What Would Jefferson Do?

I’m a little behind on commenting about this but of course they are:

Leading House Republicans signaled Friday that they will try to weaken a Senate effort to limit interrogation techniques that U.S. service members can use on terrorism suspects.

Their remarks made clear that the language in the Senate-passed military spending bill faces uncertain prospects in bargaining between the Senate and House. The Senate approved the $445 billion bill 97-0 on Friday.

The detainee provision, which has drawn a veto threat from the Bush administration, was sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a prisoner of war in Vietnam. It was omitted from the bill passed by the House and could spark embarrassing internal battling among Republicans.

This makes no sense. Only the most hardened anti-American would aim to harm U.S. soldiers or smile at the danger they face every day, but it’s entirely appropriate to reinforce long-established limits on their conduct with prisoners of war. The fight over prisoner abuse is not about elevating those we hold prisoner to saints. Honestly, fuck them. I don’t care what they think about much of anything. Beyond the basic need to prove that they’re guilty of their alleged crimes, having them rot in a cell doesn’t concern me. But this isn’t about them. It’s about our moral standard. They may be garbage, but we’re not. So forgive me if I don’t appreciate the fine intellect in statements such as this:

“We’re not going to be delivering a bill to the president’s desk that is veto bait,” said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Calif., and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Lewis seems to forget that the House, as a chamber of Congress, is entitled to check the unfettered will and actions of the Executive. It is not responsible for passing along only those bills the president enjoys. Why bother to have a free government if you wish to bow to the whims of a dictator, however benevolent he may appear? If you have any principles, you’ll understand that allowing, and worse, condoning, torture is immoral. This president doesn’t get that. You must.

Maybe this is just me coming out as a raging liberal who hates the president. It certainly would be easy to dismiss me that way, wouldn’t it? But let me offer a quick reminder. Today is the fifth anniversary of the USS Cole bombing. The news is filled with stories like this today, whether it’s in New York, Iraq, Bali, Madrid, or London. We’re fighting to stop events like that, but the mentality that causes individuals to attack a ship, and others to cheer it from the coast, will persist as long as this world exists. That does not give us permission to act like every grade-school kid who thinks he can be the bully just because he’s bigger than the other kids.

We may be expanding freedom, but the danger isn’t going away. Reading the news from Iraq, I see near-daily reports of more American deaths. Sometimes it hits the Army, sometimes the Marines. On other rare occasions, it hits the Air Force. Those deaths affect me the same way they affect most Americans. I don’t like it, but I hope their deaths won’t be in vain. I also hope that more won’t have to die because we don’t heed the lessons. And what we’re seeing is that we’re not. When the President of the United States expects permission to treat any prisoner of war as he deems necessary, by the circumstances in the field, we’ve lost touch with reality. Torturing prisoners leads to more terrorism, not less. As I’ve heard it said, the innocent men we’ve tortured around the world (yes, it has happened) aren’t terrorists when entering our detainee centers, but they are terrorists when they leave. That’s stupid. We might as well bomb ourselves.

But I have a more selfish reason for wanting America to do this correctly than sheer patriotism. My younger brother, just shy of 22-years-old, is in the Navy. He’s currently in training in the United States, but I’m waiting for the inevitable day when he’s shipped off to some dangerous corner of the world. Maybe it’ll be the Persian Gulf, maybe it’ll be off the coast of North Korea. Regardless, it will not be a vacation. The Navy hasn’t suffered any more attacks like the one on the USS Cole in the last five years. I want that streak to continue forever. With this stupid policy of condoned torture, we seem determined to encourage another attack. There are enough crazy people around the world seeking to attack us for some assumed insult to their religion. I don’t want us providing that final “justification” to someone previously unwilling to attack us just because we think terrorists are scum. They are scum, but I don’t want my brother coming home in a body bag because we think it’s fine to torture a prisoner into a body bag.

Let the president veto that provision. History will judge him for it, should he brazenly pursue that to the end. The House, though, must follow the Senate’s lead and act like a branch of government independent from the White House, beholden to nothing more than the Constitution and the principles we supposedly embody.