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October 17, 2006

Waterboarding is the new patient justice: Bush signs torture bill

George W. Bush signed the torture/habeas corpus bill today:

"It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill that he knows will save American lives," Bush said. "I have that privilege this morning."

Bush signed the bill in the White House East Room, at a table with a sign positioned on the front that said "Protecting America." He said he signed it in memory of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"We will answer brutal murder with patient justice," Bush said. "Those who kill the innocent will be held to account." [AP]

Patient justice?

The president also praised Donald Rumsfeld for his hard work in rolling back civil liberties. To be fair, Rummy is a lot better at taking rights away from Americans than he is at giving rights to Iraqis and Afghanis.

Even more disturbingly, the president explicitly stated that he considers torture to be a form of extra-judicial punishment:

"With the bill I'm about to sign, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent people will face justice," Bush said. [AP]

And so, the truth comes out. The president values torture as retribution for its own sake. Never mind that suspects are tortured before they've been tried, let alone found guilty of anything.

And of course, the president reserved the right to decide for himself what constitutes torture, in secret:

The legislation also says the president can "interpret the meaning and application" of international standards for prisoner treatment, a provision intended to allow him to authorize aggressive interrogation methods that might otherwise be seen as illegal by international courts. White House press secretary Tony Snow said Bush would probably eventually issue an executive order that would describe his interpretation, but those documents are not usually made public and Snow did not reveal when it might be issued. [AP]

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White House press secretary Tony Snow said Bush would probably eventually issue an executive order that would describe his interpretation but those documents are not usually made public

In fact, it'll be revealed through a press room version of What's My Line: each hack gets to ask a question with a yes/no answer, and Pony Blow moves on after every 'no'.

'Helen?'
'Does it include electrical cables attached to the genitals?'
'[pause] Noooo. Suzanne?'

Let's make a drinking game out of it. Every time a Bush official uses the words "terrorist" and "justice" in the same sentence at any press conference when describing anything at all, take a shot.

Whooooo, hang on... I'm drunk before we've started...

===================
Even more disturbingly, the president explicitly stated that he considers torture to be a form of extra-judicial punishment:

"With the bill I'm about to sign, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent people will face justice," Bush said. [AP]
==================

Bush probably meant the "justice" of the military trials of suspected terrorists.

I consider those kangaroo courts an injutice, but that is another issue.

I don't think Bush was calling torture "justice."

Sadly, I felt compelled to write a song about it the other week.

Let's see. Small-minded theocrats, crippled by fear of an imagined foe, turn to torture and injustice, under a mocking veneer of law and order ... sounds familiar.

I'm going to call it the Malleus Maleficarum Act of 2006.

I hate Chimpy more than you do, but I don't want you to get called out on this by one of his pals. The bill, in addition to giving him the power to torture people and disappear you and me as an enemy combatant, does set up a mechanism for military tribunals at Gitmo. That's presumably what he was referring to by talking about people facing justice.

Sure, it isn't real justice, but he was not talking about torture as extrajudicial punishment. That's a reach, I'm afraid.

The president's rhetoric is carefully crafted to allow multiple interpretations. It's like in the run-up to the war. Except for a few slip-ups, he never flat-out accused Saddam Hussein of sponsoring the 9/11 attacks, and yet we all knew what we were being encouraged to believe. I think revenge for 9/11 was the driving force that led the American public to get behind the invasion of Iraq in the first place. The government never said so in so many words, but most war supporters ran Iraq and Al Qaeda together with help of dishonest rhetoric from the government. If pressed, they could always say, "We never said Iraq was allied with Al Qaeda, we just said that beating Iraq was part of beating Al Qaeda..." I think the same pattern is reasserting itself with the torture debate. They're pandering to people's worst impulses without actually coming right out and saying what the pro-torture base really wants to hear.

The rhetoric of the torture debate is shot through with the presupposition that the intended victims are bad guys who deserve what they're getting. The infamous ticking time bomb scenario is predicated in part on the assumption that you know for sure that the interviewee knows where the bomb is. Steve G. of Philosopher's Playground really influenced my thinking on the torture as retribution angle.

Torture apologists set up the debate so as to justify torture as a last-ditch emergency measure. In fact it's being practiced as routinely in non-emergency circumstances. The entire debate has been dishonest and emotionally loaded. I think the president is hinting at the baser impulses that motivate torture.

You see Hastert flirting with the same impulses when he accuses Democrats of pampering terrorists when they oppose torture or demand habeas corpus. The whole point of a justice system is to sort the innocent from the guilty, but the Republicans talk as if harsh treatment and extended detention were ends in themselves.

Well, the bill is blatantly unconstitutional, so I guess we'll get to see how Bush's shiny new Supreme Court justices perform. I think that'll really be the acid test. It's easy to stampede a bunch of spineless pols, but if the Supremes roll over, we are certainly fucked.

Yes, I know that the Supremes already ruled against the thing. A lovely surprise, but I still don't have a lot of faith.
Lindsay's right: the Repugs are selling torture as a worst-case application, but they love it, they've been using indiscriminately all along (70+% (?) of abductees at Gitmo are innocent of any crime), and they'll really go for it if they have the law on their side. Torture spreads like an infection, and pretty soon the whole legal (and moral) system is corrupted. A corrupted system will always fail in the end, but the damage it can do can last for centuries.

I concur with Ben, let's call it the Malleus Maleficarum Act of 2006.

The underlying logic to this is that we are so afraid of dying that we are willing to do unspeakable and immoral things to our fellow human beings to diminish the possibility of such. (Even leaving aside the dubious nature of this proposition.)

I'm calling out all you Christians. Anyone supporting this is more afraid of death than God's judgment.

Vote Republican, go to hell. Or pray there's no god.

>I concur with Ben, let's call it the Malleus Maleficarum Act of 2006.

Third.

>torture as retribution

>justice

It reminds me of a New Yorker cartoon I saw once. A man in a courtroom is thumbing his nose at the judge. The judge says, "Mister, you're really asking for justice."

I don't think this bill will change actual practices, since they've already been doing all of this stuff illegally.

I think the point was to protect administration officials from prosecution if Dems get control in Congress.

Republican House leaders, in a tough battle to maintain their majority, echoed those criticisms Tuesday in an attempt to get some political points out of the legislation they supported. "The Democratic plan would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans' lives," House Speaker Dennis Hastert said.

Gingerly pampering Republican child molesters is OK though.

I worry that laws such as this are going to give legal cover to those in the Bush Adminstration, making it difficult to send them to jail later, when civil society has been restored. I realize we've never sent an ex-President to jail before and to do so would be an aggressive move fraught with risks, yet we've never had a President wage war against the Constitution to the extent that this one has. It's not a desire for revenge, but simply a desire to see the law respected that makes me think Bush and his cronies should go to jail. I imagine laws such as this are being passed now to specifically preclude that possibility.

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