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Monday, October 17, 2005

Column's Up

The aforementioned column is in today's Clarion-Ledger, but alas, there were some selective edits made just before press time. The full content is available on my archive site, and of course, posted below:

Cochran's Stress Position

"We have let the troops down when it comes to trying to give them guidance in very stressful situations."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Last week, in an attempt to provide guidance for U.S. soldiers with terrorism suspects, the Senate added provisionary language sponsored by Sen. John McCain as an amendment to a military spending bill headed for the president’s desk.

McCain is no stranger to the cruelty of inhumane interrogation techniques, suffered in his case at the hands of the Vietcong. Techniques, it should be noted, the America of a not-so-distant past loudly and roundly denounced for what they are: torture.

The language was simple enough, prohibiting “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment” of anyone in U.S. custody, regardless of where they may be held. In light of the well-publicized mistreatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and beyond, the Senate voted 90 – 9 in favor of adding the language to the bill.

Sen. John Warner, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said adding McCain’s provision was necessary “to make absolutely clear the policy of the United States.” That is, America doesn’t torture our prisoners, no matter who they are. We’re better than that. We have to be.

Mississippi’s Trent Lott sided with the forces of good, sided with an image of an America that can sit, as Ronald Reagan often said, as “a shining city upon a hill,” and for that he should be applauded. Under no circumstances should any other human being be tortured in our name. It is the very definition of un-American activity.

For his part, President Bush signaled he would veto the entire spending bill if McCain’s detainee provision was added. Vice President Cheney was dispatched from an undisclosed location to bully the senators from their positions; he failed. The White House issued a statement saying anything that would limit the president's “authority and flexibility” would hurt the war on terror. That old stand-by.

The truth is, this president has absolutely zero remaining political capital. He can’t afford to veto a bill funding benefits, equipment and weapons for troops during wartime. That being the case, his bluff will most likely be revealed as that and nothing more. Besides, Bush has thus far yet to exercise his veto power even once. Of course, he’s had a compliant and complicit congress all the while, so there never has been much need.

What remains then are the strange hearts of the nine men, Republicans all, who voted their conscience in favor of unchecked cruelty against American-held prisoners. A group that believes, as does the Bush administration, that such protections as the Geneva Conventions are “quaint” and outdated.

A group unfortunately including our own Sen. Thad Cochran. For the second time this summer, Cochran finds himself on the distasteful end of an overwhelmingly one-sided Senate vote rooted in simple morality.

Cochran’s defense earlier this year for failing to support the Senate’s anti-lynching measure was that he wasn’t “in the business of apologizing for what someone else did or didn't do.” He shouldn’t worry. No one is asking for nor offering an apology here.

An independent investigation into the widespread abuse of detainees would be good, but we all know that won’t happen unless the GOP loses control of both the House and Senate in 2006. That, however, does seem to be an ever-increasing possibility.

What the American people expect, what they desperately need in fact, is for the United States of America to reclaim the moral high ground. To become once again a beacon of liberty to the world. That shining city upon a hill. Not the empty words of governmental marketing campaigns, but a true force for good and justice in the world. The world needs that as much as do we.

The detainee provision sought the reestablishment of an American moral ideal. Those very few who voted against it did so for their own reasons, whatever they may be, Cochran included. The Senator would do well to remember that a man is known by the company he keeps.

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