Torture, Immunity, and the Midterms

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Everyone knew the President would drum up an uncomfortable you're-either-with-us or-you're-with-the-terrorists vote for Congressional Democrats before the November elections. (I'd long assumed it would have something to do with Iran.) But there's something odd about the president's proposed legislation to sanction the CIA's harshest interrogations.

Yes this vote is a blunt weapon with which to cudgel Democrats for being soft on al Qaeda. You don't want us to take the gloves off when we're questioning Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (who is so evil he's been stripped of his human name and will now only be called by the acronym "KSM")See? Democrats really would prefer to let you die than upset the ACLU.

As far as those politics go, they're as transparent as they are excreble. But there's also a defensive posture to what the president proposed yesterday. The 14 trophy terrorists now awaiting a military tribunal at Gitmo have already been subjected to the administration's "torture lite." Congress is being asked to rubber stamp the administration's past actions and remove any possibility that these (is it traitorous to call them "alleged?") terrorists can sue for having their rights under the Geneva Conventions violated, even in the unlikely event they're found innocent, and remove any chance that the personnel who put any of these 14 bad guys on the water board — or the administration officials who OK'd its use — be accused of war crimes. (Following the Hamdan decision and Justice Kennedy's stark warning for those who violate the Geneva Conventions, this concern is more than academic).

It seems that inherent in this proposal is a recognition that Democrats could soon have control of the House and with that, subpoena power; they could use it to come after the president for his administration's use of torture — and not just in the arguably justifiable case of top-level bad guys like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but also on lesser figures like the operative named al-Libi who was tortured on the water board into making a false confession that Saddam was providing al Qaeda with chemical weapons training. A false charge, incidentally, that was key to building the case for the disastrous Iraq war.

I know Karl Rove & Co. are foxy, but I somehow can't see this working as both the secret weapon that turns around Republican prospects for November and shields the president and his men from accountability for torture. But I've misunderestimated these men before.

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