On Friday, Patrick Martin called "an extraordinary declaration of the brutality of American foreign policy" the announcement by White House spokesman Scott McClellan on Wednesday that George W. Bush planned to veto the entire appropriation bill rather than have his power to order torture restricted.[1]  --  Yet, as Martin points out, "The amendment itself is extremely limited in its scope.  It simply prohibits 'cruel, inhuman or degrading' treatment of those in the custody of the military and requires that questioning of prisoners detained by the military follow the existing U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation.  No such restrictions would apply to those held by U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the prisoners in the CIA-run detention centers at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and at undisclosed locations elsewhere in the world.  Those captives can still be tortured at will."  --  Following the Senate vote, mainstream U.S. papers tended to take an absurdly self-congratulatory tone, as if U.S. honor had been restored by this feeble event of doubtful effect.  --  The Seattle Times spoke of its "clarity of purpose."[2]  --  The San Francisco Chronicle called it "a proud moment for the U.S. Senate."[3]  --  The Boston Globe absurdly titled its editorial "No Room for Torture."[4]  --  Yet under the McCain amendment, the military has only to call in the CIA in order to torture a captive.  --  That each of these newspapers understands the scope of the amendment is clear from the fact that they specify that it applies, respectively, to "the military," "soldiers," or "troops," rather than generally.  --  Yet each so frames the issue that an uninformed reader comes away with an impression that a more general ban is contemplated.  --  Such linguistic legerdemain is standard fare in American corporate-controlled media, which with few exceptions have no time for human rights and which have regarded with great complacency crimes against humanity committed by U.S. agents in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Guantanamo.  --  U.S. corporate-owned media, again with few exceptions, -- the Washington Post in particular has shown interest in the subject -- have failed to acknowledge or report on the worldwide gulag of U.S. secret prisons where torture is routinely carried out.  --  Such deception is a sign of how the culture of war has debased our journalistic institutions....


News & Analysis

North America

By Patrick Martin

World Socialist Web Site
October 7, 2005


In an extraordinary declaration of the brutality of American foreign policy, the Bush administration denounced a Senate vote to bar the use of torture against prisoners held by the U.S. military. Responding to the passage of an amendment to a Pentagon spending bill -- approved by an overwhelming 90-9 vote Wednesday, the White House said the proposal would “restrict the president’s authority to protect Americans effectively from terrorist attack and bring terrorists to justice.”

The statement indicated that Bush would veto the entire appropriation, providing $440 billion to fund military operations for the next fiscal year, rather than accept the restrictions on interrogation techniques spelled out in the Senate amendment.

The 90-9 vote came on an amendment sponsored by Senator John McCain of Arizona, a Republican and former prisoner of war in Vietnam. McCain, a fervent supporter of the war in Iraq, has opposed the use of torture in military facilities like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo, because it damages U.S. foreign policy interests and could become the pretext for subjecting captured American military personnel to the same techniques in retaliation.

McCain’s amendment had the backing of two dozen former generals and admirals, including former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff John Shalikashvili and former Secretary of State and JCS chairman Colin Powell. Forty-six Republicans, 43 Democrats, and one independent voted for the amendment, which was opposed by only nine Republicans. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist voted with McCain and against the White House position.

Frist delayed the introduction of the anti-torture language earlier this summer, maintaining that Congress should not put restrictions on the measures which the administration felt were necessary to fight the “war on terror.” But the events of the past three months, both in the increasingly bloody stalemate in Iraq and the feeble response of the federal government to the Gulf hurricane crisis, have weakened the Bush administration.

The amendment itself is extremely limited in its scope. It simply prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment of those in the custody of the military and requires that questioning of prisoners detained by the military follow the existing U.S. Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. No such restrictions would apply to those held by U.S. intelligence agencies, such as the prisoners in the CIA-run detention centers at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and at undisclosed locations elsewhere in the world. Those captives can still be tortured at will.

During the final debate on the amendment, McCain read out a letter from former secretary of state Powell endorsing the measure, which Powell said would address “the terrible public diplomacy crisis created by Abu Ghraib.” It was the first time since his departure from office in January that Powell has publicly opposed the foreign policy of the Bush administration -- a measure of the impact of the Iraqi debacle on the U.S. foreign policy and military establishment.

At a press briefing Wednesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan confirmed that Bush would veto the entire appropriation bill rather than have his power to order torture restricted. McClellan made absurdly contradictory claims, declaring the amendment “unnecessary and duplicative” in view of current administration policy, which supposedly bans torture, and at the same time saying “it would limit the President’s ability as commander-in-chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism.”

The McCain amendment originates in an effort by senators with close ties to the Pentagon brass -- McCain, in addition to being a celebrated POW, is the son of an admiral -- to get the military off the hook for the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. In the course of the final debate, McCain cited complaints by top military officers over conflicting signals from the White House about what was permissible in the treatment of prisoners. “Confusion about the rules results in abuses in the field,” he said.

This was a veiled reference to the infamous memos authored by the Bush Justice Department and the White House Legal Counsel’s office -- then headed by the current attorney general Alberto Gonzales -- that claimed presidential authority to ignore the Geneva Conventions and the International Convention Against Torture, based on Bush’s constitutional powers as commander-in-chief.

Senators supporting the amendment cited the colossal impact of the Abu Ghraib revelations on world public opinion. Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said, “The best thing we can do is give the guidance [the troops] need to make sure we can win the war on terror and never lose the moral high ground.”

One factor in the top-heavy Senate vote was the recent testimony by a former Army captain, Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne Division, about systematic beating and mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners in early 2004, near Fallujah, a center of resistance to the U.S. occupation. Fishback and two former sergeants in his unit have come forward, confirming that Abu Ghraib was not an exception, but rather typical of the treatment meted out to hundreds and thousands of prisoners across the country.

Also contributing is the steady stream of revelations about torture at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. Last month the U.S. press carried reports on widespread hunger strikes among the prisoners at Guantánamo, with as many as 200 prisoners refusing food for as long as 45 days. At least 18 prisoners were hospitalized and several force-fed. The prisoners were protesting the conditions under which they are held, particularly the savage beatings by a notorious squad of military thugs known as IRF. They have also demanded the right to challenge their incarceration before an independent panel, as provided for under the Geneva Conventions, rather than appearing before the rigged military tribunals set up by the Bush administration.




Seattle Times
October 8, 2005


This week's 90-9 vote in the U.S. Senate to ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners by the military found a clarity of purpose and voice that eludes the Bush administration.

Behind all the shocking revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and reports of abuse at Guantánamo was a bumbling confusion at the Pentagon and White House that tossed out long-standing rules as they demanded that interrogations yield intelligence. U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., cut through the fog with a timely quote from an Army captain asking for unambiguous guidelines: "Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for."

The young veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan had tried and failed to get answers up the chain of command.

Those sentiments were echoed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a retired four-star Army general, and 28 other senior military retirees, who also saw guidelines as potentially protecting troops if they became prisoners.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a former judge advocate, noted, "If you don't practice what you preach, nobody listens."

Such rules of behavior project American values as powerfully as any oratory on the desirability of democracy and the rule of law.

The amendment that passed has been around since summer, but the GOP leadership had balked, saying it tied the hands of the executive branch. Eventually, even threats of a presidential veto could not keep this statement down.

The language is appended to a $440 billion military-spending bill. The White House has said the McCain-Graham amendment might be the first veto of the Bush presidency.

A veto would be a tragic mistake, as would the amendment's demise during House-Senate conferences on the competing versions of the military-spending package.

A powerful, bipartisan voice has articulated a basic statement of what is permitted and forbidden with detainees in U.S. control. A handful of words speaks volumes to the rest of the world.



San Francisco Chronicle
October 7, 2005


It is a grim measure of the state of the Bush administration's approach to human rights that the U.S. Senate would need to include a prohibition on torture in a military spending bill.

Even more damning, the White House is threatening a veto of the $440 billion package unless the torture ban is removed.

The amendment was sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former prisoner in the Vietnam War who knows something about inhumane treatment.

McCain made an impassioned plea for his fellow senators to make a clear and binding commitment that our soldiers would follow the prisoner-treatment guidelines in the Army Field Manual. Such a measure, he said, would leave no confusion about whether cruel and degrading treatment would be tolerated.

It would, he added, help repair some of the damage to this nation's reputation caused by the abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The amendment was supported by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a retired four-star Army general.

As co-sponsoring Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., noted, "We take this moral high ground to make sure that if our people fall into enemy hands, we'll have the moral force to say, 'You have got to treat them right,' "Graham said. "If you don't practice what you preach . . . nobody listens."

The measure cleared the Senate on a 90-9 vote. However, the House spending bill did not include the torture-ban provision, and the veto threat will put pressure on Republicans to delete it when the two bills go to a conference committee to reconcile differences.

Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who spoke against the amendment, suggested that in a war against terrorism, our enemies are not "entitled to the same type of treatment" as in other wars.

McCain had good answers for that argument as well. "Our enemies don't adhere to the Geneva Conventions," he acknowledged.

But as McCain said, the way this nation treats its prisoners is not "about them." It is "about us.''

The vote was a proud moment for the U.S. Senate.



Boston Globe
October 7, 2005


For 18 months, Congress and the world have known that something has been terribly wrong at Guantanamo and in the detention centers in Iraq and Afghanistan, where U.S. troops have tortured and killed detainees in violation of U.S. and international law. Finally, the Senate has acted, by an impressive 90-9 vote, to end the confusion over the rules of military interrogation. Instead of threatening to veto the measure, as his staff has done, President Bush should embrace it as evidence that the military will correct abuses and hold itself to a high standard.

Two of the leaders of the push to better regulate the interrogation and treatment of prisoners have military backgrounds that give them a feeling for the issue that both Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lack. Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona was a POW in Vietnam, where, he said Wednesday, he and his comrades suffering mistreatment "took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies." Another sponsor is Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who served as a lawyer in the military.

The measure -- an amendment to a $440 billion military spending bill -- also has the support of former secretary of state Colin Powell, who has said it would help to address "the terrible public diplomacy crisis created by Abu Ghraib." The president's former adviser Karen Hughes has tried to improve U.S. standing in the Islamic world with a tour of the region, but passage of the McCain amendment, with its clear requirement that troops use only the interrogation techniques approved in the U.S. Army Field Manual, would be far more effective than her barnstorming.

Further proof of the need for the amendment came with the recent statements by three members of the 82d Airborne Division that its soldiers had beaten and abused detainees in Iraq. One of the three is a captain who finally brought his allegations to Congress and Human Rights Watch after finding the Army unresponsive. The captain laid much of the blame for the abuse to confusion among troops about acceptable interrogation techniques. As McCain said Wednesday: "We demanded intelligence without ever clearly telling our troops what was permitted and what was forbidden. And when things went wrong, we blamed and punished them."

Accountability for the lack of clarity goes right to Bush and the Justice and Defense departments. Since 2001, a flurry of ambiguous statements about the status of detainees has left soldiers in a netherworld where abuse was predictable. The Senate amendment should be adopted by the House as well. If Bush makes this the first veto of his presidency, he will be putting the United States officially on the wrong side of an important moral divide.