I urge everyone to listen to the president's radio address this week-end if you get the chance. (Not that any of you would normally miss it, I'm sure. What could be more riveting?) But it does promise to be a good one this time. He's going to tell us all why he needs to veto the ban on torture .
Here's Dana Perino  at the White House press briefing, letting it slip earlier this week:
Q Does the President realize he's going to further tarnish our image for humanity if he vetoes a ban on torture?
MS. PERINO: That's not what he's suggesting, Helen. You're talking about the Senate -- the intelligence authorization bill?
Q Isn't he supposed to veto the ban this week, or so?
MS. PERINO: Helen -- well, he is going to veto a bill, but it's not the bill in which you describe. The bill that he is going to veto is the intelligence authorization bill. We've had a statement of administration position that has been out for a long time. There are many different reasons he's going to veto it. One of the main ones is that it would apply the Army Field Manual, which is very good guidance for young soldiers who are out on the field who might capture somebody out on the battlefield, but it is not something that should apply to a terrorist interrogation program that is run by the CIA.
Q Why? It's torture, isn't it?
MS. PERINO: It isn't -- no, we are not torturing, and that is not what the bill says.
Q Well, it would ban --
MS. PERINO: Torture is already illegal.
Q -- he is vetoing a ban on torture, isn't he?
MS. PERINO: Torture is already illegal in this country, and the President has already signed a bill reiterating that fact. The simple point of this bill is that the Army Field Manual -- the President does not believe, nor does the intelligence community -- I'd point you to General Hayden and others who say that it should not --
Q The military certainly believes in it.
MS. PERINO: It is appropriate for the military to have the Army Field Manual as its guidelines. But we do not believe that it should apply to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Q Why? Are they human beings? Are we humane people?
MS. PERINO: We are humane people. We have a terrorist interrogation
program that helps make sure that we keep this country safe. We do not torture.
But what I will tell you is that you will hear more about this this weekend. The
President's radio address will be on this issue.
That reporter was, of course, Helen Thomas, who has been dealing with White house pissants for longer than most of us have been alive.
Perino does a perfect Bush do-si-doh, but when you read what she says, it's this: the Army Field Manual is too restrictive for the CIA because it does not allow torture. But the CIA doesn't torture, so any questions about why the president is vetoing the bill requiring the CIA to follow the Army Field Manual's ban on torture are off base. I'll be looking forward to hearing the president explain this, because it's always entertaining to hear him speak in tongues.
The fact is that the Bush administration has pretty much legitimized torture already. History sadly shows that this country has often done some terrible things along this line, but it's only during the Bush years that the government has explicitly legalized it. They did so by way of justice department memos and executive orders, but under the unitary executive theory, the president don't need no stinkin' legislature anyway. It's somewhat interesting that he is going to veto this bill rather than sign it as he usually does and then offer a signing statement saying he has no intention of following the law he just signed. Apparently he wants to make a very public show of this, even using his radio address to defend it.
That might be surprising except that openly defending torture is becoming all the rage in right wing circles. Just this week Justice Scalia made comments similar to his earlier ones on the subject, in which he said :
Is it really so easy to determine that smacking someone in the face to find out where he has hidden the bomb that is about to blow up Los Angeles is prohibited under the Constitution? Because smacking someone in the face would violate the 8th amendment in a prison context. You can’t go around smacking people about.
Is it obvious that what can’t be done for punishment can’t be done to exact information that is crucial to this society? It’s not at all an easy question, to tell you the truth.
The BBC interviewer, however, objected to Scalia’s use of the so-called “ticking time bomb” scenario to justify government torture. “It’s a bizarre scenario,” he said. “Because the fact is, it’s very unlikely you’re going to have the one person who can give you that information. So if you use that as an excuse to commit torture, perhaps that’s a dangerous thing.” Scalia responded:
Seems to me you have to say, as unlikely as that is, it would be absurd to say that you can’t stick something under the fingernails, smack them in the face. It would be absurd to say that.
That is the legal thinking among the brightest conservative minds in the country. Apparently, it's "absurd" to say you can't stick something under someone's fingernails. And if that's the case, why shouldn't you be able to cut off their fingers? Hook electrodes to their genitals. Hang them by their wrists from the ceiling until their shoulder pop out of the socket. Once you open the door to using depraved violence on people in your custody, it's all just a matter of degree.
But when you listen to Scalia say those words (you can hear the audio at the link) it's inescapable that he's entertained by it. And that may be because of the right wing's very unhealthy obsession with the television show 24 of which he is a very big fan .
"Jack Bauer saved Los Angeles. ... He saved hundreds of thousands of lives," Judge Scalia said. Then, recalling Season 2, where the agent's rough interrogation tactics saved California from a terrorist nuke, the Supreme Court judge etched a line in the sand.
"Are you going to convict Jack Bauer?" Judge Scalia challenged his fellow judges. "Say that criminal law is against him? 'You have the right to a jury trial?' Is any jury going to convict Jack Bauer? I don't think so.
"So the question is really whether we believe in these absolutes. And ought we believe in these absolutes."
"I don't care about holding people. I really don't," Judge Scalia said.
Even if a real terrorist who suffered mistreatment is released because of complaints of abuse, Judge Scalia said, the interruption to the terrorist's plot would have ensured "in Los Angeles everyone is safe." During a break from the panel, Judge Scalia specifically mentioned the segment in Season 2 when Jack Bauer finally figures out how to break the die-hard terrorist intent on nuking L.A. The real genius, the judge said, is that this is primarily done with mental leverage. "There's a great scene where he told a guy that he was going to have his family killed," Judge Scalia said. "They had it on closed circuit television - and it was all staged. ... They really didn't kill the family."
This is a man who judges death penalty cases.
The popularity of the show has been cited as proof that the American people approve of torture, since the show fetishizes it. The Heritage Foundation even held a 24seminar  hosted by Rush Limbaugh and featuring the cast and government luminaries like the Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff, who spoke glowingly of the show:
SECRETARY CHERTOFF: ...In reflecting a little bit about the popularity of the show "24 -- and it is popular, and there are a number of senior political and military officials around the country who are fans, and I won't identify them, because they may not want me to do that (laughter) I was trying to analyze why it's caught such public attention. Obviously, it's a very well-made and very well-acted show, and very exciting. And the premise of a 24-hour period is a novel and, I think, very intriguing premise. But I thought that there was one element of the shows that at least I found very thought-provoking, and I suspect, from talking to people, others do as well...
I think when people watch the show, it provokes a lot of thinking about what would you do if you were faced with this set of unpalatable alternatives, and what do you do when you make a choice and it turns out to be a mistake because there was something you didn't know. I think that, the lesson there, I think is an important one we need to take to heart. It's very easy in hindsight to go back after a decision and inspect it and examine why the decision should have been taken in the other direction. But when you are in the middle of the event, as the characters in "24" are, with very imperfect information and with very little time to make a decision, and with the consequences very high on a wrong decision, you have to be willing to make a decision recognizing that there is a risk of mistake.
It's all just like 24 you see, except without the craft service table and the make-up trailer. Chertoff is basically saying that sometimes we might get a little bit overzealous, if you know what I mean, but that's just because we don't have all the information we need. It's hard to make good decisions under stress and well, you know, you can't make an omelet without breaking a few legs. 24 teaches American kids about that and the government is grateful.
So, on Saturday, the President of the United States is going to veto a bill that would keep our hero Jack Bauer from waterboarding some mentally unstable nobody  who sends the Americans on wild goose chases all over the world just to get them to stop torturing him. That's what protecting the nation is all about.
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