Monday, August 06, 2007

But enough about the bridge

For a little while anyway. Today Spot wants to suggest some attention to an issue that is probably a little under the radar screen, for Minnesotans anyway. Some Minnesotans. It is the issue of the expansion of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Many of you know that the president pistol whipped Congress into the passage of an expansion of FISA. But is this enough? Oh, no! Here's the president:

When Congress returns in September the Intelligence committees and leaders in both parties will need to complete work on the comprehensive reforms requested by Director McConnell, including the important issue of providing meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have assisted our Nation following the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Jack Balkin writes about it in Bush to Democratic Congress: Your Complete Capitulation is Not Good Enough. What the president means, of course, is "meaningful liability protection to those who are alleged to have committed war crimes following the attacks of September 11, 1991." You gotta love the president's choice of words. Orwell would have been proud.

It is also clear that some people in the CIA are clearly worried about this. In Jane Mayer's recent New Yorker article The Black Sites, there is this:

Confidentiality may be particularly stringent in this case [a Red Cross report of detainee treatment]. Congressional and other Washington sources familiar with the report said that it harshly criticized the C.I.A.’s practices. One of the sources said that the Red Cross described the agency’s detention and interrogation methods as tantamount to torture, and declared that American officials responsible for the abusive treatment could have committed serious crimes. The source said the report warned that these officials may have committed “grave breaches” of the Geneva Conventions, and may have violated the U.S. Torture Act, which Congress passed in 1994. The conclusions of the Red Cross, which is known for its credibility and caution, could have potentially devastating legal ramifications.

Concern about the legality of the C.I.A.’s program reached a previously unreported breaking point last week when Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat on the intelligence committee, quietly put a “hold” on the confirmation of John Rizzo, who as acting general counsel was deeply involved in establishing the agency’s interrogation and detention policies. Wyden’s maneuver essentially stops the nomination from going forward. “I question if there’s been adequate legal oversight,” Wyden told me. He said that after studying a classified addendum to President Bush’s new executive order, which specifies permissible treatment of detainees, “I am not convinced that all of these techniques are either effective or legal. I don’t want to see well-intentioned C.I.A. officers breaking the law because of shaky legal guidance.”

The report also discusses how detainees were "processed":

The C.I.A.’s interrogation program is remarkable for its mechanistic aura. 'It’s one of the most sophisticated, refined programs of torture ever,' an outside expert familiar with the protocol said. 'At every stage, there was a rigid attention to detail. Procedure was adhered to almost to the letter. There was top-down quality control, and such a set routine that you get to the point where you know what each detainee is going to say, because you’ve heard it before. It was almost automated. People were utterly dehumanized. People fell apart. It was the intentional and systematic infliction of great suffering masquerading as a legal process. It is just chilling.'

Here are more of Voltaire's Bastards at work, exalting process as a way of deflecting questions about the humanity and morality of what is being done. Marty Lederman has more.

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