Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) named three measures that he said would no longer be allowed under a provision barring techniques that cause serious mental or physical suffering by U.S. detainees: extreme sleep deprivation, forced hypothermia and "waterboarding," which simulates drowning. He also said other "extreme measures" would be banned.
In response, the CIA says:
"We cannot and will not comment on specific interrogation measures," CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said, adding that the agency will act lawfully. The CIA has asserted unofficially that its most extreme measures were used on only a handful of detainees.
The question is, whether the CIA will actually obey the new guidelines and, if not, whether anyone will even know. But I'm also interested in the assertion that only a handful (that by my count would be about 5) have ever been exposed to those measures. For whatever reason, I have difficulty believing that, given the recent talk about the top 14 al Qaeda detainees we've had for years.
Anyway, that's McCain's claim. We'll see how that plays out in the final bill. But I'm skeptical that in reality McCain's claim has any teeth. That's because of the apparent language of the bill:
The proposed legislation does not say what interrogators can do. Instead, it states indirectly, in amendments to the 10-year-old War Crimes Act, that those who cause detainees "severe or serious physical or mental pain or suffering" can be charged with a felony. This includes, according to the bill's definitions, anyone who causes serious physical abuse, a substantial risk of death, extreme physical pain, burns or serious physical disfigurement, or a loss or impairment of "the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty."
The bill would also replace an existing ban on interrogation practices that cause "prolonged" mental pain or suffering with a more sweeping ban on those that inflict "serious and non-transitory mental harm (which need not be prolonged)." This provision would be applicable only to interrogations that occur after the date the legislation is passed — and thus it would effectively immunize from prosecution CIA interrogators who have inflicted short-term but serious mental harm on detainees.
Who gets to define "prolonged"? What constitutes "severe or serious physical or mental pain or suffering"? Those are the issues which need clarity. And I certainly see no problem with outlawing specific practices (and similar practices) which fit those characteristics. In fact I think it would be most useful since it would indeed establish some real parameters.
On another note, Arlen Specter is objecting to a portion of the bill addressing habeas corpus claiming the Constitution only allows its suspension only in time of rebellion or invasion. Since neither are the case, Specter argues, all terror suspects must get a hearing. Presently the bill provides that those selected for prosecution would get legal counsel and a day in court, but those not charged could be held indefinitely.
It should also be noted that Specter, other than that objection, calls the bill a "big improvement".
It will be interesting to see what the final bill looks like.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), who wants to shepherd the detainee bill to congressional passage this week, also declined to give a specific reading of it yesterday. Asked repeatedly on ABC's "This Week" what the legislation would allow, Frist said, "I'm not going to comment on individual techniques," and he condemned doing so.
McCain can make all the claims he wants to. Politicians have always made claims and promises about the wonderful things their legislation will do, and they are mostly bs. Talk is cheap. McCain in particular should know better, after his election "reform". If it ain’t in writing, it ain’t.