19 October 2008


Digby assembles the story on McCain folding on torture which I've been too lazy to line up.
McCain was supposed to be the stalwart opponent of torture and he failed. He was the shiny pink lipgloss on the pig called the Military Commissions Act, and it was actually the lowest, most dishonorable betrayal of principle I've ever seen a politician make. To give him credit for being against torture when he sold his reputation as a POW to the Bush administration to help them legalize it is just mind-boggling.

Here is what happened:

After first insisting that federal law clearly and unambiguously outlaw “torture,” McCain suddenly caved to White House pressure on the MCA, allowing the Administration to insert into the law a clause that effectively allows (and, indeed, legally buttresses the efforts of) the executive branch to implement torture as a means of interrogation.

Without McCain’s pander, there would have been no bad law for the Court to strike down last week. Without McCain’s grandiloquent appeal to Democrats and moderates during that lame-duck session, there quite possibly might have been a better law ...

McCain then went on to vote against the legislation that would have required the CIA to follow the Army Field manual, which would have explicitly banned the agency's use of torture. And this week, we found out even more about the cover-up of these activities which the administration had already approved. McCain has not stepped up to condemn this as far as I know.

Here's how John Weaver, his former close advisor, described the fearless maverick's “negotiations” with the Bush administration on the Military Commissions Act in a Frontline interview:

There's one other practical side of it, though, the much-talked-about CIA loophole. Where does that come from?

When you're trying to pass something, the perfect can be the enemy of the good. And I think at the end of the day, they did the best they could on that issue. And I think that's how he sees it. I mean, he worked very hard with [Sen.] Lindsey Graham [R-S.C.] and with Colin Powell. And I can assure you that if he's president, that will be fixed immediately.

Some honor. That is all utter bullshit. The signing statement wasn't the problem, although it was odious. The MCA itself, the one that McCain allegedly negotiated, said that that detainees had no right to judicial review, thus removing any chance that anyone would ever know if they'd been tortured or if the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit torture, had been violated. Here's Jack Balkin:
Any CIA official who acts in good faith will probably conclude that waterboarding, hypothermia, stress positions, and related techniques violate one or more of these features of American law.

What the new Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA) did, however, was to make these legal norms effectively unenforceable. That is why Rickard's op-ed is a bit misleading. The McCain Amendment does not provide an individual remedy for violations, the MCA states that individuals cannot enforce their rights under the Geneva Conventions in judicial proceedings, including applications for habeas corpus.

The bottom line is simple: The MCA preserves rights against torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, but it severs these rights from any practical remedy.

I never liked McCain, obviously. He's a conservative and a jerk. But I did think he had some core principles until he sold his soul on this issue. It's true that you can't let “the perfect be the enemy of the good” but when it comes to torture, it's not about “perfect or good.” It's simply about “right and wrong.” If McCain had stood up against this bill, it wouldn't have passed. The nation would have preserved some semblance of its tattered honor. Instead, he basked in the glow of his president's approval and later went on to enable the CIA to torture even further. He deserves nothing but contempt for that craven and disreputable act.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gah! That was the one nice thing I ever had to say about him: "At least he's against torture."