Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Slippery George, torture and the return of French fries

He's the best. And the worst.

Best at getting away with the worst stuff in recent American history. Par example: Salon.com reports that US Attorney Gen. Alberto "Torquemada" Gonzales is making surreptitious attempts to exempt the administration from any future prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996:
In fact, from the early days of the war on terror, the Bush administration was concerned about the War Crimes Act. Publicly released memos show that as far back as Jan. 25, 2002, Gonzales, then the White House counsel, worried that the president's policies could trigger prosecution under the act. That led the White House to declare, over the objection of the State Department, that al-Qaida was not protected by the conventions. In the memo, Gonzales argued that the president could create "a solid defense against any future prosecution" by declaring that the Geneva Conventions did not apply.
But with the Supreme Court ruling, that defense no longer stands, leaving the administration in a legally vulnerable position. At a recent congressional hearing, Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, the Air Force judge advocate, testified that "some techniques that have been authorized" violated the Geneva Conventions. To preempt any prosecution, administration officials are now quietly circulating legislation to change the statutory interpretation of the War Crimes Act of 1996. In short,
the legislation would make it difficult to prosecute U.S. personnel for the harsh interrogation methods authorized by President Bush and the Justice Department.
I will grant you this: Gonzales' bee-boppin' & scattin' around the law is (by now) almost old-hat. You might even call it "quaint"...you know, in that circa-1949 kinda way. No. Not terribly surprising, that.

What is surprising is the identity of the gentleman voicing opposition in the Salon piece. An ex Swift Boat Veteran! The ex SBVFT, Mike Cronin appeared in the 2004 anti-Kerry movie, "Stolen Honor: Wounds that Never Heal" and claimed that John Kerry once met with "enemy leaders" in Paris to work against US soldiers. Cronin voted for Bush in both 2000 & 2004. Well, the ex Swiftie was absolutely instrumental in getting the original 1996 War Crimes Act into motion. Even stranger: the congressman with whom he worked on the 1996 Act was none other than Walter "Freedom Fries" Jones (R-North Carolina). Nowadays? Cronin is outraged at the Bush administration:
Retired Navy pilot Mike Cronin knows enough about torture to know it doesn't work. After being shot down over North Vietnam in 1967, he spent six years enduring interrogations in the Hanoi Hilton, the notorious holding block for American prisoners of war. His neck and ankles were bound together with rope, causing him to lose consciousness. The nerves and bones in his wrists were crushed. His shoulder was ripped out of its socket. He was forced to talk, but he never gave the North Vietnamese the information they wanted.
"I told lies," explained Cronin, 65, in a telephone interview from Cape Cod, Mass., where he is spending the summer. "When you put people in that position, the information you get is not reliable."
After the war ended, Cronin returned home to become a commercial pilot for American Airlines -- and a deep believer in the laws of war. He came to see the Geneva Conventions, which bar torture and "humiliating and degrading treatment," as a bedrock of the international military code. He was amazed to discover that as late as the 1990s, there was no law enabling U.S. courts to try violators of the Geneva Conventions. "I was shocked," he said. "I just thought that was wrong."
So Cronin changed the legal landscape. Thanks to his persistent lobbying, Congress passed the War Crimes Act of 1996 with overwhelming bipartisan support. For the first time, U.S. courts were granted authority to convict any foreigner who commits a war crime against an American, or any American who commits a war crime at all. At the time, nobody could have predicted that a decade later a U.S. administration, with the explicit consent of the president and the attorney general, would be accused of systematic war crimes.
[...] Cronin, an active Republican, sees the proposed changes, which have not yet been spelled out publicly, as an attempt by the civilian leadership to cover its tracks. "These guys are talking about trying to protect soldiers in the field. I think they are lying through their teeth," Cronin said. "They are talking about trying to protect themselves."
As for who's shirking-military-duty now? Cronin has some choice words...and they're not for John Kerry:
The Bush administration, Cronin said, is simply unaware of the realities of war. "The vast majority of them never served a day in the military, even though almost all of them were of military age at the time of the Vietnam War," Cronin said. "The opposition to the administration's policy of detainment has come, to their great credit, entirely from the professional military."
Cronin, on the other hand, has been there. He is a victim of war crimes. And, as it stands, he no longer believes that the president and his aides have the nation's best interests at heart. "From day one," he said, "the total motivation of these people seems to have been, How can we protect ourselves?"
This is an important piece. Read the rest of Michael Sherer's article and keep a close eye on that Gonzales guy.
Footnote: "Freedom Fries" guy has since voiced his profound regret about his pre-Iraq behaviour. He has joined others in calling for US forces to leave Iraq.
And the erstwhile offensive frites? They've returned to the US House cafeteria menu under their original name: French fries.

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