Thursday, September 14, 2006

A No-brainer

Arlen Specter’s (R-PA) Judiciary fiefdom took the odd, election-year-influenced step of reporting three different wiretap bills out of committee. Two of them, Specter’s blank check and Diane Feinstein’s (D-CA) reaffirmation of FISA effectively nullify each other. Specter, being the stand up kind of guy that he is, voted for both of them.

The third “option,” sponsored by Mike DeWine (R-OH), suggests that the President notify some members of Congress when he engages in illegal domestic spying. Specter, and all of his Republican buddies voted for that one, too—no doubt so they could be on record as having voted for “oversight” (however ersatz) when they return home. Never you mind, though, the DeWine bill is going nowhere, since even this feckless faux check on the Executive is opposed by the administration.

In fact, the White House has made it clear that they will accept nothing short of the blank check to continue warrantless domestic spying without any court or Congressional oversight, plus the retroactive immunity (included in the Specter bill) from prosecution for all the laws. And, if they get anything less than that, if there are any amendments on the Senate floor, the administration just plans to rewrite the bill to their liking in conference.

The same holds true for torture. Bush, now having admitted to torturing CIA detainees in foreign “black sites” after repeatedly denying just that, is seeking Congressional cover in the form of a law that allows them to “reinterpret” (read: “ignore”) Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions—and, again, they want retroactive immunity from prosecution. But in this case, even some Republicans (and practically every current and former member of the Military, it seems) have raised objections.

Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, Senator John Warner (R-VA), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC)—all men who have served in the military—are offering some alternative to the White House plan. . . but it’s a secret. Really. It will be voted on in a closed-door session of Armed Services today (or so we are told). The best we can go on are the statements of the Senators, who at least in public, defend the Geneva Conventions as essential to both US integrity and security.

But, again, it may not matter. Though this secret vote might again give some Senators political cover (and doesn’t that sound absurd), it remains to be seen whether it will keep the torture hounds from continuing to pretend they are starring in a new season of Fox’s Twenty-Four. John Negroponte, who, believe it or not, is still the director of national intelligence, said any limits on CIA interrogation would be “intolerable” and “unacceptable.” And, again, the administration plans to make sure the final bill is exactly as they want it. As White House advisor Dan Bartlett put it to the New York Times, “the dispute with the Senate Republicans ‘may require us to go our different ways for now and try to come back in conference.’”

All of which makes it very clear: the Bush Administration plans to continue spying on Americans without FISA warrants, and plans to continue to secretly hold and torture unspecified numbers of detainees. And it further seems to indicate that the White House wants to make sure that if the either branch of Congress switches from rubberstamp Republican to possibly inquisitive Democratic, the eavesdroppers and torturers will not have to fear investigative hearings or legal action. The urgency, to my mind, even indicates a degree of anxiety about just such a possibility.

The official Republican line on this flurry of Congressional activity is that it will paint the Democrats into a corner, forcing them to take politically difficult positions in the run-up to the November midterms. To which I say: what’s politically difficult?

A clear majority of Americans believe we benefit from adhering to the Geneva Conventions. So does all the top brass in our military. If torturing “terrorists” were a political winner, would this fear-mongering White House have kept it a secret all these years? Would Bush still refuse to discuss his “alternate methods” of interrogation if those methods were popular with voters? Being anti-torture is easy—defending torture is politically difficult.

In several polls taken since the illegal NSA domestic spying program was uncovered, anywhere from half to slightly more than half of those asked flatly disapprove of the program, believe the president broke the law, and/or believe that all eavesdropping should require a warrant. That’s half of all Americans, not just Democrats.

Making it clear that we can now, and always will in the future, have the ability to listen in on a phone call from Osama bin Laden (the example oft-repeated by administration apologists) under current law seems easy. Making it clear that FISA doesn’t and wouldn’t stand in the way of keeping tabs on terrorists, again, should be easy. Defending that a president should be able to spy on anybody, anytime, without any form of warrant or oversight—that is hard.

If we are to believe the Times, Democrats will remain quiet because they don’t want to be seen as “obstructionist” during a political season. To me, standing against torture is exactly the kind of obstructionist you would want to be. To me, standing up for individual rights is exactly the principled stand you’d want to make in a political season. Standing for the safety of American troops—easy. Standing against an imperial presidency—and an imperial president who continues to say “trust me” when polls show nobody does—a political gift. Exposing that the White House will even subvert the will of a Republican Congress if it doesn’t like the language of bill by working behind the scenes in conference—what other reason do you need to obstruct this Potemkin legislature?

Indeed, what better way to hit the ground running this campaign season than to filibuster the rubberstamp Republicans as they try to sneak through pro-torture and anti-privacy legislation? In fact, what other choice do you have as a Democrat—politically and morally?

Make the Republicans stand with their unpopular president; make them stand for spying and for torture.

It’s a no-brainer.

(cross-posted over at Daily Kos)


Post a Comment

<< Home