Dear Senator Reid

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.

Not so?

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.

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17 Responses to Dear Senator Reid

  1. John Stein says:

    I certainly agree. I just couldn’t believe they weren’t going to filibuster. Emailed both Senators twice (Mikulski & Sarbanes — who has nothing to lose). Unfortunately neither is the kind of firebrand needed to turn this around. Pointed them both to Balkin & other sources as well as quoting several good posts from various sources. I have no idea what their staff people are like or if they are even Internet-savvy, but there’s plenty of ammo out here if they will just use it.

  2. J Mann says:

    I’ve been a Republican for most of my life. Over these past few years I’ve become appalled at what our leadership’s been doing, so I was actually going to vote Democrat for the first time ever. Now it seems they don’t have the backbone needed. So now where do I look to find somebody with morals who’s willing to stand up for them to represent me?

    Perhaps it is time to form a moderate party, if there’s not one already. Something both moderate Repubs and moderate Dem’s can gather around.

  3. Skylolo99 says:

    I’ve also written to my congressmen and senators regarding the torture issue. I can’t believe this is even up for discussion. What’s been happening to our country? Even the Nixon years at their worst weren’t this low. God, somebody help us.

  4. Michael says:

    J Mann- I think it’s important to distinguish between three groups: The GOP, the establishment Democrats and the insurgent Democrats. The third group is the only one fired up on these issues. But they need the second group to be anything other than irrelevant. So there is indeed a point in voting Democratic rather than throwing away a vote or not voting.

    If all the Nader voters had voted Democratic, I don’t think Bush would have been elected.

  5. jpbreeze says:

    I agree with everything written above. I knew that the Democrats would wobble, so I emailed Senator Russ Fiengold to ask him to fillibuster. He is the only one with the cajones to do it. I even said that I would gladly fill a few hours, (if allowed into the Senate), to help him. I haven’t heard a response specific to that yet, but I am still holding out hope.

  6. DaveL says:

    Exactly. Called both my Senators’ offices this morning. Neither seemed particularly on the ball on this stuff. Akaka isn’t the kind of guy who can do much to stop it, but Inouye is, and this would be a really good time to use that stature and seniority on something that really counts.

  7. The problem is that there are more people in *favor* of torture who will vote Republican, than people opposed to torture who will vote Democratic 🙁

  8. elliottg says:

    The problem is that human beings can be vile, disgusting creatures. We wrote a constitution some time ago with structures to protect us from ourselves. It doesn’t seem enough of a bulwark against the current crop of evil.

  9. Steve says:

    Hey, if it works for “Dirty Harry”. . .

  10. JD says:

    I too called Feingold’s office and asked him to filibuster (his office’s comment on the matter was something like “Sen. Feingold will try to keep these bills [NSA + torture] from being crammed through the Senate before its recess”. He is the only one who would do it. Any other WI residents?

  11. wcw says:

    I used to be a reliable lefty protest vote (including Nader, in CA, a safe one that year, thanks) until FL2K.

    I since have been a reliable party-line (D) vote, and not because I like them, not one bit.

    If either of my senators (DiFi is my guess) makes a move not to oppose this with every bone in her body, fuck ’em all.

    Sometimes a protest vote really is the only one.

  12. anon says:

    If it weren’t for Nader you would have the same bullshit “Democrats” we had in the 90s. Nader forced the Democratic party to appeal to its base. I voted for Nader in 2000 and, at the time, I was a resident in Palm Beach County. I’m sorry, but I don’t regret that vote for a second. A lot of people seem to forget that Gore and Bush agreed on almost every issue at the time of that election. If Gore of 2000 was more like the Gore of today, perhaps I would have voted for him.

  13. anon says:

    I can’t decide if this is a good idea or not…

    In response to the inevitable “Dems coddle terrorists” theme that will emerge in campaign ads following resistance to this legislation, how about an ad along these lines:

    “I’m candidate. My opponent calls me weak on security because I opposed the president when it comes to how we as a country treat our prisoners. That’s just plain wrong. What I disagree with is the torture of those in custody. The president and my opponent apparantly think that the following is something you want done in your name and in the name of your family:”

    (40-50 seconds of candidate being water-boarded in real-time, with audio)

    (Fade to Black–Text–Do you approve of torture in YOUR name?)

  14. Bill says:

    I’d like to think the Democrats are clever enough that they might be sitting back, knowing the compromise will pass, so they can then immediately say, “The Republicans just made torture legal, not only for George Bush, but for our enemies, too. Do you want Americans torturing people? Do you want to see Americans tortured? Vote Democrat.”

    I’d like to think that, but I don’t.

  15. Jean Tau'a says:

    Never before in my life have I felt more frustrated and confused as I do now. I am from such a totally republican state that I am surprised they don’t make it against the law to be a democrat. What in the world has happened to us as a nation? When did we get to be so down right mean and nasty as we are now? What ever happened to diplomacy, respect for the constitution, respect for the Geneva convention? When did it become worse to have an extra marital affair than to put our nation in harms way by trying to take on the world just to force them into a democracy that they may not understand or even want? Don’t the lawmakers realize that the meaner we are the meaner the enemy becomes? Might never did make right. I think we have totally forgotten the lessons history has taught us. I am so afraid of the direction we are taking as Americans, that I don’t even dare truly speak my feelings for fear some big brother is watching over my shoulder. I remember the first G. Bush talking about the “New World Order”, never did I think he was preparing the path for his sons to become “Kings of the World”. I say sons as I would not be surprised to see Jeb make it Bush #3 and with all of the low down under handed measures the Republicans are willing to take to elect him, how will anyone stop this?

  16. James Matthews says:

    Senator Reid might well repeat that RESERVOIR DOGS line: “Are you going to bark, little doggie, or are you going to bite?”

  17. publius says:

    I emailed my Congressman this morning. I borrowed some language from the open letter by professors and asked how he could support such a bill. This afternoon an aide emailed me back, the content was “turf” and “talking points” masquerading as a response. Alas, I pressed on. I responded by pointing out that their response was no more than talking points and that it also failed to answer my question. I noted that I was concerned that the Congressman and his aides did not think that a question from a constituent warranted a genuine response. I then asked what the Congressman’s legal justification was for a bill that had so many legal scholars had determined to be anything from bad, to horrible, to unconscionable, to unconstitutional. I also asked whether, in the event that the Congressman did not have a legal justification for his vote, if his vote was the result of party pressure.

    Their response … that my “sarcasm was noted and not appreciated.” Mysteriously, the response email was followed (a minute later) by a “Recall” email withdrawing the aid’s response. I responded to the recall email noting that I was again disturbed by the fact that the Congressman and his office were unwilling to answer an honest question from a constituent.

    I was flirting with the idea of assembling the email echange in one document and posting it. If anyone is interested in seeing it, let me know.

    publius

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