2006/10/19

Results of "negotiations" on torture bill

For anyone who thinks that "Saint" John McCain and his fellow moderates actually drove a hard bargain with Bush over the rights of detainees who have been declared "Illegal Combatants":

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "Leading Republican lawmakers, among them Senators John W. Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who balked at the initial White House version of the bill and forced a much-publicized compromise, were also on hand. But the third leader of that Republican rebellion, Senator John McCain of Arizona, was noticeably absent."

As for that supposed compromise, Tony Snow put an end to any pretense that there was any such thing at his briefing yesterday , a few hours after the bill became law:

"Q Do you think -- this has been described as a compromise. The President basically got everything he wanted, didn't he?

"MR. SNOW: Pretty much, yes."

No Signing Statement


Here's another sign of how pleased the White House was with this legislation.

Signing statements -- in which the president quietly asserts his right to ignore legislative provisions that he believes conflict with his interpretation of the Constitution -- have become a controversial tradition at the Bush White House.

But at Monday's briefing , Snow disclosed that there would be no signing statement issued for this bill.

Reporters were shocked, and asked why.

"Q Tony, was there any agreement with Congress that there would not be a signing statement?

"MR. SNOW: No.

"Q This just seems like the kind of bill where there are a lot of things to be interpreted and take a look at.

"MR. SNOW: They did a really good job this time.

"Q Wow. (Laughter.)"

Why "improve" on perfection? If the White House got everything it wanted, then the "negotiations" between the GOP moderates and the President were just so much kabuki (Highly formalized, ritualized dance steps) that was far more for appearance than for effect.

In another section:

"But what the American people need to know is we have a program in place that is able to get intelligence from these people and we have used it to stop attacks. The intelligence community believes strongly that the information we got from the detainee questioning program yielded information that made America safer, that we stopped attacks."

My problem with this argument is the time factor. Information from captured bad guys is an extremely perishable commodity. All militaries all over the world do what we call "muster." Soldiers assemble, stand in a line and call out "Here, sir!" as the person in charge reads out their names. (Obviously, there are many variations on this, small groups can muster in a less formal way. The principle is the same, the senior person in the group is responsible for knowing where all of his or her assigned members are at all times.) Once it's been determined that a member is missing, the next step is obvious. If the missing person is aware that there's a bomb planted in the middle of the city, where it is and when it will go off, the senior person in the group will presume that the member has been captured and will talk. The bomb will then be set off early or it will be moved.
Sure, you can learn about "The Ticking Time Bomb," but by that time the bomb will have been moved, placed under guard or set off early. Any information that the bad guys have is useful for an extremely limited amount of time. The idea that "The intelligence community" gained useful information through torture is within the bounds of possibility, but it strikes me as very, very highly unlikely.
It's also worthwhile to keep in mind that Abu Ghraib was operational during a time in Iraq when insurgent attacks were steadily increasing. At the very, very best, the tortures engaged in there held down the rate of increase by a modest amount. Even if we accept that premise, the good gained has to be weighed against the loss of moral justification for being in Iraq in the first place.

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