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Monitoring Our Defense

This column was written by Ari Berman.

The Bush Administration appears far more concerned with renaming the "war on terror" than rethinking its failed anti-terror policies. To date, the Administration has failed to hold high-ranking officers or officials accountable for torture at Abu Ghraib, to properly investigate prisoner abuses at Guantanamo Bay, or to abandon its controversial "extraordinary rendition" program. Now the White House is intensely lobbying Congress against any oversight that might compromise its well-honed torture tactics.

As part of a massive $491 billion defense authorization bill, John McCain on Monday introduced amendments to set uniform interrogation standards according to the Army field manual on interrogation, to register all foreign detainees, including "ghost detainees," with the International Red Cross, and to prohibit the Pentagon from engaging in "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of prisoners. McCain's amendments have the support of former Air Force lawyer Lindsay Graham, Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner and possibly 10 other Republican Senators, comprising what the Washington Post called "an incipient Republican rebellion."

Luckily for Bush, the Senate postponed debate on the authorization bill until the fall, opting instead to shield gun manufacturers from civil liability lawsuits in their last week of business. The NRA seems to be the only thing that could get the Administration temporarily off the hook.

In the past week, Dick Cheney twice met with McCain, Graham and Warner to express the Administration's displeasure with the anti-torture provisions. "They don't think congressional involvement is necessary," McCain said after one meeting. They don't much believe in constitutional checks and balances either. According to Reuters, "Pentagon talking points ... circulating around the Capitol said the issue had been 'thoroughly investigated' and 'a new open-ended investigation' would add 'nothing but political theater.'" The White House has threatened to veto the entire authorization bill if the McCain amendments pass.

Bush now has a month to practice that veto signature. Several Republicans helped defeat a cloture motion introduced by the GOP leadership on the authorization bill yesterday. Come September, along with McCain's efforts, a slew of Democrats will press for a 9/11-style commission to study detainee abuse, a ban on the transfer/rendition of prisoners to countries where they may be tortured, the application of the Geneva Conventions to all enemy combatants and the closing of Gitmo. Expect the Administration to vigorously oppose such standards.

"The department and the services are doing everything possible to address this challenge," says the Pentagon's talking points. Giving Halliburton new contracts at Gitmo may not be what the American people had in mind.
By Ari Berman
Reprinted with permission from The Nation

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