Making the law
safe for torture: Bush v. the U.S. Senate
By Max J. Castro
Rejection of President
George W. Bush’s leadership now ranges from the American public in general – as
evidenced in plunging poll numbers – to this administration’s most fervent
former supporters in the Taliban wing of the Republican Party, who are in open
revolt over the President’s latest Supreme Court nomination.
Yet the most telling and
damning blow against Bush was delivered not by preachers and right-wing
politicos. It was struck by that most august of institutions in the American
political system: the United States Senate. On October 5, the upper house of
Congress voted – overwhelmingly and over the fierce objections of the Bush
administration – to ban the use of torture by the U.S. military.
What does it mean when a
measure that Bush lobbied against heavily is passed by a 90-9 vote in a Senate
controlled by the President’s own party?
It means that support for
the ban on torture is a no-brainer, especially in the wake of the horrors of Abu
Ghraib and Guantánamo, which contradict decades of U.S. rhetoric and have done
enormous harm to American credibility in the world.
A no-brainer, except for
President Bush, who answered the Senate vote by threatening that he would
exercise his veto power for the first time if a key $440 billion defense
spending bill, which contains the anti-torture measure, comes before his desk
with the anti-torture provision intact.
The House of
Representatives earlier passed a version of the bill without the ban on torture,
and the administration hopes that the House version will prevail. If the
Republican Congressional leaders are able to remove the torture ban when the two
versions of the bill are reconciled in the bicameral conference, Bush will be
spared the embarrassment of having to veto a bill to fund the military.
While it is not clear if
the Republican leadership in Congress, deeply mired in scandal, can deliver for
the President, one thing is not in doubt. With its stance against prohibiting
torture, the Bush administration gives up any claim to moral leadership – for
itself and for the nation.
Faced with unassailable
evidence of widespread abuse of prisoners, Bush has asserted that such acts are
violations of official policy. The truth is that, from the beginning of its “war
on terrorism,” the administration has systematically attempted to craft legal
theories and definitions in order to avoid any sanctions that might result from
doing whatever it wants with, and to, detainees.
Now, when the U.S. Senate,
taking the administration at its word, attempts merely to codify in law the ban
on torture the administration claims to have been in effect by policy, Bush’s
resistance gives the lie away. While giving lip service to humane treatment of
detainees, what the administration really wants is what it has exercised from
the outset: license to treat prisoners as it sees fit, with no check or
oversight, and the impunity to do it without legal recourse or repercussions.
Just when you think that
this administration can sink no lower nor do more damage to the world’s view of
the United States, Bush surprises you. If 90 percent of U.S. Senators can see a
crying need for passing a legal ban against torture but the President cannot,
what can anyone conclude except that this administration intends to continue
committing outrages against prisoners of its endless wars?
The President’s fight
against banning torture confirms several things that have been evident to
critics for a long time. The climate that has made torture and murder of
prisoners possible is the result of this administration’s policies, attitudes
and messages. It is no anomaly. The rot that created Abu Ghraib starts from the
top. But the arc of accountability begins at the bottom and sharply recedes as
it moves upward, becoming wholly inoperative in the upper reaches of the
administration. The law ensnares the small fry in the military and spares their
bosses in the Pentagon and the White House. The Senate’s vote is intended to put
and end to this situation. Unrepentant, the administration will not broach any
limitation on its ability to exercise its authority as brutally and arbitrarily
as it, and it alone, sees fit.
The Bush administration’s
sheer ineffectiveness and brazen moral turpitude are creating a perfect storm
that threatens to engulf it and to render the President incapable of
accomplishing any of the items on his agenda. That would be a blessing given
that Bush’s plans involve completing the transformation of the United States
into a plutocratic/theocratic empire.
Thankfully, with the people,
the religious zealots in his own party, and the elite members of the American
political class who make up the U.S. Senate all deserting him, the prospects for
the remainder of George W. Bush’s second term look bleak indeed.