Friday, February 15, 2008

Tortured Times: The Shame of Mukasey, Shumer, Feinstein, Scalia & McCain

President Nixon greets returning POW McCain

No one in their right mind would believe that the last year of the Reign of Bush would be any less tendentious than previous years. There are, for example, the latest flurry of presidential signing statements and the lame duck's insistence that telecoms be granted retroactive immunity for embracing his initiatives to spy on their customers.

But you would have to go far to top the shame team of Michael Mukasey, Charles Schumer, Diane Feinstein, Antonin Scalia and John McCain with their embrace of torture as an official instrument of Bush administration policy.

Long story short: Human dignity is trumped by political expedience.

Mukasey is the attorney general who was going to put things to rights after the disastrous tenure of his predecessor, but now embraces the extralegal excesses of the Dear Departed Gonzo and his thugs at arms, including Steven Bradbury, who acknowledged this week that torture may be illegal but because the Justice Department hasn't ruled as such then it isn't.

Senators Schumer and Feinstein, symptomatic of the lack of Democratic due diligence in Congress, are responsible for greasing the skids for the approval of Mukasey's nomination after they let him off the hook by not having to explain what he really thought about torture.

Supreme Court Justice Scalia, a judicial pop-off without peer, defended the use of torture this week. Employing the pretzel logic that has made him such a right-wing darling, he asserted that the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment didn't cover cruel and unusual interrogations. Clever, eh?

McCain, the victim of torture himself as a Navy pilot who was shot down and imprisoned in a North Vietnamese POW camp for six years, has now flip-flopped back into the pro-torture camp as he cements his frontrunner status in the Republican presidential race.

My feelings for McCain have been mixed for years: A war hero and a man of principle who nevertheless held some political views that I could not abide. Until Wednesday, I believed that depending upon how things shook out I could conceivably vote for him in November.

But that was before McCain joined 44 other senators to vote against a bill prohibiting the CIA from using waterboarding and other Nazi-like torture techniques banned by the Army's Field Manual. Some 51 senators -- including Schumer and Feinstein, many days late and many veto-proof votes short -- voted for the bill.

Noted the Los Angeles Times:

"Underscoring the complexity of the political currents . . . McCain led earlier efforts in the Senate to ban cruel treatment of prisoners, and has denounced waterboarding in presidential debates. But preserving the CIA's ability to employ so-called enhanced interrogation methods has broad support in the party's conservative base."

Dick Polman captured perfectly the corner that McCain has painted himself into:

"The problem is that, by flip-flopping so blatantly, he undercuts his image as a man of conviction (to the delight of Democrats who fear his appeal) - without even mollifying his conservative critics, some of whom seem to believe that today's pandering can never erase yesterday's heresies. He could be saddled with this dilemma well into autumn."

Yes, presidential candidates have to be mindful of their political base. Yes, they sometimes have to pander. But we're talking torture here, not pork, and for me McCain's betrayal is now complete.

A man whom I have hugely admired, now 35 years from the Hanoi Hilton and comfily ensconsed in the chambers of the Greatest Deliberative Body in the World, betrays himself as someone who will grovel at the feet of his new captors -- the people he needs to be elected.

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