Republican lawmakers and the White House agreed over the weekend to alter new legislation on military commissions to allow the United States to detain and try a wider range of foreign nationals than an earlier version of the bill permitted, according to government sources.
As a result, human rights experts expressed concern yesterday that the language in the new provision would be a precedent-setting congressional endorsement for the indefinite detention of anyone who, as the bill states, “has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States” or its military allies.
The definition applies to foreigners living inside or outside the United States and does not rule out the possibility of designating a U.S. citizen as an unlawful combatant. It is broader than that in last week’s version of the bill, which resulted from lengthy, closed-door negotiations between senior administration officials and dissident Republican senators. That version incorporated a definition backed by the Senate dissidents: those “engaged in hostilities against the United States.”
The new provision, which would cover captives held by the CIA, is more expansive than the one incorporated by the Defense Department on Sept. 5 in new rules that govern the treatment of detainees in military custody. The military’s definition of unlawful combatants covers only “those who engage in acts against the United States or its coalition partners in violation of the laws of war and customs of war during an armed conflict.”
The president got everything he wanted. What he calls the “program” — and which much of the world calls “torture” — will continue unabated, arguably even stronger, as a result of this legislative “compromise.” In his celebratory statement Thursday night, the president was absolutely right when he said: “I had a single test for the pending legislation, and that’s this: Would the CIA operators tell me whether they could go forward with the program, that is a program to question detainees to be able to get information to protect the American people. I’m pleased to say that this agreement preserves the most single — most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, and that is the CIA program to question the world’s most dangerous terrorists and to get their secrets.”
The White House’s Dan Bartlett put it best, and most accurately, when he said: “We proposed a more direct approach to bringing clarification. This one is more of the scenic route, but it gets us there.” Only the Bush administration could speak of taking a “scenic route” to torture. But Bartlett’s description, creepy and chilling though it may be, is not mere spin designed to make a compromising president look triumphant. Bush, in fact, did triumph and did not compromise in any meaningful sense, because the only goal he had — to ensure that his “alternative interrogation program” would continue — was fulfilled in its entirety as a result of this “compromise” (with the added bonus that it will even be strengthened by legal authorization from Congress).
This is how the world sees us:
In America they torture people, including their own, in secret prisons.
Are we even capable of embarrassment anymore?