After George Bush’s Rose Garden hissy fit, in which he declared that he would simply stop interrogating suspected terrorists unless he could torture them, John "I Only Flip-Flop On Matters of Deep Principle" McCain and the other so-called "Senate rebels" have capitulated to the unpopular president’s petulant demands.
In the universe of moral perversion in which we now live, White House National Security (sic) Adviser Stephen Hadley called the pro-torture, anti-due process agreement between these deeply cynical power-gamesters "a good day for the American people." Here’s how the Gamester-in-Chief described it (from the NYT):
I’m pleased to say this agreement preserves the most single, the most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks, he said, adding, The agreement clears the way to do what the American people expect us to do — to capture terrorists, to detain terrorists, to question terrorists, and then to try them.
In other words, not until this very day was the American government able to capture, detain, question and try terrorists. I’ll bet you didn’t know that. I’ll bet the men who were captured, detained, questioned, tried and convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing didn’t know that either. Really, that’s what Bush said; the agreement "clears the way" for the government to actually detain and interrogate terrorists — as if they weren’t able to do that before. What he means, of course, is that the ability to torture alleged terrorists — snatched arbitrarily, anywhere in the world, simply on the say-so of the Leader or his designated minions — will be preserved. Bush obviously has a deep psychological need to feel that someone is being tormented at his orders at all times.
But the demented psychology of this sad little shriveled-up nothing of a man is of slight import. What matters are the actions and policies that are being carried out by the junta operating in his name — and the countenancing of this gang’s crimes by the United States Congress. And that is what we have seen today: the countenancing of torture and kangaroo courts by some sad sacks of shinola lauded by the media as "men of principle." This is what we’ve come to, this is where are today: sick bastards and cynical bastards openly and eagerly gutting the very core of American law.
Let’s have Bill Frist — surely one of the most pathetic creatures ever inflicted on the U.S. Senate and the long-suffering people of Tennessee — explain exactly what this great "agreement" means:
Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said the agreement had two key points. Classified information will not be shared with the terrorists tried before the tribunals, he said. And the very important program of interrogation continues.
There you have it. People snatched off the street — or sold to spies by snitches and scamsters — can be tried, in military tribunals, without seeing the evidence against them; and Bush’s "program of interrogation continues."
Let’s be very clear on the latter point. What Bush has been talking about and protesting against were efforts to ensure that CIA interrogators could not torture suspects. Because of course they could continue to use ordinary methods of interrogation — which experts uniformly agree produce better intelligence — just as they have always been able to. When Bush and Tennessee cat-torturer talk about the "program of interrogation" continuing, they mean allowing the CIA to torture captives by various methods without being charged with war crimes and felony violations of American law. That is precisely what they are talking about, and nothing else. But you won’t see it put that way on the pages of our most august journalist institutions nor on the broadcasts of our world-renowned network news shows.
And let us make one other point — and in a most impolitic way, for the truth is often an impolitic commodity: John McCain is a goddamned liar. Yes, he himself suffered torture, yes he came through it, yes, we all admire his fortitude during that ordeal in his youth: but his record in later life, in politics, is that of a moral coward with good PR skills. (Not that it takes much skill to wow the poltroons who squat on the commanding heights of the corporate media world today.) And today, he has opened his mouth and emitted a damnable lie, to wit: "the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved.
This is an untrue statement, analogous to saying the moon is located in his rectum or that he can bite through pig iron with his bare teeth. Every step the Bush gang has taken in this pro-torture, don’t-prosecute-us campaign is designed to weaken the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions, which have been adopted into American law by Congress — in bills sponsored and championed by Republicans — are crystal clear on torture. There is no need to "preserve" their integrity with new legislation; there is nothing wrong with the Conventions that need to be "fixed" — unless, of course, you wish to use interrogation techniques that any sentient human being would recognize as torture. In that case, of course you have to "fix" the Conventions by gutting their integrity, letter and spirit.
John McCain might be a moral coward in his old age, but he’s not stupid. He knows all this. He knows that the Bush Administration has been trying to wriggle out of the Conventions since the earliest days of the "War of Terror." He knows that gutting the Conventions is at the heart of Bush’s "interrogation program" which McCain and his "rebels" have just saved with their grand "compromise."
Therefore, we will say it again clearly, so that even the nabobs on the Washington Post editorial page can hear it: John McCain is a goddamned liar, and his "agreement" today serves some of the most evil principles ever supported openly by the United States government since slavery.
And let’s put this other point plainly one more time: the American government has always been able to capture, detain, question and try terrorists. Always. The American government has for 28 years had the power to eavesdrop on anyone in the world or in the country whom they suspected even slightly of terrorism or terrorist connections. And they could and can do that instantly, without waiting for a court order or jumping through any bureaucratic hoops, under the long-existing law. Everything that Bush says his clearly illegal surveillance programs do can already be done within the law. Therefore, it is clear that the whole raison d’tre behind the illegal programs is to establish the principle that the president is beyond the law. (And also, almost certainly, to perform illegal surveillance that has nothing to do with terrorism.)
What we have seen today is no "grand compromise," no "great debate," no "act of principle" and certainly no "preservation" of the Geneva Conventions. What we have seen instead is a small group of rich, cynical, power-hungry old bastards belch forth lies in the service of torture and tyranny. And if you’re not angry about that, if you’re not "shrill" about that, then by God you are one piss-poor American citizen. You shame every man and woman who have fought and died and marched and worked and dreamed for our freedoms.
Chris Floyd [send him mail] is the author of Empire Burlesque: The Secret History of the Bush Regime.