In Focus: The Politics of Torture

With nine long months still to go in this endless presidential race, politics itself has become our country’s most effective torture technique. Who among us, faced with the prospect of more debates, more focus groups, more blathering of the no-longer-restricted-to-Sabbath gasbags hasn’t once thought, “please, take my vote. Just make it all stop!”, and “do they have cable in Guantamo? …No? Don’t shut it down, at least not yet. I’d like a room until November 4.”


Yesterday’s Senate vote on the Intelligence Authorization Bill was about a less pervasive form of torture, that which we may or may not inflict upon enemy combatants. With the three leading presidential contenders members of the Senate, in a wartime election year, their votes obviously were/are the subject of heated debate across the net and MSM… errr, one of their votes, anyway. Because Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama didn’t cast any.

Aside from a few right leaning blogs, the silence — on their abstention (although Hillary found time to advise the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. how he should vote) from a key piece of legislation on one of the most significant issues facing our nation — was deafening. Also, sadly predictable, since John McCain’s vote provided the anti-torture crowd with a big fat bulls-eye for their righteous indignation.

As Josh Patashnick writes in TNR’s The Plank, “the Senate voted 51-45 yesterday to ban any government agency from using any interrogation tactic not authorized by the Army Field Manual (including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, exposure to extreme cold, etc.). Among the 45 no votes, disappointingly, was John McCain, who reiterated his belief that waterboarding is already illegal but maintained that there might be some other techniques appropriate for CIA use but not authorized by the Field Manual.”


Patashnick was merely disappointed by McCain’s no vote, but perhaps Valentine’s Day contributed to Andrew Sullivan’s heartbreak.

That McCain issued a detailed statement explaining his vote explains nothing to TPR, is no consolation for Sullivan, and no excuse for John Cole, or Outside the Beltway.

For them, McCain’s very vocal and longstanding position against waterboarding counts for nothing. With this vote, he has achieved a double whammy, providing cover for the Bush administration to do whatever it wants, AND appeasing the torture loving conservative base of his party.

If the Straight Talker’s reasoning was too complicated for them, they could have gotten the gist of it from Senate intelligence ranking member Christopher “Kit” Bond who spearheaded the opposition to the part of the bill McCain objected to, the Feinstein provision, which would require the CIA in particular (not just the FBI and military) to follow the Army Field Manual’s interrogation guidelines, thus ending the agency’s alternative interrogation program, which he said is “lawful, invaluable and does not involve torture.” As Chris Strohm over at National Journal’s The Gate wrote, “Requiring the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual would allow terrorists to know what kind of techniques will be used against them, Bond added.


“The reason they are not disclosed is because everything in the Army Field Manual is republished in the al-Qaida manuals for all of the upper tier al-Qaida members to study, and they will be totally ineffective against them,” Bond said.

Honestly, the twisted logic required to view McCain’s no vote as an abdication of his principles makes my head hurt. Hey, isn’t that torture?


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