Coal Miners' Slaughter

Weak government, strong industry in the West Virginia disaster

In the signing statement tacked onto the McCain amendment, the White House indicated the executive branch would construe McCain's amendment "in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief . . . which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President . . . of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks." This proviso, inserted without discussion after Congress passed the bill, could amount to a reinterpretation of the new law. It essentially inserts yet another loophole to allow torture if the president thinks it's necessary.

McCain and Senator John Warner, the outgoing chairman of the Armed Services Committee, issued a joint statement in re sponse on Wednesday. "We believe the President understands Congress's intent in passing by very large majorities legislation governing the treatment of detainees," the lawmakers said. "The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation."

Pennsylvania Democratic congressman John P. Murtha, who championed McCain's anti-torture bill in the House of Representatives, doesn't think the Bush add-on matters. In a statement issued by his office to The Village Voice, Murtha said, "I believe the president will follow the law and congressional intent regarding the provisions governing detainee treatment. . . . Further, the president has indicated as much in the press statement accompanying his signing statement on the [Department of Defense] appropriations act."


See also:
Vulture in a Coal Mine
Bush Beat by Ward Harkavy

But other observers lacked Murtha's confidence. "By invoking the commander-in-chief authority, the president's statement has disturbing echoes of the Bybee memorandum," Avidan Cover, a senior associate in the U.S. Law and Security Program at Human Rights First explained. The Bybee memorandum, an August 2002 opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, argued the president could waive legal restrictions against the use of torture and inhumane treatment on detainees when national security is at risk.

Additional reporting: Michael Roston

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