Saturday, December 17, 2005

McCain's Posturing Morality

A fierce flurry of news is swirling around Bush's approval of unwarranted NSA spying on American citizens. But there is small yet significant item presenting itself today, though it will likely be largely ignored in favour of the spy story. The NSA spy story, significant as it is, is not really all that surprising. Almost nothing that hits the headlines regarding anything that Bush is doing or has done can ellicit any surprised reaction anymore. But on to the "other" item of the day.

The mainstream boldly declaring that the White House had "back down" on the McCain amendment carried with it the smell of something rotten. The putative "back down" was nothing of the sort. After the White House had threatened to veto the defense spending bill appended with the McCain amendment, news broke that the Army field manual had been rewritten with new and, more importantly, classified, i.e. secret, interrogation techniques. The McCain amendment explicity cited the Army field manual as the authoritative guide to interrogation techniques. Two days after the rewritten field manual was delivered, suddenly the White House found itself amenable to the McCain measure.

The morality of torture as a practice of US agency has no real meaning for these people, least of all McCain. He now appears to be even more the posturing pol than his support for the Graham-Levin amendment, which stripped detainees of any right to habeas corpus, had previously demonstrated. The McCain measure will have no real impact on the conduct of interrogations since that is now, and has been for sometime, outsourced to various facilities around the globe. With foreign agents performing the "interrogations," McCain's effort presents only the simulacrum of a strong moral stance against abuse. It is nothing of the kind.

Anyone having doubts about such a statement would do well to now take note of the fact that, just yesterday, House and Senate lawmakers passed a measure that would
enable the government to keep prisoners at Guantánamo Bay indefinitely on the basis of evidence obtained by coercive interrogations.
That rotting smell I mentioned earlier intensified significantly with this move, US foreign policy attained a degree of putrifaction that should have American citizens reeling from the stink.

The position of US foreign policy now seems to be something like this:

US government agents will not torture, anymore, and will only use interrogation techniques described in a newly written, secret Army field manual appendix. This carries no real world impact, because the CIA has been kidnapping and shunting people to various foreign soils and having them tortured there. These detainees, who, at times, have turned out to be innocent bystanders, have no recourse, via habeas corpus, to appeal their illegal detention. This was already true in foreign lands but is now also true for detainees at Gitmo. After several months or years and, after possibly having their penises sliced and diced repeatedly, detainees may be released onto a dark road in the middle of Albania with no acknowledgment that any of this had ever happened. That is the story for the ones who are let go.

Despite the fact the America's staunchest ally in Bush's war on terror has just ruled that coerced testimony is impermissable in UK courts, US agents, likely attached to the White House, will now legally use the coerced testimony to justify whatever it is that needs justification at any given time. It matters not that this testimony will quite likely be a lie, said for no other reason than as a desperate bid to, please, please, have the penis slicing come to end. Such lies will probably bolster some preconceived or strongly asserted, though entirely unwarranted position. In this case, it will allow the US government to keep detainees indefinitely locked away based on only the extracted testimony of other detainees, who are also locked away. This is, in effect, a closed-circuit tattle-tale loop, unable to be broken by the application of habeas corpus.

Congress has just approved all of this.

I like cernig's take on the McCain amendment and, I think, he is spot on: the torture amendment is toothless but makes McCain look tough and moral when, in fact, he is nothing of the sort and with it has made his bid for the presidential candidacy in 2008. What better thing to have under your political belt than a "torture ban the White House backed down on"?

But let us ask, how could any truly moral fellow, seeking to ban mistreatment of detainees, also vote to suspend habeas corpus for said same detainees and then vote to approve the use of testimony gained by coercion of those detainees? It is, to put it mildly, a morally inconsistent position. Which is why McCain's is not a moral stance at all. It is a calculating political one. And what it really does, at least for anyone who is paying attention, is to make McCain look like just another posturing hack, unconcerned with the real state of the American experiment.


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