When news of a detainee “compromise bill” started rumbling off of Capitol Hill, I was a bit suspicious that none of the media coverage contained even the slightest bit of detail about how the new legislation would deal with the major problems inherent in our current system of torturing them until they give us what we want. As the days have unfolded, I’ve read the daily paper anxious for more information, and been both surprised and alarmed that there wasn’t any. So when the U.S. House of Representatives approved the legislation yesterday, I was intrinsicly hopeful that perhaps they had details that sufficiently put to rest fears that we’d continue crapping all over the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, and any other half-moral set of guidelines that dictate we as a nation shouldn’t be torturing people. Well, it turns out that that’s not quite the case — most lawmakers haven’t the foggiest clue which interrogation methods are currently used in our War on Terror, and none of them know what practices will be allowed or disallowed by the new legislation. (And yes, this includes John McCain, who apparently doesn’t actually give a crap about prisoners’ rights or standing up for what’s just.) As always, Dahlia Lithwick masterfully puts it into words, this time skipping the humor and going straight for deserved damnation.
For the five years since 9/11, we have been in the dark in this country. This president has held detainees in secret prisons and had them secretly tortured using secret legal justifications. Those held in secret at Guantanamo Bay include innocent men, as do those who have been secretly shipped off to foreign countries and brutally tortured there. That was a shame on this president. But passage of the new detainee legislation will be a different sort of watershed. Now we are affirmatively asking to be left in the dark. Instead of torture we were unaware of, we are sanctioning torture we’ll never hear about. Instead of detainees we didn’t care about, we are authorizing detentions we’ll never know about. Instead of being misled by the president, we will be blind and powerless by our own choice. And that is a shame on us all.
Update: Unsurprisingly, the Senate just voted to kill an amendment which would have guaranteed habeas corpus rights to all non-citizen detainees. (Yep, even good ol’ John McCain voted against it.) Let’s be very clear: this means that those detainees who aren’t U.S. citizens will have absolutely no venue in which to challenge their detention, meaning that there’s almost no way to review this abhorrent bit of the legislation once enacted. (Congress and the President decided to be generous to citizens — we all have been granted the kindness of military tribunals to which we can appeal our detention.) Far from fearmongering, that parenthetical statement is a particularly important bit of info, since the new law also gives the President and military pretty much sole authority over the definition of “enemy combatant”, meaning that it’s not exaggerated to say they can go so far as to declare American citizens on American soil as enemy combatants. As a result, our Congress is a hair’s breadth from ensconsing our Executive branch in virtually unfettered power to detain, interrogate, and permanently imprison anyone they so choose. Truly, completely shameful.