Instead of drawing contrasts with Democrats, the president’s call for creating military tribunals to try terror suspects — a key substantive and political component of his fall agenda — has erupted into a remarkably intense clash pitting some of the best-known warriors in the Republican Party against Mr. Bush and the Congressional leadership.
At issue are definitions of what is permissible in trials and interrogations that both sides view as central to the character of the nation, the way the United States is perceived abroad and the rules of the game for what Mr. Bush has said will be a multigenerational battle against Islamic terrorists.
We've discussed the lack of Congressional oversight on anynumberofissues, or, in fact, the abrogation of their duty in that regard, for quite some time. I don't think anyone has any doubt as to where we fall on the torture question. But all of the rest of this is a discussion which should have taken place not long after Afghanistan and the capture of various members of the Taliban and al Qaeda became an issue. There are indeed important issues at stake here and they do go to the heart of "who we are" as Americans.
It is refreshing to see policy take precedence over politics for a change, especially at this time of the election cycle and over this important of an issue, as I believe that Senator Graham is correct when he states:
“This whole issue is going to send a signal about who America is in 2006,” Mr. Graham said.
Indeed. This is not about sticking it to the bad guys, this about who the United States is and wants to be, and what values we are going to uphold before the world. The implications for what we do here are immense. For one thing, as I have argued before, if we are going to make arguments about democracy and liberalization of regimes, but engage in decidedly illiberal actions against persons under our power, that rather undercuts the whole democratization argument, does it not? It certainly puts the focus on power over ideals.
I agree. Now there are certainly appealing arguments to be made on both sides of the issue, but to this point, that's really not happened. It is indeed refreshing, as Taylor points out, to see a policy discussion happening which isn't completely driven by politics. It is equally refreshing to see the president go to Congress to discuss the issues.
Certainly, as the NYT article cited hints, politics will eventually enter the picture but for now, a hopefully honest and forthright debate on our nation and its principles is in the offing.
So for the time being ignore the press characterizations of this being a rebuff for Bush or a rebellion in the Republican ranks. It is something, had Congress been doing its job, which should have been settled long before this. And in this case, better late than never.
I was reading one of my favorite blogs this morning. The topic was the Revolution in Iran when the Ayotallah took over from the Shah. The story had parallels to what is happening in American politics right now and just might throw some light on what is afoot here.
”The Shah’s secret police—SAVAK...was active in Iran to stifle those who would oppose him. There is a great deal of controversy [in hindsight] over just how dreadful SAVAK actually was in the larger scheme of things. Was it a wide-ranging and indiscriminate effort to track down, torture, imprison, exile and/or murder all those who dissented, or who even were thought to dissent, much like the operations of the Soviet KGB? Or was it far more benign, only dealing with those who would violently overthrow the government... and using torture only sparingly?”
Reading this, I thought: “Yes, some people are peddling similar boogeymen (the NSA programs, etc.) in America today, also seeking a revolution to gain political power. Is George Bush the totalitarian tyrant who, along with his neo-con henchmen, are bent on depriving us all of our civil rights as depicted by Mr. Greenwald, et al, or is they really just trying to protect America from terrorists? What will the future show?”
"Right before the Revolution [ Iranian-American writer and poet Roya Hakakian] listened to a revered young woman friend named Bibi talk about the wonderful Ayatollah Khomeini (she refers to him as "Agha"). As in a fairy tale, he would make everything better: Agha is the one who will set us free...Agha is the angel who’ll chase the devil away....”
[Before the revolution, anti Shah intellectuals touted the rumor:]"SAVAK ...They snatch you away, torture you, even kill you if you say something against the shah. That’s what they did to[ the writer of Roya’s favorite childhood book]... They put his feet in a block of cement and dropped him into the River Aras in Azerbaijan."
After the revolution the truth came out:
"The ... author... had not been drowned. There had been no cement blocks. No cruel interrogation by SAVAK. A poor swimmer, he had drowned on his own. When news of the drowning reached several leading anti-shah intellectuals of the time, they saw it as an opportunity to pin it on the shah to fuel the public’s resentment of him. One of the pivotal legends that had tormented a generation and ignited the revolution had been nothing but a hoax. A strategic maneuver! A little lie between revolutionary friends...Of course, as we now know—the Revolution betrayed the trust of Roya’s friends and family. Roya reports that by 1984, at the time of Iran’s war with Iraq... the Shah’s SAVAK had been replaced by the even more dreaded and intrusive SAVAMA, secret police of the mullahs.
Ah yes, today in America, certain intellectuals tell us that, as in a fairy tale" the Democrats will make things right. Will Bush’s dreaded NSA programs turn out to be benign safeguards and will they will be replaced by ever-more-dreaded-and-intrusive (for real this time) judicial-activist-created PC para-Constitutional rulings which pander to various special interest groups (gun control, same-sex marriage, etc.) all done without elections or voting and will the spending increase even beyond the current record pace?
I guess that is the bet we must make. However, in any case, falling for the boogeymen being peddled by the NYT et al (that some stupid liberals are lapping up) does not seem very wise to me.
I agree 100%. And it’s a shame that Congressional Democrats aren’t standing up and leading the charge. I understand the political logic of letting the minority of principled Republicans stand in front and warp Bush’s attempt to frame pro-torture as Serious About Defense Republicans vs. Appeasement Democrats,
I still wish they were leading. The left blogosphere is shouting for them to do so. But Harry Reid has promised the sphere that these bills are dead, and I believe him.
We should have had this debate in 2002, but George Bush went around Congress, relying on wishful-thinking interpretations of the Constitution and the law, and refused to back up for five years. Ironically, in 2002 GWB would have faced a lot less resistance.
We’d never have had this debate, except that Supreme Court decisions, lower court losses going even further, and the spectre of losing a house of congress have belatedly led bush to realize he has two short months to cover his a**.
So, after five years of "none of your business" attitude, on the eve of the elections, GWB drops high-value terrorists into Gitmo and tries to use an election-charged atmosphere to railroad through a fundamental rollback of civil liberties.
It might have worked in 2002, but even a congressional victory would have been admitting that you had to ask to have the law changed, wouldn’t it? And now it’s too late.
In 2007, national security experts from the left, right, and neutral government can finish this too-little, too-late debate. In 2007, the White House won’t have the power to ram anything down anyone’s throat. They can remember what it’s like to negotiate with people who aren’t beholden to them.
In the meantime, props to John McCain, a Republican who has principles beyond appeasing his base at all costs.
It’s fairly clear at this point, after Hamdan - itself based on a common-sense reading of the entirety of the Geneva Conventions - that, in a world where laws were perfectly enforced, GWB is the originator of policy changes that violated not only international treaties - the law of the land by the Constitution - but the 1997 War Crimes act, linked to those treaties - another law that GWB is suddenly seeking to have clarified.
He’ll never see formal charges - and frankly, I’m okay with that. If I can recommend amnesty for Iraqi insurgents blowing up mosques and US Humvees, I can let Dick Cheney and Alberto Gonzales walk away, no problem. Call it a unique and confused period in American history and sweep it under the rug. It won’t be the first time. Hey, we elected you - who are we to judge. Judge not, lest ye be judged, even.
But don’t change the laws to make questionable extra-legal conduct legal, just for the sake of making the President and his administration look good and have nice anti-terrorist talking points. No prosecutions and no legalizations is a good deal for everyone involved. More important than indvidual accountability is to protect the system - our system - from being undermined.
Or was it far more benign, only dealing with those who would violently overthrow the government... and using torture only sparingly?”
lol! right, that hypothetical government that uses torture only sparingly!
Pathetic. And the answer to the question is: No, it was a typical 1970’s Arab dictatorship, and it didn’t last even one presidential administration’s worth of attempts to ease up on the torture and dissapearances that were its trademark until then.
“Yes, some people are peddling similar boogeymen (the NSA programs, etc.) in America today, also seeking a revolution to gain political power.
You mean the revolution where we win the free, fair, regularly scheduled elections? Would you care to consult your dictionairy and some back with a coherent statement?
To mix metaphors: Chicken Little Glasnost is shouting to ignore that man behind the curtain. We have all probably seen this scenario played out in Western movies. The ranch is threatened by bad men. We hire a professional gunman to help us save the ranch. He confronts the bad men and returns to tell us that he needs permission [demonstrating his good faith] to use the crooked sheriff and the bullwhip in order to conquer the bad men. Preacher Letticebe Mild stands up and says to us: "No crooked sheriff and no bullwhip! These men will make nice if we just give them what they want right now." We say: "But what if our hired gun is right? You are telling us to stand by while the bad men bullwhip our cowboys (and worse) and telling us to risk being killed by these bad men. We’ve worked hard to build this ranch and these bad men want to take over the ranch, make us put our women back in teepees over an open fire and return us to chasing buffalo; all under their heel. The hired gun says he will use the sheriff and bullwhip only on the bad men. If he is caught using them on a good guy, then he is fired." In the movie, the preacher prevails, the bad men bullwhip and kill the cowboys, rape and kill the virginal daughter, burn the ranchhouse, etc. and finally the torn and dirty survivors say: "You were right. We should have listened to you. These are very bad men. They didn’t settle for the concessions we made as Preacher Mild said they would and only wanted more. If it isn’t too late, do whatever you need to do to save those of us who are left." In the movie the hired gun prevails. This ain’t the movies. When someone kills innocent civilians at random he is an animal, regardless of his cause, and treating him as a human being is folly. Deadly folly.
"...don’t change the laws to make questionable extra-legal conduct legal, just for the sake of making the President and his administration look good and have nice anti-terrorist talking points."
This statement speaks for itself. How are things in Liberal LaLaLand, Glasnost? Had any law enforecement problems with abused children lately? Guess it will take a terrorist cutting off the head of one of your loved ones and tossing it into your lap to wake you up to what is going on in the world.
Or are you just a political poseur and you do know what is at stake, but you are willing to risk the lives of a great number of your fellow Americans in order to callously advance your political agenda?
Wow! I hit a button while in the Preview (instead of the Comment section) and my first draft was inadvertantly published. Well, the style is off, but I guess it stands for what it is. Take note that this can happen.
What is this obsession some of you have with the Democrats? The topic is supposed to be torture, and you rush right in telling us what the Democrats think. It’s as if you had a secret crush: just can’t think about anything else. On the subject of Democrats, what can they do during this argument within the Republican party that won’t instantly be attacked as a political ploy? They can have their say only when an actual bill is on the floor. As a general rule, this kind of circular argument is nonsensical: first you misconstru "what the Democrats think", and then you attack it. This is a false argument, an argument with yourself.
Back to torture: I don’t see how it does any good to leaf through history to see which regimes employed torture, a lot, a little or moderately. This is point in time when we have to decide what our country is to be. In making this decision, we have to consider not only what torture does to the prisoner or what it does to our reputation, but what it does to the torturers. Think about it; we would be asking fellow citizens to torture other human beings as a day job. Then they can home to have dinner with their wives and kids. Think about what that does to his mind. Think about having a drin; with someone who says: "Oh, yeah, I tortured five people today. It was interesting to see them come repeatedly close to drowning." I don’t want to see my government turn any of our citizens into torturers. I don’t want to see my country come to that. As for the doomsday scenario, when it’s believed that a detainee has the information about an imminent nuclear attack: there are always ways to deal with a unique crisis. It’s not necessary to have a blanket permission.
Afterthought about warrantless eavesdropping: It’s not the eavesdropping that bothers me. It’s the lack of oversight about what is done with the collected information that is the sticking point. The administration’s position is" trust me, this information is not being misused. Given the history in our country of misuse of wiretapping capabilities, ’trust me’ is not reassuring. Have outside oversight, and go for it. Do it on a ’trust me’ basis, and I get very edgy.
BECAUSE WE ARE AT WAR So many of our President’s arguments begin and end with the premise that all his actions are necessary because we are at war. The "war’ with terrorists isn’t going to end anytime soon, so what we decide now is not a temporary patch job, it’s a long term proposition, maybe a forever proposition. This really is crucial moment for defining what we are as a nation.