The devil is in the details


The White House and a spirited band of Senate Republicans have reached a compromise over detainee-treatment legislation that spackles over an embarrassing intraparty GOP split, but leaves much about the detainees’ fate to unresolved fine print.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., praised the deal for preserving the "letter and spirit" of the Geneva Conventions. It does in affirming that gross breaches of that treaty _ murder, mutilation, sexual assault, other serious bodily harm _ are war crimes and should be treated as such. Most Americans would agree that these actions are outside the pale of civilized nations.

And Congress is to rewrite the 1997 War Crimes Act, more or less the U.S. statutory version of the Conventions, to specify what other cruel, degrading and inhumane acts, especially in the course of interrogation, are war crimes.

But President Bush is given the power to define which aggressive interrogation techniques short of war crimes are acceptable. The senators insisted that his findings be made public, but his national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, said the specifics of the techniques would remain classified. Bush called aggressive interrogation "the single most potent tool we have in the war on terrorism." Somehow this is not a reassuring thought.

The senators also won some concessions on the military commissions that are to try the detainees. Prisoners could not be convicted on classified evidence that they and their lawyers had not seen, although the evidence could be given to them in edited or condensed form to conceal sources and methods.

Coerced evidence obtained before 2005 by cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment would be allowed if the judge permits; obtained post-2005, the evidence would be disallowed. And, in a concession to the administration, hearsay evidence would be allowed on the judge’s say-so.

House Republicans must still go along with the compromise, although it seems clear they will if the White House insists, especially with the election approaching.

The agreement would seem to satisfy the Supreme Court’s objections to the administration’s original plan for military commissions, "commissions" being a better-sounding word than the original "tribunals."

All of this may be necessary, but it shows what the war on terrorism has done to our country when the president and senior members of the Senate are locked in discussions of defining the severity and duration of mental and physical pain that can be inflicted on captives.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)


  1. Fred

    The court in question was the Supreme Court of the United States, and the case was Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Frankly, I think that the plurarity opinion was very clear (for example, it states that whatever methods used to try these suspects must have been put in place prior to the alleged crimes), but the problem is that it was a pluarity opinion (i.e. not composed of at least 5 Justices). If the administration can get a bill passed which appears to satisfy the opinion on its face, then they might possibly get a majority of Justices agreeing with their (now slightly modified) opinion, since those Justices may decide that stare decis does not apply. Frankly, I think that if this bill is not futher modified, it will fail – as an obvious examples: 1) it attempts to suspend Habeus Corpus on grounds that appears to be directly contrary to the Constitution’s text 2) it appears to attempt to make a law supercede a ratified treaty (this is a clear Constitutional issue with lots of case law to back it up) 3) it attempts to grant some judicial powers to the executive branch, which is a separation of powers issue.

  2. Lexie Homewood

    Bush is such a 24 karat coward–I’d love to see how he’s hold up under waterboarding and the other unspecified interrogation techniques. But that’s the way of all the Neo-con schmucks–send other people’s children to fight your wars, and dodge the war of your own generation (which the party you love so heartily supported) because you have “other priorities,” or a daddy who will pull any number of strings for you to keep your precious spoiled little ass out of harm’s way. The whole bunch of them make me want to hurl.

  3. Jennifer

    Fred…who appointed these “R” judges?
    The audacity that this adminitration keeps dictating “what is law” to fit their nice plan to torture terrorist, which they created by invading their own sovereign nations, and while defending their nation, they were called “terrorits”, rather than “insurgents”, which they are called now.
    American Indian prophecy is pretty much been full-filled/but not totally… thanks to this adminstration
    People look up these words in Webster’s!; then get a book about Indian prophecy…we get Turtle Island back. It’s about time!

  4. Dean Livingston

    I can’t wait for the next installment of Bush thuglike modification of our country’s once admirable moral position. Is there no end to this thug-cabals spray-can graffiti of our Constitution and once proud position in the world? A special place in Hell is being prepared for the “sulfur stinch” this one will bring with him!

  5. Irene

    The demeanor of John McCain reminded me of the lobotomized Jack Nicholson in Cuckoo’s Nest. Semantics? maybe, coercion? probably.

  6. Jason Shapiro

    These guys remind me of Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football. No matter how many times Lucy pulls the ball away and Charlie falls on his ass, he keeps coming back hoping “This time she’ll do it right.”
    Hey senators, Bushco doesn’t play by the rules and you’ve been snookered again!

  7. Jackson

    The author states the devil is in the details, when it comes to U.S. government torture of “terror suspects”. The fact that the U.S. government in the 21st century, is actually engaging in such diabolical devices as torture, is proof positive the Devil is in the Whitehouse!

  8. Ted

    ~~~ GW Bush

    “The way you handle that is you just tell the truth, which stands in stark contrast to societies run by tyrants,” Bush told the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service.
    ~~~ GW Bush May 2004

    George W. Bush will repair what has been damaged. He is a man without pretense and without cynicism. A man of principle, a man of honor. On the first hour of the first day he will restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office. He will show us that national leaders can be true to their word and that they can get things done by reaching across the partisan aisle, and working with political opponents in good faith and common purpose. I know he’ll do these things, because for the last five years I’ve watched him do them in Texas.
    ~~~ Dick Cheney

    “I have always been among those who believed that the
    greatest freedom, speech was the greatest safety,
    because if a man is a fool, the best thing to do is to
    encourage him to advertise the fact by speaking.”
    ~~~ Woodrow Wilson 1919

    We are drowning in snake oil but keep right on buying more from the same conmen!!!!

    January 20th, 2009 – George W. Bush’s last day in office.

  9. erika morgan

    Why is it that our congress doesn’t get it that the public of the US would wish and think it is our responsibility as US citizens to stand up for our principles and that any torture is never O.K.

    We would rather give all our lives then have any human or animal mistreated, that is; (TREATED WITHOUT DIGNITY AND RESPECT AS A FELLOW LIVING BEING) in our name.

    Without principle the US is nothing and in this Cavez is absolutely correct in his speech to the UN, that is why there is such an outrage over what he said.

  10. Bernadette Garcia

    Once again McCain kisses Bush’s butt. Guess he wants to be president so bad that he would vote pro torture..That the US would even have to vote on should we or should we not torture is amazing to me. What is going on?????? Guess the devil is in the white house

  11. Bill

    Remember folks, Federal judges said that his activites were illegal because they were not sanctioned by Congress. Guess who is working so hard to sanction them so none of them can be tried as war criminals. Lay out rules so Georgie Porgie can walk around them. They want to give him the okay to approve torture methods and then not explain what the methods are. Man, who’s watchin this chicken coop.