Thursday, February 14, 2008

Politics and Waterboarding

In what is seen as a message to the White House, the Senate yesterday passed legislation regarding the prohibition of interrogation practices, specifically including the practice of waterboarding as a condemned practice. According to the Los Angeles Times, the measure has already been approved by the House of Representatives and is expected to be vetoed by the President. The CIA has previously admitted to the use of waterboarding as an interrogation technique. Instead of condemning this practice, the White House has indicated that this technique may be authorized again in the proper circumstances.

As is the case with most issues in Washington, the issue of waterboarding seems to have supporters on either side of the question. “Many Democratic lawmakers have denounced waterboarding as a form of torture that has undermined U.S. moral standing in the world.” On the other hand, it appears that Republicans refer to waterboarding as nothing more than an “enhanced” interrogation technique and claim the practice to be legal.

According to the article, “[t]he decision by Republicans to allow a vote on the measure – forgoing procedural moves that could have blocked it from coming to the floor – suggested that party leaders saw political advantage in setting up a presidential veto”, and this led to the measure passing 55-41 in the Senate and 222-199 in the House. In this count, five Republicans voted to approve the legislation while one Democrat voted against it. Included in those voting against the legislation for the Republicans was Senator John McCain, who has denounced waterboarding in his current Presidential campaign, but claims he “does not want to bind U.S. intelligence officers with restrictions designed for the military.” Senators Clinton and Obama did not take part in the vote.

We have spoken a bit about waterboarding in this blog, each time discussing it as a violation of human rights. Today, my conclusion is no different and I hope that such methods are eliminated from the CIA’s list of interrogation techniques. What is different in the case today is that the House and Senate have taken steps to pass legislation to specifically condemn the use of waterboarding only to most likely have the legislation vetoed by the President. From the vote count presented in the article, it is unlikely that a supermajority could be obtained to override this veto, and the article itself mentions a “political advantage” seen by Republicans in allowing the President to veto it.

Whatever this “political advantage” may be, it is disheartening to see such legislation used in this way. Instead of looking at the overall issue of human rights, Republicans (and Democrats) are attempting to put themselves in position for a run at this November’s Presidential race. John McCain, expected to be the Republican candidate, outwardly criticizes such interrogation practices and then votes against measures to stop them; this stance seems to be an obvious ploy to garner favor with voters while still staying on the Republican Party’s “good side” (not that he is the only candidate that has ever used or is currently using such practices, but he is the only current candidate who took place in this specific vote and which we are able to analyze). While such political maneuvering continues, these interrogation techniques continue to be used, violating the human rights of all who are subject to them.

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