Serious and severe are synonyms

Following up on yesterday’s post on our president’s fight to convince the Congress that he should have explicit legal authority to continue what he’s already undertaken, this passage describing the compromise between Senators McCain, Warner, and Graham and the renegade White House explains how no one wins:

The biggest hurdle, Senate sources said, was convincing administration officials that lawmakers would never accept language that allowed Bush to appear to be reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. Once that was settled, they said, the White House poured most of its energy into defining “cruel or inhuman treatment” that would constitute a crime under the War Crimes Act. The administration wanted the term to describe techniques resulting in “severe” physical or mental pain, but the senators insisted on the word “serious.”

Negotiations then turned to the amount of time that a detainee’s suffering must last before the treatment amounts to a war crime. Administration officials preferred designating “prolonged” mental or physical symptoms, while the senators wanted something milder. They settled on “serious and non-transitory mental harm, which need not be prolonged.”

Who needs to enforce or overturn existing treaties when ignoring them is so much easier?