Joe Gandelman, of course, has his usual excellent round-up of media and blogospheric commentary on the compromise that’s apparently been cut on the legislation making its way through the Congress on the detention and treatment of prisoners. Go over and take a look at it. Here’s how the Washington Post characterizes the deal:
THE GOOD NEWS about the agreement reached yesterday between the Bush administration and Republican senators on the detention, interrogation and trial of accused terrorists is that Congress will not — as President Bush had demanded — pass legislation that formally reinterprets U.S. compliance with the Geneva Conventions. Nor will the Senate explicitly endorse the administration’s use of interrogation techniques that most of the world regards as cruel and inhumane, if not as outright torture. Trials of accused terrorists will be fairer than the commission system outlawed in June by the Supreme Court.
The bad news is that 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.
I have little to add to everything that’s already been said. I’m against torture; I don’t think it’s quite as outrageous as some do to ask for a definition of what torture is. Nor do I think that it’s outrageous to insist that the Congress become more than critics (or cheerleaders) of what the country’s policies and values are.
The one comment I wanted to make was on risk-taking. I don’t believe that the Administration has done what it has done because of sadism or malignity. The idea that anybody has actionable intelligence after having been held in detention for years is absurd. It’s been my take that prisoners have been stuck in detention in Guantanamo because the Administration didn’t know what else to do with them. They didn’t want to take the heat for executing them nor did they want to take the heat for releasing terrorists. So they just left them in Guantanamo in the hope that it would all blow over.
I don’t know whether it’s Mr. Bush or Mr. Cheney or who it is but it certainly appears to me that there are some high-stakes gamblers in this administration. From the invasion of Afghanistan to the invasion of Iraq to the detention and treatment of prisoners presumed to be terrorists they’ve taken a series of high-risk/high-reward gambles.
The invasion of Afghanistan is a gamble which IMO paid off. Providing logistics and air support for the Northern Alliance enabled us to oust the Taliban (the achievable goal) with relatively few losses, maintaining political support for the action. We didn’t apprehend Osama bin Laden (the unachievable goal).
Has the gamble for Iraq paid off? It’s certainly looking shaky now. The removal of the Saddam Hussein government and, ultimately, the apprehension of Saddam Hussein proceeded with remarkable speed and precious few American deaths. That part paid off. That Iraqis would seize the bull by the horns and create a decent society for themselves hasn’t paid off at least not yet.
It looks to me as though the gambles with respect to prisoners has backfired.