It is true the overwhelming majority of Americans are aghast at the use of torture by agents of the US government, and favor an immediate, permanent and absolute abolition on its use.
It is true that prominent US law-makers, policy-makers and military leaders — including members of the President’s own Republican Party, like Senator John McCain and former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell — have made vigorous and repeated public statements to the effect that torture should be banned from the operations of the US military.
It is true that on 6 October 2005 the US Senate adopted a bill championed by Senator McCain, which would prohibit the “cruel, inhumane or degrading” treatment of prisoners held by US combat forces. McCain’s legislation is an amendment attached to the $440 billion defense-spending bill. A joint congressional committee is now reconciling House of Representatives and Senate versions of the defense-spending legislation, to send a final version to the President for his signature into law — or his veto of the entire spending bill. McCain is confident his measure will survive the joint committee, it passed 90 to 9 in the Senate.
And, it is also true that the Bush Administration, still in the thrall of “Saruman” Cheney and his “Uruk-hai” Neo-Cons (1), announced on 7 October its intent to veto any bill including restrictions on the Administration’s use of torture in dealing with captives. If so, this would be Bush’s first veto.
If the US Congress overturns such a veto — requiring a super-majority of 2/3 in both houses of Congress — then we will know the country really disavows torture. And, that might be a signal that the Establishment had reconciled itself to a change of CEO.
It is not enough for the public to be against torture, as obviously as they are against the Iraq War, favor impeachment for having started it deceptively, as well as favoring so much else not allowed them like universal health insurance and education. Unless the US ruling class also favors a ban on torture of captured “natives” (today called “terrorists”), we will not see such a ban enacted by the US Congress.
Very simply, if torture is bad for business it will go, regardless of what Bush does. If torture is deemed necessary for business, then to hell with the public and both torture and Bush will stay. For Bush, “staying” would mean both an impeachment immunization and a continuation of his policy style in successor Republican leadership.
Is it too cynical to think that some of the outspoken critics of torture as policy might be showboating to curry favor with the public, having an eye on political campaigns in 2006 and 2008? After all, many of the congressional representatives who express a distaste for torture now could have acted earlier by voting to withhold funds from the military after the revelations of Abu Ghraib. Abraham Lincoln resorted to this ploy in 1846 to oppose the Mexican War, and similar measures were adopted in opposition to the Vietnam War and the Nicaraguan War (the Contra proxy war of –1979-1990).
A defense-spending bill with the McCain rider could be the beginning of such an Establishment revolt against the Iraq War (that is to say, how it is managed), because any presidential veto would necessarily cut funds to the military in Iraq and Afghanistan within weeks.
It is most probable, from personal, emotional and pragmatic points of view, that high-ranking torture critics like McCain and Powell see that the American capitalist enterprise can be managed with greater efficiency by dropping torture in favor a bit more diplomatic sophistication. So, given the increasing difficulties of the Bush Administration in the fall of 2005, it is most likely that torture will drop away as official policy, if not immediately, then with the change of administrations after 2008.
As ever, the criterion dictating the timing of any such policy refinement is one of efficacy, it will not be an alteration of goals.
The calls by pro-war politicians to end torture now may be a fortuitous melding of their actual “personal feelings” with current popular sentiment, all during the ebb tide in the political fortunes of the Bush Administration, and thus in anticipation of the next flood tide in American politics.
Waves all pass through the same water. American political careers today seem to be like water waves. While their rise and fall give an illusion of tides in national policy, in fact they are more often the rise and collapse of personal ambitions rippling through a constancy of political and economic control.