September 29, 2004

September 29: Today's Reason to Not Elect George W. Bush: George W. Bush and Dennis Hastert Look Into the Abyss

Today's shrill critic of George W. Bush is A. Michael Froomkin, channeling Katherine of Obsidian Wings: Voting Republican This Year = Voting for Torture: It’s not enough that Rumsfeld and probably Bush not just tacitly condoned but actively encouraged studies of optimal torture regimes, creating a climate in which undeniable and disgusting torture was used against Iraqi civilians, including children. And at Guantanamo (more). Even they at least had the hypocrisy to attempt to do the Iraq torture planning under wraps. (Hypocrisy being “the tribute vice pays to virtue”.) Meanwhile, at home, being too delicate to torture domestically, the Administration quietly subcontracted the job to Syria. (See my post almost exactly a year ago, Maher Arar Affair: What is the Pluperfect of ‘Cynic’?.)

Comes now a group of Congressional Republicans who are pure vice, and are not even trying to hide it: they have proposed that US law be amended to remove protections against torture — ie to legitimate torture, to plan to torture — for people we label “terrorists” (modern unpersons). The full horrid details are at Obsidian Wings: Legalizing Torture. The key move would be to exclude “terrorists” from the protection of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The “terrorists” could be held in secret unless they could somehow overcome (without lawyers or witnesses?) a presumption of guilt. When they failed to overcome this impossible burden they could be subject to “extraordinary rendition” which is bureaucrat for “being ported or transferred to a country that may engage in torture”—a deportation that currently would be a serious violation of US law.

Anyone who votes for people capable of supporting these policies has blood on their hands. Not to mention what they are doing to the image of the US as the ‘City on the Hill’, the beacon to mankind. Once we descend into the torture pit, we’re just arguing about circles in Hell.

I've said before that voting against George W. Bush is not a matter of partisanship but a matter of patriotism. But it is now clear that it is something more as well.

Posted by DeLong at September 29, 2004 09:53 AM | TrackBack

Working on the assumption that the people who are proposing this are beyond the reach of appeals to a shared moral code, or common human decency, we wonder whether anyone has studied the quality of intelligence obtained from tortured captives.

In the ancient Greek and Roman world, the topos of the testimony of the tortured slave was much treated. This treatment included the rhetorical development of the argument that the testimony of a tortured slave is inherently unreliable because torture victims will say anything to stop the torture. Similarly, while ancient Greek forensic speeches often included references to the threat of torture, there is no evidence that litigants ever actually tortured servile witnesses (presumably because of the moral repugnance such an act would generate, even when a slave was involved).

Before we allow the Congressional Republicans to lead us down their tortured path to hell, should we not at least require them to prove that torture would actually result in better intel?

Posted by: Pudentilla at September 29, 2004 10:54 AM


Two things.

First) You are forgetting that you are dealing with people who are normally at odds with the evidence, people for whom evidence is an annoyance, for whom calls to examine evidence are themselves evidence of a lack of patriotism.

Second) No, we don't need to examine the evidence before rendering an ethical judgement in this particular case. Knowing that torture is widely considered to be of little value in gathering useful information may be an interesting fact about the world, but such information is not necessary to figure out whether we want to stoop to legalizing torture.

Posted by: kharris at September 29, 2004 11:35 AM

One would think that the U.S. Supreme Court, having already affirmed that the Guantanamo detainees have at least SOME rights, would give our Linguist-in-Chief a quick kick in the slats if and when this insane idea ever gets made into law. But if Cheney/Bush wins, the Court's makeup will almost certainly change - and with it, the odds that the Court would uphold anyone's 'rights' in the face of these sorts of efforts. Does anyone wonder why we're so disliked, not only by the Muslim world, but by the citizens of almost every other country as well?

Posted by: Uncle Jeffy at September 29, 2004 11:50 AM

Sounds like faith based torture to me.

Posted by: dilbert dogbert at September 29, 2004 11:58 AM


I think what pudentilla was saying was that the Congressional Republicans have already told us that they reject our shared moral code, and so when dealing with Evil (and, yes, Tom Delay is Evil) you are reduced to arguments of pragmatism.

Us "You can't do that because it is evil"
Republican "So what."
Us "You shouldn't do that because it doesn't work"
Republican "I don't care that it doesn't work. It is fun to torture people."

Posted by: Rich at September 29, 2004 11:58 AM

They have had the power to torture us since they instituted Guantanamo. Nothing protects you from disappearing into that memory hole. Your friends and family won't know where you went -- you just disappeared. No records will be kept, and your body will never be found in the vast Bermuda Triangle that abuts the hole. This isn't a nightmare; this is now.

Posted by: knut wicksell at September 29, 2004 12:09 PM

Please name names: which congressinal Republicans. Please provide supporting evidence.

Posted by: martin at September 29, 2004 12:20 PM

Sections 3032 and 3033 of H.R. 10, the "9/11 Recommendations Implementation Act of 2004," on pages 213-217 of the bill.

Here is the list of cosponsors:
"Mr. HASTERT (for himself, Mr. DELAY, Mr. BLUNT, Ms. PRYCE of Ohio, Mr. HOEKSTRA, Mr. HUNTER, Mr. YOUNG of Florida, Mr. SENSENBRENNER, Mr. HYDE, Mr. TOM DAVIS of Virginia, Mr. OXLEY, Mr. DREIER, Mr. COX, Mr. THOMAS, Mr. NUSSLE, Mr. BOEHNER, and Mr. SMITH of New Jersey)."

I don't have time to look up the names and states of each one right now. Sorry.

Posted by: Katherine at September 29, 2004 12:42 PM

Hastert, DeLay, Blunt, Pryce of Ohio, Hoekstra, Hunter, Young of Florida, Sensenbrenner, Hyde, Tom Davis of Virginia, Oxley, Dreier, Cox, Thomas, Nussle, Boehner and Smith of New Jersey.

H.R. 10
Sections 3032 and 3033

Posted by: Ugh at September 29, 2004 12:44 PM

Uncle Jeffy: This bill also strips the courts of jurisdiction over the bill and any regulations that implement it. So whatever the courts might think about its constitutionality, they would not have jurisdiction, and hence could do nothing.

Posted by: hilzoy at September 29, 2004 12:47 PM

Our mad march towards the abyss, like lemmings we insist that this is nto an abyss, it is simply a ditch, and we could jump over it and never get our feet dirty.

Posted by: Carol at September 29, 2004 12:50 PM

"Uncle Jeffy: This bill also strips the courts of jurisdiction over the bill and any regulations that implement it. So whatever the courts might think about its constitutionality, they would not have jurisdiction, and hence could do nothing."

Separation of powers anyone? Anyone? Beuller?

Posted by: James Madison at September 29, 2004 12:53 PM

This is scary, both from the moral and the effectiveness angle. So it is not the best place to post my suggestion that Prof DeLong include a few posts that give reasons why one should vote for Kerry.

The Prof should know the drill: compare and contrast the candidates.

I think moderates and liberals who are very anti-Bush have been so caught up in the horrors of the Republican right that they assume generating outrage will be enought to generate votes against Bush. This is probably not true, as the polls have indicated since mid-August.

Let's see a few "reasons to vote AGAINST Bush, or reactionary GOP, and FOR Kerry" posts, please.

Posted by: jml at September 29, 2004 01:03 PM

Giblets explains what's wrong with this bill over at fafblog.

Posted by: Ugh at September 29, 2004 01:39 PM

Truely an awesome moment, as the U.S. prepares to leave the circle of civilized nations- but not an unexpected one. In fact, to some, who have watched the U.S. military careen along at a strength greater than most of the rest of the world combined for over a decade, it has seemed inevitable.

After all, what would a jury say about a man who put his 4-year old in the car, started the engine, and told the child to go get his own candy? Would the resulting collision be viewed as an "accident"?

Nobody in the civilized world will oppose us- until they believe they have enough strength to prevail. They will begin by prudently withholding support (oops- already past that point), progress to clandestine aid to our enemies (somewhere in the middle of that one, I'm afraid), and prepare their 'backup' plans, just as the more prudent among us prepare for the day our computer crashes or is stolen.

And we, individually, would be wise to do the same.

Posted by: serial catowner at September 29, 2004 04:31 PM

Okay, JML: maybe we should talk more about Kerry's bold history of principled opposition to Contra aid, which is relevant now both for his record of supporting human rights (or, at least, denying aid to those who most viciously abuse them), and for the fact that supporting Contras also meant indirectly supporting the fundamentalist Islam that we're combatting now through weapons sales to Iran?

Posted by: Julian Elson at September 29, 2004 07:16 PM

Voting against Bush.. "is something more as well".

It is clear that voting for Bush and other Republicans is now something more as well.

The stakes have been raised. The bullies have drawn another line. Time to cross it.

Posted by: John Thullen at September 29, 2004 09:30 PM

"Separation of powers anyone? Anyone? Beuller?"

While I'm personally appalled at the particular topic that they wish to put outside of judicial review, it's in the Constitution for a reason. The Founders went out of their way to violate the principle of separation of powers in several places: the President is involved in the legislative process through veto; Congress is involved in the executive process through consent of appointees. Putting a law outside the purview of the federal courts creates a check on the court's power short of impeachment or constitutional amendment.

Posted by: Michael Cain at September 29, 2004 11:07 PM

The protections against torture stem from the Constitution itself and treaties. Congress does not have the consitutional ability to place those questions outside the Supreme Court's judicial review. The United States may withdraw from international agreements, but then we would forfeit the reciprocal protections. However, Congress cannot withdraw from the Constitution.

Posted by: tcs at September 30, 2004 06:35 AM