The Struggle Continues


The major step forward in this bill, however, seems to me to be the idea that the president specify in the Federal Register the torture methods he has actually approved. What I don't understand - and what even now good lawyers tell me they don't understand - is why these techniques aren't already published before the bill is passed; or whether they will be published ahead of a torture session or after it; or whether the president can simply withhold this information as he sees fit. Some lawyers say that the president will not be required to issue such regulations and facts; merely permitted to do so. If that's true, it's meaningless. My fear is that this is a ruse; my hope is that it is a window for transparency. It is critical that the president tell the American people and the world what techniques he is using and what standards are being applied in the name of the United States. Sources tell me that there is a gentleman's agreement that waterboarding is now off the table, that sleep deprivation will be restricted to 48 hours (as opposed to 48 days in one case), and that other barbaric practices like hypothermia will cease.

The trouble is: Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld and Addington are not gentlemen. If we have learned anything these past few years, it is that they are not to be trusted on the torture question, that they have lied repeatedly and knowingly and insistently, that their use of the English language is designed to obfuscate and obscure the reality they are advancing, and the constitutional freedoms they are bent on dismantling. In so far as this bill grants this president discretion in enforcing Geneva, it means that the standards of Geneva will not apply under this president - although they might under a more civilized and competent one.

I should add that it is essential to the integrity of language and law that the word torture not be defined out of existence. Waterboarding, hypothermia, long-time-standing, and various forms of stress positions are torture, have always been torture and always will be torture. What we must do is what Orwell demanded: speak plain English before it evaporates from our discourse, refuse to acquiesce to the corruption of language and decency. In that respect, the press must continue to ask both McCain and all administration representatives whether passing this bill means that waterboarding, hypothermia, sleep deprivation, long-time-standing or stress positions are now illegal and unavailable to the CIA. They must not be allowed to get away with the answer that they will not mention specific techniques. The specifics are everything. And we must not be snowed by abuse of English into saying something is true when it isn't. Until they are completely forthcoming on these critical details, this bill should not be passed. Moreover, something this complex and this grave should not be rushed into law with round-the-clock haste. We need this to be debated and deliberated slowly. Which means leaving it to the next session of Congress.