:20 pm

“Tom DeLay, arguably the most powerful elected official in Washington at the moment.”

Because GWB wasn’t elected?

Ba-da-boom. Thank you very much. I’ll be here all day.


abb1 10.06.04 at 5:54 pm

It’s a device, with which I hope to remind conservatives that the power that Republicans are trying to entrench in law will one day be in the hands of people they don’t like or trust.

Let’s not pretend that this is somehow an exclusively wingnut idea. What about Allan “sterile needles under the fingernails” Dershowitz?

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