Limiting the President's ability to conduct war...

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Check out the party line on why McCain's anti-torture bill is so bad that it should be the first bill that Bush vetos:
The White House has threatened to veto the $440 billion military spending bill to which the measure was attached, and Vice President Dick Cheney has lobbied to defeat the detainee measure. White House spokesman Scott McClellan objected that the measure would "limit the president's ability as commander-in-chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism."

Well, duh.

Look, this is a totally vacuous argument. Yes, this limits the president's freedom of motion, but there are all sorts of restrictions on his ability as commander-in-chief. For instance, he can't have soldiers summarily executed for incompetence, even though this would arguably help him effectively carry out the war on terrorism. That's how things work in a democracy.

Unless McClellan's argument is that the president should have unfettered discretion to pursue the war in any way he sees fit, then the mere argument that this would limit his ability to do so doesn't get the job done. What's needed here is an argument for why the president specifically needs the ability to torture detainees. I'm not saying that there isn't such an argument, but that's not what we're getting from the Administration here.

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2 Comments

I can no longer find the URL for it (sorry), but there was an article written shortly after the Abu Ghraib story broke that argued that discuss why it is good for morale that torture is illegal. The author's take was that it is good for morale on two fronts: the front-line guys prosecuting the war know it's illegal and presume it's not happening, so they can see themselves as the good guys; the guys doing the torture know it's illegal but have been persuaded its necessary, so they see themselves as taking big risks to do what's right for their country. In no case, according to that author, is the morale boost because the soliders believe their refraining from torture has an impact on whether the enemy will use it.

I'm not sure if either is a credible view of soldier psychology, but, if true, making it legal ruins the morale for both.

Going along with your argument, of course, is that the White House claims that they're -not- torturing people, and only a few bad apples are mistreating prisoners. So the restriction would, if Bush were being honest, only be theoretical and not affect day-to-day operations at all.

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