Friday, September 29, 2006

The day America died

Yesterday was a terrible, terrible day in American history. It was a day that may live on in infamy, a day that America, or at least an important part of her, died.

President Bush, as I have argued many times before (and most recently here) is an enabler of torturer. And now both the House and the Senate have voted to enact Bush's torture legislation. The vote in the House was 253 to 168. The vote in the Senate was 65 to 34. Twelve Democrats supported the legislation. They should be ashamed of themselves. One Republican, Lincoln Chafee, opposed it. He should be a Democrat.

In the Senate, Arlen Specter sought to include an amendment "to allow foreigners designated as enemy combatants to challenge their captivity by filing habeas corpus appeals with the federal courts," but that effort failed 51 to 48. The Republicans have no interest in habeus corpus. Aside from Specter, only three Republicans -- Chafee, Gordon Smith, and John Sununu -- voted for the amendment. One Democrats -- Ben Nelson -- voted against it.

What's in the legislation? Pretty much everything Bush wanted -- a lot of leeway that empowers the president to make the key decisions regarding the application of the Geneva Conventions and habeus corpus with respect to enemy combatants as defined by the president.

Here's how The Washington Post explained it: "By writing into law for the first time the definition of an 'unlawful enemy combatant,' the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have 'purposefully and materially' supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death."

Here's how the editors of The New Republic explained it: "For starters, the bill strips federal courts of the ability to hear challenges to the military commissions until after the trials are completed--which could result in years of legal uncertainty. It also repeals the writ of habeas corpus for suspected enemy combatants held at Guantánamo Bay who are never formally charged with a crime, making it impossible for them to challenge the lawfulness of their detentions. It denies suspected terrorists the right to see exculpatory evidence held by the government, to confront their interrogators in court, or even to see the original transcripts (rather than the translated summaries) of their statements to interrogators."

And here's how Dahlia Lithwick expressed it at Slate: "Now we are affirmatively asking to be left in the dark. Instead of torture we were unaware of, we are sanctioning torture we'll never hear about. Instead of detainees we didn't care about, we are authorizing detentions we'll never know about. Instead of being misled by the president, we will be blind and powerless by our own choice. And that is a shame on us all."

Yes, the shame of it all. America is a fundamentally different country today. David Corn shows just how different it is. All this may have been going on secretly under Bush's guidance, but now America is legally a nation of torture. It is a nation that in this respect now resembles the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge.

America has lost her way. Or, rather, she has been distorted into something profoundly un-American by her president and his supporters. It is time to take her back again, before it is truly too late.

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