If the New York Times is to be believed, the Senate Democrats are in full collapse on the moral question of the day: torture. And I’m not surprised. No, actually I am just a little surprised. But maybe I shouldn’t be.
Yes, we’ve had years of evidence that the Democrats in the Senate don’t understand how to be an opposition party; but lately they’ve seemed to grow measurable spines.
And, yes, when in 2001 they passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force it became painfully obvious that they didn’t even remember recent history (think “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution“).
But even so, I still had the naive idea that maybe there were some issues where even the modern Senator couldn’t just hold his nose and let himself be cowed into something stupid and evil.
Deal Is Likely on Detainees but Not on Eavesdropping: Democrats, who have found themselves on the losing end of the national security debate the past two national elections, said the changes to the bill had not yet reached a level that would cause them to try to block it altogether.
“We want to do this,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Democratic leader. “And we want to do it in compliance with the direction from the Supreme Court. We want to do it in compliance with the Constitution.”
I suppose it is possible that Sen. Reid has some clever plan to be unveiled at the last minute to filibuster on the grounds that removing safeguards against torture, undermining habeas corpus, and trashing the confrontation clause do too much violence to our constitution and our legal traditions.
But it sure doesn’t sound like it, does it? (“We want to do this”?!?)
So, Senator Reid and fellow members of the self-styled World’s Greatest Deliberative Body, here’s what I have to say to you as you rush to announce your acquiescence to a fast-changing bill you haven’t even yet read. Here’s what I have to say as you give de facto immunity to people who have a record of torturing and killing prisoners in secret cells. Here’s what I say to you as prepare to gut habeas corpus. Here’s what I say to you as you trash longstanding constitutional protections against punishing people on the basis of coerced testimony. Here’s what I say to you as you reverse hundreds of years of Anglo-American tradition guaranteeing everyone the right to defend themselves through access to exculpatory evidence known to the government. Here’s what I say to you as you make weak protests to a bill that gives lip service to the Geneva Conventions but in fact removes the means by which they would be enforced.
Here’s what I have to say as you contemplate voting for authority that will not only be deployed against aliens abroad, but might even be deployed against aliens on US territory, and against US citizen abroad, or even at home. Here’s what I say to you as you set in motion a process which will permit the secret detention — no habeas, remember? — and “aggressive questioning” of those whom that good and reliable Mr. Gonzales or that thoughtful Mr. Rumsfeld, both persons well-known to be incapable of error, decide is an enemy combatant.
History will judge you cruelly. The best outcome will be that this is a long bad blip, like the Alien and Sedition Acts, or the Japanese Internment; but the worst outcome is that this becomes emblematic of a turning point in which our Senate, like the Roman Senate before it, presided over a great society’s moral and then political decline.
Too high minded and egghead-like for you? Ok, let’s talk bare-knuckle politics: Listen up! This is your base talking! A Democratic party that won’t stand up and oppose and, yes, fillibuster something as bad as this bill isn’t worth half what it should be. If my party takes a fall on torture, than it really isn’t my party any more and I want it back. Yes, we’ll still vote Democratic in this election: on this and many other issues the Republicans are even worse. But we won’t forget. And there are plenty of Lamonts out there.
Senator Reid: Torture is a moral issue. So is accountability for torture. So is the right to a fair trial — even for the lowest of the low. These are not things you compromise on, or trade off to avoid an attack ad or two.