Monday, February 13, 2006

Playing Catchup

It's been a long absence, and an awful lot is going on. Over the last few months there have been so many things to write about - and so little time. I'll do a little outsourcing here to cover some of these issues.

1) On the Egyptian massacre of Sudanese refugees, Baheyya's post is a moving description and rightfully outraged record of what happened.

2) The continuing hysteria about the Hamas victory seems to evade any sensible discussion. Perhaps more poignant is that this went totally ignored in the international flap about the results of democracy.

3) I would again turn to Baheyya on the Egyptian ferry tragedy , not least for the beautifully chosen pictures of distraught relatives that do perhaps more than all the print inches written on the story to explain the true horror and helplessness of the situation.

4) On the continuing NSA spying issue here in the U.S., I can think of no better place to turn than the writing of Geoff Stone at the University of Chicago law school. You can find his constitutional arguments against the program here . He lays out the statutory issues raised by the existence of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act here and parses the possible rammifications of the program's exposure and existence here . All are well worth reading.

There is one issue I don't simply want to palm off onto other blogs, though there's a plethora of opinion out there on it, and that is the "cartoon controversy." See my next post for my fears that a middle ground no longer exists, why the crisis is a boon to the worst elements in Western and Islamic societies, where the West and Muslims have gone horribly wrong in dealing with the issue and why I wonder whether I'll want to continue living in the U.S. if the crisis doesn't disappear.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Meaning of Graham's Amendment Dawns...Nour Jailed...

The Washington Post picked up the Graham amendment issue in today's newspaper, page 4. You can find it here .

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In other news, Egypt has jailed Al Ghad leader Ayman Nour for five years...I expected it was coming, but the regime appears to have gone totally crazy. Between the election violence and fatalities and the Nour trial and convinction, there's not really any way the Bush administration can fail to publicly criticize the situation. Indeed, they're already doing so .

Quite what Mubarak's strategy here is, I can't fathom. Surely a continuation of the usual electoral fraud would have sufficed. The violence on the ground, paired with Nour's trial have made for great footage and photos in the western media, which tends to somewhat dictate coverage direction - men with machetes being significantly more sexy than middle aged Egyptian men accusing other middle aged Egyptian men of rigging elections.

But then, the regime in Egypt is consistently repressive without being intelligent. That's partly why and how there's still room to breathe there. As with the Syrians, it seems the regime's failure to be subtle in its repression may prove its undoing.

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On a quite different note, my one week holiday begins today - outrage-filled posts will resume in January 2006. Happy new year to all -- especially you NSA folks reading in.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The All-Seeing Eye

This really speaks for itself. It's becoming overwhelming. Earlier this week I noted that fresh revelations about the extent of the NSA spying program should be expected. Here are two:

U.S. World News and Report has an exclusive report on the warrantless searches of Muslim sites across the country in a program to monitor radiation levels. The program was appearently intended to target a possible nuclear dirty bomb construction.

"In numerous cases, the monitoring required investigators to go on to the property under surveillance, although no search warrants or court orders were ever obtained, according to those with knowledge of the program. Some participants were threatened with loss of their jobs when they questioned the legality of the operation, according to these accounts."

Note: Read the piece - there is disagreement about the legality of this program; I make no claim at this point as to whether the program violates law.

The Boston Globe also reports that the NSA program likely involves monitoring ALL international communications from and to the U.S. - including those of American citizens (not just 'aliens' like me).

Again: Read the piece - important to note that much of the information gathered may well never be seen by a human being. That doesn't necessarily make it more legal or less worrying, but it's important to get these things right. Inaccuracy in representing what is happening will only weaken the ability to effectively criticize the problematic in what is actually happening.

An Outrage Moment

Wow, a real outrage moment. My fury and disappointment knows no bounds, embracing the Congress, media and human rights groups.

While all of the above wasted their time and energy trumpeting the McCain amendment on the treatment of detainees - on which a little more below - no one took the time to notice what Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was pushing through.

That amendment , intended to stop what this fine senator believes to be frivolous lawsuits brought by those detainees at Guantanamo with nothing better to do, not only passed Congress, but also garnered the support of one Carl Levin, the Democratic senator from Michigan.

The amendment was attached to the big defense spending bill that has been bouncing to and fro in Congress in the last few weeks and has now passed, awaiting only Bush's signature.

I barely know where to start here. The amendment originally intended to prevent detainees from any access to U.S. federal courts. With the involvement of Levin, it now allows those detainees access in two, TWO circumstances only. The key passage reads as follows:

" No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien outside the United States (as that term is defined in section 101(a)(38) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(38)) who is detained by the Department of Defense at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.'."

The amendment goes on to provide detainees access in the following two circumstances:

1) In order to challenge the findings of a Combatant Status Review Tribunal. These are the tribunals set up to determine whether a detainee is an enemy combatant, POW, or goatherder accidentally swept up or handed over to the U.S. for cold hard cash.
The detainee may appeal the CSRT on two points:
a) On whether the procedure the CSRT is supposed to follow has been followed and,
b) On whether that procedure is constitutional and legal as applied to an "alien enemy combatant"

2) In order to appeal the final ruling of the military tribunal 'trying' the detainee. Jurisdiction for this type of review is available in two circumstances:
a) If the detainee is sentenced to a sentence of 10 years or more
b) At the court's discretion.

Hopefully, it's instantly clear that this amendment is abominable. The rationale behind it is disturbingly illustrated by the language Graham uses in his official statements about the legislation, which can be found on his website's press releases page .

Bear in mind, as you read these that none of the detainees have been tried, even before the kangaroo courts of a military tribunal the Defense Department has established to hear the cases. The status of some remains unclear, not withstanding Bush's comments about them being the worst of the worst and unilaterally declaring them enemy combatants. Just today, the Washington Post reports that the continued detention of two ethnic Uighur men at Guantanamo is "unlawful," but that they must remain there because they will face persecution if returned to China, no third country will accept them and the judiciary does not have the power to force U.S. immigration to offer them asylum. The point? Not everyone, by a long shot, at Guantanamo is remotely proven to have any links to terrorism. And, indeed, some explictly do not.

With that in mind...

"The detainees at GTMO are not American citizens facing criminal trial, rather, they are terrorists who have taken up arms against the United States," says Graham

"Currently, over 160 cases have been filed by terrorists suing our own troops over every action taken," Graham asserts. Graham's own website lists examples of some of this "legal abuse" such as cases where detainees "have questioned the legality of their detention, propriety of returning a detainee to their home country, and allotment of exercise time."

Appalling. How dare these men, nay these terrorists, try and gain access to a legal system, any legal system, to force an explanation of why they have been held for years on end? What do they think gives them the right to request information about what they are being charged with? Indeed, it shocks the senses to hear that some are challenging being returned to countries where government routinely torture those in any way, falsely or otherwise, connected to terrorism...These countries, including Egypt, are U.S. friends in the war on terror. The U.S. even 'renders' folks over to these places, what possible right then could GTMO detainees have to challenge being sent to these places, tainted by association because of their years-long detainment.

Graham gives other examples of these lawsuits, including:

"* "Motion for PI re Medical Records" -- Motion by detainee accusing military's health professionals of "gross and intentional medical malpractice" in alleged violation of the 4th, 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments, 42 USC 1981, and unspecified international agreements."

All of these sorts of cases will now, I almost wrote would - as though this hadn't already been allowed to pass into law, be prevented from reaching U.S. courts.

But don't worry, Graham's website reassures us: "* The amendment only applies to NON-CITIZEN TERRORISTS."

GTMO, where black is white, up is down and guilt is presumed until innocence proved.

But my outrage, as I mentioned above, is not limited to the Congress for passing this. Others deserve criticism too. In recent weeks and months, Human Rights First and other civil liberties organizations have bombarded me with emails urging me to call my representatives (not being a U.S. citizen I don't actually have any...) to ensure they support the McCain amendment. And that amendment has garnered headlines, top stories and print inches all over the place, perhaps rightfully you might think.

Sadly, much as I support any effort to end, minimize, crack down on torture and associated abuse, the McCain amendment is little more than an impotent restatement of preexisting U.S. law and obligations.

The abuse and torture perpetrated by U.S. forces and personnel occured not because U.S. law permitted it, but because U.S. law was ignored or interpreted in such a way that it was rendered useless. The McCain amendment is a nice piece of legislation that simply says "we think torture is bad, we won't do it." It does not add anything new. Under normal circumstances, despite its relatively toothless nature, I would support the measure and not mind the general fanfare surrounding it. But in this case, that fanfare has served to detract from the more serious issue at hand - the Graham amendment,

And the source of that fanfare, in no small part, has been groups like Human Rights First. Partly as a result, there has been scant attention paid by the media to the Graham amendment and its impact. All this despite the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in the Hamdan case on the constitutionality of the military tribunals detainees will face.

This is beyond belief - incredibly important issues about the legitimacy of these individuals' detention and the trial process they face could never go before a court - and the media is silent, and the human rights groups are silent.

While advocacy groups seem to have failed in their role to get issues like this into the public eye, the media should take its fair share of blame. Sometimes I am ashamed of my profession - is this the best we can do?

Edit -- 01/12/06
Levin's addition to the amendment apparently means that Guantanamo cases already before the courts will still be heard, meaning the Supreme Court will hear in March the Hamdan challenge to the legitimacy of the military tribunals established to try Guantanamo detainees. I imagine this is the 'victory' achieved by Levin's support for the bill. It strikes me as rather paltry, particularly given that the military tribunals began hearing cases yesterday, in spite of the pending Supreme Court case. I suspect also that less attention paid to the McCain amendment and more Democratic effort focused on the Graham amendment might have elicited a better deal overall

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The "I" Word

That word being, of course, 'impeachment.' Perhaps inevitably that word is now doing the rounds in DC, and not for the first time (see pre-war intel 'failures'...), as a result of Bush's admission - nay declaration - that he authorized the NSA to monitor the international communications of certain U.S. based individuals, without seeking a warrant. Richard Nixon's former White House Counsel John Dean says Bush has admitted to an "impeachable offense" and now Democrat Barbara Boxer has announced that she is seeking advice from constitutional experts on the issue. Her press statement doesn't indicate who she is consulting, but the balance of opinion I've seen - with some notable exceptions I'll mention below - seems to weigh against Bush.
One constitutional expert I've the good fortune to know, is forthright about the issue:

"This action was a direct violation of federal law and the United States Constitution," Professor Geoffrey R. Stone writes.

But it's not just veteran supporters of the rule of law and civil liberties like Stone that are coming down on the 'I'-word side. Take regular Washington Times op-ed contributor Bruce Fein, former associate deputy attorney general and general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission under President Ronald Reagan. He and I would not likely see eye to eye on much, but he writes in today's Washington Times:

"President Bush presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law. He cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses," Fein wrote.

Whether or not actual impeachment proceedings will take place is anybody's guess at this point. I'll side with the 'no's' at this stage for several reasons:
1) It's early days yet - under a week since the program was revealed; CNN reported earlier that its 'security sources' say parts of the program remain secret and thus 'salvagable.'

2) It's early days in that there will need to be congressional investigations, the results of which could significantly change the way the issue is viewed

3) Further, investigation(s) will take a good while (allowing more time for more revelations), and won't even start until after the Christmas break ... if Bush's PR team can push his approval ratings up, as they have done recently through various useless repetitive, rhetoric-filled public appearances masquerading as 'Strategy for Victory' [in Iraq] presentations, well, who knows? Maybe they can turn this around yet. Certainly, the presidency has taken a firm approach to the issue, clearly making the decision to come out swinging and defiant, rather than humble and apologetic. The plan appears to be: repeat claims about Bush's presidential authority, the necessity of the actions taken, and position Bush as the defender of the American people from all that is evil, and eventually the American people will be convinced, or at least enough of them will be for the issue to pass. Could it work? Well, it sounds awfully similar to the way the administration constructed the justification for the invasion of Iraq ... remember?

4) Finally, various legal bases for Bush's authority to order this monitoring without judicial oversight are already being formulated - some, like the Wall Street Journal's editorial entitled "Thank You for Wiretapping" today, are more politicized than others. Cass Sunstein at the UChicago law school disaggregates the issues on the faculty blog with the eye of a lawyer, but there'll be plenty of time for more partisan legal experts to formulate various legal arguments over the issue before the congressional investigation begins.

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Meanwhile, the names of some of the "congressional leaders" with whom Bush claimed to have consulted about the program have come to light. Yesterday afternoon, Tom Daschle acknowledged he was told about the program, but denied that he was in a position to influence it. He has been joined by Democratic Senator John 'Jay' Rockefeller, vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Intelligence, who has released a handwritten letter to Dick Cheney, in which he expressed concern about the program. "I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing," Rockefeller wrote.

Amazingly, Rockefeller felt it necessary - and notes this in the letter - to keep a record of the letter. "I am retaining a copy of this letter in a sealed envelope in the secure spaces of the Senate Intelligence Committee to ensure that I have a record of this communication," he wrote. Prescient indeed, his having done so helps undermine the claim that Congress was a part of the decision-making process.

Monday, December 19, 2005

What a man, what a man...

Well, you have to hand it to Bush, he's got gall. As the legislative year winds down (it's nearly over, but not quite, on which more below) Bush held his end-of-year press conference today. In light of last week's revelation that he authorized domestic spying and the Senate's refusal to pass the renewal of the Patriot Act, you might have thought he'd have appeared humbled, subdued, perhaps. But no! Not only did he repeat his authorization of the spying program, he again criticized the exposure of the program and stopped only one step short of saying that senators who filibuster the Patriot Act renewal bill will be responsible for a future attack in the United States.

Domestic Spying
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In his opening remarks, he told reporters that:

"Consistent with U.S. law and the Constitution, I authorize[d] the interception of international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. This program is carefully reviewed every 45 days."

Bush added that he'd reauthorized the program more than 30 times and said "I intend to do so for so long ... as the nation faces the continuing threat of an enemy that wants to kill American citizens."

He also pointed out, at least three times during the opening remarks and subsequent Q and A that "leaders in the United States Congress have been briefed more than a dozen times on this program."

So - two things of note to pull apart straight away:

1) The administration's claim for Bush's authority to order the monitoring -- One of the chief architect of the most grossly narrowed definition of torture ever, now-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales did the rounds on the news stations this morning to explain that the presidential authority to order the monitoring is derived first from his constitutional authority as president and second from the congressional authorization for the use of force passed three days after 9/11.

a) Constitutional Authority:
The administration's vastly expansive interpretation of the constitutional authority of the president is nothing new - it has popped up with unsurprising frequency to justify various 'war on terror' actions, including the presidents decision to strip certain 'war on terror' detainees of any type of Geneva Convention protections and unilaterally declare them to belong to a category of his administrations' invention: enemy combatant. The argument here runs that the constitution gives the president command of the military and the responsibility to protect the American people and that significant discretionary powers flow from that grant of authority. All sorts of frightening legal arguments about what Bush could do with that sort of power have been made since 9/11 -- examples include the possibility that he could allow torture and override international treaties to which the United States is party (not to suggest that he may not already have done this, the point is these arguments suggest such actions could be legally justifiable) -- I'll provide some links at a later stage.
b)Congressional Authorization for the Use of Force Post-9/11
Not to be confused with the authorization for the use of force that Bush obtained from Congress in order to invade Iraq. This refers to the joint authorization passed on September 14, 2001, that essentially authorized the invasion of Afghanistan - and, again, has been horribly abused by the Bush adminstration's legal lackeys to justify massive expansion of his presidential powers. In that vein, tis of little surprise (though several members of Congress understandly expressed great surprise...) that Gonzales et al claim this resolution provided secondary authority to Bush allowing his to instruct the NSA to spy domestically without a warrant. The actual text that the administration would have you believe provides this authority is this:

"The President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."

Does this contain any sense of an authorization for secret monitoring of domestic communications without ANY judicial oversight? Well, I think my take is clear...

Back to Bush's speech:

2) The second thing to question here is the Bush claim that congressional 'leaders' were consulted over a dozen times. Assuming this is true, and twelve (ok, he said more than twelve, which most likely means 13 times) times is dismally few given the numbers of individuals reportedly being monitored, just who are these individuals? Bush didn't identify any of them, but one Tom Daschle , a former Democratic Senator from South Dakota, identified himself in a press statement circulated by email from his new position as a 'senior distinguished fellow' at the Center for American Progress. That email stated:

"Between 2002 and 2004, the White House notified me in classified briefings about NSA programs related to the war on terrorism.  The briefers made clear they were not seeking my advice or consent, but were simply informing me about new actions.  If subsequent public accounts are accurate, it now also appears the briefers omitted key details, including
important information about the scope of the program. Even with some of the more troublesome - and potentially illegal -
details omitted, I still raised significant concern about these actions."

Daschle said he supported a full investigation into the issue ... something Bush specifically rejected in his press conference. As with his comments when he first acknowledged the program, the emphasis was less on what was being done, but who told everyone about it. Bush called the revelation a "shameful act" and directly said "the fact that we're discussing this program is helping the enemy."

Patriot Act
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On the Patriot Act, Bush was as utterly unrepentant, despite the Senate being unable to muster enough votes to even end debate and move to voting on the renewal bill. This issue, as hinted above, is one issue ensuring the Senate won't be following their House counterparts home for the holidays anytime soon. While the NSA spying scandal looks likely to further diminish the palatability of the Patriot Act, Bush pulled no punches in talking about the Senate's failure to pass the renewal bill.

"It is inexcusable for the Unites States Senate to let this Patriot Act expire," he said. Continuing, he noted that the 9/11 commission had criticized the government's inability to 'connect the dots' prior to the attacks. "Well the Patriot Act helps us connect the fots, and now, the United States Senate is going to let this bill expire," he continued... But then, stopping and corrrecting himself:

"Not the Senate, a minority of senators. And I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas to go home and explain why these cities are safer [without the Act]. It is inexcusable to say on the one hand 'connect the dots' and not give us a chance to do so," Bush said.

Looking truly put out by the whole issue, Bush noted that "most of the senators now filibustering the Patriot Act actually voted for it in 2001." True. Unfortunately, what he didn't note is that the 100+ page document was altered overnight, without congressional consultation before being put to the vote and many congressional members have since admitted freely that they had not (and in some cases probably have still not) read the final version. As someone who has had the misfortune to have read the entire product, I can understand this. It's an appallingly long and difficult to read piece of legislation - perhaps intentionally so - and it is thus entirely disingenous for Bush to claim the senators who now have the good sense to question the legality and sense of some provisions are somehow "flip-flopping."

 

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Bush Speaks ...

Bush responded to yesterday's reports about the NSA spying on U.S. based individuals today. While he managed to get through it all, in his weekly radio address, without mentioning the "enemy that lurks" he did justify the program and reiterate it was being used to, yep, prevent another 9/11.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the address, aside from the fact that he chose to address the issue at all, was the not-so-veiled attack on the NY Times for publishing the story.

"Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country."

It seems, in keeping with the adminstration's response to the Post revelation of secret CIA prisons, that the issue of concern is less what's being done but the fact that everyone has found out about it. It's perhaps, however, a sign of the crisis the revelation has caused in the administration that Bush decided to discuss it at all. He has stuck to his guns on refusing to address, personally or through White House spokesman Scott McClellan, the secret prisons and other more domestic issues, like Karl Rove's role in the outing of ex-CIA operative Valerie Plame.

It seems then, given his comments, that this issue has really shaken things up. I suspect, as I noted yesterday, this may be partly because this scandal involves something the U.S. government is doing right here, right now to the American people. A slightly catty article in the Post today also suggests that the administration tried extremely hard to convince the Times not to publish the article at all, arguing with editors about the legality of the program. While the Post article is a little too smug about the Times' shameful pre-war intel reporting, it does also note that the article:

"did not disclose that the information is included in a forthcoming book, "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration," written by James Risen, the lead reporter on yesterday's story. The book will be published in mid-January, according to its publisher, Simon & Schuster."

Something light with which to ring in '06...

Friday, December 16, 2005

Looking over your shoulder, but only because they've got your back?

The New York Times reports that Bush has authorized the National Security Agency to monitor the emails and phone calls of people inside the U.S. ... without warrants. NSA has long been responsible for spying on embassies and known 'foreign agents' within the U.S., the controversy here is that the NSA has apparently been given permission, by presidential fiat, to essentially spy on anyone in the U.S. in contact with anyone abroad, without a warrant. Frankly, even when the NSA was bothering to seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts, the process hardly served as the ultimate checks and balances system. FISA courts are known for serving as little more than rubber stamps ... making it perhaps all the more disturbing that the NSA found it necessary to bypass even that rubber stamp approval.

The "silver lining" of all this is the timing of the revelation: it comes as the Senate wrangles over the renewal of the soon-to-expire provisions of the good ole Patriot Act . Some of the more controversial provisions are due to "sunset" at the end of this month, and will thus expire altogether if not renewed before December 31st. The House of Representatives, which has been doing some beautiful rubber-stamping of its own for a while now, passed the renewal bill this week. However, Senator Russ Feingold - the only person brave enough to oppose the Patriot Act when it was first introduced - and others in the Senate made clear that they were unhappy with the "compromise" negotiated by a House-Senate team. Interestingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly when you think about it, the opponents to some of the controversial provisions of the act make rather strange bedfellows. They include both Democrats and Republicans, fluffy liberal librarians who don't like being forced to secretly reveal who is taking out all those Arabic cuisine cookbooks as well as businesses who would rather not reveal information about their clients.

To cut an already rather long story short, a group of stalwart Senators threatened to filibuster the offending compromise bill, but it was not clear whether that would work as a tactic, given the Senate (along with just about every institution of government these days) is Republican-dominated and a filibuster could be defeated with 60 votes to move from debate to a final vote on the passage of the bill. It seems, however, that the New York Times article may have directly influenced the vote in the Senate today, which came out 52-47 to end debate. That, clearly, is eight votes short... Democratic Senator Chuck (Charles) Schumer of NY explicitly referred to the report, saying "today's revelation makes it crystal clear that we have to be very careful, very careful."

Where this all goes from here will be interesting. Republicans and Democrats alike have jumped all over the issue; they're talking probes, expressing outrage and so on and so forth. The fact that it's been brought to light can't be a bad thing, but the revelation after revelation in the media here about Bush administration malfeasance at home and abroad (see manipulation of pre-war intel; abuse in Iraq; abuse in Afghanistan; abuse at Gitmo; rendition; secret prisons; massive civilian casualties in Iraq - and also Afghanistan - FBI harassment of Arab Americans; planting false news in Iraqi newspapers...these are a few of my favorite things *splutter* I mean the ones that most readily come to mind) you get the feeling that the American public has become desensitized. The CIA secret prisons isuse is a good example - if it wasn't for poor old Condi Rice getting what for in Old Europe about what the U.S. is doing with detainees in New Europe (and those undecided members of Europe, like the U.K.) you suspect the whole issue might have died down much quicker than it has. Of course, Senator John McCain (Republican from Arizona) has kept the torture issue on the table with his bill to reaffirm that U.S. soliders are not allowed to torture, but ultimately - sad to say - that bill really does little more than highlight the existing U.S. ban on torture. In other words, U.S. soldiers and personnel have never been legally permitted to torture, and yet they have. The issue has been 'just what constitutes torture?' and by defining it flexibly the administration has justified - to itself if no one else - what most of the rest of us would probably describe as torture. McCain's effort, while laudable in sentiment, doesn't define anything ... bringing us, if you will, back to square one. And, to come back to the point, once the bill passes - which it will now the White House has negotiated a deal with McCain over the issue - everyone can go back to reading and forgetting about the latest Bush administration horror story.


The New York Times report also raises an issue brought up by the Washington Post's previous report on the now not-so-secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and elsewhere. Back when that story was reported, the article noted:

"The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials. They argued that the disclosure might disrupt counterterrorism efforts in those countries and elsewhere and could make them targets of possible terrorist retaliation."

In a similar manner, the New York Times article today states:

"The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted."

In the former case, it mattered little that the Post decided not to publish the names of the Eastern European countries, as Human Rights Watch shortly afterwards announced its candidates for the culprits, namely Poland and Russia. In the case of the New York Times, you have to wonder what difference a year has made. How many more people have been subjected to unconstitutional spying because the White House successfully convinced the Times that pressing security needs meant the article should wait? While I see, in some limited cases, the need for the media to avoid revealing certain things (say - for fun - announcing tomorrow's planned troop movements, or the best way to steal nuclear material), I'm instinctively suspicious of any authority's claim that "security" concerns trump the public's right, nay need to know. And in cases such as this, where the government's actions are seriously questionable on the legal front, I tend to think my instinct is correct. If the Times delayed the article for a month or two, or even three to do some further fact checking and so on, more power to them - dedication to an accurate story is something I admire and value. But to delay the story for a year smacks of some capitulation, and of course some serious administration pressure.

All this is not to detract from the Times' report. Disappointed as I may be about their decision to delay the article, its ultimate publication is incredibly important. The Times has many a journalistic sin for which to atone when it comes to reporting on this administration - Judy Miller and the tale of the WMD, anyone? - articles such as today's go a ways towards atonement, not to mention building for all those still in need of convincing, a more complete picture of just how despicable this administration is. Sad to say, I suspect many an American could all too easily accept the idea of their government spying on us 'aliens' but the U.S. spying on U.S. citizens leaves Americans in the post-Vietnam era with a rather unpleasant taste in their mouth, as I understand it...as well it might.