Bush Administration backs torture bill

If you vote Republican, you know what you’re voting for.

Yes, it’s official. Speaker Haster’s “intelligence reform” bill, with its provision allowing the U.S. to send suspected terrorists to countries where they will be tortured, has the backing of the Bush Administration. At least in committee, the House Republicans are voting as a bloc for it, while the Democrats are unanimously against it.

The Washington Post has the story, only a day after Obsidian Wings. (Great kudos to Katherine R for picking this up, and to the Obsidian Wings folks for pushing it hard.)

The Bush administration is supporting a provision in the House leadership’s intelligence reform bill that would allow U.S. authorities to deport certain foreigners to countries where they are likely to be tortured or abused, an action prohibited by the international laws against torture the United States signed 20 years ago.

The provision, part of the massive bill introduced Friday by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), would apply to non-U.S. citizens who are suspected of having links to terrorist organizations but have not been tried on or convicted of any charges. Democrats tried to strike the provision in a daylong House Judiciary Committee meeting, but it survived on a party-line vote.

The provision, human rights advocates said, contradicts pledges President Bush made after the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal erupted this spring that the United States would stand behind the U.N. Convention Against Torture. Hastert spokesman John Feehery said the Justice Department “really wants and supports” the provision.

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo said, “We can’t comment on any specific provision, but we support those provisions that will better secure our borders and protect the American people from terrorists.”

The provision is one of several items in the bill that Democrats say are unrelated to intelligence reform but Republicans say are important tools for fighting terrorists. The Senate is debating its own intelligence reform bill that does not include the provision, and the House bill is being marked up in several committees.

Human rights groups and members of Congress opposed to the provision say it could result in the torture of hundreds of people now held in the United States who could be sent to such countries as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Jordan and Pakistan, all of which have dubious human rights records.

No, this isn’t a winning issue for the Democrats. Just the reverse. Forcing Democrats to vote against torturing suspected terrorists is an excellent way to paint them as soft on terrorism. That’s been the Administration strategy from the get-go: pursue absolutely disgustinly outrageously illegal and unconstitutional policies and then take advantage of the fact that some of your political opponents have enough self-respect and common decency to oppose them. It worked in 2002, and it’s working now.

As noted before in this space, anyone voting Republican this year is fully on notice of what that means. Maybe you intend to vote for staying the course in Iraq, tort reform, or tax cuts, or against affirmative action, teachers’ unions, or political correctness. But you are, in addition, actually voting for torture.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com