From Glenn Greenwald's Excellent blog
"These two coddled authoritarian cultists are giggling about people who have been put into cages for the last five years on an island..."
Date: 9/29/2006 9:59:06 AM ( 17 y ) ... viewed 2794 times
Friday, September 29, 2006
Mark Steyn and Hugh Hewitt reveal the true impulses underlying yesterday's vote
At this point, the true depravity of Bush followers should surprise nobody. But still, there is somthing peculiarliy revealing and revolting about this disgusting, giggly little chat Mark Steyn and Hugh Hewitt. Their topic? The "very enjoyable day trip to Gitmo" which Styen took What is there to say about things like this:
HH: Well, the alleged enemy combatants lost their habeus corpus rights today, thanks to the steely indifference to liberty, as the Democrats would put it, of the Republican majority in the Senate. Do they appear put upon to you, Mark Steyn?
MS: No, they don't. It's interesting to me. They were being treated very lavishly . . .
HH: Mark Steyn, did you get a chance to talk to any of the interrogators at Gitmo?
MS: Yes, I did, actually. (laughing) I spoke briefly to a rather lovely female interrogator. As you know, Muslim young men often have complicated attitudes to women. And they...and she, in fact, found that although Saudi males were incredibly hostile to her the first couple of times she interrogates them, that they've been deprived of female company for so long, that actually, they warm up to her by about the third or fourth meeting.
So I found the interrogation, I think...I had the opportunity to kind of eavesdrop on a couple of interrogations, which are certainly surreal, if you're used to this sort of anti-American propaganda, where the guys are in dungeons and chains, chained to these little, wooden chairs under the bare light bulb, or some guys beating the information out of them. In fact, they're interrogated in a La-Z-Boy recliner, which is this oddly surreal point. It's a very unusual set up down there.
The whole thing is worth reading just to really savor what so many Bush followers really are. At the end, Styen cracks some really clever jokes about how fattened up the detainees are and how they'll have to lose weight when they want to go back to waging jihad (the "big, bloated, chubby Afghans").
These two coddled authoritarian cultists are giggling about people who have been put into cages for the last five years on an island, away from their lives and their families, with little hope of ever being released. Many of them have attempted suicide. Actual terrorists ought to be detained and sentenced to life in prison or, reasonable people can believe, executed, provided they are found guilty in a fair proceeding. But large numbers of these detainees have been imprisoned witout ever being charged with, let alone convicted of anything, ay crime. And many of those we have detained in Guantanamo have been guilty of absolutely nothing.
To sit around chortling about how great these detainees have it and how grateful they should be requires a sociopathic derangement that is nothing short of grotesque. And to believe that people on a one-day controlled visit get an accurate or complete picture of what goes on there reuqires a blind faith in the Government so absolute that it is explains most of what one needs to know about the authortarian Bush movement. On the day our country legalized tortured techniques and vested the definitively un-American power of indefinite detention in the President, Hugh Hewitt and Mark Steyn take off their masks and reveal the hideous and frivolous face of the Bush follower.
posted by Glenn Greenwald | 11:41 AM Comments | Trackback links to this post
A pathological need to break the law
When the Bush administration accused The New York Times of gravely damaging national security by revealing the administration's surveillance of SWIFT banking transactions, that accusation made less sense than even most of the administration's other claims of that sort. After all, it has long been known and publicly discussed that the administration was specifically monitoring SWIFT transactions in order to find the terrorists' money trails (what was not known, and what the NYT significantly revealed, is that the surveillance was being undertaken without any judicial or Congressional oversight).
As today's Washington Post reminds us: "When newspapers first reported the program's existence in June, President Bush called the disclosure 'disgraceful.'" But today, the real reason for the Bush administration's desire to conceal these activities was revealed -- it's because American access to these records is illegal under European law. From the same Post article:
A secret U.S. program to monitor millions of international financial transactions for terrorist links violated Belgian and European law and will have to be changed, the Belgian government said Thursday. . .
The decision, announced by Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt, came as the country's Data Privacy Commission released a 20-page report finding that the Belgium-based Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, had improperly turned over data from millions of global financial transactions to U.S. anti-terrorism investigators.
As is always the case, nobody is trying to prevent genuine anti-terrorism measures. Instead, responsible people who believe in the rule of law are simply insisting that those actions comply with the law. As the Post reports: "[Prime Minister] Verhofstadt called the anti-terrorist monitoring 'an absolute necessity' and said U.S. and European negotiators should find a way to bring it into compliance with European law." Put another way, the choice is not (as Bush followers deceitfully claim) between preventing terrorism versus refraining from surveillance. The actual choice is between combating terrorism within the law versus doing so illegally.
Just as significantly, the reason that it is illegal to allow the U.S. Government access to this information is because it fails sufficiently to safeguard privacy rights. As the NYT article reports:
Under European law, companies are forbidden from transferring confidential personal data to another country unless that country offers adequate protections. The European Union does not consider the United States to be a country that offers sufficient legal protection of individual data.
The access which the U.S. demanded was insufficiently selective -- in fact, it appeared to subject virtually all transactions to scrutiny -- and thus did nothing to safeguard the privacy interests of people who have done nothing wrong. For instance: "Such guarantees should have included stronger safeguards that the information was being used only for terrorism investigations, Belgian officials said." Instead: "While Swift did not provide a precise number for the financial transactions that it turned over to American officials, the Belgian investigation said that 2.5 billion records last year alone 'could have been the subject of subpoenas.'"
The U.S, since at least the end of World War II, has issued lists, which people actually took seriously, of countries whose governments provide insufficient liberties and which have inadequate human rights records. Now, we're the ones on those lists issued by other countries, and, as Billmon recently said, the Bush administration has "forfeit(ed) forever its ability to chastise the human rights abuses of others without triggering a global laughing fit." Now that we have vested in the President the power to abduct people and imprison them forever without charges, shouldn't we cease issuing reports which purport to criticize other governments for failing to afford sufficient due process to those accused of crimes?
In virtually every case where the Bush administrations and its followers call for the imprisonment of journalists for reporting on the secret behavior of the administration -- and the SWIFT report prompted some of the most virulent such attacks -- they never identify any actual harm to national security from the reports, because there is none. What they are truly upset about in each case is that their secret lawbreaking was exposed and that they sustained political damage as a result.
And this story reveals, yet again, an almost pathological inability on the part of the Bush administration to operate within the law, even when doing so would not, in any way, impede their stated objectives. What actually seems to be the case is that even when there is no benefit to doing so, they nonetheless choose to operate outside of the law -- they actually prefer that -- because they both resent and reject the notion that something as petty and annoying as the law can limit their power and the Important Work they have to do.
posted by Glenn Greenwald | 10:26 AM Comments (9) | Trackback links to this post
Beltway Democrats are seriously flawed, but the election is still critically important
Now that the torture and detention bill will become law, it is necessary to focus on the political implications of what happened yesterday and, more broadly, what has been done to our country by the Bush administration and the blindly loyal Congress for the last five years. It goes without saying that the conduct of Democrats generally (meaning their collective behavior) was far, far short of anything noble, courageous or principled. And one could, if one were so inclined, spend every day from now until November 7 criticizing the strategic mistakes and lack of principle of Beltway Democrats and still not exhaust the list.
But that's all besides the point at the moment, because -- right now -- everyone has to answer for themselves these questions: (1) do you believe that the incalculable damage imposed on this country by the Bush administration and its followers (including in Congress) can be impeded and then reversed and, if so, (2) how can that be accomplished? For those who have given up and believe the answer to question (1) is "no," then, by definition, there is nothing to discuss. You' ve decided that there is no hope, that you're done fighting and trying to defend any of your beliefs and principles, and you're ready to cede the country to those who are in the process of destroying it.
But for those who believe that the answer to question (1) is "yes" (and I believe that emphatically), then the answer to question (2) seems self-evidently clear. The most important and overriding mandate is to end the one-party rule to which our country has been subjected for the last four years. Achieving that is necessary -- it is an absolute pre-requisite -- to begin to impose some actual limits on the authoritarian behavior and unchecked powers of this administration -- because, right now, there are no such limits.
And, independently, killing off unchallenged Republican rule is the only possible way to invade the wall of secrecy behind which this administration has operated and to find out what our government has actually been doing for the last five years. Shining light on the shadows and dark crevices in which they have been operating is vitally important for repairing the damage that has been done. If nothing else, a Chairman Conyers or a Chairman Leahy, armed with subpoena powers, will accomplish that.
There is no point in trying to glorify the conduct of Democrats. I think the larger-than-expected Senate Democratic opposition to the torture/detention bill is illusory, almost a by-product of sheer luck more than anything else. The large number of votes against the bill seems to have been driven more by Democrats' objections to the significant changes made to the bill in the last several days (ones made even after the Glorious Compromise was announced) than objections to the core provisions of the bill themselves -- and even then, the Democrats' anger was more about the fact that they were excluded from the negotiating process rather than anger towards the substance of the changes themselves.
It seems that this is what accounts for the fact that most of the Democrats did not even unveil their opposition to this bill until the very last day. Many of them were likely prepared to vote for the "compromise" and only decided not to due to the substantive worsening of the bill in the last few days. After all, if they are so gravely offended by the core provisions of torture and indefinite detention, why did Harry Reid, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, etc. all refuse even to say how they were going to vote on this bill until yesterday (I suspect many of their votes against the bill were sealed only once the habeas corpus amendment failed yesterday). And until yesterday, most prominent Democrats made themselves invisible in the debate over torture and detention powers. All of those criticisms are accurate and fair enough.
But a desire to see the Democrats take over Congress -- even a strong desire for that outcome and willingness to work for it -- does not have to be, and at least for me is not, driven by a belief that Washington Democrats are commendable or praiseworthy and deserve to be put into power. Instead, a Democratic victory is an instrument -- an indispensable weapon -- in battling the growing excesses and profound abuses and indescribably destructive behavior of the Bush administration and their increasingly authoritarian followers. A Democratic victory does not have to be seen as being anything more than that in order to realize how critically important it is.
A desire for a Democratic victory is, at least for me, about the fact that this country simply cannot endure two more years of a Bush administration which is free to operate with even fewer constraints than before, including the fact that George Bush and Dick Cheney will never face even another midterm election ever again. They will be free to run wild for the next two years with a Congress that is so submissive and blindly loyal that it is genuinely creepy to behold. A desire for a Democratic victory is also about the need to have the systematic lawbreaking and outright criminality in which Bush officials have repatedly engaged have actual consequences, something that simply will not happen if Republicans continue their stranglehold on all facets of the Government for the next two years.
If a desire to put Democrats in office doesn't inspire you into action - and, honestly, at this point, how could it? -- a desire to block Republicans from exercising more untrammeled power, and to find ways to hold them accountable, ought to do so. Disgust and even hatred are difficult emotions to avoid when reading things like this:
Republicans, especially in the House, plan to use the military commission and wiretapping legislation as a one-two punch against Democrats this fall. The legislative action prompted extraordinarily blunt language from House GOP leaders, foreshadowing a major theme for the campaign.
Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) issued a written statement on Wednesday declaring [emphasis in original]: "Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of MORE rights for terrorists."
GOP leaders continued such attacks after the wiretapping vote. "For the second time in just two days, House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists," Hastert said last night, while Boehner lashed out at what he called "the Democrats' irrational opposition to strong national security policies."
My personal list of disagreements with most Democrats on a variety of issues is quite long. But the need to restore the rule of law to our country and to put an immediate end to the unlimited reign of the increasingly sociopathic Bush movement is of unparalleled and urgent importance, and it so vastly outweighs ever other consideration that little else is worth even discussing until those objectives are accomplished.
We are a country ruled by a President who has seized the power to break the law in multiple ways while virtually nothing is done about it. Yesterday, we formally vested the power in the President to abduct people and put them in prisons for life without so much as charging them with any crime and by expressly proclaiming that they have no right to access any court or tribunal to prove their innocence. We have started one war against a country that did not attack us and, in doing so, created havoc and danger -- both to ourselves and the world -- that is truly difficult to quantify. And we are almost certainly going to start one more war just like it (at least), that is far more dangerous still, if the President's Congressional servants maintain their control.
For all their imperfections, cowardly acts, strategically stupid decisions, and inexcusable acquiescence -- and that list is depressingly long -- it is still the case that Democrats voted overwhelmingly against this torture and detention atrocity. The vote total on yesterday's House vote on Heather Wilson's bill to legalize warrantless eavesdropping reflects the same dynamic: "On the final wiretapping vote, 18 Democrats joined 214 Republicans to win passage. Thirteen Republicans, 177 Democrats and one independent voted nay." And, if nothing else, Democrats are resentful and angry at how they have been treated and that alone will fuel some serious and much-needed retribution if they gain control over one or both houses.
By reprehensible contrast, the Republican Party is one that marches in virtually absolute lockstep in support of the President's wishes, particularly in the areas of terrorism and national security. It was a truly nauseating spectacle to watch each and every one of them (other than Chafee) not only vest these extraordinary powers in the President by voting in unison for this bill, but beyond that, blindly oppose every single amendment offered by Democrats -- including ones designed to do nothing other than ensure some minimal Congressional oversight over these extraordinary new presidential powers. It was like watching mindless zombies obediently marching wherever they were told to march. That has been how our country has been ruled for the last five years and, unless there is a Democratic victory, we will have more of that, and worse, over the next two years.
There is one other consideration which, by itself, ought to be determinative. The only branch of government that has shown any residual willingness to defend the Constitution and the rule of law is the judicial branch. But critical Supreme Court decisions such as Hamdan -- which at least affirmed the most minimal and basic constitutional protections -- depend upon the most precarious 5-4 split among the Justices. One of the five pro-Constitution Justices, John Paul Stevens, is 86 years old. If George Bush has free reign to replace Stevens, it will mean that the Supreme Court will be composed of a very young five-Justice majority of absolute worshippers of Executive Power -- Thomas, Scalia, Roberts, Alito and New Justice -- which will control the Court and endorse unlimited executive abuses for decades to come.
In a GOP-controlled Senate, Democrats cannot stop a Supreme Court nominee by filibuster anymore because Republicans will break the rules by declaring the filibuster invalid. The only hope for stopping a full-fledged takeover of the Supreme Court is a Democratic-controlled Senate.
Continued unchallenged Republican control of our government for two more years will wreak untold damage on our country, perhaps debilitating it past the point of no return. There is only one viable, realistic alternative to that scenario: a Democratic takeover in six weeks of one or both houses of Congress. Even that would be far from a magic bullet; the limits imposed by Democrats even when they are in the majority would be incremental and painfully modest. But the reality is that this is the only way available for there to be any limits and checks at all.
In the real world, one has to either choose between two more years of uncontrolled Republican rule, or imposing some balance -- even just logjam -- on our Government with a Democratic victory. Or one can decide that it just doesn't matter either way because one has given up on defending the principles and values of our country. But, for better or worse, those are the only real options available, and wishing there were other options doesn't mean that there are any. And there are only six weeks left to choose the option you think is best and to do what you can to bring it to fruition.
UPDATE: Please see this comment for some clarification about what I mean here and what I do not mean.
And I think there is one other point that needs to be recognized about yesterday's vote: In 2002, all of the Democratic Presidential hopefuls in Congress (Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt, Graham) voted for the Iraq war resolution, because they thought they had to be accommodationist in order to have a chance to win.
But this time, all of the Democratic Presidential hopefuls in Congress (Biden, Clinton, Feingold, Kerry) voted against this bill, because now they know that they can't be accommodationist if they want to win the nomination. Call that the Joe Lieberman Lesson. That is genuine progress, no matter how you slice it. Is it glorious, tearing-down-the-gate-with-fists-in-the-air Immediate Revolution? No. But it's undeniable incremental progress nonetheless.
posted by Glenn Greenwald | 6:23 AM Comments (85) | Trackback links to this post
Thursday, September 28, 2006
George Bush's vast new powers of detention and interrogation
Final passage of the torture/detention bill was 65-34. Without necessarily planning in advance to do so, I live-blogged the Senate proceedings here (if you're going to subject yourself to something as unpleasant as watching U.S. Senators "debate" a bill to give the U.S. President the powers of torture and indefinite detention, it's much healthier to have an outlet when doing so).
Twelve Democrats voted in favor, 1 Republican and 1 independent voted against (there may be one or two errors because I compiled the list while listening to the vote):
Democrats in favor (12) - Carper (Del.), Johnson (S.D.), Landrieu (La.), Lautenberg (N.J.), Lieberman (Conn.), Menendez (N.J), Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.), Pryor (Ark.), Rockefeller (W. Va.), Salazar (Co.), Stabenow (Mich.).
Republicans against (1) - Chafee (R.I.).
Jeffords (I) voted against.
I will have much more later, but a couple notes for now:
Jay Rockefeller (who voted for this bill) is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. When he was defending the amendment he introduced to compel the CIA to disclose to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees information about their interrogation activities, he complained that the White House has concealed all information about the interrogation program and that the Intelligence Committee members (including him) therefore know nothing about it. His amendment to compel reports to Congress was defeated with all Republicans (except Chafee) voting against it. He proceeded to vote for the underlying bill anyway, thereby legalizing a program he admits he knows nothing about (and will continue to know nothing about).
During the debate on his amendment, Arlen Specter said that the bill sends us back 900 years because it denies habeas corpus rights and allows the President to detain people indefinitely. He also said the bill violates core Constitutional protections. Then he voted for it.
It's good to see that many Senate Democrats (32 out of 44) voted against this bill, but it's too little, too late. Many of them announced only for the first time today that they are opposing the bill (though, to be fair, many Democrats attributed their opposition to the recent changes made to the bill over the last few days, ones which were made even after the oh-so-noble McCain-Graham-Warner-White House "compromise" was announced).
But it is still difficult to understand the Democrats' strategy here. They failed to try to mount a filibuster because they feared being attacked as coddlers of the terrorists. But now they voted against the bill in large numbers, thereby ensuring those exact accusations will be made anyway -- and made loudly (the White House already started today). Yet they absented themselves the whole time from the debate (until they magically appeared today), spent the last several weeks only tepidly (at most) opposing the President's position, and thus lost the opportunity to defend and advocate the position they took today in any meaningful way. As a result, the Democrats took a position today (opposition to this bill) which they have not really defended until today.
They make this same mistake over and over. Isn't this exactly what happened when they sort-of-supported-but-sort-of-opposed the Iraq war resolution in 2002 because they were afraid of being depicted as soft on terrorism, only to then be successfully depicted as soft on terrorism because they were too afraid to forcefully defend their position? It's true that fewer Democrats voted for the President's policy this time around, but it's equally true that they found their voice only on the last day of the debate -- on the day of the vote -- after disappearing for weeks while they let John McCain "debate" for them.
Nonetheless, it is fair to say, given how lopsided this vote was (both in the House and the Senate), that the Republicans are the party of torture, indefinite and unreviewable detention powers, and limitless presidential power, even over U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. By contrast, Democrats have opposed these tyrannical, un-American and truly dangerous measures. Even if Democrats didn't oppose them as vociferously as they could have and should have, this is still a meaningful and, at this point, critically important contrast.
posted by Glenn Greenwald | 8:13 PM Comments (311) | Trackbacks (14) links to this post
Judge Taylor defies the Leader again
As Congress prepares to enact one of the most tyrannical and un-American laws in our nation's history, at least there is a Federal Judge who recognizes that we are not supposed to live under executive tyranny and that the obsequious submission to the President which characterizes Congressional Republicans is a destructive and repugnant trait.
Judge Anna Diggs Taylor today refused the Bush administration's request to issue a "stay" of her Order in the ACLU v. NSA case. When Judge Taylor ruled previously that the President's warrantless eavesdropping violated both the criminal law and the U.S. Constitution, she issued an Order enjoining the Bush administration from continuing its warrantless eavesdropping program.
The parties agreed to "stay" that Order until Judge Taylor could rule on the administration's request that the Order be stayed until the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rules on its appeal. Today, Judge Taylor refused the administration's request and instead gave them only seven days to comply with her Order. According to this Detroit Free Press article, this is part of what happened:
[Justice Department lawyer Paul] Coppolino and Taylor traded gentle barbs during Thursday's 30-minute court hearing. "Your injunction, as far as we can see, was the first time in history that foreign intelligence has been enjoined at a time of war," Coppolino told Taylor.
In rejecting his request for a stay pending the outcome of the appeal, Taylor remarked that the government had failed to cite any steps it had taken to comply with her order.
As is the case virtually every time the legality of its conduct is challenged, the Bush administration has displayed nothing but contempt for the court in this case as well as for the very idea that their behavior can be or should be subject to the rule of law (which happens to be exactly why Congress today is going to give them the power to put people into black holes for the rest of their lives without being bothered by any review from any court or tribunal; the President knows best and must not have his decrees regarding Guilt and Permanent Imprisonment -- or eavesdropping -- reviewed by any court).
The Bush administration can and unquestionably will ask the Sixth Circuit to stay Judge Taylor's order pending appeal. I would be surprised if the Sixth Circuit refuses to do so. Nonetheless, on a day when one watches one obsequious, craven, authoritarian presidential worshipper after the next crawl onto the Senate floor and make some of the most wretched statements one can imagine, in defense of one of the most wretched bills imaginable, reading about someone who is willing to stand up to the administration and enforce the most fundamental principles of our government is extremely refreshing.
The contrast between the independent-minded and patriotic Judge Taylor and the mewling, mindlessly obedient Congressional Republicans could not be clearer.
UPDATE: The GOP is apparently forcing a floor vote in the House on Heather Wilson's FISA bill, which legalizes warrantless eavesdropping. They are not going to be able to get a FISA bill enacted prior to adjournment (because there is no time to get a bill passed in the Senate and then reconciled), but they want to force Democrats to vote against warrantless eavesdropping in order to exploit that vote politically. These comments and links in the comment section explain these developments.
UPDATE II: The final votes on the amendments to the torture/detention bill and the underlying bill itself are underway (see UPDATE VI in the post below).
posted by Glenn Greenwald | 2:31 PM Comments (93) | Trackbacks (2) links to this post
The legalization of torture and permanent detention
(updated below - updated repeatedly - including final vote in progress (see Update VI below) -- updated below with final vote tally (see UPDATE IX below))
There is some ambivalence in writing about the torture and detention bill because it seems to be a ship that has already sailed (the only real significant unanswered question is how many Senate Democrats will vote in favor of this atrocity). And, on a very real level, it is actually difficult to ingest the reality of what is taking place. There are nonetheless a couple of points which need to be urgently emphasized.
Opponents of this bill have focused most of their attention -- understandably and appropriately -- on the way in which it authorizes the use of interrogation techniques which, as this excellent NYT Editorial put it, "normal people consider torture," along with the power it vests in the President to detain indefinitely, and with no need to bring charges, all foreign nationals and even legal resident aliens within the U.S. But as Law Professors Marty Lederman and Bruce Ackerman each point out, many of the extraordinary powers vested in the President by this bill also apply to U.S. citizens, on U.S. soil.
As Ackerman put it: "The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights." Similarly, Lederman explains: "this [subsection (ii) of the definition of 'unlawful enemy combatant'] means that if the Pentagon says you're an unlawful enemy combatant -- using whatever criteria they wish -- then as far as Congress, and U.S. law, is concerned, you are one, whether or not you have had any connection to 'hostilities' at all."
This last point means that even if there were a habeas corpus right inserted back into the legislation (which is unlikely at this point anyway), it wouldn't matter much, if at all, because the law would authorize your detention simply based on the DoD's decree that you are an enemy combatant, regardless of whether it was accurate. This is basically the legalization of the Jose Padilla treatment -- empowering the President to throw people into black holes with little or no recourse, based solely on his say-so.
There really is no other way to put it. Issues of torture to the side (a grotesque qualification, I know), we are legalizing tyranny in the United States. Period. Primary responsibility for this fact lies with the authoritarian Bush administration and its sickeningly submissive loyalists in Congress. That is true enough. But there is no point in trying to obscure the fact that it's happening with the cowardly collusion of the Senate Democratic leadership, which quite likely could have stopped this travesty via filibuster if it chose to (it certainly could have tried).
I fully understand, but ultimately disagree with, the viewpoint, well-argued by Hunter and others, that this bill constitutes merely another step on a path we've long been on, rather than a fundamental and wholly new level of tyranny. Or, as Hunter put it: "So this is a merely another slide down the Devil's gullet, not a hard swallow." But even with the extreme range of abuses the Bush presidency has brought, this is undeniably something different, and worse, by magnitude, not merely by degree.
There is a profound and fundamental difference between an Executive engaging in shadowy acts of lawlessness and abuses of power on the one hand, and, on the other, having the American people, through their Congress, endorse, embrace and legalize that behavior out in the open, with barely a peep of real protest. Our laws reflect our values and beliefs. And our laws are about to explicitly codify one of the most dangerous and defining powers of tyranny -- one of the very powers this country was founded in order to prevent.
One could cite an infinite number of sources to demonstrate what a profound betrayal this bill is of the fundamental promises of the American system of government. As Justice Jackson wrote in his concurring opinion in Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 533 (1953):
Executive imprisonment has been considered oppressive and lawless since John, at Runnymede, pledged that no free man should be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled save by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. The judges of England developed the writ of habeas corpus largely to preserve these immunities from executive restraint.
Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to Thomas Paine, 1789. ME 7:408, Papers 15:269, said: "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." And Patrick Henry warned us well in advance about Government officials who would seek to claim the right to imprison people without a trial:
Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings--give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else! ...Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.
In one sense, these observations are compelling because they define the core of what our country is supposed to be. But in another sense, they don't matter, because our Government is controlled by people and their followers who literally don't understand and, worse, simply do not believe in the defining values and principles of America. They know that this bill is a seizure of the most un-American powers imaginable, but their allegiance is to the acquisition of unlimited power and nothing else.
It was taken as an article of faith by Beltway Democrats that Americans want to relinquish these protections and radically change our system of government in the name of terrorism, so no political figures of national significance really tried to convince them they ought not to. We'll never really know whether Americans really wanted to do this or not because the debate was never engaged. It was ceded.
And as a result, we are now about to vest in the President the power to order anyone -- U.S. citizen, resident alien or foreign national -- detained indefinitely in a military prison regardless of where they are -- U.S. soil or outside of the country. American detainees are cut off from any meaningful judicial review and everyone else is cut off completely. They can be subject to torture with no recourse, and all of this happens on the unchecked say-so of the administration. Really, what could be more significant than this?
UPDATE: Via Atrios, several noteworthy items: (i) One of the country's most stalwart defenders of our constitutional values, Sen. Russ Feingold, announces on the Senate floor his opposition to the torture/detention bill for all of the right reasons; (ii) Sen. Chris Dodd's prepared remarks announcing his opposition to the bill are here; and (iii) The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin unsurprisingly recognizes the significance of this debate: "Today's Senate vote on President Bush's detainee legislation . . . marks a defining moment for this nation."
Additionally, John Kerry and Tom Harkin will also vote against the bill. The Senate "debate" can be watched on C-SPAN here. Sen. Rockefeller is speaking now.
UPDATE II: The Specter amendment to provide the right of habeas corpus (in essence, judicial review) to detainees failed by a vote of 48-51, which means detainees will be completely prohibited from challenging the validity of their detention before any tribunal of any kind.
Whenever one watches one of these Senate debates, it becomes so viscerally clear just how dishonest and reprehensible so many of these Senators are. I just watched Sen. Kit Bond say that the President was absolutely right to invade Iraq because it was -- and I'm quoting -- "a hotbed of terrorism." He also said that Democrats were to blame for the lack of intelligence oversight because they insisted on such a frivolous investigation into how and why we went to war based on completely false pretenses.
After that, Sen. Pete Dominici spat out one banal, m*o*o*nic slogan after the next, and said that we can't possibly allow detainees to access our courts because it would "clog the courts" -- a completely idiotic assertion given the number of petitions there would be as compared to the overall caseload. It is better to allow the President to imprison people for life with no hope of ever proving one's innocence because to allow them to go to court would create lots of administrative burdens. The blind loyalty to the President of Republicans in Congress is limitless -- there is no presidential power they would meaningfully oppose. People who genuinely favor this bill are craven, hollow and un-American followers.
UPDATE III: The roll call vote on the Specter amendment is here (h/t the EJ Wire). Four Republicans voted in favor (Specter, Smith, Sununu, and Chafee). Only one Democrat opposed it (Nelson). Jeffords voted in favor and Snowe didn't vote. At least Democrats opposed a denial of habeas corpus in unison. That's something, at least.
UPDATE IV: Robert Byrd is speaking now in favor of his amendment (co-sponsored with Sen. Obama, which is going to fail, just like all the amendments have and will) to have the military commission provisions in the bill elapse in five years unless they are renewed. To do so, Byrd is trying to explain to Republican Senators that it is theoretically possible that George Bush might turn out to be wrong about the wisdom of this bill since, after all, even Adam and Eve did things that were wrong, so maybe George Bush might once be wrong, too.
That might be a compelling argument on its face, but I think the tactic least likely to persuade Senate Republicans of anything is to get them to believe that, at least when it comes to terrorism, Geroge Bush might be wrong. If you watch any of these Republican Senators speak, it quickly becomes apparent that that simply is a possibility they do not recognize.
UPDATE V: The quality of the "debate" on the Senate floor is so shockingly (though appropriately) low and devoid of substance that it is hard to watch. Sen. Warner was designated to be the opponent of the Byrd/Obama amendment to have some provisions of the bill sunset in five years, but Warner literally had no idea why he was against the amendment. The Republicans have already decided to reject every single Democratic amendment and that's all Warner knew.
So when Byrd and then Obama asked him why he opposed it, he began babbling about how the amendment would somehow send the signal to other countries that we're not serious in our commitment to the Geneva Conventions -- a claim which makes no sense on multiple levels, not the least of which is that, as Byrd pointed out, the 5-year amendment has nothing to do with Geneva Conventions compliance, only with military commissions.
Ten minutes later, some aide handed Warner a statement which he read with a whole new reason to oppose the amendment -- because it would send the "wrong signal" to The Terrorists that as long as they avoid getting caught for five years, then they won't be held accountable, and we must not show weakness in this war. That is so incoherent that it's not even remotely worth addressing. The arguments being advanced in support of this bill, and the people advancing them, are not just craven and un-Americans but also just plain dumb. Listening to the "debate" is like listening to nails against a chalkboard. The whole process is so broken and corrupt, but what other type of process could produce a bill like this?
UPDATE VI: The final votes on the various amendments (Rockefeller, Kennedy and Byrd) are underway. They are currently voting on the first amendment, from Sen. Rockefeller, requiring the CIA to provide intelligence committees of the basic information regarding the CIA's interrogation program. All three amendments are going to fail. Then they will pass the bill itself. The Rockefeller vote is complete and failed, 46-53. Every Democrat has voted for it, while every Republican (except Chafee) has voted against it. That is likely to repeat itself on the other two amendments.
At this point, my guess is that between 33-38 Democrats will oppose the bill itself, along with Chafee and Jeffords. That's more than I thought a week ago, but that is just a guess. I will post more once the votes are complete. Passage of the bill itself is assured.
The Byrd/Obama amendment to have the military commission provisions elapse after 5 years (unless renewed) was just rejected 47-52 (it received one more vote than the Rockefeller amendment, though I'm not sure which other Republican besides Chafee voted in favor of it). All Democrats voted in favor of it. They are now voting on the Kennedy amendment, and will then vote on the bill itself.
The Kennedy amendment was just defeated 46-53 (Chafee voted for, while Ben Nelson voted against it). The next vote is on the underlying bill.
UPDATE VII: McCain is giving the closing argument for Republicans and Pat Leahy is doing so for Democrats. Numerous Senators (including, irritatingly, Carl Levin) all stood up to ooze reverent praise for John McCain, and then McCain himself proceeded to do the same thing, as he pompously strutted around pointing out all of the great protections he won for us in his hard-nosed negotiations with the President. His hard-nosed negotiations with the White House are about as effective as Arlen Specter's.
Sen. Leahy gave a superb closing speech, lamenting that the days when Congress imposes a meaningful check on the Presidency "are long past," and pointing out that the way our Government is operating contravenes all of the political values he was taught growing up. He was properly and genuinely angry as he described the simply astonishing fact that President Bush now has the power to abduct people from around the world and consign them to life in prison and torture them with no opportunity of any kind to prove one's innocence.
The vote is next.
UPDATE VIII: Actually, Harry Reid is speaking now, announcing his vote against the bill. This is part of what he is saying:
Second, this bill authorizes a vast expansion of the President’s power to detain people – even U.S. citizens – indefinitely and without charge. No procedures for doing so are specified, no due process is provided, and no time limit on the detention is set. . . .
History will judge our actions here today. I am convinced that future generations will view passage of this bill as a grave error. I wish to be recorded as one who voted against taking this step.
It's good to see that Senate Democrats (with what appear to be 4 or 5 exceptions) are voting against this bill, but it's too little, too late. Many of them announced only for the first time today that they are opposing the bill (though many blame the recent changes over the last few days, which were made even after the noble McCain-Graham-Warner-White House "compromise" was announced).
But it is still difficult to understand the Democrats' strategy here. They failed to try to mount a filibuster because they feared being attacked as coddlers of the terrorists. But now they are going to vote against the bill, thereby ensuring those exact accusations will be made, and loudly (the White House already started today). Yet at the same time, they absented themselves the whole time from the debate (until they magically appeared today) and thus lost the opportunity to defend their position. They make this same mistake over and over.
UPDATE IX: Final passage of the bill was 65-34. 12 Democrats voted in favor, 1 Republican and 1 independent voted against (there may be one or two errors because I compiled the list while listening to the vote):
Democrats in favor (12) - Carper (Del.), Johnson (S.D.), Landrieu (La.), Lautenberg (N.J.), Lieberman (Conn.), Menendez (N.J), Pryor (Ark.), Rockefeller (W. Va.), Salazar (Co.), Stabenow (Mich.), Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.)
Republicans against (1) - Chafee (R.I.).
Jeffords voted against.
I will have much more later, but a couple notes for now -- Jay Rockefeller (who voted for this bill) is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. When he was defending the amendment he introduced to compel the CIA to disclose to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees information about their interrogation activities, he complained that the White House has concealed all information about the program and that the Intellegence Committee members (including him) know nothing about this interrogation program. His amendment was defeated with all Republicans (except Chafee) voting against it. He then proceeded to vote for the underlying bill anyway.
During the debate on his amendment, Arlen Specter said that the bill sends us back 900 years because it denies habeas corpus protections. Then he voted for it.
Glenn Greenwald's blog can be accessed at http://glenngreenwald.blogspot.com/
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