U.S. Torture: Who'll Break First?

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Senator John McCain’s battle with President George Bush over McCains anti-torture bill will come down to the wire soon--maybe this week--when a House/Senate conference committee meets to iron out differences in the legislation.   

Bush says he will veto the bill, which bans U.S. forces from conducting torture.

President Bush's team is carrying his message far and wide. From the tone of it, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s trip to Europe this week will be anything but compromising. The BBC says diplomats in Europe are noting a more aggressive message from the U.S. and leaders like Rice over the secret CIA prisons there. European officials are hearing that Rice intends to tell them "to back off," the new service reports.

Nor does the anti-torture side seem willing to bend. McCain on Meet the Press yesterday said he won’t budge.

McCain was asked by Tim Russertt, "You said that you want to ban cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment. . . . Will you accept any compromise on those words?"    

McCain:  "No."    

The anti-torture provision is attached to the $453 billion Defense Department spending bill. Ted Stevens of Alaska, who heads the Senate contingent at the conference committee, is close to Vice President Dick Cheney and a foe of McCain's. Stevens opposes the torture ban. Cheney has lobbied behind closed doors for an amendment exempting CIA officers.    

And it is always possible that behind McCain’s flat assertions yesterday, there may well be a compromise in the works. The Wall Street Journal, and then the Los Angeles Times, have reported closed meetings between McCain and Stephen Hadley, Bush’s national security adviser on the subject. On Meet the Press, McCain acknowledged discussions on "other aspects of this to try and get an agreement."

On ABC’s This Week, Hadley also acknowledged the talks between the two sides and said, "We’re trying to find a way, as we say, where we can strike the balance between being aggressive to protect the country against the terrorists,and at the same time comply with the law."

There are any number of ways Bush and McCain could compromise to water down the wording and the meaning of an anti-torture statement. For example, prisoners held by the U.S. might not be subject to torture, but if they were held by Iraqi or Afghan security forces under our overall control, would the ban apply? And while the U.S. might agree to humane treatment, it also could torture under various "techniques" of interrogation.

Meanwhile, the right is ripping into McCain. Irwin N. Graulich self-styled motivational speaker, wrote, "Senator McCain, a dangerous, power hungry man, can almost smell, no taste, the presidency. God forbid, God forbid. He has risen so far above his abilities that it is truly pathetic. Had he not served in Viet Nam, he would  presently be working for a bank giving out car loans. John McCain is the Republican version of Jimmy Carter.’’

Calling McCain a "traitor," Newsmax.com, conservative website, announced, "Nearly forty years ago, however --when McCain was  held captive in a North Vietnamese prison camp--some of the same techniques were used on him. And--as McCain has publicly admitted at least twice--the  torture worked!"    

Clifford May, from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, argues, "Trained government interrogators should be required to apply to the court for authorization to use specific techniques in specific instances. What the court would license for use against a 'ticking time bomb' would differ from what it would allow against a bin Laden lieutenant--and both would differ from what would be permitted to elicit information from a low-value combatant.’’

Nearly as cuddly is Charles Krauthammer, who in the Weekly Standard writes, "The monstrous thing about torture is that sometimes  it does work. In 1994, 19-year-old Israeli corporal Nachshon Waxman was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists. The Israelis captured the driver of the car used in the kidnapping and tortured him in order to find where Waxman was being held. Yitzhak Rabin, prime minister and peacemaker, admitted that they tortured him in a way that went even beyond the '87 guidelines for 'coercive interrogation' later struck down by the Israeli Supreme Court as too harsh. The driver talked. His information was accurate. The Israelis found Waxman.’’  

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