by Henry Farrell on October 15, 2005

Marty Lederman has another “essential post”: at Balkinization about how Ted Stevens wants to gut the McCain anti-torture bill at conference committee, so that it doesn’t restrict the CIA’s ability to use brutal methods of interrogation.

What this barely veiled statement means is that Senator Stevens will support inclusion of the McCain Amendment in the final bill only once it has been “augmented” to exempt the CIA from the prohibition on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. (Stevens’s reference to persons who “may not be citizens of the United States, but are working for us” suggests that he also intends to include a carve-out for foreign nationals acting as agents of the CIA, such as the team of the CIA-sponsored Iraqi paramilitary squads code-named Scorpions.) If Stevens (read: Cheney) is successful in this endeavor, and if the Congress enacts the Amendment as so limited, it will be a major step backwards from where the law currently stands. This can’t be overemphasized: If Stevens is successful at adding his seemingly innocuous “augment[ation],” it would make the law worse than it currently is.

… What this means, as a practical matter, is that the Administration has given the CIA the green light to engage in all forms of coercive interrogation short of “torture” proper.

… And that’s apparently why the CIA believed that it was entitled, along with a small team of the CIA-sponsored Iraqi paramilitary squads code-named Scorpions, to assault a detainee with fists, a club, a length of rubber hose, and the handle of a sledgehammer.

… But if Senator Stevens has his way, and successfully exempts the CIA from the McCain Amendment’s otherwise unequivocal ban on cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the Congress will for the first time have ratified the Administration’s view that such cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment is not uniformly off-limits, and will have given a green light to the CIA to engage in such conduct.

It’s quite disgusting that the US mainstream press isn’t paying any real attention to what’s happening here. The US is on the verge of a momentous choice, between turning away (at least in part) from some of the vicious abuses of the last couple of years, or giving them the green flag. It shouldn’t be left up to a blogging law professor to tell us what’s going on.



Brendan 10.15.05 at 1:05 pm

Two of the major unanswered questions that have resulted from the Iraq war and the whole Bush era.

1: What, exactly, is the American media for? It neither informs nor entertains. It is in fact, stultifyingly tedious, self-righteous and usually inaccurate. When a big story comes along (like this one) they don’t cover it.

2: What, exactly, is the Democratic party for? They don’t seem to have any serious objections to any major aspect of Republican policy. Increasingly they seem to resemble the ‘political parties’ they have in China (the Chinese Association for Promoting democracy, the Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party and the like) whose sole purpose is to distract attention from the fact that the Communist Party of China wields all the real power.


Firebug 10.15.05 at 3:50 pm

The real question here is why a tiny conference committee, which the nation’s voters have no hand in selecting, has the ability to alter a bill that was passed by an overwhelming 90-9 vote in the Senate.


Jim Jones 10.15.05 at 10:55 pm

The obvious thing to do is vote against it if it comes out of committee with Stevens’ changes. Then one of the Senators, say John Kerry, can say he actually voted for the anti-torture measure before he voted against it.


Uncle Kvetch 10.16.05 at 8:54 am

2: What, exactly, is the Democratic party for? They don’t seem to have any serious objections to any major aspect of Republican policy.

Brendan, as I was reading this sentence (with which I heartily concur), I was half-listening to Daniel Schorr–onetime liberal firebrand, charter member of Nixon’s enemies list, etc.–heartily endorsing the conventional wisdom that “the Democrats need to move to the center to win.” Apparently it’s not enough that they cheerfully marched off to invade Iraq with GWB–they need to come up with some invasions of their own, or they’re not “serious” about national defense. They need to stop “polarizing” our political discourse by harping on things that the public clearly doesn’t give a shit about–like legally sanctioned torture by our government–because it shows that they’re out of touch with “American values.”

This is what we’ve come to.

I used to think that it was the Bush administration that had elevated up-is-downism to an art form. But Scottie McClellan and the rest of them ain’t got nothin’ on the Schorrs and Broders and Cohens and Gergens of the DC opinion-making elite. They have succeeded in turning political discourse in this country into a sick joke, and I don’t know what, if anything, can be done about it. The only thing that’s clear is that expecting deliverance to come from within the Democratic Party is about as “reality-based” as believing in the Tooth Fairy.

Is my country dying, or already dead?


Steve LaBonne 10.17.05 at 7:42 am

Even the supposedly liberal Cleveland Plain Dealer editorialized against the McCain amendment on the lame-ass grounds that “this is a job for the military and the executive branch, not for Congress.” That’s the POINT, you wankers- the military and executive branch are derelict in their duty, therefore Congress MUST step in. If only we really had that “liberal media establishment” that haunts the fever dreams of the right…

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