"When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised that the Lord doesn't work that way, so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."
I thought of that quote when I read this Associated Press story:
The Bush administration drafted amendments to the War Crimes Act that would retroactively protect policymakers from possible criminal charges for authorizing any humiliating and degrading treatment of detainees, according to lawyers who have seen the proposal.
The move by the administration is the latest effort to deal with treatment of those taken into custody in the war on terror.
At issue are interrogations carried out by the CIA, and the degree to which harsh tactics such as water-boarding were authorized by administration officials. A separate law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, applies to the military.
The Washington Post first reported on the War Crimes Act amendments Wednesday.
One section of the draft would outlaw torture and inhuman or cruel treatment, but it does not contain prohibitions from Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions against "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." A copy of the section of the draft was obtained by The Associated Press.
Clearly, Bush knows the way the Lord works. It's not a new strategy - he learned it from Arlen Specter, who showed him how the Lord works. When Bush broke the law and circumvented the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), Specter had a great idea - don't hold the administration accountable for breaking the law, change the law to bring it into agreement with the administration's actions. The Washington Post:
The federal government would have to obtain permission from a secret court to continue a controversial form of surveillance, which the National Security Agency now conducts without warrants, under a bill being proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).
Specter's proposal would bring the four-year-old NSA program under the authority of the court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The act created a mechanism for obtaining warrants to wiretap domestic suspects. But President Bush, shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on communications without such warrants. The program was revealed in news reports two months ago.
Specter's plan could put him at odds with the administration, which has praised a rival proposal that would exempt the NSA program from the surveillance law. Specter's proposal would also require the administration to give a handful of lawmakers more information about the program than they now receive, such as the number of communications intercepted and a summary of the results.
The draft version of Specter's bill, which is circulating in intelligence and legal circles, would require the attorney general to seek the FISA court's approval for each planned NSA intercept under the program. Bush has said the agency monitors phone calls and e-mails between people in the United States and people abroad when any of them is thought to have possible terrorist ties.
In the administration's eyes, Specter's solution wasn't perfect, but it was still stealing a bike, then asking forgiveness. Both indulgences would be retroactive. What Bush and administration officials did was illegal at the time, but that doesn't make any difference - history is protean. AP's war crimes story again:
One of the two attorneys [who had reviewed it] said that the draft is in the revision stage but that the administration seems intent on pushing forward the draft's major points in Congress after Labor Day.
"I think what this bill can do is in effect immunize past crimes. That's why it's so dangerous," said a third attorney, Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice.
Fidell said the initiative is "not just protection of political appointees, but also CIA personnel who led interrogations."
Interrogation practices "follow from policies that were formed at the highest levels of the administration," said a fourth attorney, Scott Horton, who has followed detainee issues closely. "The administration is trying to insulate policymakers under the War Crimes Act."
They were war criminals once, but now never were. Legally, the crimes committed in the past would be retroactively legalized. So there were no war crimes. I find myself thinking about another quote:
"And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past,' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'"
--George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four