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Compromising on Torture--UPDATED | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Compromising on Torture--UPDATED

UPDATE: The Senate passed legislation a few hours ago that endorsed President George W. Bush's plan to prosecute and interrogate terrorism suspects. The 65-34 vote means the bill could reach the president's desk by week's end to be signed into law. The House of Representatives passed almost identical legislation on Wednesday by 253-168 and was expected to endorse the Senate bill on Friday, then ship it to the White House.

The bill--which was opposed by humans rights rights groups and a majority of the legal profession--would create military commissions to prosecute terrorism suspects, would grant the president flexibility to decide what interrogation techniques are permissible and generally, "Give the executive branch a tremendous amount of unfettered power to detain people who otherwise are here in the United States lawfully," according to CBS legal analyst David Cohen. Our only hope now to live in a land where the President can't decide to torture someone is the Supreme Court. But don't hold your breath.


I don't mean to go all torture, all the time, but as the inimitable Molly Ivins wrote today, "With a smug stroke of his pen, President Bush is set to wipe out a safeguard against illegal imprisonment that has endured as a cornerstone of legal justice since the Magna Carta" was codified in 1215.

Yesterday, the House passed GOP compromise detainee legislation which would strip terror detainees of basic legal rights, but there's still time to call the Senate about bill S.3930--IF you act immediately. The deal President Bush struck with Congress is a betrayal of the best of America and would make this country a distinctly less democratic place. No citizen should remain on the sidelines in the days ahead.

As an important Amnesty International alert summarizes, this new legislation, only days away from being passed, would abandon the rule of law and give the President the freedom to interpret the Geneva Conventions any way he sees fit; would provide immunity to those responsible for past human rights abuses, would exempt from prosecution those who authorize treatment traditionally considered torture and would deprive detainees of access to US courts.

It's not too melodramatic to say that the soul of our nation could be in jeopardy. Much of what we're meant to believe in is on the line. And it's not only a question of morality and democracy--there's also self-interest, as many retired military brass have been saying of late. If America renounces the Geneva Conventions like President Bush has proposed, nations all over the world will likely follow. The result: American soldiers will be placed in greater threat of torture when captured, not just by one or two rogue nations, but by numerous countries around the world.

Click here for contact info to implore your Senators to resist S.3930 and oppose this attempted rollback of democracy today. Or call 1-800-AMNESTY and an operator will connect you to the appropriate Congressional office. Let the person on the phone know that you are a constituent, that you think the deal President Bush has struck is a betrayal of the America you believe in, and that you expect your Senator to stand firm in defense of human rights.

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