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Bush to Add Veto to Torture Signing Statement

December 16, 2007

When it comes to the debate over Congressional legislation to ban waterboarding of detainees by the CIA, President Bush is proving Marx's dictum that historical events occur twice, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce. After all, while the White House is threatening to veto the new interrogation restrictions passed this week by the House, President Bush happily issued a signing statement to the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act letting him alone judge what constitutes "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment."
The House set the stage for the next act in the Bush torture drama on Thursday by passing clear prohibitions on waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques used by the CIA. By a party line vote of 222-199, the House bill would require U.S. intelligence agencies to follow the Army Field Manual's guidelines explicitly forbidding waterboarding. (Despite his past condemnation of torture and outrage over the destruction of CIA tapes showing its use by American interrogators, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) has placed a hold on legislation in the Senate.
For its part, the Bush White House has made its position on the legislation quite clear. Without (as Dan Froomkin noted) any evidence to support the claim, the administration argued "Such interrogations have helped the United States disrupt multiple attacks against Americans at home and abroad, thus saving American lives." The White House is promising a veto, claiming the House bill:

"would prevent the United States from conducting lawful interrogations of senior al Qaeda terrorists to obtain intelligence needed to protect Americans from attack."

Back in October, before the CIA tape scandal exploded, White House press secretary hinted at the farce to come. During an October 30, 2007 press briefing, Perino was typically coy:

Q: Thank you. Dana, does the President feel the Democrats in Congress should pass a bill allowing waterboarding?
MS. PERINO: There has been a lot of conversation about interrogation techniques. I'm not going to talk about any one in particular. The Congress has spoke on it several times, in terms of passing legislation that the President has signed, and we're just going to leave it at that.

That legislation was the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act. And as John McCain (R-AZ) learned the hard way, President Bush's approval came with a signing statement announcing his blessing for every act of torture that bill was designed to prevent.
With his signing statement attached to the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, Bush himself sought to create a legal basis for his administration's past and future criminality. In a nutshell, Bush signed into law a bill he had every intention of continuing to violate.
Bush, of course, had opposed John McCain's torture bill throughout the fall of 2005. But when the House and Senate passed McCain's amendment to the defense authorization bill by veto proof margins, Bush held a press conference on December 15 with McCain, announcing his support for the language explicitly saying that that the cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees in US custody is illegal regardless of where they are held.
As the Boston Globe reported, that supposed compromise lasted just as long as it took for President Bush to issue his signing statement two weeks later on December 30. When it comes to what constitutes "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment of detainees," the President proclaimed that he indeed would be the decider:

The executive branch shall construe Title X in Division A of the Act, relating to detainees, in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President to supervise the unitary executive branch and as Commander in Chief and consistent with the constitutional limitations on the judicial power, which will assist in achieving the shared objective of the Congress and the President, evidenced in Title X, of protecting the American people from further terrorist attacks.

That shocking presidential power grab, along with Alberto Gonzales' 2005 lies to Congress about the administration's torture policy, served to emasculate John McCain's amendment. (It's no wonder he's vowed of future legislation in a McCain presidency that he "would only sign it or veto.")
And here we are again. Once again, Congress will act to stem the growing stain of government authorized torture by the United States. And once again, President Bush will use his powers, constitutional or not, to block those efforts to protect America's reputation - and its soldiers - around the world. Marx's dictum doesn't apply after all. There's no farce here. Only tragedy.

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Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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