News & Politics

U.S. Torture: Who’ll Break First?

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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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