One of the finer moments in recent American political history happened three weeks ago when the majority of Senate Republicans joined with all of the Democrats to add a veto-proof amendment to the annual military spending bill. The amendment requires the executive branch to obey existing American laws regarding torture. Torture is illegal. It doesn't become legal during wartime or because the president makes up a bogus category of prisoners or when our soldiers do it overseas.
Still not getting the point, the Bush administration has offered a compromise, what if only the CIA does it? Can it be legal then?
Stepping up a confrontation with the Senate over the handling of detainees, the White House is insisting that the Central Intelligence Agency be exempted from a proposed ban on abusive treatment of suspected Qaeda militants and other terrorists.
The Senate defied a presidential veto threat nearly three weeks ago and approved, 90 to 9, an amendment to a $440 billion military spending bill that would ban the use of "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of any detainee held by the United States government. This could bar some techniques that the C.I.A. has used in some interrogations overseas.
But in a 45-minute meeting last Thursday, Vice President Dick Cheney and the C.I.A. director, Porter J. Goss, urged Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who wrote the amendment, to support an exemption for the agency...
Mr. McCain rejected the proposed exemption, which stated that the measure "shall not apply with respect to clandestine counterterrorism operations conducted abroad, with respect to terrorists who are not citizens of the United States, that are carried out by an element of the United States government other than the Department of Defense and are consistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States and treaties to which the United States is a party, if the president determines that such operations are vital to the protection of the United States or its citizens from terrorist attack."
Good for John McCain. As the author of the bill and a former victim of extensive torture, he gets the concept and won't be distracted by scare tactics.
The problem with torture is not that the wrong people were doing it; the problem is that it is ineffective, it is unreliable, it antagonizes our allies, it creates a negative perception of American values among populations that we are trying to win over, and it is just plain wrong--even when the CIA does it.