In black and white

McCain says his “compromise” prohibits waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the cold cell. Great! Let’s try to write that into the law.

So it seems that Sen. McCain believes that his compromise torture legislation does in fact forbid waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and the cold cell. I’m glad to hear it. If so, however, he and his Republican colleagues should have no objection to saying so explicitly in the bill.


I’d like to see someone force votes on five or six separate provisions, each one banning a particular technique.

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:

6 thoughts on “In black and white”

  1. If the bill continues to preclude habeas corpus actions, then it won't matter what forms of torture the bill explicitly prohibits. An unenforceable law is no law. And McCain knows that.

  2. Not quite. Denying habeas is indeed a bad thing, and makes it impossible for the detainees to enforce their right not to be tortured. But the War Crimes Act is a criminal statute, and the threat of prosecution might well prove (reportedly has proven since the Hamdan decision came down) a potent deterrent.

  3. Write to your senators and demand exactly that. Demand that the bill be amended to make it unambiguous that extreme sleep deprivation, forced hypothermia, waterboarding, and stress positions, among other egregious interrogation techniques, are prohibited. If supporters of the bill are unwilling to declare in the text that these torture techniques cannot be used, then any claim that the bill bans torture is a lie, because we already know the Bush administration will do anything it wants that is not expressly prohibited, and it won't necessarily even stop there. (To a Republican, one might say instead that Congress should have the courage of its convictions.)
    Contact your senators via… or via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121.

  4. Is banning specific techniques really desirable? After all, there's an essentially infinite number of methods available; and the banning of one method but not another could be read as an endorsement of the method not mentioned.

  5. I think Alex has a point. Once you start to proscribe specific acts, it can be argued that acts not mentioned by name are not affected by the statute. Lawyers and attorneys general and judges and presidents and their ilk (I love words that sound like one is regurgitating) are adept at weasel-wording, Jesuitical argumentation.
    That is why the Geneva Conventions were intentionally left "vague" or rather non-specific.

  6. "But the War Crimes Act is a criminal statute, and the threat of prosecution might well prove (reportedly has proven since the Hamdan decision came down) a potent deterrent."
    Really? Who is going to prosecute?

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