Bush Gets His Way

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, September 22, 2006; 12:42 PM

Pay no attention to the news stories suggesting that the White House caved in yesterday.

On the central issue of whether the CIA should continue using interrogation methods on suspected terrorists that many say constitute torture, the White House got its way, winning agreement from the "maverick" Republican senators who had refused to go along with an overt undoing of the Geneva Conventions.

The "compromise"? The Republican senators essentially agreed to look the other way.

Once again (see Monday's column ) there was so much disingenuousness flying through the airwaves that straight news reporting simply wasn't up to the task of conveying the real meaning of the day.

So let's go to the editorials and opinion columns.

Editorials and Opinions

The Washington Post editorial board writes: "Mr. Bush, as he made clear yesterday, intends to continue using the CIA to secretly detain and abuse certain terrorist suspects. He will do so by issuing his own interpretation of the Geneva Conventions in an executive order and by relying on questionable Justice Department opinions that authorize such practices as exposing prisoners to hypothermia and prolonged sleep deprivation. Under the compromise agreed to yesterday, Congress would recognize his authority to take these steps and prevent prisoners from appealing them to U.S. courts. The bill would also immunize CIA personnel from prosecution for all but the most serious abuses and protect those who in the past violated U.S. law against war crimes.

"In short, it's hard to credit the statement by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) yesterday that 'there's no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved.' In effect, the agreement means that U.S. violations of international human rights law can continue as long as Mr. Bush is president, with Congress's tacit assent. . . .

"[T]he senators who have fought to rein in the administration's excesses -- led by Sens. McCain, Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and John W. Warner (R-Va.) -- failed to break Mr. Bush's commitment to 'alternative' methods that virtually every senior officer of the U.S. military regards as unreliable, counterproductive and dangerous for Americans who may be captured by hostile governments. . . .

"Mr. Bush wanted Congress to formally approve these practices and to declare them consistent with the Geneva Conventions. It will not. But it will not stop him either, if the legislation is passed in the form agreed on yesterday."

The New York Times editorial board writes: "The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of 'grave breaches' of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It's not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions."

David Ignatius 's Washington Post opinion column today chronicles the administration's astonishing and undercovered torture-related legal wranglings, which date back to the decision to rough up terror suspect Abu Zubaida in 2002.

"From the outset the CIA officers wanted written assurance that what they were doing was legal. The Justice Department prepared an initial (and now infamous) August 2002 memo from Jay S. Bybee, head of the Office of Legal Counsel, with the chilling advice that techniques were permissible if they didn't produce pain equivalent to that caused by 'organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.' The Bybee torture memo was withdrawn, but the Justice Department offered a broad assurance in 2002 that because the program would operate outside U.S. jurisdiction, at secret sites abroad, interrogators would not be subject to U.S. law. Justice officials also argued that because captives were illegal 'enemy combatants,' they didn't have protections under the Geneva Conventions. That didn't satisfy the CIA officers running the program, especially after the uproar over Abu Ghraib, so they pressed Justice for a more detailed written opinion. It finally arrived in spring 2005.


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