Not that you'd know it from the purveyors of infotainment which pass for news outlets these days, but the final days of September were the latest of the increasingly frequent, but decreasingly proverbial "dark days" that have befallen the United States and, as a consequence, the world. It was, after all, in those closing days of September, as summer began its slow concession to fall, that the United States decided that torture, long maligned by pro-terrorist liberals as immoral and inhumane, really isn't such a horrible practice after all. Indeed, our champions in Washington "compromised" and legalized torture, as well as extrajudicial and indefinite detention. The compromise? Just don't call it torture.
But wait, you say. Didn't "dissident" Republican Senators, led by that "maverick" John McCain, shock us all by opposing the White House, preventing it from vesting itself with the draconian authority commonly reserved to despots, dictators, and churches? Doesn't the so-called McCain compromise expressly forbid such torture I mean interrogation methods as water-boarding, electric shock, beatings, and mock executions. Doesn't the compromise require that all interrogations of suspected terrorists conform with the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution? Doesn't the McCain compromise specifically uphold the Geneva Conventions and make them applicable to all detainees in U.S. custody?
You would, of course, be right on all counts. It is true that, on its face, the McCain compromise, which passed into law with the passing of September, does prohibit what all reasonable people, as well as the U.S. State Department, consider to be torture. Its prohibitions, however, are rhetorical only, for several reasons.
First, many of the prohibitions apply only to those suspected terrorists held in military custody. The McCain compromise specifically adopts the Army Field Manual, which was recently updated to prohibit the torture methods that are known to have been widely used by the United States in its "war on terror." The CIA, however, being a "civilian" organization, is in no way bound by the rules and regulations of the Army Field Manual. As such, all those enrolled in what Bush refers to as the CIA's "vital program" of "aggressive interrogation techniques" would remain largely unprotected by the McCain compromise.
Moreover, there is nothing within the McCain compromise to prevent the military from subsequently amending the Field Manual to make torture techniques "legal." Thus, the McCain compromise permits the military to quietly authorize torture at a later date, preferably when the notoriously vacuous American public is once again distracted by the newest developments regarding Brangelina or TomKat.
Even those detainees, whether in military or CIA custody, who are technically covered by the McCain compromise's adoption of the Geneva Conventions are, in reality, denied any of the Conventions' protections. Indeed, the McCain compromise specifically prohibits anyone detained by the U.S. from invoking the Geneva Conventions or any of its protocols in any proceeding "in any court of the United States or its States or territories." Clearly, if there is no means of enforcing the Geneva Conventions, the Geneva Conventions themselves are reduced to hollow promises, devoid of meaning or value.
The McCain compromise further eviscerates the Geneva Conventions by leaving the Conventions open to the President's exclusive interpretation. Under the McCain compromise, "the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions." In other words, it is entirely within the President's discretion to determine whether or not, say, water-boarding or electric shock constitutes "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment." Judging by Bush's past interpretations and applications of the Geneva Conventions, one can easily guess how Bush will exercise his discretion. Furthermore, since the McCain compromise bars anyone from invoking the Geneva Conventions, there is no way to challenge Bush's interpretation and fetter is discretion in any way.
Finally, while the McCain compromise does invoke the protections of the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution, such protections are virtually meaningless in the context of the intergalactic war on terror. The Constitution does not apply to noncitizens not found within the borders and jurisdiction of the United States. Thus, all those suspected terrorists (emphasis on suspected) of foreign nationality who are detained in U.S. facilities hither and yon are simply not entitled to any protections under the Constitution. By invoking the Constitution, the McCain compromise makes a good show of protecting the basic rights of those in U.S. custody, but does virtually nothing to actually protect those rights.
In short, the McCain compromise is not a compromise at all. Rather, it is a masterful piece of deceit designed to make the public believe that Republicans, while unwaveringly "tough on terror," are not willing to reduce either themselves or the vaunted United States to the level of condoning torture. Of course, the exact opposite is true. Nevertheless, the "compromise" never would have passed into law without cooperation from a compliant press more interested in reporting on a false split in the Republican party rather than on the substantive issue of whether the U.S. would legalize torture. Nor could the "compromise" have passed were it not for a Democratic party less concerned with taking a principled stand than with ensuring job security. Finally, and most importantly, had the American public cared as much about whether the U.S. (officially) joined the ranks of such despotic and torturous regimes as Uzbekistan and Syria than about how much it costs to fill up their Hummer, maybe, just maybe, the McCain compromise would have been exposed for what it is.
As it stands, however, the United States is now an official proponent and practitioner of torture. May the screams of our victims haunt us for the rest of our pathetic and selfish lives.
October 4, 2006