Point & Counterpoint

By Tyler Friederich

Saving lives with new bill

The Senate and the House recently passed similar versions of a terror detainee bill, a compromise between Bush’s hard stance and the Democrats’ (and a few Republican detractors’) insistence on absolutely no torture. The bill, which is designed to prosecute and interrogate terrorism suspects, passed 65-34 in the Senate and 253-168 in the House. It comes on the heels of a Supreme Court decision which ruled that Bush’s policy in holding and detaining terror suspects was illegal.

The new bill is absolutely necessary in assuring the safety of our nation, and it proves that the Democrats are still clueless as to how to execute the war on terror. Senator Ted Kennedy’s assertion that the bill “is about serving a political agenda” is correct, although not in the way that Kennedy meant. The bill will allow the President and interrogators the tools they need to retrieve critical information in a reasonable fashion. It is ironic that the Democrats, just after criticizing the President for failing to ensure the legality of his programs, are now denigrating the bill just because they do not agree with it.

The opposition to the bill is primarily over two aspects. First, the bill gives the President leeway in interpreting the Geneva Conventions and deciding which interrogation techniques can be used, although the bill does prohibit torture. Secondly, the bill does not include “habeas corpus,” which would allow terror suspects to protest their treatment and/or detention in a federal court. But according to John Yoo, former Justice Department lawyer “until two years ago, no enemy alien held in wartime outside of the United States had ever been allowed to bring a habeas case in our own courts.”

Brian Ross, an ABC News investigative reporter, declared that “The CIA broke fourteen high value leaders in secret prisons” using coercive techniques such as sleep deprivation and waterboarding. In addition, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, suspected mastermind behind the 9/11 terror attacks, reportedly gave up critical information that led to a foiled plot to destroy a high-profile building in Los Angeles after coercive techniques were used on him.

It is true that some FBI and CIA officials maintain that coercive techniques do not reap the desired results. So does this mean that tough interrogation methods should be banned outright? Proponents of the “moral high ground” would have you believe that they should be. But the evidence shows that these techniques have saved thousands of lives.

Imagine this scenario: CIA interrogators have in their possession a most-wanted terrorist. Documents in the terrorist’s computer suggest that a major terrorist attack against a U.S. city will take place within the next week. The interrogation has become fruitless, as means other than coercive interrogation have not provided any substantial information. It is this scenario which the bill is designed to confront. No U.S. President should be constrained by an agreement on a piece of paper when thousands of lives lay in the balance. Some may say it is a matter of principle. I say it is a matter of common sense.

Tyler Friederich

Our own worst enemy

Up is down. Black is white. Night is day. I sometimes wonder how we look at ourselves in the mirror. We are arguing about the definition of torture and who gets to decide when it is necessary. How did we get here? What have we become?

Forgive my Orwellian musings, but it seems that the bar has not so much been lowered as it has been completely removed. It is no longer just a bunch of poorly supervised grunts at Abu Ghraib that shame us round the world; it is the leader of the free world. The moral high ground that we once occupied has finally been eroded away by the dark waters of jingoism, relativism and fearmongering.

Habeas Corpus is the right detainees invoke to force the government to explain why they have been imprisoned. This is seen as the essential principle that guards against the state arbitrarily holding someone without evidence, which we’ve essentially been doing to prisoners at Guantanimo Bay all this time. This bill revokes that right. In fact, this bill allows the president to decide who is an enemy combatant, where they are detained and how (and if) they are tried for their crimes. As has been pointed out by several figures, it seems that those with the least evidence against them have the smallest chance of going to trial. Bush was doing this before the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld that he was usurping congressional authority.

That we are fighting an abstraction (terrorism) is apparently reason enough to throw out 800 years of precedence dating back to the Magna Carta. An enemy without standards calls for the abandonment of ours, all in the name of protecting America. Therefore, nothing is off limits. Nothing is too crazy. Nothing, it seems, is sacred anymore.

The biggest mistake we’ve made in the past five years is believing that fighting fire with fire is necessary to battle those that “hate America.” You fight fire with water. This bill is gasoline. Apparently, it wasn’t enough that the recently released National Intelligence Estimate report said Iraq is making terrorism worse. We needed to give them more reasons to pray for our destruction. The government’s official policy is now to stoop to the terrorists’ level to thwart them. But the joke is on us; with this torture bill’s passage, they’ve won. They’ve managed to trick us into becoming what we used to hate. Our principles are being consumed by a cancerous fear that has no easy cure. In our rush to secure ourselves in the short term, we sacrifice our long-term welfare in the name of necessity. We fight wars to defend our principles, not surrender them.

The practical impact of this bill has yet to be seen. It could very well be turned over by the Supreme Court, but no such ruling will return us to the quaint time when that if you had to ask if something was torture, it probably was. The great legacy left by this Congress and this President is that in its quest to spread democracy, liberty and freedom across the world, it has done more to damage these American ideals than any terrorist could possibly dream of.

Andrew Mason