The Torture Bill

THE TORTURE BILL….The “compromise” agreement on torture has apparently got everyone scratching their heads. For starters, the following (among other things like murder and rape) are specifically forbidden as “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions:

severe or serious physical or mental pain or suffering….including serious physical abuse…. disfiguring the person or persons by any mutilation thereof or by permanently disabling any member, limb, or organ….serious bodily injury….sexual contact

That’s all well and good, but the legislation also allows the president to unilaterally decide what’s permissible below this threshold. And this threshold doesn’t seem to prohibit, for example, stress positions, sleep deprivation, waterboarding, or hypothermia. Presumably, then, all of this stuff will continue. Marty Lederman’s reading of the bill’s language is that “the Senators have capitulated entirely,” and the New York Times agrees that President Bush won nearly everything he had originally wanted:

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush?s agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant.

….On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House?s original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guant?namo Bay.

More careful analysis of the compromise language is probably needed, but at this point it looks like the three Republican “moderates” gave in completely. If that’s the case, the only question remaining is whether this was all staged from the beginning to put Democrats in an impossible position, or if they genuinely caved in on practically every detail. Stay tuned for more on that.