Thursday, September 28, 2006

Wake up

Fafblog July 2004:

It's so easy to kind of sweep it all under your brain an think "Well theres nothin more to be said an nothin more to think about it" cause let's face it nobody wants to think about their government participating in horror.

An right now the level of torture talk has gone from
"Torture: Bad!" to
"Torture: Bad, But Not As Bad As Saddam Hussein" to
"Torture: Bad, But What About Ticking Bombs?" to
"Torture: Bad, But Not Necessarily Proof That The People Who Ordered Torture Are Bad" to
"Torture: We Still Talkin Bout Torture?" to
"Torture: Bad?"

An before we get to
"Torture: Sorta Like Mowin Your Lawn"
I think we should try as hard as we can to wake up.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Last call to Democrats on legalizing torture

A few posts ago I advocated that Congressional Democrats adopt the "cool your jets" approach to the Bush/Republican demands for immediate legislation on detainee treatment, interrogation, and trial. To my bitter disappointment, but not to my surprise, they instead walked into the trap set for them.

Today the Washington Post editorial board has made the same call:

We have argued that the only remedy to the mess made by the Bush administration in holding hundreds of detainees without charge at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere since 2001 was congressional action. Yet rather than carefully weigh the issues, Congress has allowed itself to be stampeded into a vote on hastily written but far-reaching legal provisions, in a preelection climate in which dissenters risk being labeled as soft on terrorism. As we have said before, there is no need for Congress to act immediately.
Let's pray that they listen this time; it's the last chance to avoid moral abyss and political disaster.

This just in: Signs of spines? No, only in the House, where it won't matter. From the AP story:
though Democrats objected, majority Republicans were hoping to block them from offering amendments and the House was expected to approve the bill by day's end.

The House began debate as Senate leaders hunted behind closed doors for a bipartisan agreement to limit debate and quickly pass a measure that would mirror the House bill.
Atrios has a post about Durbin speaking up (coverage on C-SPAN2), but there are no news references to it. If true, it would seem to be incompatible with a "bipartisan agreement". Can it be that the leadership has finally decided to step out of the trap?

Update: 11:45 am 28 Sept - Apparently not. But the NY Times editorial board gives it one last remarkably strongly-worded effort. An editorial that might have made a difference two weeks ago.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Tipping point 2.0

As predicted in a post below, the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are navigating an electoral and constitutional minefield on the issues of torture, detention, and trials of persons suspected of terrorist activity. The minefield was created by the Republicans who control the executive branch and Congress.

Some see this situation as the result of an elaborate charade of "good cop/bad cop" (or more accurately, "horrible cop/less horrible cop") that has suckered cautious Democrats into a position that blows them up whatever they choose to do. Others see an unfortunate but sincere clash of political and policy priorities in both parties that just happens to pose an awkward situation for outnumbered Democratic senators.*

Whichever it is, this is the bottom line:

Senate majority leader Bill Frist is determined to bring to a floor vote this week a bill that would legalize torture, both in the future and retroactively, and which denies habeas corpus rights to non-citizens held by the U.S. There is little to no indication that the Democrats are prepared to filibuster the bill. They appear to be banking on the help of "allies" like Arlen Specter (R-PA, chair of the Judiciary Committee) to run out the clock -- either by keeping it in committee long enough to prevent a floor vote or by attaching an amendment to restore habeas rights to detainees.

So, in order to preserve habeas, the most fundamental right in our system of law, we must support an amendment attached to a bill that would immunize Bush from war crimes charges. Quite a devil's bargain, eh?

Grit your teeth, pray for Democratic majorities in the next Congress, and call/fax/email/visit your Senators to insist on passage of the Specter-Levin amendment to preserve habeas corpus for detainees. This is particularly urgent if either of your Senators are members of the Judiciary Committee.

Image: Protesters at this morning's Judiciary Committee hearing to consider habeas rights in tribunal/torture legislation. AP photo.

*Update: 10:20 am 26 Sept - My mind's made up on which it is. The exact parallel between the Republicans' kabuki dance on torture and the one around the NSA eavesdropping bill leaves little room for doubt. See this excellent Glenn Greenwald post [Salon - ad] from last Friday:
In each instance, Republican lawmakers are advocating a radical outcome that vests extraordinary powers in the president. But because their legislative approach for achieving that end in each case is slightly less radical than the president's, the media depicts their proposal as moderate and mild. Meanwhile, the Democrats are silent, invisible and completely absent from the debates, which means that the full range of views is marked by the president on one end and right-wing Republican senators on the other end (only millimeters away from the president), with the "middle" being as close to the president's position as one can get without embracing it in full.
There's also the fact that on Friday, the Republican leaders introduced three versions of the bills with which the party hopes to bludgeon Democratic members in a floor vote: the torture "compromise" (S.3930), the eavesdropping "compromise" (S.3931), and the two combined (S.3929). This is for the tactical convenience of Senate and House leaders Frist and McConnell.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Wish I'd said that

[F]or all his talk of being a “war president,” Mr. Bush has been conspicuously unwilling to ask Americans to make sacrifices on behalf of the cause — even when, in the days after 9/11, the nation longed to be called to a higher purpose. ...
Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice. And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.

Paul Krugman in the New York Times today, in a column asking why the Bush regime is so determined to engage in torture.
(Answer: To show that it can.)


Tipping point

It's discouraging how much credit Sens. Warner, Graham, and McCain are getting for resisting some of the worst aspects of the Bush administration's proposals for detention, interrogation, and due process for persons suspected of terrorist activity. The bar has been lowered so much that we're expected to give high praise for a bill that forbids the use of secret evidence, or evidence obtained through torture. We shouldn't even be considering these tools of dictatorship.

More importantly, as a message from the Center for Constitutional Rights today says:
The debate around these bills misses the point: both versions strip away the fundamental right to habeas corpus, the right to challenge your detention in a court of law. ... Anyone in U.S. custody, at home or abroad, must have the right to challenge their detention in court. Nothing is more fundamental to our democracy than this right.

Without access to courts, all other protections are meaningless and unenforceable. Legal and human rights observers like Jack Balkin and Marty Lederman of Balkinization and Hilzoy and Katherine of Obsidian Wings have shown how much of what we have learned about the fact and conditions of detention, and about the abuse and torture inflicted in our names, has depended on the exercise of habeas rights by detainees.

Politically, and in policy terms, the best approach to take to the Bush administration's push for immediate Congressional action on military commissions (tribunals), interrogation, and detention is to say:
Cool your jets!

We're mired in a ruinous occupation of Iraq today because Congress allowed itself to be stampeded into a vote authorizing war in the period leading up to midterm elections four years ago. Now, again, the Bush administration is using national security and constitutional issues as an electoral club, and the Democratic leaders seem to have learned very little. Instead of insisting that these crucial decisions be made only after a full and free debate, they're agreeing to vote before the elections and accepting the "leadership" of Republicans who only want to chip away at a few of Bush's totalitarian proposals (and are signaling a willingness to compromise even on those).

So: tell your Senators to slow down and push off voting on legislation that could overturn hundreds of years of legal tradition until after November.

In the event that they prove as shortsighted and deaf to constituents as they were in 2002, and such a bill comes to the floor in the next month, urge your Senators to support a floor amendment to restore habeas corpus rights. Sens. Specter and Levin plan to introduce such an amendment if either of the current detainee treatment bills comes to the floor: S.3901, The Military Commissions Act of 2006, sponsored by Sen. Warner, or the administration bill, S.3861, sponsored by Sen. Frist (named 'The Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006'; if only!).

Tell your Senators today that they must vote to save habeas corpus. Call 202-224-3121, fax a message, or use the email feature on many Senators' websites. Virginians: Warner needs to hear from you most of all. Phone: 202-224-2023, fax: 202-224-6295, email: (via web):

Update: 11:00 pm 20 Sept - It's not often that a blog slug like me who posts once a week manages to be on the cutting edge, but I anticipated the admirable Digby by two whole days here.


Sunday, September 10, 2006

Armchair Leninism

Comfortably ensconced in the Philadelphia suburbs, gainfully employed, Billmon wants to heighten the contradictions:

I'm rooting (through gritted teeth) for the Rovians to win this match [the midterm elections] -- or, more accurately, not lose it -- because I think both the Cheney Administration's fake reality and the genuine article have even more unpleasant surprises in store for this country, and I don't think either the Democratic Party or the American people can handle them at this point.

Is that right? I can't say for sure that we can, thank you, but I'm damned glad we get to decide for ourselves.

Update: 11:45 pm 20 Sept - Never let it be said that the man doesn't make the occasional irritation worth it.

Update 2: 10:30 am 24 April 2007 - Links to are dead; have changed them to, which (for now) makes the Billmon archives available except for images.


The Big Lie that won't die

Dick Cheney, on Meet the Press this morning, continued to insist on a link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, even in the face of the headlines generated Friday and Saturday by the Senate Intelligence Committee's belated acknowledgement that there was no such connection (part of the long-delayed 'Phase 2' report on prewar intelligence). Asked about the discrepancy, Cheney claimed not to have seen the Senate report. (!)

Now, maybe that could be written off as just another episode in the creepy ongoing sitcom of "what'll that crazy old coot say next?", except for this: Condoleeza Rice was on Fox News Sunday also insisting on an Al Qaeda-Saddam connection. Guess the regime has abandoned the "oh, that's old news" line White House spokesman Tony Snow was taking two days ago when the Senate report came out.

Links later; a migraine is coming on. (For real, not a rhetorical flourish.)

Update: 4:45 pm 10 Sept - Links added. Migraine gone; thank you, ibuprofen. More head-exploding excerpts from the Cheney appearance from WIIIAI. [One step forward, one step back dept.: pleased as I am to see that Blogger's new beta includes the 'next post'/'previous post' feature I've longed for when viewing one post at a time, I suspect that it's also responsible for WIIIAI crashing when I visit its home page. Anyone noticed that when visiting that blog or others using the Blogger beta? My browser is {cringe} IE 6.]


Friday, September 08, 2006

TV coverage of outsourcing torture

Just now in my email inbox:

The Center for Constitutional Rights and our client Maher Arar (a victim of “extraordinary rendition,” the government’s policy of outsourcing torture) will be featured prominently in The Price of Security, Ted Koppel’s premiere documentary on the Discovery Channel.

Sunday, 10 September, 8:00pm ET/PT

Following the documentary, the Discovery Channel will air a live Town Hall meeting hosted by Koppel and featuring, among other guests, CCR President Michael Ratner.

The Town Hall meeting promises to be an exceptional discussion of how to protect our civil liberties against the extreme measures taken by the Bush administration. Koppel will be accepting questions online for the discussion. We encourage you to help shape this debate by submitting your question or comment to:

Please be as succinct as possible, and make sure to include your name and location.


Bits and pieces

It's all I have time for lately.

Via Max, an excellent and scathing James K. Galbraith on the travesty of the election ruling in Mexico.

In elections closer to home: Every day, Sen. George Allen reveals himself to be more of a petulant child under the pressure from Jim Webb to show any positive achievements from his six years in office. His latest stunt was to steal an amendment Dick Durbin was about to introduce to the Defense Dept. funding bill, to restore money for vets' brain injury research and treatment. Literally stole it; he took the amendment, which had been duly docketed, changed one word, and minutes before Durbin was to introduce it, asked to speak and presented it as his. Kennedy, a cosponsor, called him on it; you may enjoy the video of Allen fumbling for a response here.

With war crimes clearly on his mind, Bush proposes a bill to retroactively legalize the kidnaping, detention, and torture done in our names over the last five years. And to make evidence gained through torture admissible in trials. Without a few tough reporters and their editors, we might know almost nothing of this shameful history. On the other hand, much more could have been known much earlier if not for the cowardice and complicity of other editors; read Eric Umansky's thorough retrospective of torture coverage in the press. I keep remembering the moment in October 2001 when I read a front-page Washington Post story in which torture of terrorism suspects was first openly discussed. "This is how it begins," I said to myself. How does it end?

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