February 12, 2008

Today's injustices: telecom immunity and show trials

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at February 12, 2008 7:05 PM

As the results come in from today's Potomac Primaries, I'm very happy to see Barack Obama continue to defeat Clinton by huge margins. Meanwhile, political news today brought reminders of why this stuff matters.

We had the Senate vote to grant retroactive immunity to telecoms who participated in the warrantless wiretapping program. The Dodd/Feingold amendment, which would have held the telecoms accountable for breaking the law, was soundly rejected by a 31-67 vote. It's probably too much at this point to expect Republicans to stand up for the rule of law, but it's shameful that so many Democrats voted nay here. Once again I wonder why the increasingly useless Dianne Feinstein is one of the senators from California. Meanwhile, Obama voted for the amendment, but Clinton didn't bother to show up. I'll give her some slack since the vote wasn't close, but some leadership on this issue from her might have helped.

Meanwhile, the military is finally preparing to file charges against some of the Guantanamo detainees; they are seeking the death penalty. Parts of the article inadvertently highlight just how badly this system has gone wrong.

Col. Steven David, the chief military defense lawyer for the Guantánamo cases, who must provide detainees with military lawyers, said he did not have six lawyers available to take the cases, which the Pentagon described as a milestone in the war on terror.

In addition, he noted, a tangle of questions are unanswered in the military commission system, which has yet to begin a single trial. They include whether waterboarding constitutes torture, how statements obtained by coercion are to be handled, whether detainees may be so psychologically damaged that they may not be able to assist in their defense and exactly what the rules of the trials are to be.

The fact that any of these things are questions at all is appalling. Yes, waterboarding is torture. If this isn't obvious from a simple description of the procedure (and it should be), it's obvious from the fact that it has historically been used to torture people. No, statements obtained through torture should not be admissible as evidence. Historically, the primary use of torture has been to obtain false confessions, and there's no reason whatsoever to think this information is reliable. It's horrifying that any of this is even up for debate in this country.

Whether or not these men are guilty of the charges against them, executing them based on statements elicited through torture will not be just. That would make these military commissions no better than the show trials Stalin used against his political opponents. I can only hope that the military comes to its senses on this and gives these men a fair trial.

Meanwhile, as long as we're charging people with war crimes, let's do Donald Rumsfeld next: he personally approved the torture of these detainees.

Tags: Politics, Senate
Comments

I found one thing interesting about that series of votes, after looking it up via a link in a recent Making Light thread. While Obama voted for the amendment you mentioned (and many other amendments which would have affected the scope, which failed), and also voted against closing the floor and going to a final vote on the bill, he didn't vote in the last vote of the day, on the bill itself. Any idea why? It seems that he was opposing the bill and trying to get the amendments which would have blunted the immunity provision, passed, but why not vote no on the final bill? (Clinton appeared to not be present at all based on the voting rolls, as well as one other who I didn't recognize.)

Posted by: Zifnab | February 13, 2008 2:08 AM

My guess is that, it being the final vote of the day, Obama had already left to prepare for the victory speeches and so forth following the primaries. Strategically, the cloture vote is the important one, so once that passed Obama could leave knowing it wouldn't affect the outcome. On the other hand, there is some symbolic value to having a "no" vote on the final bill. (That's the vote that gets reported in the papers the next day, after all.)

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | February 13, 2008 9:35 AM

the issues of atcive senetors running for election...

Posted by: Anonymous | February 13, 2008 1:52 PM

Just found an incredibly depressing example of (bipartisan) Congressional priorities from John Cole:

"There is a very real and perverse possibility that the NFL will face tougher sanctions for spying on practice squads and covering it up than the telecoms and this President will face for spying on the citizenry and lying about it.

And now I am watching congresscritters grill Roger Clemens over steroids use. No administration official, in seven years of lying, crime, and outright perfidy, has ever been subjected to such a hostile interrogation."

Posted by: Justin | February 13, 2008 2:06 PM

I refuse to watch the steroid probe. I consider it a true was of tax payer money and government time.

Posted by: shellock | February 14, 2008 4:59 AM
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