From the Herald Today
Amid all the natural and political disasters it faces, the White House is certainly tireless in its effort to legalize torture. This week, Vice President Dick Cheney proposed a novel solution for the moral and legal problems raised by the use of American soldiers to abuse prisoners and the practice of turning captives over to governments willing to act as proxies in doing the torturing. Cheney wants to make it legal for the Central Intelligence Agency to do this wet work.
Cheney’s proposal was made in secret to Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who won the votes of 89 other senators this month to require the civilized treatment of prisoners at camps run by America’s military and intelligence agencies. McCain’s legislation, an amendment to the Defense Department budget bill, would ban the “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment of prisoners. In other words, it would impose age-old standards of democracy and decency on the new prisons.
President Bush’s threat to veto the entire military budget over this issue was bizarre enough by itself, considering that the amendment has the support of more than two dozen former military leaders, including Colin Powell. They know that torture doesn’t produce reliable intelligence and endangers Americans’ lives.
But Cheney’s proposal was even more ludicrous. It would give the president the power to allow government agencies outside the Defense Department (the administration has in mind the CIA) to mistreat and torture prisoners as long as that behavior was part of “counterterrorism operations conducted abroad” and they were not American citizens. That would neatly legalize the illegal prisons the CIA is said to be operating around the world and obviate the need for the torture outsourcing known as extraordinary rendition.
McCain was right to reject this absurd proposal. The House should reject it as well.