If ever we had doubt that President Bush is unwilling to carry out his duties according to the Constitution’s text, he’s trying to open our minds to that reality:
Bush said he has “one test” for the proposed legislation [to allow “aggressive” interrogation techniques not authorized by the Geneva Conventions]: “The intelligence community must be able to tell me that the bill Congress sends to my desk will allow this vital program to continue.” He declined to comment on whether he would veto the alternative bill if it passed, saying that he expects his version to win out.
Also vital, Bush said, is passage of legislation that would “provide additional authority” for a warrantless eavesdropping program run by the National Security Agency. The program, which he approved after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to target communications between suspected terrorists abroad and plotters in the United States, has helped to detect and prevent attacks, Bush said.
“Both these bills are essential to winning the war on terror,” he said. “We’ll work with Congress to get good bills out, because . . . we have a duty to work together to give our folks on the front line the tools necessary to protect America.”
Protecting America from attack is a valid use of governmental power, and the president is the person most directly charged with ensuring that we remain safe. But the president (and Congress and the Judiciary) must act within the bounds of the Constitution. President Bush needs to add at least two more tests for any proposed legislation, ones that involve assessing the Constitutionality of the legislation and its accordance with American principles. On the latter president Bush’s proposed legislation fails miserably. America should not torture. For the sitting president to make the counter-claim brings disgrace to the office.
Naturally he had to tangle himself up in his words to make his atrocious plea. Forget the mangled sentence structure of his first sentence. Read what he means in his statement.
“If there’s any comparison between the compassion and decency of the American people and the terrorist tactics of extremists, it’s flawed logic,” Bush said, his voice rising. “It’s unacceptable to think that there’s any kind of comparison between the behavior of the United States of America and the action of Islamic extremists who kill innocent women and children to achieve an objective.”
Since the explanation is in how the comparison is phrased, of course we’re not the same. The more fundamental point is whether or not we believe in civilized society ruled by law. Islamic extremists have already proven that they do not. But I think (thought) we do believe in the rule of law. Surely that entails a basic respect for human life, independent of actions. We’ve decided that justice may include the taking of life, but is that life not protected until we determine guilt? Is it okay to bash someone’s brains in because he might be holding information? I say no, regardless of whether or not the tortured person is scum. Our decency and ethical restraint is not about his worth; it is about ours. The president thinks differently. The president is wrong.
Bush criticized language in Common Article 3, notably a prohibition against “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” He said, “It’s like — it’s very vague. What does that mean, outrages upon human dignity? That’s a statement that is wide open to interpretation.”
Reasonable people can decipher “outrages upon human dignity,” but since the president believes we cannot, thus opening our interrogators to possible prosecution, let’s have a debate. Let’s discuss the techniques we can and can’t use. The president will not do this because he says he does not want to let our enemies know how we will extract information from them. A hollow, I believe, but I’ll grant that condition. To do so, the president must accept the vague prohibition against outrages upon human dignity. He cannot have plenary power to authorize whatever interrogation methods he deems necessary, with only the assurance of saying “oops” if someone goes too far.
Limited government does not thrive on vagueness. The president wants the vague rules to remain, as he only seeks immunity from prosecution under those vague rules. In other words, he wants no rules. But we knew that. Congress must not grant it to him. Bravo to Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham for defending the Constitution.