DUSTY RHOADES: The Rattled Right: Bush Changes His Tune About Torture
I mean, imagine this. You're a right-wing commentator or blogger. For the last four and a half years you've been loudly shrieking (in a manly and patriotic way, of course) that the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison weren't protected by the Geneva Convention's prohibitions against mistreatment.
Take this statement from Ann Coulter wannabe Michelle Malkin: "[The Los Angeles Times'] suggestion that suspected terrorists captured in Afghanistan are covered by the Geneva Convention is absurd."
"If the barbarians get all of the benefits of the Geneva Convention without obeying any of its rules," insisted National Review columnist Jonah Goldberg, "then it becomes not merely quaint, not merely worthless, but instead a useful tool for those who wish to overthrow all it stands for."
Even the recent Supreme Court decision that the "military tribunals" established by Dubbya violated not only military law and U.S. law, but also "common Article 3" of the Geneva Conventions, didn't faze the frothing right wing.
As one blogger known only as "Misha" put it, the solution was simple: "Five ropes, five robes, five trees," he suggested, referring to the 5-3 decision. "Some assembly required."
In short, this loyal American suggested lynching Supreme Court justices, including Republican appointees. (And they call leftists unhinged.)
In short, if you were a right-wing pundit, last Monday night you went to bed, secure in the knowledge that (1) George Dubbya Bush is the Lord Protector of the American Nation, and (2) anyone, including the U.S. Supreme Court, who asserted that the Geneva Convention applied to suspected terrorists held by U.S. groops is traitorous and most likely receiving daily instructions not only from al-Qaida, but also from the French themselves.
After all, it was Dubbya's very own attorney general who called the Conventions "quaint."
Then, last Tuesday, the world turned upside down. The Bush administration, through Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, pulled the rug out from under the pro-torture punditocracy. England sent a memo to all branches of the armed forces instructing them "to ensure that all Defense Department policies, practices and directives comply with Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions governing the humane treatment of prisoners."
Whoa. So who do we hang now? Deputy England? Secretary Rumsfeld? Dubbya his ownself?
I mean, if the military has to abide by Common Article 3, that means no more "outrages upon personal dignity." No more "humiliating and degrading treatment." No naked prisoner piles. No more terrorizing prisoners with vicious dogs. No more "waterboarding," the interrogation technique where a prisoner is made to feel like he's drowning.
Of course, White House mouthpiece Tony Snow insisted that this memo, which flatly contradicts the previous administration position on the Geneva Conventions, signaled any kind of policy change. And for all I know, they may be right.
After all, this president is famous for his "signing statements," issued at the time of signing bills into law, in which the president essentially states he feels free to disregard the law whenever he feels it's in the interests of national security. For all I know, there's a signing statement in the president's double secret spiral notebook declaring that he doesn't really mean all that silly Geneva Convention stuff. And since the memo covers only the military, we'll always have the CIA. Torture fans can take comfort in that.
But for the time being, I'll take the administration at its word. It may be a reversal of policy (or in Bush-speak, a "flip-flop"), but not all flip-flops are necessarily bad. For the past few years, this administration has had a policy on treatment of detainees that has amounted to "we do whatever we feel like, because these are dangerous terrorists."
This argument got a lot less compelling when the government freed more than 200 of these people who were once "too dangerous to even identify" from Gitmo, and over 1,000 from Abu Ghraib. The lack of standards or guidance as to what's acceptable and what's not led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib (which, as we may remember, Dubbya said he was "sickened" by, even as his supporters like admitted drug addict Rush Limbaugh insisted they were no worse than "fraternity pranks." They just can't depend on him at all for backup, can they?)
Now, at least, the administration seems to have realized what the Supreme Court has been trying to tell them all along: There are laws, even in war, and even the president has to abide by them, and not just because he feels like it today and may not tomorrow.
True, the terrorists don't follow those laws. That's why they're the bad guys. Slowly, slowly, it seems we're rediscovering that the rule of law, including the much-maligned laws of war, is one of the things that make us the good guys.
Dusty Rhoades lives, writes and practices law in Carthage.
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