In the wake of the recent unfriendly court rulings on Bush’s novel approach to Constitutional law and human rights, Administration lawyers have been working overtime to pass laws designed to immunize the Administration and its minions against war crimes prosecutions:
In June, the Supreme Court (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld) placed commander in chief Bush and the top of his policy-making chain of command in jeopardy for the treatment of their suspected-terrorist prisoners in Guantanamo, Iraq, and Afghanistan and elsewhere.
So much has happened since June—the Middle East war, the civil war in Iraq, and the plot to blow up multiple U.S.-bound passenger planes—that most Americans have only a hazy idea of this Supreme Court decision that blew up the administration’s grand strategy for extracting information from its prisoners around the world by any means necessary.
But quietly, in fear of that ruling, the administration has drafted two changes—in the War Crimes Act and in our treaty obligations under the Geneva Conventions—to foreclose any prosecutions of the Bush high command. The goal is to get these amendments passed by the Republican-controlled Congress before the midterm elections that could put the Democrats in control of the Senate or otherwise significantly increase their power in Congress as a whole.
Says Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice: “This bill can . . . in effect immunize past crimes. That’s why it’s so dangerous.” As Fidell also told the Associated Press, the intent is “not just protection of [high-level] political appointees but also CIA personnel who led interrogations”—including in their secret prisons.
That’s right. Having blatantly violated the principles we hold dear as a nation, not to mention the Geneva Conventions, they’re now scrambling to save their asses now that it looks like all their shit is coming home to roost.
Here, specifically, is how the Bush high command is trying to escape the consequences of the Supreme Court’s stinging reprimand. One proposed amendment would forbid any prisoner to use the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights in any American court. But—as National Public Radio’s Ari Shapiro points out—the administration’s lawyers claim that this restriction “does not affect the obligations of the United States under the Geneva Conventions.” Huh? I’d like to see White House press secretary Tony Snow handle that yo-yo if anyone in the White House press corps knows enough to ask the question.
The second amendment the Bush team wants Congress to push through would change our War Crimes Act, which calls for the prosecution in our civilian courts of those who commit war crimes. The amendment would exclude from prosecution those who’ve violated a section in the War Crimes Act that references this language from Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibiting “at any time and in any place whatsoever . . . outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” (This would also expunge the much publicized language of the McCain Amendment to the Detention Treatment Act of 2005.)
Pay attention. These are dark days for our Republic, but enough attention focussed on stunts like these can help save us.