Friday, September 15, 2006

A Funny Thing Happen Along The Way

A week ago, the President's supporters were giddy with the political trap that they had set for Democrats in regard to Al-Queda prisoners, Guantanamo, and the rules of how these prisoners would be tried. The President's plan would essentially put the system the Supreme Court rejected for military tribunals into place, along with some extremely narrow readings of the Geneva Convention, which would basically allow torture in certain circumstances. It would also keep defendants from seeing documents deemed classified, but still allow that evidence to be introduced against them at trial. The entire plan is much more complicated, as are the issues involved. But the politics was pretty simple. Dare the Democrats to stop the plan and then use it to pillory them as "soft on terror" until November. (This caused Democrats to have flashbacks to 2002 and the Department of Homeland Security.)

Democrats are justifiably wary. The plan proposed by the President is offensive to traditional American jurisprudence in several ways, but the politics of opposition would be toxic. But (as the title of this post suggests) something has put a stop to the giddiness. That something is in the persons of John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham, as well as the JAG corp of the US military. They worry that torture and the inability of a defendant to see the evidence against him, as it is set forth in the President's plan, are wrong. (Indeed as the only member of the Senate to have endured torture as a prisoner of war, John McCain can speak with unmatched authority on the subject.) But most of all, instead of looking at the President's proposal as a political maneuver, McCain and company are looking at the substance of the proposed law, and don't like what they see.

There is no way to know how this will turn out, politically or substantively. But time is running out in this Congressional session, and if no law is passed the GOP will have a hard time making it an issue against Democrats, although they will still try.

The supporters of the President's proposal frequently argue that we should not have to follow the Geneva Convention because these are terrorists. But as a country we cannot allow "war fever" to swamp basic American values -- such as "we don't torture people" and "we have fair trials." We follow these principals even when others don't, even if our enemies don't and these are the reasons this country is great. Indeed, to turn a phrase on it head, if we torture and have show trials, then the terrorists have won.