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Archive for November 11th, 2007

How Torture, Once a Bipartisan Wrong, Became a Bipartisan Right

Posted by stoptorture on 11th November 2007

A Timeline of Torture Flip-Flopping:

1988: President Reagan asks Senate to give advice and consent to his signature of the UN Convention against Torture.[1]

1993: Democrat-controlled Senate approves bill containing statute criminalizing torture by a vote of 95 to 4. President Clinton signs it into law in 1994.[2]

1994: The US ratifies the UN Convention against Torture, signed by President Reagan in 1988.[3]

1996: Republican-controlled Senate unanimously approves War Crimes Act, criminalizing torture and other violations of the Geneva Conventions. President Clinton signs it into law.[4]

2005: Republican-controlled Senate passes the Detainee Treatment Act by a vote of 90-9, banning cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees under any type of US custody anywhere. President Bush issues a signing statement declaring he may ignore the law.[5]

2006: Republican Senators lead negotiations on the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which is passed, gutting much of the War Crimes Act. The vote is 65-34, including 12 “Yeas” from Democrats.[6]

2007: Democrat-controlled Senate gives advice and consent by a vote of 53-40 to Mukasey as attorney general, a man who publicly declares his wish to avoid creating legal trouble for waterboarders (read torturers) and those who approved waterboarding (read torturers).[7]

[1] President Ronald Reagan signed the UN Convention against Torture on April 18, 1988, stating, “[The Convention] marks a significant step in the development during this century of international measures against torture and other inhuman treatment or punishment. Ratification of the Convention by the United States will clearly express United States opposition to torture, an abhorrent practice unfortunately still prevalent in the world today.”


[2] The Torture Statute criminalizing torture was enacted by Congress in 1994 and signed by President Clinton into law on September 13, 1994. The Senate voted 95-4 to pass the omnibus bill containing the torture criminalization on November 19, 1993. The measure was intended to bring the US into compliance with the UN Convention against Torture, which was ratified on October 21, 1994.

[3] Id.

[4] A Republican controlled Congress enacted the War Crimes Act in 1996. The Senate passed it by unanimous consent. President Clinton signed it into law August 21, 1996. The War Crimes Act criminalized violations of the Geneva Conventions to pave the way for prosecutions of foreign officials who tortured Americans.  The original bill was sponsored by staunch conservative Walter Jones Jr. (R-NC) in the House during the Republican-controlled Congress.  DoD’s general counsel declared full support for the bill and even suggested making the list of war crimes longer.  The Pentagon, opting to set a high bar for conduct, did not oppose the fact that the War Crimes Act applied to actions by US personnel.

[5] A Republican controlled Congress banned cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment to all detainees under US custody everywhere. The law also limited US military interrogations (though not those of the CIA) to methods outlined in the Army Field Manual. The vote was 90 to 9. President Bush purported to reserve the right to ignore the law through a signing statement.

[6] A Republican controlled Congress gutted most of the War Crimes Act by enacting the Military Commissions Act (i.e. Torture Law) on September 29, 2006. Negotiation regarding the Torture Law were concentrated in three Republican Senators. President Bush signed the Torture Law on October 17, 2006.

[7] A Democrat controlled Senate approved Mukasey for attorney general on November 8, 2007, without a filibuster attempt despite his failure to commit to meaningfully uphold either the Torture Statute or the War Crimes Act as evidenced by his refusal to declare waterboarding illegal.

Posted in Human Rights, International Law, Torture, U.S. Law | 287 Comments »

Why No Mukasey Filibuster? Dems Dealt in Torture to Score Political Points

Posted by stoptorture on 11th November 2007

The New York Times editorial this Sunday, titled “Abdicate and Capitulate,” states, “Democrats offer excuses for their sorry record, starting with their razor-thin majority. But it is often said that any vote in the Senate requires more than 60 votes — enough to overcome a filibuster.”

Apparently, a filibuster on Mukasey was not off the table, as Talking Points Memo reports here. With only 53 “Yeas” for Mukasey, a senator with a conscience capable of being shocked could have stopped the Torture Nominee. So, why didn’t someone step forward to stop the pro-Mukasey, pro-torture vote?


The nation’s lawmakers chose to place politics above the law. Wanting to score a rhetorical point before engaging with President Bush in a debate about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Democrats let the whole torture thing slide. Mind you, the deal struck was not a compromise about anything substantive in relation to those wars. Rather, as Talking Points Memo explains, it appears to have been a ploy to grant the Democrats a slight debater’s edge.

Is it too much to ask the party that controls Congress to make some headway in stopping the war, without having to condone torture in the process? The Senate leadership, in preparing to confront the president over one of the most unpopular wars in US history, cut a “deal” with Republicans to send half a trillion dollars to the military to show themselves to be pro-troops. Apparently, vowing to withdraw troops from combat is not enough of a “pro-troops” debater’s edge. Or maybe the Democrats are just lousy debaters. In return, Dems granted the Republicans Mukasey as a chief prosecutor, the man who has expressed a desire to shield the Bush administration from criminal prosecution for war crimes.

To re-cap: Dems get to send $500 billion to the military before taking an anti-war position on the most unpopular war led by the most unpopular president in nearly 40 years. Republicans get a get-out-of-jail-free card for war crimes.

Who advises them on these deals anyway? Karl Rove in a donkey suit?

Posted in Human Rights, Torture, U.S. Law | 1 Comment »